Grace Emerges

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Pleasing God Postmodern

by Brad Duncan

In my two previous posts I brought up the question of how God may relate to people in the postmodern era.  Based on our understanding of God's nature from the Bible and our experience, how will God leverage postmodern thinking to bring more good into the world?  How can the kingdom of the Holy Spirit grow and expand as the culture shifts from a modern one to a postmodern one?  And finally, how is our postmodern concept of God a big improvement over the modern construction of God using systems and laws?  These are the underlying questions.   Who is the God Postmodern?

In this post I would like explore the question: 

How do I please this God Postmodern? 

I will start by discussing the modern mindset on this question, and then consider how it can be different in the postmodern mindset.

Articles so far in this series:

The Modern Heartbreak

We have for so long taken for granted that we can please God through structure, that we do it without thinking.  We evaluate all of our choices, actions, and beliefs through a lens of righteousness that defines which ones will please God and which ones won't.  Choices are rapidly filtered through a decision tree using a complex system of laws of right and wrong until we come up with a choice.  If we know the Bible and have attended church since childhood, we easily determine the choice that "God would want".  If we then don't act on that choice, but choose to do something else (perhaps for a very good reason?), we feel guilty that we are not pleasing God with our choice.  Throughout the day, this accumulation of choices leaves us acting as Christians, while building up guilt when we don't.  Then there is a pent up need for "repentance" and "forgiveness" in our prayer time to clear out the list of transgressions, re-evaluate our decisions, and start fresh the next day.  I put the word "repentance" in quotes because this use of the word is not correct.  Repentance doesn't mean listing our sins and apologizing, but instead means recognizing something wrong and changing it.  In the scenario above, the wrong was recognized already and probably we wouldn't have changed anything anyway.  Also in the scenario above, "forgiveness" is the wrong word, because what we are actually asking is for God to accept us, or at least put up with us, for another day in spite of our displeasing decisions.  Let's call this scenario above the righteousness cycle.

The righteousness cycle also drives community behavior.  Communities are naturally defined by laws of inclusion and exclusion, standards of behavior we call social norms, and a culture that defines the group's purpose and character.  A community of faith is largely about protecting a certain ideal so that it stays in tact and is reinforced across the group as the members come and go.  In a typical Christian church and in the Christian community at large, defense of the status quo leads to a righteousness cycle of evaluating the actions of the group and individuals and leading others or the entire group to do what is right.  Communication of what is right occurs through the church leadership, through public statements and information broadcasting, and through many one-on-one conversations (in the American church at large, communication happens through popular media and public leaders).  In addition, the social norms that are well understood by members are enforced minute by minute through body language and verbal responses to others.  In other words, if you do something wrong in that type of community, you will quickly know it!  If you are on the perimeter of the group, you will not notice this scrutiny unless you do something glaring (try raising your hand during a sermon to ask a question :) )  but if you dig in deeper to actually belonging, you will find that membership is rife with expectations.

The righteousness cycle also drives all biblical interpretation, the understanding of the purpose of Christ's time on Earth, and our derivative purpose on Earth in the era following Christ.  In spite of many indications by Jesus to the contrary in the gospels, we interpret following Christ as an effort to secure our righteousness, in a way earning the grace of God.  We may call it faith, but what we are engaging in is more of a logic activity than a heart one, as we use the decision-tree approach to follow Christ and act according to the "gospel" to earn our salvation.  "Am I going to heaven?"  "Are you going to heaven?".  If these questions are ever asked, they reveal the righteousness cycle and the strong need we have to choose and repent, in such a way that we hope the answer is "yes" (but we are never sure)!   In our structured notion of the "gospel", faith and righteousness are pretty much interchangeable.  In other words, faith is a mental activity of evaluating our behavior based on our beliefs.  Again I quote the word "gospel" as the word actually means good news, and the above scenario doesn't quite fit with the notion of good news.

