In the year that I was born, Joseph Sittler, former professor of biblical theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School wrote the following in Essays on Nature and Grace.
As biblical and theological scholarship moves toward a more inclusive and precise formulation of the hermeneutical problem, more serious attention is being given to what theological implications inhere in style of speech and forms of rhetoric as these come to us from the earliest Christian communities. [from "Evocations of Grace," p. 98}
The hermeneutical issues inherent in the way communities are formed, what we believe, how our social systems are shaped, how our biases are generated and solidied, how power is used and abused... these are not new issues. The "linguistic turn" as it's usually called, and the move towards a non-foundationalist epistemology (which are two critical cultural/ philosophical/ theological changes underneath postmodernity) are not new on the scene. The hoopla in the church today over these questions, their potential danger according to some, the risk of moving towards a hermeneutic more sensitive to these issues, and the emerging church are played like the bogie man has suddenly arrived. As the quote above reminds us from the year of my birth... this is an issue that goes back well over 36 years, and even more. Theologians and philosophers and linguists have been working on these issues for decades. It is only lately that the cultural tide of postmodernity has really begun to rattle the things that so many of us have held dear. Had we been paying attention all along, we might have been more prepared as a church to engage with this shifting cultural and philosophical paradigm without running scared and immediately becoming defensive or reactionary.
Again... one more reason for the church to be constantly listening with one ear to the culture. Hear me clearly... not so that we can change what we believe to suit the culture or that culture holds even a candle to the revelation of God and his interaction with creation, but so that we can more clearly understand who God is, who we are, and what we believe in the midst of shifting cultural sands, emerging global and local (glocal) realities and communicate with that culture in the language it is using. We must stop creating bunkers to retreat from a changing culture or we truly fail to be salt and light in the world because we salt food people aren't eating or light up places where no one lives.
Ask yourself: "What good does it do to put an extravagant lighting system in abandoned factory built for making Polaroid film when even Polaroid has decided to stop making Polaroid and go digital?"
Or, "Why dump your greatest investment dollars in Jolt Cola if everyone's now drinking Starbucks, Rockstar, and Green Tea?"
I know those are strange questions... or analogies... but that's what it sometimes feels like churches do because we like Jolt and Polaroids.
Here is one of my favorite verses as of late: "No one, after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, 'the old is better.'" [Luke 5:39]
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