A new DVD documentary from Brad and Kent Williamson, Rebellion of Thought: Post-Modernism, The Church and The Struggle For Authentic Faith, will hit the street Nov. 13. Thanks to the generosity of Exploration Films, I had an opportunity to preview the film (trailer here) and share my opinion with you.
Two words of advice: “Don’t bother.”
The philosophy professors and other top-flight culture experts interviewed for the film do a marvelous job of deconstructing post-modernism. Unfortunately, while they masterfully demonstrate why post-modernism can’t be true, they apparently were never asked to explain how, alternately, Christianity can be known to be true. You can’t blame the professors. (The answer is simple, by the way.)
The film, however, isn’t just about deconstructing post-modernism. Curiously, it’s also about the viability of the organized Church. The film alternates between the topics, but if there is a connection between them, it never becomes clear. I found it confusing that “the brothers Williamson,” as they call themselves, (is it just me or does that sound pretentious?) would be discussing both worldview and ecclesiology in the same documentary, yet never help us understand why we are having both discussions at the same time. It seems the focus on post-modernism was merely a vehicle to get people to listen to a very fashionable Emergent discussion about the failings of the institutional church. (Think that was explained to the profs beforehand?)
During the film’s 74 minutes, “the brothers” have a lot to say about the failings of the institutional Church. (Basically, it seems we preach Christianity but don’t practice it.) It’s a shame they didn’t spend less time criticizing and offer something substantial about what would work better. While they make a vague reference to house churches, “the brothers” offer nothing to replace what they dismiss as inadequate and hopelessly broken. (Just as they offered no viable alternative to the post-modern worldview. Maybe that’s the connection!)
“The brothers” don’t even discuss whether there might be an authentic approach to the organized Church in the West. Their shallow, self-important dialogue is naïve and would be irresponsible, if anyone takes them seriously. Are we to believe there are no churches in the US that are practicing Christianity as well as preaching it? Is there no point in taking a few moments to discuss why we aren’t proposing to fix organized Christianity, instead of calling for rebellion against it?
Probably the most disturbing aspect of the film – and the clearest indicator of how poorly conceived it was – is the paradox that “the brothers” criticize post-modernism’s rebellion of thought yet advocate a rebellion of thought in terms of how we do church. Like bell bottom pants and aqua polka dots, it seems a ’60s-style infatuation with rebellion may be back in fashion. The film leaves viewers in the same place the Movement left us – tearing down an edifice with nothing to raise in its place.
If “the brothers” have answers, their film should have given a clue as to what they are. They’ve obviously read George Barna’s book, but they don’t seem to have a clue about anything other than what’s wrong. (Some folks think Barna’s book was similarly clueless.)
Disaffection and boredom with flawed churches won’t fuel a rebellion, much less launch a revolution. And if you did tear it all down, what rose from the ashes would simply organize itself again. The problem isn’t in the organization; it’s in the hearts of people who no longer understand that it’s all about the Lord and his Mission – and missions must be organized, in one manner or another.
The film is an excellent discussion starter on the failings of post-modernism as a worldview. It’s a shame “the brothers” didn’t stick with that theme. The otherwise-wasted time could have been used to explain how the Christian worldview answers the questions that cause post-modernism to self-destruct.
It’s also a shame that viewers have to endure all the self-indulgent nonsense about rebelling against the organized Church. “The brothers” have crafted a call for rebellion that’s about as thoughtful and helpful as John Lennon’s silly lyric: “Imagine there’s no heaven … and no religion too.”
Exploration Films bills itself as a place “where curious truths and uncommon minds meet.” Amen, brother. Couldn’t say it better myself.
Now if you’ll open your hymnals to page 269, we’ll sing all four verses of “Stir Thy Church, O God, Our Father.” Then we’ll close with a responsive reading based on the chart-topping Lennon-McCartney rock hymn, “Revolution.” (Go ahead, click on it and read the lyrics! Marvelously apropos. Almost relevant!)
[We asked two weeks ago for a response to these criticisms, but received no reply.]