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Do You Know the Postmodern Alphabet?
The letters are all the same, but the things they stand for are as different as the future is from the past. A Is for Abductive helps you get a handle today on the vocabulary of tomorrow, and on concepts indispensable for living out the old-fashioned gospel in these newfangled times.
'You caused this book,' writes one of the authors. 'People like you were insisting on a beginner's guide to the pathway of postmodern ministry.' Here it is. There is no right or wrong place to begin---just pick a letter and start reading. You'll acquire new words for a new world that will change how you think about church, about ministry, and about what it means to follow in Jesus' footsteps---entering today's culture in order to love it, serve it, and lead it home to God.
Deductive method: Start with abstract principles and build toward concrete reality. (Preachers use this method when they begin with doctrine and move to application.)
Inductive method: Start with concrete reality and build toward abstract principles. (Preachers use "biblical induction" when they observe Scripture, then articulate doctrines or principles based on their observations. Induction is what a doctor does with your body to determine what's wrong with you).
Abductive method: Seize people by the imagination and transport them from their current world to another world, where they gain a new perspective. (Preachers use this method when they speak in parables. These sermons are so different from either inductive or deductive that some practitioners are calling them, not sermons, but "phd's," or "post-homiletical discourses."
Abductive reasoning (a seismic little phrase coined by the philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce) has powerful implications for preaching-and all communication, really. To go abductive, get rid of your inductive/deductive outlines and points and make your sermons pointless! In other words, don't build your messages around analysis (the A-word of modernity), but instead, build them around an abductive experience, one that takes people out of their current world of assumptions and issues, of boredom and anxiety. Instead of asking yourself before creating a sermon [note: we didn't say "writing a sermon"], "What's my point?" ask yourself, "What's my image?" or in more musical terms, "What experience do I want to compose?"
Rather than leading your hearers along in an orderly, step-by-step, predictable, reasoned argument, like a lawyer before a jury-proving and moving on, proving and moving on-seize them by their lapels, like a friend in a crisis. Grab them by the scruff of the neck (their imagination) and throw them into something they never expected.
Surprise and unpredictability are the key elements to the abductive method. You can't abduct someone if they're expecting it. This unpredictability is the opposite of modern approaches to preaching, where you set up something very predictable, such as "I'm going to define the problem, analyze the causes of the problem, and offer the steps to solving the problem" or "I'm going to name the topic and then break the topic down into subtopics and illustrate and apply each subpoint." These approaches are clear, useful, good-but predictable and of limited effectiveness in the emerging culture.
Disorientation, astonishment, amazement, surprise-all these things stimulate the abductive process. You abduct your hearers with a metaphor, a problem, a shocking or poignant story, a question or puzzle or paradox, and you beam them up into the spaceship of an unexpected experience. The experience may come in the form of a thought-game or search (great abductive activities), like these:
• What would you do if you were given five years off
work and unlimited funds and this assignment: Be
as happy as you can?
• Why do many Christians feel bored with the Bible?
• Why do you think more about sex or chocolate than
sharing your faith with friends?
Or it may come in the form of a story: There once was a man who had two sons ... a sower went out into his field to sow ... I was stuck in traffic the other day, when suddenly a large black bird landed on my hood....
Then the abductive message unfolds. Rather than following analytical points, it goes through turns, switchbacks, leaps, rests, sidetracks-the way a conversation does-until you are "abducted" into an experience that takes you outside yourself. (If you need examples, try Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon monologues.)
By the way, Peirce argued that the first person in history who fully developed and deployed this "abductive method" was Jesus of Nazareth. "Without a parable he told them nothing" (Matt. 13:34).
(So after you try a Lake Wobegon monologue, try a parable of Jesus.)
A is for Attention
• Becoming the scarcest resource in the emerging culture. Therefore the most coveted and costly.
Why did Procter & Gamble give $5 billion in cash to drug-maker Bristol-Myers Squibb in early summer 2001? To buy Clairol, primarily for their hair dye products. Hair colors now change with each season. Why? To be noticed. To gain attention. Postmoderns pay big money to force new kinds of attention.
Big money is spent on attention management-getting you to and protecting yourself from these two words: "Pay Attention." Look for the replacement of the "experience economy" with what architect William J. Mitchell calls "an economy of presence," 5 in which the variety of ways of "being present" is only matched by the variety of means of "attendance." In the emerging culture, to "pay attention" is almost a kind of offering-a sacramental gesture of self and sacrifice. The cumulative effect of attention avalanches will be able to change the world.
Attention is the critical resource for postmodern evangelists. Modern evangelists needed a loud voice, a forceful close, an amplifier, a microphone, an organ to play "Just As I Am"-and maybe a couple of clean jokes and clear diagrams. In contrast, postmodern hearers generally won't pay attention to you until you shut up, turn off the amplifier, and "pay" them in the priceless currency of respectful attention, compassionate listening. Then, try whispering.
