Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Sovereignty in a Postmodern Theological Construct

Reading A New Kind of Christian by Brian McLaren has me thinking about my own theological constructs. Are my terms, images, and illustrations conditioned by a modern mindset (mechanistic, individualistic, consumeristic, and scientific)? Do they need to be rethought in a postmodern context?

For instance, how do I understand and express the sovereignty of God? Obviously, I believe in it (my son's name is Calvin). But does the way I express it connect with postmodern ears or am I simply parroting my modern forefather's means of talking about God?

"God is in control." Control is a term of modernity, complete with imperialistic and patriarchal overtones. Control is exterted by one individual over another. Control is something to be sought and gained by force. Control is an expression of a machine and mechanistic oriented mindset. A clockmaker has control over his clock.

Is this how God deals with us? So often we hear that people are not robots, but does our expression "God is in control" produce such a mechanistic view of humanity in relationship to him? Is this world a clock that God has designed and wounded up?

If this expression has worn out its usefulness, how then can we express the sovereignty of God in a postmodern age?

Maybe we can talk about God's influence on the world, on people. How then is this influence exerted? Are there better analogies?

God influences people like a parent influences a child.
God leads people like a head coach of a basketball team.

These thoughts are thinking out loud. More to come. Join the conversation if you wish.


Anonymous said...

God acts upon and within the world as a Maestro conducting a symphony orchestra.

God acts as the drum major directing a marching band during half time of the Rose Bowl.

God acts as the air traffic controller in the tower at O'hare International Airport.

God acts as NASA headquarters in Houston as the Space Shuttle lifts off and travels through space.



Robb said...

Thanks, A. I like these.

The musical ones bring an aspect of the beauty of harmony that is produced when everyone is in tune with each other and following the conductor.

The NASA one is interesting because NASA engineers are both the creators of the space shuttle and the caretakers of it.

I have been thinking a lot about how the computer operating system lends itself to biblical analogies. There are several I have been considering, like in 1 Cor 12-13 when the Windows 95 of gifts gives way to the XP of love.

In this context, however, maybe operating systems help us to understand the relationship between nature and will. I am free to create and work within the parameters of the programs on my computer. Change the operating system, and the possibilities are changed. This is what grace and salvation does to us - it changes our OS.

What do you think?

Anonymous said...

So are you saying Bill Gates is God??

I really, really like the computer analogy, given my new expertise in the field. Let's take it a few steps further.

God is the motherboard. Every other piece of hardware is plugged into the motherboard. The motherboard is the means by which every piece of hardware in the computer has its circuits completed. Originally we had a perfect hard drive, unaffected by sin with an OS that was perfect. Adam, and thus all mankind, opened the sin file which corrupted the OS and hard drive forever. This action binds human beings to function within the parameters of the sin affected OS. Grace is when a patch file (Jesus) is copied from the floppy drive to the hard drive paying the penalty for sin and providing more freedom of movement without some of the affects of sin within the OS. The floppy disk is in the floppy drive at all times, thus making it available to all, but we each must click and drag the file into the hard drive to experience the benefits. Those who fail to do so have permanent fatal errors on their hard drive resulting in the blue screen and a total system crash. Files are unretrievable. When those who do download the patch experience death or the rapture, the motherboard executes an OS upgrade at which point God's law is hard coded on the hard drive (written on our hearts), never to be changed again for eternity. Eternity is when the CMOS battery is removed and time is no longer relevant to the system.

I like it.

Robb said...

Wow. Amazing. Can I steal it?

Anonymous said...

Don't know about stealing it. Use it all you want, but I think I want to retain credit for that one.

Anonymous said...

"If this expression has worn out its usefulness, how then can we express the sovereignty of God in a postmodern age?"

Wow, all the responses are over my head... My thought is this, God is God! Which by his very nature puts him in complete control. I believe many in the post-modern generation simply don't want to accept that fully. Unfortunately, they're simply out of luck with that. Our responsibility in Christiandom is to express who God is (as if He can't or won't do it Himself) in a releavant way without committing adultry to the Scriptures. The trick is keeping one foot firmly planted and rooted in 1st century Scripture and the other in 21st century relavancy. I believe the post-modern activists are loosing sight of the 1st century part. Just my feelings... Blessings!

