Postmoderns vs Moderns

Back in March, Ben Dubow posted an few interesting general observations about postmoderns vs. moderns. It is always good to be reminded of the difference in perspective.

  • Postmoderns generally want to belong before they believe.
  • Moderns generally believe before they belong.
  • Postmodern understanding of truth: “Does it work?”
  • Modern understanding of truth: “Does it add up?”
  • Postmodern metaphor for faith: Journey.
  • Modern metaphor for faith: Decision.
  • Postmodern idea of discipleship: Am I moving in the right direction?
  • Modern idea of discipleship: Am I learning the right information? Doing the right things?
  • Postmodern idea of fellowship: Community is the end.
  • Modern idea of fellowship: Community is a means to an end.
  • Postmodern idea of evangelism: Incarnational, ask questions.
  • Modern idea of evangelism: Propositional, presentational, answer questions.

Can you think of any to add?

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33 Responses to “Postmoderns vs Moderns”

  1. Paul says:

    I’m wondering about the postmodern/modern views of evangelism. I’m thinking that the modern view of evangelism was also enculturation – where we impose Chrsitian culture on an “not yet Christianised civilisation” in order to make sense of the Gospel. Postmodern evangelism would be to bring out the gospel in the already present culture. Would you agree?

  2. Great list. Thanks…

  3. I think this is a good list for the most part. I’m not sure I agree with Postmodern understanding of truth: “Does it work?”. Pragmatism is of course popular, but is easily dismissed for the sake of community. I think more common responses would include “can we know it?” and “is it loving?”

  4. Rick Meigs says:

    Paul: I think you are on to something. A postmodern would look in the present culture to see where God is working and move there. A modern might assume that God isn’t working in the present culture until we (Jesus follower) move into the culture to “Christianize it.” Is this something long the line of what you were thinking?

  5. Rick Meigs says:

    Thanks for stopping in and commenting Charles.

  6. Rick Meigs says:

    Julie, I like your alternative a lot. I guess that is pretty much how I mentally defined “Does it work?” I might put it something like, “Can I experience it or see it experienced in others?” Because I’ve experienced it, I know it to be true. Or something alone those lines.

  7. Paul says:

    Yep, Rick, that’s exactly it.

  8. Lyn says:

    It’s a good list, but I also disagree with how they have termed evangelism and understanding of truth. I agree with what Paul has written on evanglelism. Agree with Julie too – the only other word I wanted to throw in was experience, but I see you’ve already done that Rick!

  9. Webb Kline says:

    Josh McDowell says that the new generation of youth and young adults literally define truth by whether or not something works. He says that is why so many churches are failing to hang on to the young people, because what they offer isn’t working. This is why the trend toward missional is so imperative for the survivability of the post-modern church. If we get it too bogged down in institutionalism, it will become inefficient, thus ineffective, like its modern counterpart.

    For the most part, I think the list is a good one. Vague definitions, I am almost certain, intended to do what they are doing–create discourse. Bright fellow.

  10. Beyond Words says:

    I think what you have here is a definition of recovery from modernism. Most people define post-modernism as negative thing–a rejection of all metanarratives and truth. But I think we’re moving into a more holistic paradigm shift under the movement of the Spirit. I wonder how many people my age (I’m a young 54) have begun to experience it.

    I literally weep in church these days, I’m so oppressed and stifled by modernity it takes me until Tuesday to recover from Sunday. I’m praying for the Spirit to reveal to me other people to share my burden and move me into the next phase.

  11. Rick Meigs says:

    Kathy (Beyond Words): There are lots of us your age (I’m a young 56) on this journey and I think we have lots to offer because of the long road we have already walked. So, be encouraged and keep praying for one or two kindred spirits your area that you can form community around.

  12. Rick Meigs says:

    Lyn: Thanks for sharing. I’m not down on how Ben termed evangelism and understanding of truth. As Webb pointed out, they are vague, but there is still good “truth” behind the way they defined the terms. How would you make the contrast?

  13. Ben Dubow says:

    Thanks Rick for posting this… I really appeciate people’s thoughts and comments. I agree with almost everything posted so far.

    (And yes, “does it work” I think is very much linked to things like experience, love, goodness, etc–less pragmatic than experiential.