By now you might be laughing at my foolish explanations.  You might say that certainly faith is belief in a system of facts from the Bible, that our pleasing God is just because we love God and loving God takes effort, and that the gospel is the wonderful, fantastic grace of God that we are just doing our best to follow.  We might say our heart is transformed by the work of our minds, individual actions and social behavior, so that we act consistently with our love for God.  We might even say we LOVE the Bible in this role as decision fabric, as it defines for us our life and purpose.  We can call all of this activity our love for God.  I have had many heartbreaking earnest conversations with believers that are wondering about their salvation and fearing the wrath of God because they evaluate themselves constantly against the decision fabric of the Bible and find themselves lacking.  Then they consider grace and find some relief, trying to decide that God will indeed accept them, in spite of their inadequate nature.  The righteousness cycle leads to a need for Christ.  The work of Christ is explained as a mechanism by which God can accept us in spite of our failures, and the gospel of grace is sort of a standardized forgiveness that we are guaranteed as long as we keep repenting and perpetuating the righteousness cycle.

This is heartbreaking for believers mainly for one reason - it doesn't feel like the love of God.  It is in fact a constant reinforcement that God doesn't like us, that God loves us in spite of ourselves, or that God's love is conditional.

I have also heard believers in frustration at some point declare "what's the point? If I will never be good enough why should I keep trying?"  Or at times one will question "If I was so bad that the only thing God could think of to do for me was send his Son to die to make me good enough, then why do I really want to believe in this God anyway?  What kind of parent is God anyway (to us, and to Jesus)".  Comparing God's actions and nature with what we understand as parenting leaves us perplexed, and wondering about God's core nature.  God is LOVE.  But what we experience is not love.  We simply hope to find LOVE in heaven but give up in truly finding it on Earth.  To quote Bono, in spite of all of our efforts to be loved "I still haven't found, what I'm looking for."

This feeling of inadequacy spreads to all areas of life, and we aren't ever confident that just being human is good enough.

How is this notion of the gospel reinforced?  Just try to challenge it - ask a believer if you really have to do this stuff to go to heaven, and you will find that it is strongly reinforced by a system of laws directly taken from the Bible.  It is the "gospel" where "gospel" means unquestionable truth, rather than good news.  In other words, it's the truth, simply because it's the truth - the gospel truth as they say.  It's logical because it says it's logical, etc.  Any modern system can validate itself using circular logic, by building into its structure a law that states that the structure is right.  If that happens, then questioning the structure is wrong, thus reinforcing that we must all follow the structure.  It is simply a defense mechanism of modern thought to add rules that reinforce the cycle and perpetuate the system.  If we question too far - in a government, we call it treason!  In church we call it blasphemy or heresy or disrespect for the Bible.  It's just not okay to question the structure at it's core, because if we do we threaten the structure's reason for existence.

Still need proof?  You might say that our belief system is more tolerant and loving than I have described.  Ask yourself if you would accept others that clearly fall outside of righteousness rules, if they wanted to be core members of the group.  How would you respond to them, correct them, and guide them toward being right in order to fully participate in the group?  If they insisted on going against the flow, would you pull an emergency rip-cord and notify the leadership of their errant behavior?  What if a person claims full faith but stands up contrary to a core belief?  Would you offer that person acceptance or disdain?  Would you let them teach your child's class?  I can ask myself this question because for years I honestly in the name of Christ offered plenty of disdain and chastisement to others, to help reinforce what I thought was right, and for their own good.  I remember when heavy metal music was wrong and we were expected to criticize people who liked it (I'm showing my age here - that would have been the early 80's)!  Now I love it!  In fact, bands like Metallica are earnestly exploring God and the implications of faith, much like I am doing in this blog.  In some ways they are more aware of what the Church is doing (albeit from the outside), than it's members.

Back to the subject at hand, if you are honest with yourself, you can quickly think of several areas of "sin" where you would readily chastise another believer if called upon to do so.  You might even go as far as to say that someone's eternal future in heaven is at stake if you don't chastise them.

These are Christian congregations that advertise as accepting gays.  What about all the others?

If you still don't believe me, than ask yourself about the stated purpose of baptism and communion, the two most important institutional practices of the church.  Aren't they reinforcing the modern notion of righteousness through action, to declare group membership and loyalty, and to encourage regular repentance of sins?  (In fact these two practices could be used much differently - I'll go into that at a different time - and I'm sure I'll offend some people by even bringing it up :) ).