Robb said...

Thanks for your thoughts. Let me ask you a question - Is the phrase "God is in control" a first-century (i.e. biblical) phrase? We throw it around all the time like we are quoting the Bible. But, with the scant exception of Philippians 3:21, the Scriptures don't speak this way of God's influence, reign, and impact on us as people. I am not arguing with the sovereignty of God, I am searching for meaningful ways to talk about it today because it means so much to me. My loyalty is not to our old theological constructs, but to the God they seek to reflect. I am open to learning.

Robb said...

"My thought is this, God is God! Which by his very nature puts him in complete control. I believe many in the post-modern generation simply don't want to accept that fully."

I hate to play tit-for-tat here, but let me remind any interested of some things. It was modernity that asserted its independence from God.

"God is dead" - modern, not postmodern
Evolution - modern, not postmodern.
Enlightenment - modern, not postmodern.
Antisupernaturalism - modern, not postmodern
Higher Criticism - modern, not postmodern

Postmodernity is not the enemy.

Anonymous said...

"truth is relative" - post-modern not modern.

You're right post-modernism is not our enemy any more or any less than modernism is/was. Both waves have been used by God, as well as the real enemy. I am not against post-modernism, in fact I tend towards the post-modern side of things. I actually believe, even though many are not born of the "post-modern era" that most are heavily influenced by post-modernism because of the extreme cultural influences and advancments taking place, consequently most people are more post-modern than they think.
We actually seek the same thing... communicating truth that is absolute - in creative ways so as to be recieved but not changed. My original point is that I have very grave concerns that many in post-modernism ministry are 1) watering down the message to make it more acceptable and 2) creating their own "people group" called post-moderns, which often is at the extreme end of the post-modern continium and doesn't reflect the larger issue of post-modern influences.
You are correct, our loyalty is not with the "old theolical constructs" but with TRUTH, as revealed by the Word. With that, I think, yes we need to be creative and figure out ways to be relavent, however, sometimes truth is just plain hard to swallow. That is where I am afraid many are backing away from because many don't want to accept that. That leaves a big problem. Maybe sin is the next difficult issue / discussion.

This is kind of fun...

Robb said...


Thanks for posting again. I am enjoying the conversation. Touche, by the way, on the truth is relative comment!

I agree with your two critiques of postmodern ministry. Whenever anyone - be it a young pastor of a start-up church, a pastor of a mega-church or Charles Finney - waters down or changes the gospel simply to draw a crowd, there is a major problem! And, I have a bit of a problem with the popular notion of targetting specifical people groups to reach. I am not a big fan of using demographics to carefully craft a congregation. I think churches ought to be more geographically conscious than demographically conscious. (Not throwing the baby out with the bath water, of course.)

On a different note, have you read Brian McLaren's book A New Kind of Christian? How familiar are you with the emergent church? I am just a learner.

Anonymous said...

I plead ignorant twice... McLaren's book, what is it about? Do you recommend it? Why? Regarding the "emerging church," how is that defined? I may have some familiarity to it, but not know it by that terminology.

Robb said...

The emerging church is a new movement within evangelicalism where pastors and church planters are taking their postmodernism seriously. Rather than merely changing the curtains and paint in the church built on the foundation of modernity, they have started with a whole new blueprint, one based entirely on a postmodern perspective. McLaren has led the way with his book A New Kind of Christian. Others have followed suit, including Rob Bell at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids MI. Christianity Today had a cover story on it a few weeks ago. The article is still available at

Also, if you'd like to follow along, a group of pastors here in MI have a meeting called Pastors Theology Roundtable. We have just moved it online and our first online discussion which I will be moderating is on the emerging church. Look for the link on the front page of this site. Blessings ~ Robb

Anonymous said...

I'll read up on it this week... In brief, what would you say are the main values of the emerging church culture?