Friday, October 13, 2006

A Crisis of Cultural Hermeneutics

Just underneath my link to the Habits for the Journey with Jesus, I have added a link to a paper I have spent the last several years thinking about, and the last several months writing. It is called A Crisis of Modesty in the Evangelical Church, and I am sure that it will be very controversial to many readers.

What is it to dress in a sexually suggestive way? What does it mean to be modest? Why does modesty matter? To what extent is any idea of modesty/sexual suggestiveness a convention subject to change and re-negotiating and to what extent is it not? How are the wider culture's justifications for what it wears connected to other powerful trends and ideas? It is my overall thesis that far too many people in the church are not even equipped to ask these questions. While I assert that immodesty is a problem, I also assert that the problem of immodesty is the manifestation of a far deeper problem within Evangelical Christian discipleship.

As I explain in A Crisis of Modesty in the Evangelical Church, the problem of sexually suggestive clothing in the culture at large that has crept into the church is related to a larger crisis in the church. This crisis involves the question of how the church should relate to the ideas that are encoded into the trends that have arisen in the wider culture.

It is my thesis that sexually suggestive clothing has found its way through a crack in the church that exists between a) the "culture warrior" tendencies of the church to fight and resist the wider culture and b) the "seeker sensitive" tendencies of the church to want to hip and relevant to the "times" in order to function within and relate to the wider culture. In this crack between these two tendencies within the church lies an inability to truly take the trends and ideas captive -- to extract any claims to truth that exist within these sundry ideas and trends while avoiding the rest.

It is my overall thesis that many within the church have employed "street postmodernism" (also referred to in my essays in March and April 2006 as "primalism") to negotiate change because they have not developed a Christian discipleship that is capable of negotiating change from a Godly, disciplined perspective. It has been the Evangelical Christian tendency to fight culture wars without seeking to find the kernels of truth in sundry trends. This culture warrior tendency has created a void in the intellectual aspect of Christians' discipleship to know how to take the complexity of life captive to Christ. In this void of knowing how to confront complexity, many Christians have adopted street postmodernist ideas.

Street postmodernism is summed up as a populist attempt to handle complexity by having individuals abdicate their individual perogative to think and to judge by looking at what the "times" are doing. "Who's to say?" and "Times change" are the key slogans of this belief system. It is my thesis that the intellectual undisciplined "culture warrior" approach to the culture and the intellectually undisciplined "street postmodernism" have been allowed to co-exist together in the minds of many Christians because neither approach to the culture demands very much intellectually from the individual. Many Christians harbor elements of both "culture warrior" and "street postmodernism" without having the mastery over their thoughts to reckon with the cognitive dissonance that exists between these two approaches to the culture at large.

It is my thesis that immodest clothing among Christians-- clothing that has not been the target of culture warriors and clothing that is considered a staple of human, secular freedom by postmodernists-- has not been met with the proper "net" within the church whereby it can recognized and held captive for examination. Even as I am trying to grasp the problem of immodesty, it is my goal to construct the "net", where the questions of modesty and sexual suggestiveness -- and any other question under the sun relevant to Christian discipleship-- can be held captive so that the issues can be examined properly from all angles.

A Crisis of Modesty in the Evangelical Church is constructed around a long series of objections to my assertions about what is modest/sexually suggestive. All of these objections have come from fellow Christians, and all of them emanate from a street postmodernist secular worldview. I want to explore the roots of this worldview and the claims to truth--and therefore to power-- that it has. As I deal with these objections, one by one, I am confronted with what one iMonk describes as a "post-evangelical wilderness". In this "wilderness", it has become clear to me that many Christians have lost their way in the endeavor to take all of life captive to Christ. To point the way out of this wilderness, I want reconstruct a Christian approach to examining the culture on the ruins of the "culture warrior" approach and the failed strategies of phallanx style political and culture warfare that have accompanied the culture warrior approach.

For the particular issue of immodest clothing, I want to recognize the wilderness of street postmodernism that has crept into Christianity, and carefully extract any pieces of truth that exist within street postmodernism, "seeker sensitive" and "culture warrior" approaches to handling culture, change and complexity. Upon doing so, I want to argue for what I consider to be a reasoned and Godly way that these pieces of truth fit together into a prescription for Christian modesty and Christian liberty and sound Christian intellectual inquiry into the issue.

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