So, bringing this to a point - modernism has done this to us.  We derive meaning and membership from structure, just like we engineer a bridge using Newton's laws, material properties, and structural analysis.  In the modern mindset, laws are life, and we have no meaning in life without them.  I recall reading the famous Christian book by Rick Warren "The Purpose-Driven Life: What on Earth am I Here For?", and attending Bible study groups where we went through the 40-days of studying this book.  I liked it.  It felt like a well-explained structure for living using modern language and examples.  But I also grew to dislike it, feeling that something was off.  Now I know why -- it is a perfectly modern synopsis of the structure of Christianity.  Take a read and see if you agree.  Now I have a completely negative reaction to this type of thinking.  Why?  Because this notion of life is extremely performance based.  We achieve purpose through excellent performance.  We are inadequate when we can't achieve that performance.  I wrote several articles on this idea (here is one).  I really like the article in which I explained an alternative concept to the purpose/performance-driven life, which I called the perspective-driven life.  Ok here's an excerpt:

Why call it "Perspective-Driven"?  If we open our eyes to see the world the way that God does, and conversely to see God as Jesus demonstrated and revealed God's nature, then we are driven to lives of peace, caring about others, and living in the present.  

Whereas the old modern definition of Christianity is a call to a high level of achievement in our relationship with God, the new progressive definition of Christianity is a call to a high level of awareness of the present and of the needs of other people, more as a partnership with God than as a fulfillment of a prescribed purpose.  [end of excerpt]
What do you think?  Does fulfillment come more from achievement or awareness?  


As they say, "seeing is believing!"  In fact, seeing the truth and ourselves through God's eyes gives us a true perspective that replaces the inadequacy coming from seeing our purpose only as a call to achievement.   Note that the words achievement, performance, purpose, righteousness, and adequacy are all the same concept in modern faith - namely, acceptance via right choices.

The Postmodern Sigh

Ok now that I have made you feel fully depressed, take a deep breath.  If you are feeling like a robot in a faith factory, breathe in the air of true forgiveness and grace.  Take the quotation marks off of faith, repentance, forgiveness, gospel, grace and love.  What will you find?  FREEDOM!  Freedom from the cycle of sin?  In a way, yes, but more like, freedom from needing to engage in the righteousness cycle at all.  Isn't it freedom from our inadequacy that we so earnestly seek?  The modern Christ doesn't fully offer that kind of freedom, but the postmodern gospel offers freedom from ever being inadequate in the first place.  How?  If the gospel comes from the Bible, how can it offer this type of freedom, when the Bible is a system we simply must follow?  Certainly many people who have left their faith do so because they see the Bible as a modern law book which they must choose to either follow, or not.  

Without going into a long description of postmodern hermeneutics, I would summarize by saying that our interpretation of the Bible in the modern era was largely a product of the modern times we were living in.  

We had no choice but to see the Bible as a constitutional hierarchy creating a fabric of laws, in spite of many passages in the Bible that contradict that notion or call us to an even higher standard of righteousness than simply following laws (that's why we call it the "New" Testament).  In fact, in the modern era, God used our modern mindset to do great things, to build a populist faith structure that propagated the knowledge of Christ to the entire world.  In fact, I'm not negative about it relative to the times it was born out of -- it was a good thing at the time, and God used it for good.  However, it also left many, many people behind (e.g., native Americans, Jewish people! For a long time - women were allowed only second-class status!, the list goes on and on).  In so many ways we are willing to make advancements and progress in society, when we learn something new.  It should be the same in faith.  We should learn our lessons and move to something better.  The Bible actually supports the notion that we should abandon religious shallowness, abandon performance-based elitism, and embrace authentic knowledge of God and ourselves as God's children.  Then we will see our true role in building the kingdom of God on Earth.    

So, now let me answer the original question.  What pleases God?  The answer is simple:

God is pleased already.  There's nothing you can do to change that.

God has already covered our inadequacy with grace!  Through the work of Christ we are accepted and redeemed (meaning rescued from all inadequacy), not first despised/rejected/hated, and then somehow made acceptable through our faith or actions.  Did you ever fully absorb these words spoken by Jesus to Nicodemus?:

17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:17)


Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” (John 3:3)

These words which we consider as the very core of the gospel message spoken by Jesus, speak of complete transformation of us and the entire world, through the sending of God's Son into the world.  Notice how the notion of being "born again" is about awareness - we must open our eyes anew in order to see the kingdom of God.  Any notion of performance requirements here?  Somehow the modern world turned this into a structure of faith requirements, and a notion that God is displeased but willing to overlook that displeasure at the request of Jesus.  Really?  Is that what 3:17 says?  NO !  God did this!  God and God's kingdom are about total rescue of the world, and we need to see this rescue as a new kingdom created by God, by looking through God's eyes and being completely reborn.  Transformation through awareness, not through the cycle of artificial repentance to achieve righteousness. 

