Our evangelism nightmare: Hypermodern voices take over the airwaves

I heard Dwight Schrute, I mean, Rainn Wilson, on NPR as I was driving around somewhere. What he said is stuck in my head. He is known for being an outspoken follower of the Ba’hai faith — it is the “outspoken” part that is stuck. At one point he said that people “threw up in their mouth a little” when he started talking about his life with God at parties. So it is not easy for him to talk about what he believes. He does it, but it is not easy.

Wilson’s claim to fame, The Office, began in 2005, about when we moved into our South Broad location. It makes me wonder if that TV show was riding the zeitgeist of dodging people who make you “throw up in your mouth a little” — like White Goodman (above) and Dwight Schrute. Christians (and I guess the followers of the Bab) started getting on the list of people who make you vurp — at least the ones who talk about their faith as if they actually believe it.

Old evangelism stories are out of date

I was telling old stories to Aaron the other day about talking to people as if you actually believe that Jesus will raise you from the dead, and such things of faith. At one point he looked a little uncomfortable. I don’t think he was vurping, but he reminded me that things have changed a bit since I was his age. Some of my stories seem out of date when I start talking about the Jesus movement, which might as well be the French Revolution as far as twentysomethings remember it. We are experiencing more of an evangelistic nightmare than easygoing chats about Jesus.

Twentysomethings were born into a profound philosophical discussion. Their churches, for the most part, were holding on to a Christianity that was conformed to philosophical paradigms from modernity like rationality and hierarchy. In the late twentieth century, postmodern thinkers came to the fore and staged a short-lived rebellion. They taught everyone to consider their “values” and argued that values have the meaning we assign them, but no meanings that last; we cannot discern truth but we can play with the nonsense. They wanted to emerge from modernity with its faith in progress and empowering the individual. We had “emerging churches” for a hot minute to match that movement.

The dialogue out there is all hypermodern

You can Google all this, of course. But you might not bother because you have become what many call “hypermodern.” Modernity and postmodernity are both the the past for you. They are, essentially, irrelevant because you believe that what took place in the past took place under “lesser” circumstances than now, and is irretrievably different. You think artifacts from the past (like the Bible or “faiths”) that clutter the cultural landscape are to be reused to generate something better.

Wikipedia quote: Hypermodernity has even more commitment to reason and to an ability to improve individual choice and freedom. Modernity merely held out the hope of reasonable change while continuing to deal with a historical set of issues and concerns; hypermodernity posits that things are changing so quickly that history is not a reliable guide. The positive changes of hypermodernity are supposedly witnessed through rapidly expanding wealth, better living standards, medical advances, and so forth. Individuals and cultures that benefit directly from these things can feel that they are pulling away from natural limits that have always constrained life on Earth. But the negative effects also can be seen as leading to a soulless homogeneity as well as to accelerated discrepancies between different classes and groups.

So if you feel like people will consider you a Dwight Schrute at a party if you talk about Jesus, you might be right. You are acting like an historical artifact (Jesus) has meaning. You seem to be fighting the inevitability of change. You are saying that life on Earth has meaning and we don’t have to fight its constraints as if we should have power over it. You are standing out against the backdrop of gigantic institutions enforcing soulless homogeneity on us in the name of progress. And so much more.

parisisaboutlife

It is an evangelism nightmare. Hypermodernity assumes everyone is an idiot if they are not hypermodern, like the cartoonist from Charlie Hebdo who responded to people praying for Paris after the recent attacks (above). For him, religion is modern, the past. Paris is freedom and joy, the future. Religion (a modern umbrella under which all “faiths” belong) is the seedbed of terrorism = faithful people are in bed with terrorists = You make me sick you Christians!

Jesus does not need to make people vurp

What to do? I’d hate to terrorize a party! I hardly want to stand in the way of progress. I don’t even understand all this philosophy.

Four suggestions, for now.

  1. Talk this over. Things ARE changing fast. We need to keep talking about what is happening, like I am talking right now about how Aaron was schooling me.
  2. Remember that Jesus is present, even if people try to make him an historical artifact. Even if people have repeatedly subjected him to the latest philosophy, the Lord rises in each era and has been incarnate in them all. You don’t have to argue the Lord into existence.
  3. Have a story and tell it. Jesus is going to be found in a loving relationship of trust in which God can be spoken of as the lover God is rather than a mere philosophical argument, a value, or political statement.
  4. Pray. Like right now. Jesus will be revealed and you will be inspired to live a life of creativity, free of shame and free to share.

About Rod White

Pastor for Circle of Hope, http://circleofhope.net , grandparent, church planter, peacemaker, comrade, spiritual director, psychotherapist, silence lover

4 thoughts on “Our evangelism nightmare: Hypermodern voices take over the airwaves

  1. Thanks Rod- really helpful. Especially that Jesus can’t be a relic because he is incarnate in each generation. Another challenge our generation of Jesus followers has is that as we aim to discover Christ incarnate in our generation we also often face resistance increasing from other christians of an older age- at the very time we need their wisdom and experience most. Thanks for going against that trend and helping us navigate this with grace and compassion.

  2. Jesus is present! Alive and with us now. That’s been so important for me. We are the people of Jesus who triumphs over death. Now, with us, in our time, that changes me. Good stuff. Thanks for this post.

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