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Andy Crouch


Let's Get Personal

Yes, the church needs to get past modernity's impersonal techniques. But adding the prefix post doesn't solve anything

If you've been to a conference on the state of the church in the last five years, chances are you've heard it said that while we live in a postmodern world, the church is still largely stuck with assumptions and practices shaped by modernity. That's the thesis of A New Kind of Christian (Jossey-Bass), by Brian McLaren, the founding pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church in the Washington- Baltimore area. What follows here is the first in a series of three responses to McLaren's book, after which McLaren himself will respond. Next issue: Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church.

There is something quintessentially American—not to mention modern—about the title of Brian McLaren's book. St. Luke famously described the citizens of Athens as "spending their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new." Imagine what he would have said about the denizens of advanced consumer capitalism, for whom the pursuit of novelty has become a veritable patriotic obligation. We spend our time not so much telling or hearing, as buying and selling, a new kind of everything under the sun.

The first chapters of A New Kind of Christian don't entirely ward off such skepticism. Neo, the book's Caribbean American postmodern muse, leads off with a series of admitted "gross oversimplification[s]" that recite the now-familiar case for postmodernity. (Neo, by the way, joins a host of spirit guides of African descent in recent popular culture, from Will Smith in The Legend of Bagger Vance to Whoopie Goldberg and Laurence Fishburne in The Matrix. The significance of these enigmatic characters, almost always helping a white Everyman come to terms with his past and his destiny, is worth pondering.) According to Neo, the modern era was characterized by, among other distinctives, conquest and control, secular science, objectivity, the monolithic organization and nation-state, individualism, and consumerism. (No real exploration here of how individualism and monolithic organizations managed ...

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