  14. Rick Meigs says:

    Webb: That is a very interesting observation Josh McDowell makes. I believe it also goes to the heart of what not-yet-Christians want to know about and/or see in the church., i.e., what justifies our existence in their community?

  15. Rick Meigs says:

    Ben: Thanks for popping over and commenting. Nice to get some additional insight.

  16. lyn says:

    Sorry Rick, I’ve obviously come across wrong. What I meant was that I felt they needed elaborating on further, and therefore agreed with what Paul and Julie had contributed.

  17. Adam says:

    The point about belonging and believing is particularly hard for churches in general to grasp. What lines, if any, do we draw? Can non-members teach Sunday school? Preach? Do we make a distinction based on the content of their faith before “letting” them take an active role, or is the “belonging” we are talking about merely in the sense of being a member of the audience (a passive receiver)?

  18. Rick Meigs says:

    Oops, sorry Lyn that I misinterpreted your first comment :-(.

  19. Rick Meigs says:

    Adam, That is just a super question! Where does one draw the line? If I can be so modern as to say that there are three groups we might consider. One is the not-yet-Christian. How would we let them belong and how could they serve? Two, the Jesus follower who is not an official member of our faith community. Would they be allowed to be actively involved in the life of the faith community and the decision making process of the body? Three, the “member.” Oh boy, I have know some “members” that had no business serving in any role, but I better not venture there.

    Maybe I’ll just make a couple of observations to extend the conversation on belonging and believing.

    1. I see no reason to preclude not-yet-Christians from actively serving with our faith communities in many areas and ministries. For example, why should they not be able to help with a homeless work, or a project to improve the environment. Could they not hand out bulletins or take an offering? Teaching and preaching would be over the line, but I’d hope they would feel free to ask questions and talk about their life and experiences. Belonging has to allow for more than being a passive receiver.

    2. I’m not big on membership. Seems to be a corporate requirement in order to obtain and hold non-profit status. I don’t see “membership” as we practice it today in the American church to be a Biblical requirement. If you are a Jesus follower, you are the church and therefore a part of it, whether local or universal. So I’d have no problem with a Jesus followers who is committed to a specific faith community being completely involved whether an official member or not (assuming spiritual maturity and orthodoxy however the group defines such terms).

  20. Matt M says:

    How do you see accountability and commitment to doctrinal distinctives being addressed without some form of “membership”? It seems as if in larger issues of service, (teaching, leadership, mentoring) some form of membership is needed to ensure the right message is being taught, lead, and mentored.

    What are your thoughts on this?

  21. Rick Meigs says:

    Hey Matt, thanks for stopping in and commenting.

    I don’t mean this to be a flippant statement, but I guess I’d handle these issues the same way the first, second and third century Christians did. Exercise Matt. 18 disciple, and if there is no change, “remove them from among you” (I Cor. 5:2).

  22. Adam G. says:


    I hear what you are saying about church membership as a corporate requirement, but at the same time I thing there is definitely something to be said for “officially” belonging. People may drift in and out of attendance, but believers REALLY need to have a sense of commitment to a community of faith. Further, leaders should only be drawn from those who demonstrate a commitment to the objectives of the local community as an extension of the reign of God on earth.

  23. Rick Meigs says:

    I completely agree Adam that every Jesus follower should be committed to some gathering of believers.

  24. RickB says:

    Very Interesting discussion…

    It is an interesting debate as to whether or not not-yet-Christians should be allowed to participate in church stuff. I love the story a pastor once told me about how he had a not-yet-Christian attending his church for some time and when it was time for the easter production he wanted to participate in it. the pastor was torn, can I do this? what the congregation think? so he gave him the role of Pontius Pilate…the not-yet-Christian man took the role, then one day during a rehearsal the pastor noticed the man sitting in the chairs just taking it all in. the pastor went and sat with him, the man told the pastor that He finally got it…he understood what it was all about. Imagine what would have happened if the pastor said sorry…church members only!

    That being said…I also have likes and dislikes about church membership, as it is done today.

  25. Rick Meigs says:

    Wow Rick, what a great story. Thanks for sharing it. Its a great illustration of a creative way to help not-yet-Christians “belong” and the impact that can have.

