One of the tenets of postmodernism (if indeed it can be said to have tenets) is the denial of the metanarrative. A metanarrative is “an overarching account or interpretation of events and circumstances that provides a pattern or structure for people’s beliefs and gives meaning to their experiences.” For many, these metanarratives provide a framework for understanding the world. What’s sad is that sometimes these same metanarratives also provide a framework for oppression and hardship, if you happen to be on the wrong side of the narrative.
Postmodernism has it detractors, mostly people who adhere to a different philosophical system (cough ‘Modernism’ cough). One of their complaints is that denying a metanarrative is a metanarrative in and of itself. Apart from being a bit of a copout because it doesn’t seek understanding, this argument misses the point because it presumes that denial is single-stage process.
For example, in the 1970s, a number of Filipinos devoted their lives to overturning the metanarrative that basically denied their place in the world. Zeus Salazar started telling a new history with his Pantayang Pananaw. Virgilio Enriquez started telling a psychology story with his Sikolohiyang Pilipino. Pospero Covar started telling a new anthropology story with his Pilipinolohiya. Jose de Mesa started telling a new theology story with his work on contexualisation. These four men began telling stories that overturned the metanarrative that prioritised the West and saw places like the Philippines as “deviant.” In retelling the story with indigenous languages, using indigenous concepts, and respecting indigenous knowledge, they were able to open up a new chapter to a previously incomplete metanarrative. We have a lot to thank these pioneers for. And people are continuing the process today in ways that include anti-colonialism and post-structuralism.
But the process must necessarily continue past that point because, even though these guys fulfilled an essential service way back when, that service has now led to claims of essentialism among them. Essentialism meaning a specific definition of what ‘Filipino’ is. In their efforts to make the Filipino voice heard, they by necessity saw that voice as one voice. It was the Filipino voice.
What we realise today is that the Filipino voice is perhaps best characterised as “voices.” The Philippines is an archipelago of just over 7,400 islands of varying sizes, shapes, and populations. There are just over 180 languages in use on a daily basis. Filipinos are also present in all the countries of the world and live in both the most populated and least populated areas of the world. Filipinos are both fiercely nationalistic and regionally loyal. The family is the basic building block of society. All of this creates a rich diversity of identities. I like how Dr. Exiomo puts it: “Being can be expressed in many different ways.”
In other words, the metanarrative still needs to be denied because it doesn’t accurately tell everyone’s story in the proper way. It’s a continuous process of editing and revising that will ultimately lead to a fulfilled humanity.
Where do you fit into the metanarrative? Where does the metanarrative fail you? Feel free to let us know in the comments below!
In a previous post, I discussed the idea of masculinities. In it I mentioned that masculinity should really be masculinities because there is not one standardized way to be a man. A followup post focussed on masculinities in the Philippines, an area of significance in my own life. In the comments, Mike Swalm and I chatted about the extent of these masculinities looking at the question of how many masculinities is too many? Mike pointed out a key issue with an infinite amount of masculinities and wisely says, “we move toward negation of corporate meaning. Why even talk about masculinity if it has such malleable and infinite meaning? Doesn’t that remove the very nature of the concept as something that is definable as a category, giving us no real ability to say it is “this” and not “that”?”
I thought I would take the opportunity of Mike’s question to discuss where masculinity studies is in this seemingly infinite continuum. As usual I will take a Bakhtinian approach.
Monologue. Revisiting Connell’s concept of hegemonic masculinity, we realise that even though there may be any number of variations on the masculinity theme within a given context, there is one that predominates the discussion so much that it drowns out the others. Interestingly enough the predominant theme doesn’t necessarily have the most supporters — it just predominates. Bakhtin called this “monologue.” Even though Connell’s insights have opened the door to other masculinities as being acceptable, masculinities more closely associated with patriarchy continue to predominate.
Dialogue. Obviously dialogue is better than monologue because it allows another voice to provide balance. We actually prefer a dialogic point of view because we enjoy dividing things up into to opposing parties. It is this recognition that leads from singular masculinity to plural mascuinities. In reality, however, things are rarely as black and white as we might like. In fact, they are often greyscale.
