What follows may be turned into a thesis for my Masters Degree:
I have been challenged in my thinking about postmodernity. When I first started learning about postmodernity and emerging worship I drank it in. It thrilled me that I was not the only one thinking that there must be a different way to do things and that the reasoning behind it isn’t just marketing to a new generation but adapting to a new culture. But recently I have been challenged by learned people to rethink my view of postmodernity. Fads have come and gone and many of them, at their zenith, were considered to be the next epoch shift – then 20 years later they were a faded figment of a previous generation. What then sets postmodernity apart from the myriad of fads that have come and gone before?
Nothing. Postmodernity is a fad. It is a passing craze that will be remembered along with bell-bottoms and stove pipe hats. There are postmodern styles in art and architecture, drama and literature. Christian worship is no different. The so called ‘emerging church’ is a faddish attempt to engage a younger generation. It is 90’s youth ministry applied to twenty-something’s now. Dim lights and candles, art and stained glass are the stuff of emerging worship and they are passing fads. Postmodernity defines itself by what it is not: it is not modern, it is not rational, it is not linear. It is a fad.
What sets postmodernity apart from the myriad of fads that have come and gone before?
Everything. Postmodernity, as it has been called, is indicative of a radical shift in the way that people think and communicate. The term ‘postmodernity’ is not particularly helpful in describing the concepts in question. But there is an epistemological change in progress that must be addressed. How can I make the claim that the very nature of knowledge and thought are changing?
Human thought is expressed in language and language is defined by the thoughts of the people that use it. Language is subjective and ever changing due to its intertwining with the thoughts of people. Historically there have been four major types of language use: oral, script, print, and electronic. During the eras when each of these types of language has been prevalent there has been a very different epistemological perspective. As each new type of language use has been added to the repertoire of humanity the others have changed their roles to fit into the new structures.
Oral societies were very focused on the story. The elders kept the stories and related them to the rest of the society. Wisdom and knowledge were only able to be passed on to a limited group and were dependant on their continued use to survive. Stories are treasured repositories of the collected knowledge of a society.
The invention and proliferation of written language gave rise to the script society. Knowledge became available to a wider audience and it did not require the survival of people to remain intact. This change allowed for great advances in knowledge for those that could afford the expensive scrolls and books. I believe this increased the gap between the rich and the poor by concentrating the knowledge in the hands of the rich. Books are the rare property of wealthy.
Gutenberg changed the world. Books became less expensive to produce and obtain. More people had access to the collected knowledge of the world and more people had an opportunity to add to the knowledge of the world. The knowledge of the world began to change and grow more quickly as more people had more access to more knowledge.
The invention of electronic media is no less important to the epistemological history of humanity than that of the printing press. Words became at once cheaper to produce and more ubiquitous. Radio, Movies, Television, and the Internet have radically reshaped the nature of words and communication. Therefore, they have also reshaped the nature of thought.
Thought has become a network of ideas rather than linear and reasoned. Our knowledge has become ‘hyperlinked’ in that one concept need not logically flow out of another. Images are as important to communication as the words. Through the internet everyone has the ability to add to the sum total of human knowledge.
This is the epochal shift that is sweeping over the world. If people choose to call it ‘postmodernity’ that’s fine, but it is important to note that philosophies come and go. Huge changes in the way the world thinks, however, only happen a few times in history.