  26. Pastor Steve says:

    I am the youth pastor for a solidly modernist (independent Baptist) church that has the following:

    1) members-only involvement in any aspect of ministry
    2) a membership covenant (with terms that most members violate)
    3) a classroom-model evangelism and discipleship program (that doesn’t bring anyone in)


    4) an insistence that there need not be any specific ministry to the 18-35 age group in our church (which incidentally makes up about 30% or better of the regular attendance).

    The modernist Christian worldview is tight-fisted with its authority and dead-set (pun intended) on perpetuating its role as the arbiter and defender of absolute truth to the world. The “us vs. them” paradigm is rampant.

    I say all that to say this: I love the insights you all have offered, I covet your prayers, and I want to encourage every one of you to get out into the wider world and look for all the ways God speaks through nature, nurture and culture: I call these expressions of God’s character “Jesus in disguise”. We will find Him when we seek Him with our whole hearts.

    +May almighty God bless us; the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.+

  27. Rick Meigs says:

    Steve: Glad the insights have been helpful and know that you are in my prayers.

  28. Jim Ellis says:

    As our church is learning how to reach the postmodern culture I believe your insights are a very good tool to understand this sketchy topic.

  29. Rick Meigs says:

    Jim, praying that this will be helpful to you.

  30. Jeff says:

    I’ve never dived into an internet discussion like this before. I’m more of a modern thinker who has been immersed in post-modern thinking through the parachurch organization I work for, and have been both inspired and worried by what i hear from post-modern Christian circles. Your list, I think, provides a good capsule view of the differences between modern and post-modern thinking, but as I read it, the notion that screamed inside my head was, “Does this have to be an either/or proposition?”

    There are those who feel they need to have a full understanding of what they believe before they buy into community, while there are those who are attracted to the community and in time almost morph into Christians. The key is that the church needs to provide ministry that caters to both.

    When it comes to truth, both the definitions given are somewhat subjective. Not everything that works is necessarily of God, and not everything that adds up in our finite minds is necessarily truth. There’s a way that seems right to humans, but in the end it leads to death. We need to help people see truth objectively, free of our personal filters.

    Moderns make the mistake of focusing on the decision to accept Christ while neglecting the journey people are on both leading up to becoming a Christian, as well as afterwards (discipleship). Postmoderns make the mistake of focusing on the journey without emphasizing the importance of bringing people to a point of life-changing decision. BOTH are essential.
    I see our relationship with God like a marriage relationship. There are the years of courting and engagement where the relationship grows, questions are answered, and love is cultivated. There are the years of marriage where love deepens knowledge of the other intensifies. Yet, in the midst of the journey, there has to be a point where the couple says “I Do!” We have to recognize, encourage, and walk with people in their spiritual journey, while at the same time helping them come to an “I Do” decision.

    Moving in the right direction can only be informed and confirmed by having right information. Yet having right information, and even doing right things, without having the ultimate goal in sight, and moving in that direction, reduces faith to an intellectual assent rather than a vibrant, organic relationship. Right direction and right information should work hand in glove.

    On the subject of community, I would probably lean more toward the moderns. It cannot be an end in itself. However, too many moderns dismiss the importance of community, as I once heard at a church round table when a leader discussing the change of a Bible College from a dorm model to a commuter model more or less pooh-poohed the importance of community among the student body. It is extremely important. Just not sure it is an end in itself.

    Moderns do tend to lecture and teach systematically and answer questions. The problem here is, are they answering the questions people are asking? If not, then no matter how true their answers are, no one will listen. Postmoderns seem to revel in asking questions continuously, and never seem to settle on an eventual answer. Questioning is essential, but it can become so circular and inward looking that you never eventually land anywhere. The church must listen to the questions being asked, and encourage questions, but it must also provide answers in a way that people will hear and process.

    As I look at this list of what seems like 6 opposite statements, I actually see 6 potentially complementary statements. Churches, and individuals, who consistently fall in one camp or the other will, I think, consistently miss the boat. Churches and individuals that work at seeing how each pair of statements can be brought together to bring the message of the Gospel to society will, I think, have something really special going for them.

    This was probably a lot longer than it was supposed to be. Sorry. I’m new at this.

  31. Rick Meigs says:

    Jeff: Thanks you very much for commenting. You did good. I really appreciate the balanced approach your have taken.

  32. ricey says:

    Modern view of Post Modern: I don’t care
    Post Modern view of Modern: I don’t think I care.

  33. Rick Meigs says:

    Ricey: Nice :-)