Heteroglossia. But there aren’t just two voices in dialogue — there are a multitude of voices, each seemingly clamouring for attention, each contributing to what it means to be a man. This moves us beyond greyscale into millions of colours. It’s actually this final idea that creates the question Mike asks because it seems to leave open the possibility of an infinite number of potential masculinities.
At the risk of oversimplification, on a practical level, there aren’t an infinite number of men in the world; the world is at least divided into males and females. That means that give or take 50% of the worlds population isn’t male. That means that the first line of demarcation is the male-female.
A second line of demarcation is society itself. Society creates a framework for the conversations surrounding masculinity. Sometimes these societies are monologic in nature but quite often they provide limitations on the range of acceptable meanings within that society. For example, in a study I did in my community, where men had a variety of religious experiences and influences, I was surprised to discover that the conversation centred around only a couple of common themes. There is no limit to the horizons of epistemology in Bakhtin but the conversations still revolved around a few key clusters, including the importance of the wants, needs, and input of wives and families and seeing Christianity as central to their faith. Perhaps this means that cultures as a whole exert influence on the boundaries of dialogue that make it difficult for conversation to move beyond those points.
A final aspect of Bakhtin’s idea provides another level of demarcation. Bakhtin wasn’t really looking for that one unifying, universal answer to life. His purposes in developing his framework were not so that we could necessarily make sense of this crazy world we live in. Rather he seems to be giving us a way to recognise and embrace the messiness of this world we live in.
How does all of this work? Let me try an illustration from sports. For me, there is only one hockey team. When I refer to this team I will use the word “dynasty.” I will refer to their preponderance of Stanley Cup wins. I will refer to their aggressive style of play. Yup, you guessed it. My team is the Montreal Canadiens (How ’bout them Habs?). In many ways my allegiance to the Montreal Canadians is monologic. When we were kids we would argue about who we liked best. But through thick and thin it was Montreal for me. I know that other teams exist but what’s interesting is that I am not sure what you could do to convince me to cheer for another team.
But I do have to admit that Montreal is not the only team that exists. After all, they do need teams to beat 😉 The National Hockey League provides the fodder for the Montreal machine. It started with the Original Six (who some believe are the only real teams), then expanded to twelve in 1968, then to eighteen in 1974, twenty-two in 1992, and finally to the current thirty-two teams that take to the ice each week.
What also happened during these years is that hockey expanded internationally. What begun as an almost exclusively Canadian sport now has teams and players from all around the world. I remember watching a recreational team playing in the Philippines’ only ice rink a number of years ago. A friend was a part of a team in the United Arab Emirates around that time as well. Hockey has indeed become a heteroglossia.
What is interesting is that regardless of the level of the sport — from the NHL all the way down to shinny on the street in front of your house — the sport is still hockey. The nuance hasn’t changed that. What this has done for the sport is to make hockey better. I recall as a child reading about how Team Canada defeated some hapless international opponent 50-0. That wouldn’t happen today. In fact, international hockey is incredibly competitive, at both professional and amateur levels. The result is the reality that a team like the Montreal Canadiens cannot dominate the sport any more because other teams are able to join the conversation. Rather than a single dominant team, what we see is an entire sport that is played on an almost infinite number of levels. And the sport is better for it.
In a similar way, a deeper understanding of masculinities can only make those masculinities better. We need to move beyond the idea of a singular approved masculinity into a better set of masculinities.
What contribution are you making to the masculinity conversation? How are you making your voice heard? Please feel free to leave a note in the comments below to let us know.
Remember sharing is what friends do.
Missed the previous posts on this subject? You can read them here: Part 1 and Part 2.
 The 2SLGBTQ+ conversation is still going strong, and is still undergoing development. What started out as simply “straight” or “gay” has exploded into a seemingly infinite number of options as heteroglossia in that area develops. The male-female demarcation that I use here is not intended as a rejection of those voices but merely a recognition of the fact that, one, the voices are still sorting themselves out and, two, that I don’t understand them enough to place them into an easily-explained framework.
Lumilitaw na nabubuhay tayo sa isang panahon kung saan ang katotohanan ay nakataya. Ang postmodernism ay madalas na sinisisi para dito higit sa lahat dahil ipinapalagay ng mga tao na ang postmodernism ay katumbas ng post-truth. Sa katunayan, wala nang hihigit pa sa katotohanan. Hindi talaga itinatanggi ng postmodernism ang realidad ng Ganap na Katotohanan ngunit sa halip ay isang kritika na nalaman ng sinuman ang Ganap na Katotohanan. Ito ay isang panawagan na muling bisitahin ang mga katotohanang alam natin na may layuning dalhin ang mga ito sa mas malapit na pagkakahanay sa Katotohanan.