A is for Augmentation
All areas of life are being "supersized," "powerized," and "megafied"-an enhancement phenomenon called augmentation. It's not as if this hasn't happened before. In the modern era, human intelligence was augmented through notes, reminders, paper, watches, alarm clocks, calculators, computers. Our brains are being augmented today by the silicon/software partnership.
But augmented reality is now taking unprecedented and unpredictable forms through the merging of genetic and digital technologies and computer-brain interfaces. Need an improved heart? Implant a pacemaker or defibrillator. Need an improved chest? Implant some silicon. Need improved computer skills? Try some software agents or avatars (digital butlers) that act on your behalf and simplify every area of your life. Need improved memory? Implant....
Enhancement technologies are not just rewriting the laws of Mother Nature. They are renegotiating our understandings of self, society, community, even soul. Where does the "true self" end and the "augmentation" begin? Is the augmentation now a part of the self? If so, what of words like identity and integrity, not to mention soul? This blurring of boundaries between the natural self and augmented self is revolutionary enough. But we have only just started down the trans (transnational, transcultural, transethnic, transgenic, transhuman) track.
Every augmentation is an amputation. The adoption of pocket calculators diminished our mental skills at mathematics. The typewriter and computer diminished our capacity for beautiful calligraphy.
There are two immediate implications of augmentation for emerging ministry. First, we need to acknowledge the tradeoffs of our augmentation-induced amputations. For example, we have augmented our ability to travel by cars and airplanes, but have amputated our ability to be rooted anywhere in particular for very long. We have augmented our voices through amplifiers and speakers, but have amputated our ability to listen and be silent. We have augmented our ability to stay in touch with one another through email and cell phones, but have amputated our ability to be alone. We have augmented our ability to be amused and occupied by video games and 67 channels of cable TV or 128 channels of satellite TV, but have amputated our ability to ... to ... to do whatever creative things that people did before these augmentations came along. (What did they do, anyway?)
We have augmented our ability to feed people with pizza and subs and take-out Chinese or Thai food in those little white cardboard cartons with wire handles. But have we lost something precious in amputating potlucks and the home-baking of bread in old-fashioned hospitality? Emerging leaders need to ask these kinds of questions, because when augmentations increase, so do amputations.
Second, we need to move beyond a naive modern optimism regarding new augmentations. Not all enhancements are enchantments. We need to anticipate the costs of benefits.
For example, back in the 1960s one particular Mennonite church augmented its communication system by handcrafting (as you'd expect) beautiful pigeon-hole-style wooden mailboxes, one for each member. Whenever anyone had a message for a fellow church member, he or she would simply slip it into the appropriate box, a clear benefit to communication. But at what cost? The church's current pastor hates those mailboxes. Why? Because every newcomer to the church is unintentionally excluded from the communication system. The system was designed for a non-growing church; it was not expandable, so it reinforced a static mindset in the members. The cost of the benefit has been high. The pastor now wishes the church would amputate the outmoded augmentation and reach for a new one. (Maybe an email list? But email brings its own amputations, right?)
Consider this: A time is coming (and now is) when you can take a pill to reduce your sex drive and then take another to "turn it on" again. Would taking self-control augmentations make you a better Christian, or a worse one? Would taking medications (or so-called "natural supplements") that elevate your mood augment your "love, joy, peace" quotient, thus making you more Christlike? What would be the cost of the benefit? You can already pay $3000 and get the sex of a child you want. Would this build a better Christian family?
The ethics of augmentation will open a bigger and bigger barrel of monkeys, and it won't all be fun. Using technology to augment relationships or to repair something to normal is not an issue. There are reproductive technologies, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF). But there are also genetic technologies, which actually alter the shape of future organisms.
Whether or not to "repair" to supernormal and transnormal (making people "better than well"-more musical, more intelligent, more athletic) will be one of the key ethical issues for our 22nd-century kids. Princeton biologist Lee Silver envisions a two-class system: the genetically enhanced "GenRich" existing alongside and lording it over poorer "Naturals."
What do you see? Which would you be-a "GenRich" or a "Natural"?
EPICtivity A: Augmentation
The early design of tractor trailers-semis-had a very flat front, and for many years different designs were unheard of.
A new design with a more rounded front end was developed but was shunned by many truck drivers as a fad. Resistance dissipated when it was later proven that the design change significantly increased performance and miles per gallon. The change represented only about a 10% difference to the design. For a small change the outcome was huge!
Discuss the following questions in your group:
• What do you think caused the most emotional
resistance (not air!) when the new model was first
• What would the impact have been if the changes
were never initiated?
• How does this EPICtivity relate to your church?
• What 10% change can you make in a current project
you are working on?
• What will the augmentation potentially amputate?
Can you live with this? Why? Why not?
Excerpted from A Is for Abductive by Leonard Sweet, Brian D. McLaren Copyright © 2003 by Zondervan
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.