What pleases God?  God is pleased already.  Enough to send Jesus to rescue us from all inadequacy, and to promote us to full kingdom status.  Love without qualifications.  If you were the parent in this relationship, what would you do?  Would you be happy with your kids even when they mess up, even proud of them?  Or would your acceptance be earned day to day by good behavior?  Breathe a sigh of relief.  God is the perfect parent.  End of story.

Modern God: Needs to be pleased and appeased
God Postmodern: Is happy already!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Modern God

by Brad Duncan

I guess the hardest thing to accept about God Postmodern (see my previous post) for many Christians is our need for God to stay exactly the same in relation to mankind, even as mankind goes through significant historical, cultural and societal shifts.  Faith is expected to  be so decoupled from science and culture (often counter to both) that all beliefs should be static even when both science and culture make a significant change.  Of course this is impossible.  Our beliefs are a product of our minds, which cannot be decoupled from the way we think.  I realize that some Christians will say that beliefs ARE static, and are fully determined from the Bible, e.g., that there is only one proper way to interpret anything about God, and that was statically established in God's Word.  However, if that were the case, why have beliefs evolved so significantly from era to era, and from denomination to denomination?  What of theology from the age of the Renaissance is still commonly believed today at the end of the Modern Era?  If theology is static, perhaps we would all be Catholic?  However, even the Catholic church updates its beliefs when times change (caveat - another subject I am not an expert in).  Though many churches in modern America and around the world fully believe they are fully right (just ask them and they will tell you!) it is literally impossible for each of them to be right.  Still many will argue there is a common foundation of absolute truth connecting all Christians, in spite of the myriad of differences found in the present day, as well as the constantly shifting sands of theology which have occurred from the time of Christ to the present day.  Let's name this common foundation of theology, let's call it the Modern God.  Certainly this modern god is not the same as gods of ages past, and will not be the same as future versions of theology, so let's examine it as a product of its times.  What is the God of the modern era?  Before you get all offended that I am saying God is fickle - let me reiterate that I am asking about how we believe about God, how God relates to mankind, and not about God's nature itself which is far beyond anything we can fathom and is certainly not affected by human cultural shifts.  

What is the Modern God?  Or more specifically, how was our view of God a product of the times we were living in?  
Can you see that our view of God mirrors the very structure that we have created for society?  Let me elaborate.  The Modern God is a god of structure built from systems of laws.  Systematic theology is the art of finding the foundational principles that can be used to build a structure for believing in God.  We identify the key attributes of God, the key wishes of God, the key elements of our purpose here on Earth, and we assemble them into a tower of right thinking that defines our view of God.  Anything that is not essential to the tower standing on its foundation, can be left as a matter of opinion, but the tower itself is static and will be heavily defended if questioned.  From this aspect alone, regardless of what these foundational principles ARE, we can already identify the fingerprints of modern thinking.  God MUST conform to laws and principles, and we MUST build something static out of those.  We call it FAITH.  Many churches have "Articles of Faith" which describe the tower I am talking about.  You are probably familiar with it.  When was the last time you heard a sermon on "Re-Evaluating the Articles of Faith"?  Perhaps a minor wording or constitutional adjustment is needed from time to time, but when were the common points ever up for debate?  I would propose NEVER.  When someone poses a thought that is counter to the articles of faith, there is a serious backlash.  In fact that is how our denominational structure fractured and split into so many variants, each with their own articles of faith.  We cannot ever seem to "agree to disagree" in the modern age, as we all find it offensive when our faith structure is questioned.  Perhaps we are too insecure in our own faith to openly question our fundamental beliefs in God?  Perhaps we have weighed FAITH at higher value than RELATIONSHIP with God - to the point that our faith cannot be challenged without us becoming very uncomfortable?  As I ask why?, you see that the question is summarized: 

Why do we insist on God following our system of faith?  Shouldn't it be the other way around?  Shouldn't our faith simply follow God?   

