Postmodernism, Pluralism, and Pneumiotics: Three major influences on the Spirit-empowered church

Dr. Mike Rakes

Abstract

The impact of culture on the local church in America has been an on-going topic of conversation among those in church leadership positions for nearly three decades. The mainstream American church at the grass roots is not whole and lacks an overall spiritual vibrancy in its attendees on Monday through Saturday. Postmodernism and pluralism are incredible opportunities for Spirit-empowered people to share their personal God moments. 

Pneumiotics is a blended term I coined a few decades ago pointing to the theological and practical correlation between semiotics (a language of signs before vocabularies are formed) and the Holy Spirit. Pneumiotics essentially says that God is always communicating to humanity to reveal their identity, provide direction and renew their souls. Postmodernism pushes American believers to believe their beliefs and translate their personal stories to their neighbors. Pluralism helps the American believer not confuse patriotism with spirituality. 

Pneumiotics points to the personal presence of God and offers personalized God moments and allows for greater opportunities inside postmodernism and pluralism. Postmodernism and Pluralism are the best climate for the Spirit-empowered church to thrive and create biblically functioning communities. Spirit-empowered leaders are poised uniquely at this time and place in church history to take the lead theologically and experientially in our weekly expressions of church. 

Introduction

The impact of culture on the local church in America has been an on-going topic of conversation among those in church leadership positions for nearly three decades. Yet all of this information and talk about culture and ministry, although important, may continue to leave unaddressed the real threats and opportunities facing the American church. Barna states, “There are more than a quarter of a million churches in America that are not highly effective in ministry – roughly nine out every ten churches!”[1]

Soren Kierkegaard’s statement made 200 years ago confirms what Barna’s research found, “There is no lack of information in a Christian land; something else is lacking.” [2]  There is a rising vocational agony for some American pastors when it comes to seeing real transformation in the people that show up at church on Sundays, and they would also affirm Barna’s findings. 

The mainstream American church at the grass roots is not whole and lacks an overall spiritual vibrancy in its attendees on Monday through Saturday. Obviously, there are exceptions and I hope my own church is one of those, but Kierkegaard’s assertion “something else is lacking” has a growing influence on my thinking daily. The surge of church plants and their explosive growth in some areas of the country only serve to emphasize the underlying unrest in the pews of traditional churches as doctrines and practices are updated and reformed to make way for the new. Yet, many of these once-a-week gatherings may actually need to make the move from a presentational format on Sundays to an encounter culture that can happen seven days a week.

There have been many voices which have expressed a disgust and in some cases an anger toward the American church. Aristotle said, “Anyone can become angry – that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way – this is not easy.” The Spirit-empowered leader knows this: “The starting point is that the renewal of the Church is the work of God and not of man by himself… The Church does not renew itself: it is the object of God’s work of renewal… What we are looking for, is ways in which local churches can be transformed into expressive witnessing bodies of believers whose very reason to exist is to continue the witness that brought them into existence.”[3]

The American church has not made the deep changes needed to communicate to mainstream society. I suggest the “something missing” or the move to a more effective church could be discovered by a deeper look at the way Americans think about life and God. Postmodernism, Pluralism, and Pneumiotics are three major influences at work in the local church today. Yet, even this sentence is repulsive to the high-energy, go-gettem pastor who is driven to get higher numbers on a Sunday morning. However, a knowledge of these three influences on Sunday church attenders can be a powerful tool for these leaders.

Postmodernism, Pluralism, and Pneumiotics are more about church health than church growth. Understanding even at a surface level can help leaders elevate their outcomes when it comes to making disciples and forming healthy biblically functioning communities.   

DEFINITIONS

Postmodernism is an open door. It’s an incredible opportunity for Spirit-empowered people to share their God encounters with their friends because the underlying philosophy of mainstream Americans is that they must be open to all ideas about life and God. Simply put, the job of a Christian, American or not, is to translate the faith to people far from God. The very first assignment of the early church in Acts was that of “translation” (Acts 2).  

Pluralism is an unavoidable reality in America. Its main belief is all gods are to be respected equally. Pluralism compels the community to live in such a way that no one sees his or her god as higher than another’s god. Interfaith movements have become a new reality for many pastors in America and left them wondering whether or not to participate at all in the marketplace of ideas. 

