Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Classroom Remembered

Written by: on February 6, 2020

In my second year of graduate school (the early 2000s), I took a course titled, Ministry in Emerging Culture. It was full of mostly potential church planters who were preparing to plant churches in various contexts within the US. The “emerging church” movement was brand new, and discussion centered around what ministry would look like in this new, postmodern world. Some class times concluded with great hope, some with paralyzing fear, and many with utter confusion. No one seemed to be able to discuss postmodernity with any clear understanding. It felt as if we were being launched into the “great unknown” and given the task of building an invisible Kingdom where there was no ultimate truth, and meaning was just beyond our reach. After reading Rockford University professor, Stephen Hicks’s Explaining Postmodernism, I wonder if that course is still being offered and if Hicks might bring some clarity to students wrestling with this topic today…or maybe not.

Unfortunately, it seems that Hicks’s attempt to explain postmodernism has only proven how difficult the task truly is. While he has become a well-known commentator on postmodernism, he certainly has amassed a large share of ardent critics. On one hand, the book is described as, “studded with clarifying distinctions and is written in a style that seamlessly integrates primary material into the narrative, making explicit the common themes underlying postmodernism.”[1] On the other, it is referred to as “full of misreadings, suppositions, rhetorical hyperbole and even flat out factual errors.”[2] The explanation of postmodernism is certainly up for debate.

As I read the differing reviews of Hicks, I was taken back to the seminary classroom where we tried to make sense of the terrain we were facing. One of our required readings in that course was Len Sweet’s SoulTsunami. In this book, Sweet challenged the church of the 90s to consider the “tidal waves of change” necessary to realize what he termed a “Postmodern Reformation.”[3] As I flipped through the much-notated pages of that book, I came across a statement that rings especially true now, after two decades of observing and living in this postmodern tension Sweet was forecasting:

“Postmoderns are deeply suspicious about any and all metanarratives that provide all-encompassing authority for everyone, everywhere…for this reason, postmodern Christians (who refuse to relinquish metanarratives of God, Creation, the Fall, Redemption, or Eschatology) will be dealers in love more than dealers in dogma. However, postmodern culture needs more truth, not less. The difference is that Truth is not a principle or a proposition but a person…Surrendering to Jesus is not subscription to some ‘article of faith’ but merging one’s personal story into the story of the Son of God and the Savior of the world.”[4]

Hicks, as well as previous readings from Taylor[5] and Smith[6], remind us that one of the distinguishing characteristics of the postmodern age is the refusal of the metanarrative. Sweet’s words from the not-so-distant past challenge us to lean into the tension of our current reality, bringing our life’s narrative to the conversation. Even though the explanation of postmodernity may be a controversial one, it seems the answer for the church might lie in humanizing our invitation to faith rather than arguing about it.



[1] Steven M Sanders, “Stephen R. C. Hicks’s Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault:” 28 (n.d.): 14.

[2] “A Review of Explaining Postmodernism by Stephen Hicks,” Areo, last modified October 17, 2018, accessed February 6, 2020, https://areomagazine.com/2018/10/17/a-review-of-explaining-postmodernism-by-stephen-hicks/.

[3] Leonard I Sweet, SoulTsunami: Sink or Swim in New Millennium Culture (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1999), 186.

[4] Ibid, 385.

[5] Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, 2018.

[6] James K. A. Smith, How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014).

About the Author

Rhonda Davis

Rhonda is passionate about loving her Creator, her wonderful husband, and her three amazing sons. She serves as VP of Enrollment Management & Student Development at The King's University in Southlake, TX.

8 responses to “The Classroom Remembered”

  1. Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    The search for truth is indeed up for question currently isnt it Rhonda? Great post and great anecdotes from your classroom discussions about postmodernity. Brought me back and made me chuckle.

    • Rhonda Davis says:

      Thanks, Jacob. Maybe it was just me, but looking back, I think we all over-simplified our potential struggles with postmodernism in an attempt to make sense of it all. We thought we were so bright! Ha!

  2. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Thanks so much for your reference to Sweet’s admonition “to lean into the tension of our current reality, bringing our life’s narrative to the conversation.” People will always speculate about an “ism” until they engage a person who has been radically transformed by Jesus. I love your challenge “for the church might lie in humanizing our invitation to faith rather than arguing about it.” Yes, let’s let our transformed lives do our talking!

  3. Jenn Burnett says:

    It sounds like you and I were influenced by similar texts! In the midst of growing in my understanding of postmodernism in a liberal university, I bought for myself Soul Tsunami, Aqua Church, Soul Salsa and PostModern Pilgrims—and devoured them with relish! The quote that you used reminded me why I was able to see postmodern thought as full of potential. All of a sudden I didn’t have to be able to persuade people with ‘truth’, I was released to tell my story, name my subjectivity and invite others to consider how a relationship with Jesus might shape their story. While the culture was unpredictable, people’s openness to kindness and company persisted. Love was still a compelling invitation. I love yours (and Len Sweet’s) invitation to lean in. How would you describe to your emerging pastors what that looks like? Bless you Rhonda!

    • Rhonda Davis says:

      I agree, Jenn. At that time, I felt like I was going to fit much more easily with this open, narrative-driven way of life. I do think we were a bit too simplistic about the challenges before us, but I remain hopeful. Today, I am still encouraged by pastors who are willing to engage culture rather than shrinking from it.

  4. Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Excellent, Rhonda. Reading yours and Mario’s posts I laughed while reading the comments of the critics, in particular this one you quoted regarding Hick’s work being’“full of misreadings, suppositions, rhetorical hyperbole and even flat out factual errors.” Given part of the question between the two ways of thinking is absolute truth versus relativism. Who gets to say what is a supposition and “flat out factual errors?” 🙂

  5. Tammy Dunahoo says:

    By the way, Soul Tsunami was one of my favorite reads in the late 90s. It was part of our church planter training and I loved it. I have looked back several times to see if it was aligned to our current reality.

    • Rhonda Davis says:

      Thanks, Tammy. Have you found that it aligns? I still agree with Sweet that we must “deal in love rather than dogma,” introducing others to a person rather than a position.

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