I will hone in first on one aspect of the Modern God, in contrast to the God Postmodern.  First, let's discuss worship, cutting right to the chase.  The Modern God likes to be worshiped.    We like to build our cathedrals, assemble the choirs, line up in rows of seats, create a structured order of events, and proceed to worship emphatically for 90 minutes.  We also recommend personal worship to follow a structure that works for us at home for 5-60 minutes daily.  Outside of this time we are of course to "pray without ceasing" and continue the worship throughout the day, every day.  In other words, the Modern God REALLY likes worship.  Why?  Is it fundamental to God's nature to require other beings to say "I love you. I love you. I love you." repetitively?  Honestly, would you like it if your wife did that to you, when all you really want is to have an intelligent conversation?  So does God need our worship?  Certainly not.  So, again, why?  Is it because we are avoiding intimate communing with God that we have to communicate according to patterns and structure?  Probably we are doing that because our FAITH says that God requires that of us, even though it feels a bit robotic.  Like a food pyramid of so many fruits and vegetables per day, our FAITH requires us to have proper doses of all the necessary ingredients of worship.  We view God through a Modern lens of structure - to please God requires structured thinking and structure actions.  Discipline.  Time management.  Organization.  Purpose in everything.  These structured thoughts and actions lead of course to Holiness - being like God and/or pleasing to God (depending on our particular views).  It is correct to say that we worship because we think it pleases God and makes us Holy and Right.  In other words, the Modern God REALLY REALLY likes worship!

In contrast, the God Postmodern likes people more than worship.  

That's right - God actually likes people in the postmodern view.  People themselves, are not that structured, not that disciplined, not that predictable.  But they tend to love and be loved, forming into communities, feeling pain and joy, making decisions, doings things...  The artistic, creative side of people may USE structure, but this structure does not produce the same thing time and time again.  A writer may use appropriate order to create a book, but the books he or she writes are never the same twice!  Same for any creative activity.  If God actually likes people, then God may not be that interested in being pleased at all.  God may be more interested in walking alongside us, participating in life, joining in creation and creativity.  Not overriding our lives with activities that are purely spiritual or religious.  Worship, like love, should be inherent in that relationship.  Worship is the fabric and texture of our relationship with God, but not a replacement for relationship.  Certainly God is holy and amazing!  We recognize God's handiwork and give thanks and appreciation.  But then we move on, because it is not enough to say it.  We must ask "then what?" or "now what?" or "so what does this mean for me?"  Appreciation and love for God must bring our bodies and minds to the table, so to speak, so that we can enjoy the dinner!  What does God want from us?  LIFE !  Jesus said "I have come that you would have life, and have it more abundantly."  If we fundamentally believe that God likes us and values LIFE, we will replace static worship structure with authentic relationship.  

We will value the person of God more than the structure of faith.  We will let God transform us through the renewing of our minds, through the active work of the Holy Spirit.  We will let God teach us to THINK.  We will learn to SEE.  We will learn to FEEL.  We will learn to CARE.  We will learn to INVEST.  

We will share in God's passion - passion for all creation.  Our faith will be a product of this transformation, not the structure that it is built out of.  The God Postmodern is simply a more human God, who values humanity.  We have God inside each of us and are made in God's image.  Can't we say that God's nature and human nature are connected?  Can we bring the human back into Christianity?  Can we value people more than structure?  Worship is just a product of having a community of people in which God is also invited to participate.  It doesn't make us holy or right.  It doesn't differentiate us from others to make us "right worshipers" compared to others.  In fact worship is not for God at all !  It is for us.  It is the lifting up of our spirits as we recognize and appreciate the truth about the God who created us.  God only likes it because it brings US joy.  Again, God cares more about people than worship, and as long as it is bringing us some joy and fulfillment, a celebration, God is probably happy about it.  But don't forget that this celebrating should not be the whole party.  Celebrating can be rather shallow if that's all we do.  Authentic relationship requires going deeper into the passion of life, asking "now what?" and then doing something with it and about it.  Seeing others around you with the passion of God will TRANSFORM EVERYTHING you do, and will lead you to stop all the worshiping and move on to engage in community and relationship.

Modern God: Likes WORSHIP
God Postmodern: Likes PEOPLE

Thursday, April 24, 2014

God Postmodern

by Brad Duncan

I have been working on this theory for a while, so here it goes.  I'll try to explain how God is working in the postmodern era to do something new and exciting.

The modern era is just now ending.  We are so dreadfully close to it that we often can't see the forest for the trees, but the end can be seen if you look for it.  