Pneumiotics is a coined term I developed a few decades ago pointing to the theological and practical correlation between semiotics (a language of signs before vocabularies are formed) and the Holy Spirit. Pneumiotics essentially says that God is always communicating to an ordinary Jesus follower. It is possible for an individual to pick up on personal messages from God in his or her everyday life. 

Postmodernism pushes American believers to believe their beliefs and translate their personal stories to their neighbors. Pluralism helps the American believer not confuse patriotism with spirituality. Pneumiotics points to the personal presence of God and offers personalized God moments. 

POSTMODERNISM

Even though I was not in your service planning meeting, I can predict fairly well what’s going to happen in most churches this Sunday. The service will open with a happy song or two, followed by a couple sad songs spilling into a somber, reflective time of prayer; then someone will make announcements (whether live or video) and take the offering; the service will then a shift into the theme for the day, generally presented with slides and visuals, and conclude with an invitation to respond to the message.

Although not in the Bible, this format has become the way Americans do church. Most pastors, including myself, work hard to structure services for maximum impact and make church safer for the new comer. We do this through predictability and a highly-structured presentational format of the meta-narrative of the Gospel. 

It’s true – a predictable service to present the Gospel of Jesus to those far from God has been crucial historically. Predictability comes from the modern era as machines began to make all products identical. Entire companies became so good at assimilation they could franchise themselves across the country, allowing people to walk into a restaurant on the east coast and have the exact same experience on the west coast. But what if Americans have changed? What if they want something more local, more farm-to-table? Something grown locally by a farmer they could trust. The same could perhaps be said about church. 

Your church, whether you’re an attender or leader, has a structure, a social or spiritual construction that shapes how the attender thinks about God. Leaders may inadvertently be propagating a modernistic idea of a “factory church” rather than being a biblically functioning community. A factory church will produce “clones of god” rather than living breathing disciples on fire with God’s Spirit. 

Michael Foucault, a French Philosopher, born in 1926 looked at, among other things, social structures of humans. From what I read he was not open to faith in God as we would declare it but devoted much of his life to the history of systems of thought. His research on hospital reforms in the second half of the 18th century was monumental, and I believe has implications for our Sunday morning church experiences. 

Foucault noticed new hospitals built at the time were constructed in large squares connecting buildings and patients. He argued and proved the way hospitals were constructed demonstrated not only their healthcare philosophy but forced them to do their work in a certain way. He observed hospitals had central observation posts, which changed the relationship between the patient and doctor dramatically. Doctors could avoid unneeded contact with patients by isolating those with contagious diseases into one wing of the hospital and prescribe a general treatment to be administered through nurses and associates.

Foucault subsequently studied 19th century prisons and found they were built along the same motif. In fact, they were eerily similar only with the addition of guard towers with snipers in them. Just like the patients in the hospitals, the prisoners did not have the view of the entire population, only a few people at a time across from them or beside them. 

In both hospitals and prisons, there was no sense of being a part of a greater community for those who were being treated or imprisoned. He discovered only those in power had that kind of view and understanding of “the system.” Hospitals were impersonal, set up to treat diseases rather than people. And prisons treated all inmates in mass, eliminating any personal care or attention. [4]

Unfortunately, most pastors I know value growing numerically far above seeing supernatural transformations and wholeness of the patients in their care. But those that attend church on Sunday are on a spiritual journey toward a long life with Jesus that is not rooted in their overall moral behavior but rather in God’s Spirit. Growing in their faith is not about information, though they will need some, but rather about transformation. 

We may have birthed a generation of pastors out of our seminaries that are more like hospital directors or prison wardens than spiritual leaders or mentors. Most Americans that attend church on Sundays would probably say that they are Christians, but many may not be able to translate their personal faith stories to postmodern people. They’ve been orientated into a system like a patient or a new prisoner, espousing the ideas and beliefs of the factory church they are a part of, but never able to make the connection of how God wants to use their personal translations of God’s grace through their own pains and struggles in this life.  

American church leaders need to look deeper at the way they engage with people and not be content just accepting people into a larger general population. We must do the hard work of offering personal ministry to their specific spiritual needs and keep them growing, not just with more information, rather in their personal interactions with God and other believers.  

