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Postmodernism and the Emergent Church

May 23, 2004

My attention has been drawn lately to the “Emergent Church” and the movement within evangelicalism that calls itself “Postmodern.”

I recently attended a panel discussion which included about eight leaders in this movement. I didn’t catch the names of all of them, but Doug Pagitt, pastor of Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis, was the moderator of the panel. Pagitt is author of the just-published “Reimagining Spiritual Formation: A Week in the Life of an Experimental Church” published by Zondervan.

The panel also included Dan Kimball, pastor of Graceland in Santa Cruz, CA (affiliated with Santa Cruz Bible Church) and Ivy Beckwith, children’s pastor at Colonial Church of Edina, MN, who has written a book entitled “Postmodern Children’s Ministry.” Kimball is author of what appears to be the current leading book on the movement, entitled “The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations” published by Zondervan.

They are all part of a group which can be found at The panel was described as follows:

“America in the 21st Century can be described as both ‘postmodern’ and ‘post-Christian.’ New research from the Barna Group suggests that Americans in their 20s are significantly less likely than any other age group to attend church services, be committed to Christianity, or even read the Bible. The world is changing, and new wineskins may be needed if we are to receive new wine. Believers are experimenting with different ways of ‘doing’ church, seekikng new forms and structures to meet the culture’s needs. The panel explores this emerging trend.”

The entire three-hour discussion is available on two audio tapes, available for $6 each (plus shipping) from Sound Word Associates in Chesterton, IN ( or phone 219-548-0931). The tapes are identified as ep0401 and ep0402.

It’s very difficult to quickly summarize what we were hearing, but the basic theme seemed to be that the era of postmodernism began about 2000, and the postmodern mind processes differently than the moderns (of which I am one) and must therefore be reached differently.

This is not necessarily a generational thing–there are plenty of postmoderns in their 50s and 60s and even 70s–it has more to do with how one thinks. Characteristics include an inclusivist philosophy that there are many ways to God, a lack of biblical knowledge (rendering much of our evangelical language forms unusable), a strong emphasis on community, and a strong emphasis on the arts including returns to uses of some more traditional worship aids such as crosses, stained glass, and more.

I would invite comment and discussion from those who are knowledgable or are learning about the emergent church. Additional references include a website for the emergent village posting information about conferences and bringing together voices for the emerging church, a website which updates topics discussed in Dan Kimball’s book, and one entitled “The Ooze” which includes provocative articles about the emerging church and links to emerging churches in America and around the world.

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