Nagsasalita ang Bibliya, sa pamamagitan ng pagtukoy sa misteryo, tungkol sa kahirapan ng paglapit sa Ganap na Katotohanan. Ang pahayag ni Pablo sa 1 Corinto 13:12 ng “Sa ngayon, para tayong nakatingin sa malabong salamin. Ngunit darating ang araw na magiging malinaw ang lahat sa atin. Bahagya lamang ang ating nalalaman sa ngayon; ngunit darating ang araw na malalaman natin ang lahat, tulad ng pagkakaalam ng Dios sa atin” inilalarawan ang problemang ito para sa atin sa napaka-unawang paraan.
Ang problema kapag pinag-uusapan ang katotohanan ay madalas nating nalilito ang ating sariling mga katotohanan sa Ganap na Katotohanan kung sa katunayan ang isang pag-angkin laban sa aking katotohanan at isang pag-angkin laban sa Ganap na Katotohanan ay dalawang magkaibang bagay. Ang pag-aangkin laban sa aking katotohanan ay talagang isang pahayag na nagsasabing wala pa akong Ganap na Katotohanan at higit pang trabaho ang kailangang gawin sa paglapit dito.
Huwag mo sana akong intindihin. Naniniwala ako sa Ganap na Katotohanan. Naniniwala ako na ang Diyos ng Bibliya ay ang Pinaka Realidad. Naniniwala ako na ang kuwentong nakapaloob sa Bibliya ay ibinigay sa atin upang magkaroon tayo ng access sa Ganap na Katotohanang ito. Ipinapahayag ko na si Hesus ay PANGINOON. Ang hindi ko pinaniniwalaan ay nalaman ko na ang lahat (kahit na ayaw kong magkamali!). Ang napagtanto ko ay ang lahat ng katotohanang pinanghahawakan at minamahal natin ay mga katotohanang pinag-usapan.
Pakikipag-ayos ng Katotohanan.
Halimbawa ang iba’t ibang konseho ng simbahan na naganap simula sa Jerusalem gaya ng inilarawan sa Gawa 15. Ang mga konsehong ito ay nagtampok ng malaking bilang ng mga pinuno ng simbahan na nagtipon upang talakayin, at makipag-ayos, kung ano ang hitsura ng kinikilala na Kristiyanismo. Ang kanilang mga desisyon ay patuloy na nakakaapekto sa mga simbahang Kristiyano hanggang ngayon. Ang kagiliw-giliw na tandaan ay kahit na ang konseho ay humantong sa isang pagkakahati, ang parehong partido ay naninindigan na ang katotohanan ay nasa kanilang panig kumpara sa kabilang panig. Ang resulta ay isang simbahan na mayroong 5 pangunahing sangay — Orthodox, Romano Katoliko, Evangelical, Mainline, at Pentecostal/Charismatic — ngunit ang mahalagang tandaan ay ang bawat sangay na ito ay nananatiling bahagi ng simbahan.
Ang mga denominasyon ay isa pang paraan ng pakikipag-usap sa katotohanan. Ang bawat denominasyon ay may sariling pahayag o pagpapatibay ng pananampalataya na nagtatakda ng alinman sa mga hangganan o pokus para sa bawat grupo.
Ang hapag-kainan pagkatapos magsimba tuwing Linggo ay isa pang tradisyonal na lokasyon para sa pakikipag-usap sa katotohanan habang ang pastor at ang kanilang sermon ay pinaghiwa-hiwalay. Ang katotohanan na ang mga katulad na negosasyon ay nagaganap sa maraming mga hapag-kainan ay ginagawang mas kumplikado ang pagtuklas ng katotohanan!
Ang isa pang halimbawa ay sa mundo ng agham kung saan nagaganap ang negosasyon sa pamamagitan ng peer review at mga Q&A na bahagi ng mga presentasyon sa papel, na humahantong sa mga rebisyon bago ang paglalathala.