Postmodernism gives the American church a fresh opportunity to see transformation in every individual in their churches. Transformed people who leave our parking lots on Sundays actually have platforms of their own that are not constructed of brick and mortar. 

Here are some important observations about postmodernism and Foucault’s findings: 

  • Church buildings were constructed in a presentational way, causing people to watch rather than participate. The physical structure of our churches has a direct impact on the spiritual structure of our faith communities. 
  • Corporations and companies that survive more than a decade have found a way to position their buildings and factories to be useful rather than their goal. 
  • Local churches need facilities; no one would argue against that because gathering together has power and encouragement built into it. However, most church governance systems would struggle to get their minds around building less factories and franchises, and instead, constructing spaces which contribute to attendees interacting with God and one another in deeper ways. 
  • The first multisite gathering of God’s people started with the portable Tabernacle constructed by Moses. It was the “dwelling place of God” where ceremonies and memories were planned on the yearly calendar. 
  • God placed His very presence in the middle of their traveling community.  God has still done that through Jesus because His glory is inside the human heart. God’s Kingdom is now only visible through His people and not edifices. 
  • American Christians should be sharing their stories as witnesses because our world is now postmodern in its receptivity. 
  • The architectural construction of offices and sanctuaries actually represents Modernism rather than Postmodernism. Rick Warren, author and leader of Saddleback Church, often says, “You have to build the people before you build the steeple.” I have always taken this to mean that the most important work a pastor does is to make disciples.  
  • Postmodernism naturally carries this aversion to structure, organizations, and authority, which we can use to our evangelistic advantage. Now that we have coffee shops in our foyers, we should see those spaces as opportunities for the people to embrace and share their own personal translations of God’s love to a hurting world. 
  • Architecture, according to Foucault, elicits by its structure some challenges. The facility may inadvertently send the message that one needs to get on the property to encounter God. This could cause a potential loss of personal intimacy with God outside of a 90-minute service. 
  • Leaders must be creative, spending time, staffing, and money in helping people see that God’s transformational power can be accessed the other six days of the week leading to naturally supernatural moments of storytelling – the fine art of translation. 
  • Architecture can turn those on the stage into celebrities of sorts and inadvertently send the wrong message that the people watching have less spirituality and also less spiritual responsibility through the week to share their story. But the priesthood of all believers in our postmodern world is the only way forward when it comes to seeing people come to faith. 
  • Prison wardens and pastors should not have very much in common. The warden can from a distant place of authority make dogmatic announcements across the microphone. Pastoring in the postmodern context must look more like a Moses who led the first multi-campus church as they carried with them in a tent the Presence of God moving from one place to another. Moses was not a warden but actually told Pharaoh to set the people free that they may worship God as they go on their way.  
  • The hard truth is we have created services that wait for the “doctor or prison warden” to make their rounds or diagnose their condition from a distance and prescribe three steps toward health. The chairs or pews all face the front where a man (generally not a woman) stands, preaches, performs in a lecture format, speaking down to the uninformed. The priest or person in power delivers powerful pronouncements in well-crafted intellectually-inspiring phrases of truth which rarely find their way into the practical everyday life of the listener. 

Recently our seventy-year-old denominational church has gone through a number of changes which now poise us to respond to the larger issues surrounding our attendees. We minister to people facing complicated immigration issues and minister to those who are experiencing life below the poverty line. We have created and now launched a volunteer-based chaplains ministry available to the people that attend our services on Sundays. 

This fundamental idea of making lay chaplains available to translate their personal stories of transformation in the arena of sexual brokenness, spousal abuse, or infertility brings the Gospel close. This is the work of the church to conduct the “business of God” during the week. The business of God, the product of the Kingdom is understanding how God’s story intertwines with your story. The architecture of your facility should not be shaping the way churches do their work. In other words, what are the products of the Kingdom? Does the organized church exist to hold worship services on Sundays? These are not simple questions, but we seek to grapple with the higher view of what it means to be God’s people at this time and in this place. 

