Paradigm Thinking

Robert Webber In Ancient-Future Faith: Rethinking Evangelicalism for a Postmodern World writes about the importance of Paradigm Thinking.

As the North American culture transitions from modernity to post-modernity, it is crucial for the Church to think paradigmatically in order to respond to its various cultural contexts. For the characteristics of mystery, community, and symbol are understood when framed in this way. If we are able to understand one another’s paradigms, it assists in the journey we travel in at least five ways, as Robert Webber suggests:

  • Paradigm thinking asks us to understand the past contextually. Each epoch of Christian history is to be studied in its own culture. Since the beginning, the Christian faith has been filtered through a variety of cultures.
  • Paradigm thinking allows us to have a deep appreciation for the past. We Protestants usually root out understanding of the faith in pietism, revivalism, or the modernist-fundamentalist controversy. We often freeze that particular moment in time, make it the standard expression of faith, and then judge all the other movements or periods of time by our standard. Paradigm thinking sets us free to affirm the whole church in all its previous manifestations.
  • Paradigm thinking also recognizes that the major models of the past continue into the present world. For example, Christianity adapted in the Greek world remains with us in Eastern Orthodoxy.

  • Paradigm thinking affirms the variety and diversity of the Christian faith and looks for the framework of faith that is common to the diversity. The search for common heritage allows for the emergence of a new understanding of unity and diversity. Unity is based on what is passed down in the ecclesio-social culture of the universal church, where diversity is a particular understanding of the faith that reflects the specific cultural context in which is was expressed. (e.g., medieval Roman versus sixteenth-century Reformation).

  • Finally, paradigm thinking also provides us with an intelligent way to deal with times of transition. For example, we currently acknowledge that the Christian faith is incarnated in the modern culture, with its philosophical assumption of a mechanistic world understood through the empirical methodology, and is eroding. The cultural revolutions are in the process of ushering us into a new era. In this swirl of change, many are seeking to honestly incarnate the historic faith in the emerging culture.

As the church transitions from modernity to postmodernity this type of understanding will facilitate on going dialogue between the numerous streams (e.g. emergent, missional, reformational, evangelical, simple), found in the North American milieu.


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