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The Demise of Metanarrative and the Implications for Culture

One might reasonably ask, “Well, was not western civilization in contact with other cultures during the modern era?” The answer would, of course, be yes. What is different then than it is now is the fact that the existing metanarrative of western culture was taken into other cultures. This was done on a variety of fronts, such as commerce, religion, medicine, etc. Competing metanarratives in the new culture were not engaged, they were simply overpowered. It is beyond the scope of this analysis, but it should be noted that it is this aspect of metanarrative that will quickly move a discussion of postmodernism into issues of justice, imperialism and colonialism.


Implications for Culture and Ministry

Image: Michael D Beckwith

How, then does all this affect our culture? How does it change ministry? These are critical questions to answer. One thing is certain. The framework within which we operate has changed and this, in turn, changes how we as followers of Christ live out our faith.


Background Considerations

With the demise of the metanarrative which was operative throughout the vast majority of the modern western era, Christianity went about its business with some level of general support from the surrounding culture. While specific aspects of the culture may not have been supportive of the Christian enterprise, overall, the Christian faith did not find itself in an adversarial role with the culture. Take, for example, the American Revolution. A close study of the biography of individuals like Jefferson, Franklin or Hamilton will reveal that these founding fathers would not necessarily have been at home in a twenty-first century evangelical church. Yet, much of conservative Christianity looks back with fondness to the “Christian” heritage provided by these founders. In truth, many of these individuals were deists or agnostics. Jefferson’s infamous New Testament is cut to shreds from where he removed everything he thought miraculous. These founding fathers were able to provide what is now taken as a Christian heritage, in large measure, due to the metanarrative which provided support for the Christian faith.

Trying to restore America back to its Christian roots is a dead end.

Move forward into the later half of the twentieth century and witness the outcry that accompanied the determination of the United States Supreme Court that school-sponsored Christian prayer could no long be allowed in the classroom. Much has been written about this and anything said here can only scratch the surface, but one way to look at this change is with regard to the demise of metanarrative. The metanarrative of modern western culture was crumbling. The larger consensus about reality and God’s place in it shifted. Prior to this, even those who did not believe in God subscribed to the larger metanarrative and to His place in that story. Christians and non-Christians alike functioned under a common metanarrative. As a result, much Christian activity in the culture took place without the culture giving it a second thought. It was just the way it was. The late Francis Schaeffer pointed out this situation in his classic trilogy10. Schaffer, living in Europe, saw this shift taking place since European culture was about a generation ahead of American culture.

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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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