Every local church, whether they know it or not, is in conversation with the community and city in which they gather for worship. But the local church is only in conversation with culture as its people interact with the needs of those in their circles of influence. In effect, the disciples we create are in some cases the hiddenness of God to the city through a corporate body of believers. As they live out the Kingdom through their daily lives, the revelation of God’s love becomes more and more evident. The presence of an individual or a group of believers that are hidden in Christ is used to overthrow the work of the evil one through the goodness and faithful love of Jesus. Goodness, real virtue, is birthed right at the gates of where you work or live. 

PLURALISM

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “to be simple is to fix one’s eyes solely on the simple truth of God at a time when all concepts are being confused – distorted and turned upside down.” [5]  Pluralism has become a glaring reality in the American context, the average church-going person now works alongside others that have passionate beliefs in different gods and reject the message of Jesus. People feel more confident to express their anti-Christ beliefs, which has created a crisis for cultural Christians living and working in the American context. 

Pluralism is essentially the agreed upon the idea that all gods are equal. Pluralism demands Christ followers live in such a way that when they are in the marketplace, they don’t express out loud that Jesus is greater than the gods of their neighbors. 

Here are some facts about Pluralism: 

  • It is the predominant mindset and landscape upon which people in America live. 
  • The uncomfortable truth is that believers are called to live out their faith in workplaces that have policies which forbid the discussion of people’s deepest held beliefs. 
  • Christians don’t believe there are equals with Jesus, but out of our respect for others and God’s creation, we listen intently to others in their struggle for truth on the journey. 
  • Pluralism is growing in its social pressure to force everyday followers of Jesus to reframe their daily interactions at work or after-school functions.
  • American pastors are being forced to see the difference between getting a decision for Christ in a weekend service and the actual production or fruitfulness of disciples emerging from that body of believers. 
  • The vocational danger for American pastors, with its governance oversight usually done by deacon boards, makes growing disciples through people’s personal life far less spectacular than having large crowds gather on Sundays. 
  • Christianity, at its core, is so fundamentally opposite of “selfie culture”. American Christians and their political and moral beliefs have become the center of their personal “spiritual” story. The truth is most Americans who think of themselves as Christian have little to no understanding of the greater meta-narrative of God who became sin for them and by His grace redeemed them wholly. 
  • Despite the prominence of religious believers in politics and culture, America has shrinking congregations, growing dissatisfaction with religious leaders and rising numbers of people who do not think about faith.”[6] Chaves wrote in American Religion: Contemporary Trends. He said, over the last generation there has been a “softening” that affects church attendance on a regular basis to selecting spouses who have different religions altogether.[7]
  • Pluralism forces us to turn our deeply held beliefs into love rather than insults or weapons. We can speak the truth that is differentiated but not divisive. 
  • Americans are supposed to celebrate the diversity of our nation with all its religions on the landscape of democracy. People of all faiths can continue to come together as Americans and unite to do good things from time to time, and we are compelled to participate in the marketplace precisely because of Jesus. Although we cannot be one with all faiths, we can be respectful of all religions, even those that would pray for the destruction of our own.   

These are the challenges that must be grappled with but have always been represented in the biblical text. Moses, Paul, and even Jesus all ministered in a pluralistic world. There are times for silence as Jesus modeled for us, which helps us see that we are not suspending our beliefs, just not demanding they take center stage in the middle of the public square. We are trusting that the Holy Spirit is at work in ways in which we cannot see. To be one with Christ not only means unity in friendship but unity in priority and message.

The year was 1996, and we were church planters near all the attractions that draw millions to the city of Orlando every month. My personal trainer, a former Olympic athlete, and her husband became some of our first friends in the city. For several years we worked out 5 days a week and it immersed me in the world of blended religions. No classification really fit this couple. Part Hindu, part mystical spirituality, and a dose of Jesus was a good and holy man provided the foundation for how they lived, ate, and thought about the more significant concerns of life.

This unique couple actually attended our church plant in its infancy days and were more generous financially than almost anyone that participated in our services. But there was one major theme that would ultimately cause them not to return. “It’s just too much emphasis on Jesus,” they would say, “and not enough spirituality.” That statement absolutely makes complete sense to a majority of Americans. It’s rational and leaves room for sincerity and all good people of the earth. It would play well on CNN and is taught by most American mainstream universities. God is god, no matter what you call him or her or it. To claim “uniqueness” or a claim to have the truth therein lies that greatest sin – yea, even blasphemy. 