The modern era is the result of the industrial age, scientific advancement, global economics, and the elevation of the middle class through democracy and consumerism.  In short, life as we know it in developed nations, with cities, neighborhoods, schools, churches, gas stations, grocery stores, commutes, traffic jams, Starbucks on the corner, and Best Buy within a 10-mile drive are all modern-era accomplishments.  When I say we, I also cringe, because I am also dreadfully aware that this era leaves many people out, who may look at my life with envy mixed with incredulity at the rich and shallow life I lead while they are worried about scraping by at the grocery store, and finding a job in a society that seems to have left them behind while unemployment stays around 10%.  Those in the poorest areas and developing nations are certainly seeing slow improvements in poverty in a statistical sense, but intense poverty remains a reality as the modern era ends.  While capitalism and consumerism raise the quality of life for the "haves" in the world, it also creates a bigger distance between the "haves" and the "have nots".

Articles so far in this series:
God Postmodern
Modern God
Pleasing God Postmodern
Postmodern Right and Wrong
The Modern Defense

So when I say the "modern era", what do I mean specifically?  I'm referring mainly to a system of thought that drives education, government, economics and society around the world, a system characterized by structure.  In summary, modern thought consists of systems of laws which are built into constitutions to create modern governments, laws which are knit together to create modern technological science, laws which define households, institutions, businesses, cities, states, and countries as economic entities, and laws which define other aspects of society such as culture, art, music, sexuality, morality, etc.  So the modern era is pervasive across all areas of life, and I have named some of the main areas (government, science, economics, and culture).  

When I say the modern era is ending, what do I mean?  The modern era is ending due to a flaw that we have found in the system.  As more and more people are realizing it, the more society is ready to move on from the modern era and leave it behind.  The future is something different, something WE will make it, because the world does not remain static.  Postmodern, from today's point of view, simply means "after modern," or simply what comes next.  The modern era did not create a perfect system, of course, and as we seek to rectify it's flaws, advancements occur in government, science, economics, and culture -- and in our entire way of thinking. So due to the effort of us all to improve the world around us, the postmodern era will sweep over us, and change everything.  

What is the flaw in modern thinking?  The flaw is obvious: structures made by systems of laws are limited, because they leave people behind.  

Human institutions are limited because they are impersonal, uncaring, shallow, competitive, performance-based, and focused on the bottom line.  Human institutions are inhuman.  They don't care about those that do not benefit from the structure.  In a competitive world, those that can perform well can jump onto the fast moving train of society and live well and prosper for all or part of their lives. They can use their prosperity to improve the chances of success for their children, passing on vital education and resources to the next generation to help our children perform as well as we did (if we did well) or better than we did (if we didn't do so hot).  In the past it was called the American Dream.  Today I would call it the American Scramble -- the fear and pressure to help our children grow up to succeed as least as well as we have.  

I didn't make this stuff up, and it will happen with or without me, but what I see are the signs that as society tries to take a look at those left behind, and rectify our behavior that led to them being left behind, society will struggle to make the current system work.  In trying to fix its flaws, it will invert structures, it will embrace new concepts, it will attempt to humanize the inhuman systems, it will attempt to embrace a broader morality based on equality rather than competitive elitism.  In a word, it will deconstruct the societal systems, shining a bright light on the underlying assumptions and glaring flaws, and will attempt to define a new world where those assumptions are questioned.  Deconstruction will seem cynical, ironic or absurd at times, as it laughs at the things we are so proud to have built, revealing our society to be incredibly shallow and uncaring.  Deconstruction is the ability to laugh at ourselves and not take what we have built so seriously.  It will also seem radical at times, as it proposes equality for the marginalized, reduced rights for the extreme rich, or standardized access to healthcare, education, food, water, etc.  See the definition of postmodern below, and you will see that my definition is appropriate.  

In short, the postmodern era leads to the deconstruction of societal structures, in order to attempt to fix the flaws exposed when considering people as more important than progress.

