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The Demise of Metanarrative and the Implications for Culture

Metanarratives, in contrast, are unifying stories that are beyond the individual. The locus of a worldview is within the self as an individual; the locus of a metanarrative is external to the self. I adopt a worldview, but fall under the influence of a metanarrative. James Fowler describes metanarratives as “unifying notions of universal truth.”6 Metanarratives go beyond worldview.

This can be seen clearly in the Enlightenment period when secular and Christian perspectives went their own separate ways with regard to worldview. Where they did not part was with regard to the metanarrative under which they operated. While science went one way and began to explore the physical world, theology (acting like science) went another to explore faith, but both used the same tools of logic, analysis, and the conviction that knowledge could be wrung out of the subject during the process.


The Collapse of the Metanarrative

Somewhere in last century things began to change. It is reasonable to go so far as to say that the “horse was already out of the barn” well before that. To use another metaphor, the trajectory was set, even if the missile was still out of sight below the horizon. It is fascinating to note that seminal management thinker, the late Peter Druker, was already commenting on the emerging “post-modern” situation as early as 1954 in The Practice of Management.7

Many factors can be identified in the emergence of postmodernism. A complete examination is well beyond the scope of this discussion. One of the most significant underlying foundations for postmodernism’s emergence is the collapse of metanarrative in western society. What is meant by “collapse of metanarrative” is the idea that we now live in a world where the overarching, all-encompassing stories of “the way things are” are no longer functioning. These stories have been called into question and challenged by competing stories. Keep in mind that while the metanarrative is collapsing, people are still functioning with worldviews. Now, however, there is no harmonizing and mediating metanarrative in place. As a result, we see what in America has come to known as the “culture wars.”

So how do we do ministry without the support of a metanarrative, when there are no agreed-on, underlying Judeo-Christian values?

One factor in the demise of metanarrative is deconstruction. Much has been written about this and most of it is rather dense. It is a concept that has impacted many fields of study. It is closely related to epistemology as it focuses on what we know and what can be known. Put simply, deconstruction is the process of taking apart or “de-constructing” the stories (metanarrative) that society has constructed.

This process is supported by the “media-accelerated onrush of globalization.”8 Increases in both the speed and accessibility of communication and transportation are factors here. Western culture, in the earlier phases of the modern era, could exist without its metanarrative being disturbed because there was little to challenge it. With the advent of modern communication and air travel all this changed. One can now be in New York or London one day and in Delhi or Bangkok the next (and vice versa). A world that once lived in relative isolation under competing, but mutually unaware, metanarratives now cannot. This has led, not the construction of a new, more encompassing metanarrative, but to the demise of metanarrative. Whether a new, more powerful metanarrative emerges, only time will tell.9

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Category: Living the Faith, Spring 2017

About the Author: John K. Crupper, M.Div. (New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary) and D.Min. (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), serves as a Project Manager with Our Daily Bread Ministries in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Following seminary, he pastored local churches in North Carolina, Virginia, and Illinois. Much of his career has been spent working on the strategic priority of ministry with children. He served key roles with Awana Clubs International where he provided significant leadership for the 4-14 Forum. He served as the first National Director for Shepherding the Next Generation, an evangelical nonprofit advocating for at-risk children. Later he provided leadership for key projects for Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree ministry. John's current area of interest and ministry focus is spiritual formation in the "third third" of life and end of life.

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