Minsan nangyayari ang mga pagbabago ng paradigm na binabaligtad ang mga kasalukuyang pag-unawa sa katotohanan pabor sa isang ganap na bagong paraan ng pag-iisip. Isang magandang halimbawa nito ay ang paglipat mula sa paniniwala na ang mundo ay nasa sentro ng sanlibutan patungo sa paniniwala na ang araw ay nasa centro ng sanlibutan.
Nakikipag-ayos tayo Upang Gumuhit ng mga Linya.
Bakit tayo nakikipag-ayos? Dahil gusto nating malaman kung saan iguguhit ang linya sa buhangin! Sa isang tiyak na punto ang negosasyon ay magtatapos at ang mga linya ay iguguhit na. Sa simbahan gumuguhit tayo ng mga linya batay sa teolohiya. Ang nakatutuwa ay iniisip ng bawat isa na ang ating teolohiya ang tama at ang lahat ng iba ay mali.
Ang lahat ng ito ay nagpapahirap na malaman kung saan dapat iguhit ang linya. Siyempre, gusto nating iguhit ang linya sa pagitan ng katotohanan at kasinungalingan ngunit paano kung ang linyang iyon ay palipat-lipat pa? O paano kung ang mga pagkakaiba ay kulay abo?
Sa aking nakaraan, nakapagguhit ako ng maraming linya. Ang isa na namumukod-tangi ay na sa aking mga kabataang taon ay tinanggap ko ang katotohanan ng 5-point Calvinism, na may espesyal na diin sa dobleng predestinasyon. Ang ibig sabihin ng dobleng predestination ay hindi lamang itinalaga ng Diyos ang mga tao na maligtas niya, itinalaga rin niya ang iba sa kapahamakan sa Impiyerno. Ito ay humantong sa akin minsan na ituro sa publiko na ang mga sanggol na namamatay ay hindi kinakailangang mapupunta sa langit dahil sino ang nakakaalam kung sila ay pinili o hindi pinila? Yup ginawa ko talaga yun. Sa kabutihang palad, ako ay sinaway at itinuwid (sa pag-ibig) ng aking tagapagturo at higit na mabuti na nakita ko kung paanong ang mga bagay ay hindi lubos na nasusukat laban sa banal na kasulatan.
Mga Susi sa Pagguhit ng mga Linya.
Iniisip ko kung posible bang gumuhit ng mga linya – kung ang pagguhit ng mga linya ay talagang kailangan nating gawin – batay kay Jesus? Isang susi ay ang pagsasagawa ng WWJD? (Ibig sabihin, What Would Jesus Do? o Ano ba kaya Ang Gagawin ni Jesus?). Ang isang tawag sa personal na kabanalan batay sa pangunahan na ang pamamuhay tulad ng ipinamuhay ni Jesus habang nasa lupa siya ay isang magandang bagay. Syempre itinataas nito ang tanong kung sino si Jesus para sa atin? Ngunit iyon ang paksa para sa ibang panahon!
Ang isa pang susi ay ang pag-uusap. Ang pag-uusap ay nangangahulugan ng pakikinig sa lahat ng boses. Ang isang halimbawa ay kapag tayo ay mga bata, lahat ay nagsasalita tulad ng ng ating pagsasalita — hanggang sa unang beses na marinig natin ang taong na may accent. Bigla nating napagtanto na hindi lahat ng tao ay nagsasalita sa parehong paraan na ginagawa natin. Minsan gusto pa nating gayahin ang ibang accent. Mas matagal bago natin mapagtanto na mayroon din tayong accent at ang realization na ito ay humahantong sa atin na magtanong kung ano ang iba pang mga bagay na maaaring hindi natin lubos na maunawaan.
Ang ikatlong susi ay ang paglipat mula sa katotohanan na tinukoy bilang isang hanay na may hangganan (bounded set) patungo sa katotohanan na tinukoy bilang isang hanay na may sentro (centred set). Tinutukoy ng hanay na may hangganan, sa pamamagitan ng mga palatandaan, kung sino ang mga nasa loob at sino ang mga nasa labas. Ang isang hanay na may sentro sa kabilang banda ay kinikilala ang isang direksyon ng paggalaw patungo sa isang karaniwang layunin.
Kung saan Gumuhit ng Linya ang Bibliya.