You might ask "how"?  If this system we have built is so strong, how will it ever change?  The answer is: it will change itself.  The reason is that due to the dependence on laws and logical structure, the system will implode and deconstruct itself, when the logic doesn't hold.  The law & logic that "all people are created equal" does not fit into the current system which promotes performance-based elitism.  The more we realize that, the more those left behind will stand up against those with power, and the more revolution will occur.  The more that "thinking people" realize the foolishness of our thinking, the more we will stand up for those left behind and help to change the system.  Certainly those with power will fight the change, but the change in core thinking cannot be stopped.  The modern era will deconstruct itself due to its dependence on order and structure - its dependence on the idea that everything makes sense and that overriding principles must be followed.  The more the overriding principle of "equality" rises in importance and is embraced, the more the system's assumptions will be questioned.  When critical pillars of society are scrutinized and found lacking, the ripple effect of trying to change them will bring significant transformation.

Deconstruction will not lead to destruction, but rebuilding using only the essential elements.  Deconstruction is naturally followed by reconstruction.

While it may seem dangerous to have this type of revolution, and it may be painful, deconstruction is a healthy renewal of society that can occur due to keeping essential elements as important, while reducing the importance of the flawed elements.  More specifically, postmodern deconstruction is the tearing down and rebuilding of modern thinking, to rectify the concepts that no longer make sense when questioned.

I'm trying to think of a really clear example, so here goes.  Let's apply postmodern thought to childhood education.  If we decide that the child is more important than the grades & performance, we will invert the way we educate in order to best meet the needs of each child, regardless of how they measure on standard tests, leading to the best possible outcome of a healthy educated child.  If we try to fix the flaws in elementary education, we will reduce the importance of structure (deconstructing it) and replacing it with something more personal and effective, which in the end meets its goal much better of educating our children.   Postmodern education is about the child, and not about the standardized measures of performance which in the past were used to help improve the overall education of the masses while leaving many children behind.  The modern era fulfilled its purpose in improving life for many, in this example helping more children be able to read and do math, etc., but in rectifying the flaws in this system many of the previous structures will need to be abandoned.  Certainly we will have teachers, but will we have classrooms that look like they do today?  Will we have tests?  These are all subject to being scrapped if they no longer work.  The essential, more human, elements will be kept.  I think its a good example that we are actually seeing unfold in the educational system at all levels. 

If you know me, you know I'm no expert on government, education or economics and don't normally write on those topics.  I am a scientist and engineer, and I can indeed see how certain principles that we've built our "science" upon are regularly questioned and deconstructed.  Science now has a healthy belief that laws are often uncertain and relative, chaos is more common than structure, and attempting to measure something often changes the state of that thing, making the measurement less meaningful.  In fact science has blazed the trail into the postmodern era, and culture and thought have simply followed suit.  But I don't normally write about science either.

I am a novice theologian, and as a Christ-follower and writer, I have been helping society see how to deconstruct modern Christianity in order to make it more personal.  More about the person and less about the laws and structure.  I'm on a quest to find out what God is doing in the postmodern era.  And I am excited when I think about it.  What could our infinitely creative and powerful God do with this opportunity, in which society is willing to question its man-made structures and reconsider deeper concepts even if they undermine our own sense of reality?  God can CHANGE EVERYTHING !  -- and do it through normal human choices, resources and efforts.  

Those that love God and want to make the world a better place have never before lived in a time like this.  A time of revolution and inspiration.  A time of authenticity and concern.  A time of humility and introspection. A time for change.

We, as a society, are doing something God yearns to do in each of us, and that is to embrace transformation through better seeing ourselves in our core nature.  When we see the flaws and are willing to change them (this is called repentance), then we are transformed.  We are deconstructed.  God is a god of deconstruction and rebuilding.  God is a god postmodern.  Certainly God invented everything we today call "science".  God invented uncertainty and chaos.  Everything we call postmodern was created initially by God, even though God then gave humans the authority and creativity to fashion society as we saw fit.  But God does not sit idle while we diligently work ...  on the contrary God is always at work to bring transformation, and to bring good out of evil.  

Certainly God is God Postmodern. 

What does this mean for the church and for religion in general?  If I have unlimited time and space on blogger servers, I could fill them with writing on this topic.  Keep watching GraceEmerges and I'll try to keep the deconstruction coming in regular intervals.... And if you made it this far, thanks for reading!  Take a moment to write a comment below.  Is God postmodern to you?