Pluralism allows plenty of room for people to invent, blend, or choose the top ten likable spiritual ideas and frame them in any way they want. Wilfred Cantwell Smith was a Canadian Islamicist, comparative religion scholar, and Presbyterian minister. He was the director of Harvard University’s Center for the Study of World Religions. He said, 

All the religions have as their core some experience of the Transcendent; that whether we speak of images made of wood and stone or images made in the mind, or even of such an image as the man Jesus, all are equally the means used by the Transcendent to make himself, herself, or itself present to us humans. To claim uniqueness for one particular form or vehicle of this contact with the Transcendent is preposterous and even blasphemous.[8]

Pastors across the United States will meet people just like this not only during the week but in their churches. Americans think of themselves as so in charge of their lives economically, educationally, that they are also now conceiving of God in any particular way they choose. In a very real sense, the spread of Pluralism helps the American pastor see not only the sheep and goats but the wolves that have moved in among our churches.  

Pluralism will force American pastors back to their knees, asking God for the power of the Gospel to once again surge in and through their congregations. Jesus did have a conversation in a pluralistic world with the woman at the well in John 4. He heard her views and beliefs and commented about her sincerity, but he also revealed the truth. He told her everything she’d ever done and cut to the core of her humanity. 

Pluralism in America will more and more demand a robust demonstration of the power of God at work in the lives of Christ followers. Pluralism for the church cannot mean that we lay down our faith but rather seek to embody our faith. If Pluralism implies that we are one with all religions, then the death of martyrs and Hebrews 11 are of no consequence to us in the present day. The city where I pastor – Winston-Salem, North Carolina – is rich in the Christian tradition, including the Moravian faith. Would we not be disrespecting those who were burned at the stake for their belief in the Bible and Jesus? Was it not their strong stand against false ideas that led them to those difficult decisions? Were they just narrow-minded, uneducated Bible thumpers, or was there a deep and profound work of the Holy Spirit in their lives? 

Pluralism will eventually force American Christians and their leaders to realize they are living on the edge of a new cultural frontier as the modernistic culture they’ve known and provided a landscape for the current wineskins of happy songs and sad songs has changed and demands a new expression of a biblically functioning community. Pluralism will force Americans to embody (incarnate) the truths that have changed their lives and communicate personal stories of transformation and authentic encounters. This will force American Christians out of hiding and into differentiating moments orchestrated by the Holy Spirit. These changes will happen as Americans are once again empowered by the Spirit.  

PNEUMIOTICS

Pneumiotics is a coined term I developed a few decades ago pointing to the theological and practical correlation between semiotics (a language of signs before vocabularies are formed) and the Holy Spirit. Pneumiotics blends the idea that God communicates individually to people, including their surroundings, all for their transformation and empowerment. 

We come to understand that when most use the word Spirit-empowerment they mean all the activity of the Spirit. In the early days of E-21, when the word “Spirit-empowered” was created and shaped and deployed for Kingdom use, it was to remove the semantic eclipse that had been created with words that had expired culturally. This word “Spirit-empowerment” is serving us well. One dimension of the word that needs much more scholarly work is the assumption that the world in which we live is an open world into which God the Spirit is at work shaping, speaking, and forming God’s holy church. 

Spirit-empowerment includes the reality that God still speaks, and is about living in an open experience directed and empowered by God the Spirit. This directly opposes some evangelicals who see a rather closed system of cessationistic teachings that emphasize only the work of the Father and the Son. Some evangelicals really squirm over God’s Spirit being individualized in any way and in my estimation have unintentionally created a weakness in American Christians. 

I had the privilege of earning theological degrees from different seminaries (Charismatic, Presbyterian, and Baptist denominations). Those professors and institutions provided a foundation of thought on which to construct my ministry. Each class and degree shaped dramatically how I thought about God and His creation, how the world works, and how we come into any kind of knowledge or experience of God at all. I am so grateful for all of my professors, some famous like R.C. Sproul, and others only famous in heaven. Each had a profound influence on how I think about God and His engagement with humanity. 