Gumuhit ng isang linya ang Bibliya. Nakita natin ito sa buong Bagong Tipan (Gawa 8:16; 19:5, at 1Cor 6:11; at 1Cor 12:3). Matatagpuan ang isang lugar sa Filipos 2:9-11 kung saan mababasa natin, “Kaya naman itinaas siyang lubos ng Dios at binigyan ng titulong higit sa lahat ng titulo, upang ang lahat ng nasa langit at lupa, at nasa ilalim ng lupa ay luluhod sa pagsamba sa kanya. At kikilalanin ng lahat na si Jesu-Cristo ang Panginoon, sa ikapupuri ng Dios Ama.” Ang ideyang ito ay inulit sa Roma 10:9 na nagsasabing, “kung ipapahayag mo na si Jesus ay Panginoon at sasampalataya ka nang buong puso na muli siyang binuhay ng Dios, maliligtas ka.” Ang nakatutuwa ay ito ay isang linya na hindi iginuhit sa paligid ni Jesus ngunit sa kanya!
Paano ako magsisikap sa pagguhit ng mga linya patungo kay Jesus ngayon?
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Apparently we live in an era where truth is at stake. Postmodernism is often blamed for this largely because people assume postmodernism is the equivalent to post-truth. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Postmodernism doesn’t actually deny the reality of Absolute Truth but is rather a critique that anyone has Absolute Truth figured out. It is a call to revisit the truths that we know with the goal of bringing them into closer alignment with the Truth.
The Bible talks about the difficulty of approaching Absolute Truth by referring to the mystery. Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 13:12 of “Now we see a blurred image in a mirror. Then we will see very clearly. Now my knowledge is incomplete. Then I will have complete knowledge as God has complete knowledge of me” illustrates this problem for us in very understandable way.
The problem when talking about truth is that we often confuse our own truths with Absolute Truth when in fact a claim against my truth and one against Absolute Truth are two different things. A claim against my truth is really a statement saying that I don’t have Absolute Truth figured out just yet and more work needs to be done in approaching it.
Don’t get me wrong. I do believe in the reality of absolute truth. I do believe that the God of the Bible is Ultimate Reality. I believe that the story contained in the Bible is given to us so that we can have access to this Absolute Truth. I do declare that Jesus is LORD. What I don’t believe is that I have it all figured out (even if I don’t like to be wrong!). What I have come to realise is that all the truths that we hold near and dear are negotiated truths.
Take for example the various church councils that took place starting with the one in Jerusalem as described in Acts 15. These councils featured large numbers of church leaders who gathered to discuss, and negotiate, what orthodox Christianity looked like. Their decisions continue to impact Christian churches to this day. What is interesting to note is that even if the council led to a schism, both parties maintain that the truth lies with their side as opposed to the other side. The end result is a church that has 5 main branches — Orthodox, Roman catholic, Evangelical, Mainline, and Pentecostal/Charismatic — but what is important to remember is that each of these branches remains a part of the church.
Denominations are another way that truth is negotiated. Each denomination has its own statement or affirmation of faith that sets either the boundaries or the focus for each group.
The dinner table after church on Sundays is another traditional location for negotiating truth as the pastor and their sermon is dissected. The fact that similar negotiations take place at multiple dinner tables makes the discovery of truth all that much more complex!
Another example is in the world of science where negotiation takes place through peer review and Q&A portions of paper presentations, that lead to revisions before publication.
Sometimes paradigm shifts occur that turn current understandings of truth on their head in favour of a completely new way of thinking. The shift from earth-centric to heliocentric understandings of cosmology is a great example of this.
We Negotiate in Order to Draw Lines.
Why are we negotiating? Because we want to know where to draw the line in the sand! At a certain point negotiation ends and lines are drawn. In the church we tend to draw lines based on theology. What is interesting is that we each think that our theology is the correct one and that all others are wrong.
All of this makes it hard to know where to draw the line. Of course, we want to draw the line between truth and falsehood but what if that line keeps moving? Or what if the differences are grey?
I have drawn many lines in the past. One that stands out is that in my younger years I embraced the truth of 5-point Calvinism, with special emphasis on double predestination. Double predestination means that not only did God predestine people to be saved, he also predestined others to damnation in Hell. It even led me one time to teach publicly that babies who die don’t necessarily go to heaven because who knows if they are elect or not? Yup really I did that. Thankfully I was rebuked and corrected in love by my mentor and even more thankfully I have since seen how things don’t entirely measure up against scripture.