And of course there's more to it than my oversimplification above. Here is another interesting link about postmodernism:, and a link to a book about Christianity in the post-modern era:

Now some definitions: from


 noun \ˌdē-kən-ˈstrək-shən\
: a theory used in the study of literature or philosophy which says that a piece of writing does not have just one meaning and that the meaning depends on the reader

Full Definition of DECONSTRUCTION

:  a philosophical or critical method which asserts that meanings, metaphysical constructs, and hierarchical oppositions (as between key terms in a philosophical or literary work) are always rendered unstable by their dependence on ultimately arbitrary signifiers; also :  an instance of the use of this method <a deconstruction of the nature–culture opposition in Rousseau's work>
:  the analytic examination of something (as a theory) often in order to reveal its inadequacy


 adjective \ˌpōs(t)-ˈmä-dərn, ÷-ˈmä-d(ə-)rən\
: of or relating to postmodernism

Full Definition of POSTMODERN

:  of, relating to, or being an era after a modern one<postmodern times> <a postmodern metropolis>
a :  of, relating to, or being any of various movements in reaction to modernism that are typically characterized by a return to traditional materials and forms (as in architecture) or by ironic self-reference and absurdity (as in literature)
b :  of, relating to, or being a theory that involves a radical reappraisal of modern assumptions about culture, identity, history, or language <postmodern feminism>
— post·mod·ern·ism  noun
— post·mod·ern·ist  adjective or noun
— post·mo·der·ni·ty  noun

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

An Easter Reflection

 A few days late to the party to post something for Easter, I wanted to bring this post from last year back around again.  Even more than ever I strongly believe that Jesus was a two-way bridge, pointing us to God, and showing how God lives in us through the Holy Spirit.  Take a look at how his actions in Luke 4-7 say about God's nature and ours.  Take a few moments and consider how you would fill in the blanks below...

Also/p.s., I want to get back into writing, for fun and for personal expression of my faith.  So look for more regular blog posts from me on GraceEmerges .

by Brad Duncan

As I reflect on what Jesus did in his ministry on Earth and with his death on the cross, I can't help but see human nature through God's eyes.  At the same time I see God's nature through Jesus.

  • God, who sent his Son to be human, so he could in turn show us what the Father is like.
  • God whose plan from the beginning of time was to establish something good on Earth, where his creation would participate in a kingdom of his design.
  • God made something good when he designed us.
  • Jesus came to us and showed us good.
  • The Holy Spirit continues to be the force of good in the world, working among us and bringing about God's good intentions.
Take a look at this table: it lists some of the things that Jesus did in Luke chapters 4-7.  It challenges us to consider what these choices and actions shows us about God's nature.  As Jesus reflected God's nature, why did he do these things. what do they show us about God's nature?  Then it challenges us to consider what we should do to follow Jesus as we continue what he started through the help of the Holy Spirit.

The Good News
of the Incarnation and God’s Kingdom

God the Father:

What does this show us about God’s nature and God’s view of human nature?

Jesus the Incarnation of God:

What Did Jesus Do?

The Holy Spirit:

What should we do with the help of the Holy Spirit as part of God’s kingdom?
Brought good news to the poor,
released the captives,
healed the blind,
liberated the oppressed, 
proclaimed God’s favor
(Luke 4:18,19, 6:20,21)
Forgave sins, healed the sick, was compassionate and taught us compassion
(Luke 5:17-26,6:36)
Accepted the rejected, called them to follow him, led people to change their hearts and lives
(Luke 5:27-31)
Valued doing good over following traditions and rules, resisted the religious establishment
(Luke 6:6-11,39-48)
Loved his enemies, always resisted peacefully, taught that God blesses both the good and evil with kindness, taught us to do the same
(Luke 6:27-35)
Withheld judgment of sinners, outcasts and outsiders, taught us not to judge others, taught us to be generous and gracious
(Luke 6:37-38, 7:36-50)

So why do I see human nature in the Incarnation?  Well we were created in God's image.  But we can't see God to know what he's like.  Instead we can see Jesus, who shows us God.  He's like a mirror of what human nature can be on its best day: forgiving, compassionate, accepting, able to resist favoritism and prejudices, kind to enemies, generous, gracious, and firmly standing for justice!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Cure

Hate is often a product of fear, 
but perfect love dismantles it.

Love is both the opposite of hate 
and the cure for it.

Grace is unconditional and unearned love.  
There's no room for hate in grace.

The diseases of hate and fear are highly contagious. 
But so is the cure.

*future famous quotes by Brad Duncan, 4/6/14*