However, all of my professors could only pass along that which they had been taught from their professors forty years earlier and their own experiences or lack thereof. They taught about God, His nature, and most importantly, the way God acts or does not act in someone’s world. I have now come to see that the dominant voice, thought, and structure of thinking coming from all three institutions came out of a period of history known as the Enlightenment. Theological scholars understand that the ground we walk on theologically was radically shaped by that period as the church emerged out of the Dark Ages along with the rest of the world.  

To be sure Augustine and early church theologians, long before the Enlightenment period, were considered and consulted in our theological training; but the predominant training I received centered around this Enlightenment period, a late 17th century to 18th century mainstream mindset, emphasizing reason and rational thinking and individualism. The thinkers of this period confronted theology and other fields of study with its skepticism and pushed for evidence.

Perceived allegiance to orthodoxy by the U.S. church has led to less and less spiritual experience in hopes for greater control and objectivity of the faith presentation by many of its leaders. This approach has led to a discipleship in which the follower experiences only cognitive principles and diminishes both the expectation and capacity of each disciple to experience God for themselves. 

In an attempt to project intellectual muscle, the church in the U.S. has intentionally moved away from the vocabulary that speaks of legitimate supernatural experience. This unorthodox theoretical underpinning, the denial of spiritual experiences, leads to lessened expectations of the Trinity’s role in providing direction and personal dignity and degrades the power of renewal available to individuals. 

To deny legitimate spiritual experiences is also to deny God’s daily communicational intent. Denying communicational intent moves the church as a whole far from a historical faith evidenced in the biblical narratives. Even Martin Luther said, 

Christian faith has appeared to many an easy thing; nay, not a few even reckon it among the social virtues, as it were; and this they do because they have not made proof of it experimentally, and have never tasted of what efficacy it is. For it is not possible for any man to write well about it, or to understand well what is rightly written, who has not at some time tasted of its spirit, under the pressure of tribulation; while he who has tasted of it, even to a very small extent, can never write, speak, think, or hear about it sufficiently. For it is a living fountain springing up unto eternal life, as Christ calls it in John 4.[9]

The self-disclosed revelation of God we call the Bible is full of thoughts, signs, and moments from an unseen realm toward humanity, and gives us those stories not just to preach from but as actual examples of a living God at work in the world. The Bible describes some individuals struggling to discern and implement the direction of these thoughts, moments, and signs and we see the stories of Abraham, Daniel, John the Baptist, as well as Martha, Deborah and other women play out on its pages. The Spirit in many of those instances seems to be using experiential methods in working to direct the recipients toward dignity or bring renewal to God’s people in some way. 

Here are some things to think about regarding Pneumiotics: 

  • Stoicism, or no emotion, has become much more acceptable as a viable expression of personal faith and left the American church with a growing apathy that is eroding the next generations’ personal faith in God. 
  • A functional intellectual Agnosticism has emerged as the mainstream faith for the church of the U.S. culture especially if it wants to grow numerically. 
  • Pneumiotics invites us to explore and experience God’s supernatural and personal engagement with us. 
  • Some American pastors, whether formally trained or not, rarely discuss Spirit-empowerment as a personal reality for themselves or their congregants. Most messages emphasize two main biblical themes. The first is grace, fully secured by Jesus, requires only a mouthing acceptance by the receiver. The second is a trust in God’s sovereignty to such a degree that the person disengages from a personal faith altogether and results in little to no prayer because it will not change anything anyway. They perceive there is no need to pray fervently because whatever is going to happen will happen.  
  • Postmodernism and Pluralism both raise their ugly heads seemingly confirming what some evangelicals teach continually—that God is watching and working such a big plan that He’s not really engaged with anyone’s personal struggle or physical ailments. This is the differentiating core value of Spirit-empowered believers and churches around the world. 
  • Pneumiotics sees God engaged and speaking into our everyday lives and invites us to live wide awake to an open experience directed and energized by the Spirit, centered wholly on the finished work of Jesus. 

Jesus often prayed, daily even, not only to be in a relationship but to also be in alignment with the will of God. Jesus prayed and delivered the supernatural regularly in an open universe. The texts describing some of the healings don’t appear to be “sovereign as it were” but rather spontaneous as the woman with the issue of blood pushed through for a simple touch of His garment. Jesus told those listening to Him to have faith. 