Keys to drawing lines.
I wonder if it’s possible to draw lines — if drawing lines is indeed what we need to do — based on Jesus? One possibility is the practice of WWJD? A call to personal holiness based upon the premise that to live like Jesus lived while on earth is a good thing. Of course that raises the whole question of who is Jesus for us? But that is the subject for another post!
Another key is dialogue. Dialogue means hearing all the voices. One example is when we are kids everyone talks the same as we do — until we hear our first person with an accent. All of a sudden we realise that not everyone talks the same way we do. Sometimes we even want to imitate other accents. What takes us longer to realise is that we have an accent too and this realisation leads us to question what other things we may not completely understand.
A third key would be to move from truth defined as a bounded set towards truth defined as a centred set. A bounded set identifies, through a series of markers, those who are in and those who are out. A centred set on the other hand identifies a direction of movement towards a common goal.
Where the Bible Draws the Line.
The Bible draws a line. We see it several places in the New Testament (Acts 8:16; 19:5, and 1 Cor 6:11; and 1 Corinthians 12:3). One place is found in Philippians 2:9-11 where we read, “This is why God has given him an exceptional honor— the name honored above all other names— so that at the name of Jesus everyone in heaven, on earth, and in the world below will kneel and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” This idea is reiterated in Romans 10:9 that says, “If you declare that Jesus is Lord, and believe that God brought him back to life, you will be saved.“ What is interesting is that this is a line not drawn around Jesus but toward him!
How can I work at drawing lines toward Jesus today?
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I came to a realisation the other day – I am post-modern. I know that may come as a shock to some of you (particularly if you are over 46, a pastor, or former classmate). You see, for the past how many years I have been hearing about how Postmodernism is bad. It will be the end of the church, the end of evangelism, the end of those who love the truth because (it is said) postmodernism is anti-truth/is a choose-your-own-truth system/is fuzzy in the truth area. Of course it’s not true. Postmodernists value truth just as much as the next guy – its getting to the truth that is a different process. Moderns say, “Tell me that something is the truth and I will believe it” while Postmoderns say, “Show me that something is true and I will believe it.” Not really much difference when you get right down to it. In terms of testimonies, Moderns spend more time telling what Scripture showed them about themselves, while Postmoderns spend more time telling how the truths of Scripture were proven in their experience.
Fine, so now I have fessed up to being postmodern. I have another problem. I don’t live in the culture within which I was born. To help you understand, imagine being a person whose facial expression show anger more frequently than joy living in a place where a look on your face can destroy a friendship (or at least make things difficult for a while). Or perhaps a person whose voice is not always calm and from time to time (or is it all the time?) gets louder and more forceful in his vocal expression, living in a place where a raised voice can also destroy a friendship.
So now I am a constantly-angry guy with fuzzy-truth issues. Wait, it gets better!
I live in a world that in it’s religious thought is pre-modern but its popular thought is post-modern. Did you notice that the word Modern didn’t appear anywhere in that list? Yes, it truly does seem that while I grew up in that bastion of modernity (see my comments on being post-modern above), I now live in a place that is missing that whole school of thought and jumping ahead to something better and brighter. So much for my life and all my training and etc. etc. etc. …
So what ties it all together? How can I survive this hodge-podge life that I have been given? How can I effectively minister in this world? It all comes down to a simple message that people across all of these cultural, intellectual, and social strata share; namely that of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
In perhaps one of the greatest misunderstandings of the modern Christian age, denominationalism has been seen as one of the greatest dividing forces in the church. There is a tremendous perception of a lack of Christian unity because of the abundance of Christian denominations. While there may be some truth to that (some churches split over the dumbest reasons) in fact quite the opposite is true. When you look at the vast array of denominations that are available to the average consumer, you will notice that each group represents a certain specific school of thought. Each group is also absolutely dedicated to the Jesus Christ to whom the Good News refers. In fact, denominations could be described as a creative way of contextualising God’s message for the whole world. Or perhaps this both-and approach to denominationalism is just my postmoderism expressing itself.
Mike Fast welcomes feedback on any of the articles he writes. Please leave your comments below.