“The postmodern church could do nothing better than be ancient, that the most powerful way to reach a postmodern world is by recovering tradition, and that the most effective means of discipleships is found in liturgy.”
(James K A Smith, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? Talking Derrida, Lyotard and Foucault to church)
Is there any evidence that recovering tradition is a powerful way to reach the postmodern world?
In the many times I heard this bold claim I have not actually heard or seen evidence that recovering tradition has suddenly caused the postmodern world to become radical disciples of Jesus. Certainly there are many who grew up in the church and were later estranged from the modern church who found renewal and a deep connection with God in the rediscovery of traditions. But how many are actually being reached? How many people who did not believe in Jesus are being reached? Are there any statics showing that churches who have recovered tradition and liturgy are better are reaching the world? To say “the most powerful way to reach a postmodern world” is a bold claim. I would like some evidence to back it up.
What tradition or liturgy?
What tradition or liturgy are we talking about? Catholic (Celtic, Italian), Orthodox (Greek, Russian), Mennonite (Swiss, Russian), Lutheran, or Anglican…? There seems to be is a certain amount of picking and choosing when we “recover” tradition. But can you really and truly do justice to a tradition if you are picking and choosing?
Is there any evidence that liturgy is “the most effective means of discipleship?
In discussions about liturgy people can have rose coloured glasses when looking at the past. Somehow there is this idea that the church went horribly wrong with modernism and if we can just get back to before modernism (pre-modern) then everything will be good. Really? A quick review of church history will let us know very rapidly there were saints and sinners in every age and time of the church (including the modern age). It also is very clear that the pre-modern church was not a spotless wonder. A couple of examples. Constantine is viewed as one of the greatest blunders of the church, joining church and state together. I agree this is a great blunder. But Constantine was well before modernism. He was in 300 AD. Much of the liturgy and tradition we claim is going to save us was formed after this great blunder. Another great blemish on Christianity is the crusades. How could those claiming to follow Jesus engage in such a brutal and sinful thing? The crusades were pre-modern as well.
These pre-modern churches were using the tradition and liturgy we are to recover to reach our world and make disciples. So can we truly state that they were the “most effective” in creating disciples?
Is there any evidence that churches that have strong liturgy are more effective in creating disciples then churches that do not have liturgy?
However discipleship is being defined can we show that on average a church that uses liturgy is truly better at forming disciples then a church that does not?
Simply put these bold claims need some substance to back it up not just feelings or intuition.