Intellectualism for some keeps God at arm’s length distance and exposes many “theologically brilliant” people’s discomfort with the vocabulary of the supernatural. What if the ultimate conspiracy theory has been pulled off by the god of this world, as Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:4, and the church emerging from the Enlightenment has taken false comfort in too much sovereignty? What if we live in a more open universe than we have been led to believe and are to engage with God through prayer to see more of God’s goodness and glory in the world?

At least two critical understandings emerge if we see a more open universe. First, the God reflected in the Old Testament narratives is more understandable as the Israelites were supposed to be more and more engaged in trusting God for land acquisition. Their personal obedience was critical to their personal and national history. The second is that we are to engage in personal prayer (like Jesus did), taking authority over the demonic affronts in our lives. We are to be passionately expectant in our asking. We ask, we seek, we pray, and we believe, and we watch, and we wait, and keep on knocking until we have a yes or a no. And all of this is done by the power of the Spirit working through our personal lives. 

Pneumiotics confirms the fact that God is global in showing His glory and calls for a differentiating people living in all contexts, under all governments, and reaching for eternal things. The Kingdom contains within it a built-in diversity of speech and individuality that speaks to the Kingdom from different perspectives. The promises of the pouring out of the Spirit start by pushing past cultural differences in the book of Acts and continues to this day. 

Pneumiotics calls out the activity of the Spirit in the life of every believer and reveals that it is diverse by God’s grand design. This individualization of the Spirit’s empowerment in ordinary people births purpose and connects them to a broader new kind of unity in their church and city. This empowerment allows us to be different as God’s called-out ones while maintaining solidarity with the brokenness of humanity within our towns and cities. This demonstrates God’s incredible mercy, kindness, and absolute dominion over sin through all kinds of different expressions around the world. 

CONCLUSION

Postmodernism and Pluralism are the best climate for the Spirit-empowered church to thrive and create biblically functioning communities. Spirit-empowered leaders are poised uniquely at this time and place in church history to take the lead theologically and experientially in our weekly expressions of church. 

The Spirit absolutely has more creativity in store for the American expression of what it means to be the Church of Jesus Christ than a few programmed happy and sad songs with well calculated key changes. There is a power that’s available to strengthen our diversity and individualized expressions that will model for contemporary seekers an authentic faith in the God of the Bible who gave His only Son for the whole world. 

Americans should be able to walk into a gathering of believers and immediately tangibly sense the presence of God. They should walk to their cars after the gatherings we call church having been deepened in their faith by seeing the evidence and fruit of God’s power in the lives around them.  

Every American Christian can avoid the internal pain of feeling like their lives have no purpose or that they aren’t important when it comes to influencing the people they care about. They must come to see that they “are the church,” and they are far more important to God than they could know. 

The conversation by those in church leadership concerning the impact of culture is the right one to have but not so that we retreat in fear or excuses of a lack of ministry effectiveness. The strategies we share between us should contain excitement and creativity available to us by God’s Spirit. The something missing that we can sense in the American church is the power of God in our personal lives and ministries. We serve a God not threatened by the American culture, but rather One that enables us to prove that greater is He that’s within me than he that’s within the world. 

Key Words
Pluralism
Postmodernism
American Culture 
American Church 
Personal Evangelism
Pneumiotics 
Semiotics
Spirit-empowered
Foucault and church architecture 

  1. George Barna, The Habits of Highly Effective Churches: Being Strategic in Your God Given Ministry(Ventura, California: Regal, 2001), 18.
  • Fred Craddock, Overhearing the Gospel (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), 38.
  • Visser ’T Hooft, The Renewal of the Church. (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Westminster Press, 1956), 90.

[4]       Michael Foucault. Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings.

Brighton, England: Harvester, 1980.

[5]      Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Ethics, ed. Eberhard Bethge (New York: Macmillan, 1955) 70-71.

[6]      Mark Chaves. American Religion: Contemporary Trends. (Princeton University Press. 2013.)

[7]      Mark Chaves. American Religion: Contemporary Trends. (Princeton University Press. 2013.)

[8]      Lesslie Newbigin, (1989-10-30). The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (pp. 160-161). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Kindle Edition.

[9] Martin Luther. Buchheim, C.A. Grigno, R. First Principles of the Reformation. (p. 104)