She bore a son, and he called his name Gershom; for he said, “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land.” Exodus 2:22 (RSV)
To my astonishment, it was my service as a Commissioner from my local church to the Presbytery of Chicago (PCUSA) that led to my current state of cultural disorientation. Over the past 25 years I have served as Deacon, Elder, Christian Education committee member and Pastoral Nominating Committee member (among others) at local Presbyterian churches. These service experiences have varied from wonderful to terrible. In a mainline denomination such as the PSUSA I have fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ whose theological perspectives range from progressive to evangelical to fundamentalist. Although I sometimes find myself in strong disagreement with these church members, I certainly don’t find reason to question the fundamentals of their Christian faith. It is in the Presbytery of Chicago that I have been directly exposed to a combination of philosophy, ideology and religion that appears to be in opposition to my understanding of orthodox, Reformed Christianity.
Protestantism has been wracked by debates and schisms between progressive, evangelical and fundamentalist theological viewpoints. These modern conflicts have already done great damage to the standing of Protestant Christianity. However, members of the PCUSA, regardless of their theological perspective, had generally accepted that accommodation of diverse viewpoints is an important value – both as a means to pursue God’s truth and to maintain unity in a complex, individualistic society.
It is the addition of postmodernist philosophy to Christian thought that has immensely increased the level of irresponsibility and destructiveness to this situation. Postmodernist philosophy has influenced all of Western Christianity. However, in the PCUSA, denominational elites appear to have been the most strongly influenced. This is highly consequential, as this group has assumed a position of dominance in PCUSA governance. I will call their belief system “postmodern Christianity.”
I first discovered the existence of “postmodern Christianity” in 2012, when, as a new Presbytery Commissioner, I investigated the troubling Overture titled “On Committing Ourselves to Respectful Dialogue with Those who Hold Differing Convictions—From the Presbytery of Chicago.” The results of this investigation can be found in the page titled HONORING CHRIST IN OUR RELATIONSHIPS. My experience investigating the issue of same-gender marriage in the PCUSA has confirmed the presence, power and persistence of this heterodox brand of Christianity. My early posts to this blog will primarily focus on same-gender marriage in the PCUSA with an emphasis on the impact of “postmodern Christianity.”
Many of the individuals and organizations that I include in postmodern Christianity are seeking to be kind, generous, loving and honest. They truly believe that they are “doing good” in all that they propose and achieve. Thus, it is not their motives that I am primarily calling into question. Rather, I am pointing out that this group has bought into fundamental errors regarding the nature of truth; God’s character, purpose and Word; Christian theology; and human abilities and prospects as moral actors, among others. As has been often demonstrated in history, good motives applied to the promotion of flawed ideas leads to negative, and sometimes disastrous consequences.
While I had been exposed to small doses of postmodern Christianity throughout my engagement with the local church, it was not until I became a Presbytery Commissioner that the full extent and consequence of this belief system became apparent. That is, though postmodern Christianity permeates the church, the depth and power of its influence was difficult to recognize within the mix of practical, personal issues and relationships that dominate the local church.
My conscious entry into the “foreign land” of postmodern Christianity occurred when I arrived on the floor of the Presbytery of Chicago (PoC). However, it’s clear that some of the perplexities I have experienced in the PCUSA also had their root in postmodern Christianity.
Although this blog will not be limited to an exploration of postmodern Christianity, this topic will dominate my meditations for some time. This is the case because the consequences of this belief system are currently very powerful and real within the PCUSA.