Medieval to Modern to Postmodern

Here are my notes for a presentation I plan to make to our church's Advisory Council (board) next Sunday.

Medieval to Modern to Postmodern

First – apologies:

The roots of this discussion are in European (or “Western”) history. I am much less familiar with Eastern history, but I suspect that with the globalization of the world over the last century, and increasingly over the last few decades, Eastern cultures have experienced similar shifts into modernity and are now shifting to post-modernity.

Second – background:

European history is divided into three (and now four) basic periods. (These dates are not firm. The transition from one period to another is uneven and last for many generations).

Antiquity – 700 BC à 500 AD

Medieval Times (Middle Ages) – 500 AD à 1500 AD

Modern Times (Modernity) – 1500 AD à present

Postmodern Times (Postmodernity) – 1990 AD à ???

Third – Looking at the Transitions[1]

Medieval à Modern

TYPE OF CHANGE

SPECIFIC EVENT

1. New communication technology, with profound effects on how people learn, think, and live.

The printing press revolutionizes human culture.

2. New scientific worldview, with staggering (huge, perspective changing) implications for humanity.

Copernicus asserts that the earth is not the center of the universe, toppling the medieval model of the universe.

3. A new intellectual elite emerges, challenging church authority and introducing a new epistemology (way of knowing).

Galileo, Newton, Bacon, and others give birth to modern science and the Enlightenment.

4. New transportation technology increases the interaction of world cultures around the globe, making the world seem smaller.

The development of the caravel (sailing ship) for long voyages makes possible the explorations of the late 13th to early 16th centuries.

5. Decay of an old economic system and rise of a new one.

Market capitalism replaces feudalism (Lords and serfs, castles and peasants).

6. New military technology.

Development of modern guns leads to the development of the modern infantry and the rise of modern nation-states.

7. New attack on dominate authorities, with defensive reaction.

Protestant Reformation denies the authority of the Roman Catholic Church; Counter-Reformation develops in response.

The combination of many major changes in society led to a corresponding major change in society’s basic outlook on the world.

Medieval à Modern

TYPE OF CHANGE

SPECIFIC EVENT

1. New communication technology, with profound effects on how people learn, think, and live.

First radio and television, then the computer and the internet, revolutionize human culture.

2. New scientific worldview, with staggering (huge, perspective changing) implications for humanity.

Post-Einsteinian theories of relativity, quantum mechanics, indeterminancy, and the expanding universe unsettle the stable mechanistic worldview of modern science (that the universe functions like a stable machine); psychology, psychiatry, neurophsychology, and psychopharmacology create new ways of seeing ourselves and new crises in epistemology.

3. A new intellectual elite emerges, challenging church authority and introducing a new epistemology (way of knowing).

Postmodern philosophy challenges all existing elites and deconstructs existing epistemologies.

4. New transportation technology increases the interaction of world cultures around the globe, making the world seem smaller.

The development of air travel leads to the trivialization of national borders and intensifies the interaction of world cultures.

5. Decay of an old economic system and rise of a new one.

The global economy transforms both communism and capitalism, and the development of e-commerce suggests further market revolution.

6. New military technology.

Air warfare and nuclear weapons change the face of warfare, and the new threats of terrorism (especially chemical and biological), power-grid sabotage, and cybercrime begin to revolutionize the role of governments in keeping the peace.

7. New attack on dominate authorities, with defensive reaction.

Secularism, materialism, and urbanism contribute to the decline of institutional religion worldwide; fundamentalist movements arise in reaction and self-defense.

The combination of many major changes in society has already begun and is still building into a corresponding major change in society’s basic outlook on the world.

We are in the middle of a societal transition. This transition is not complete, but it has begun. Our entire way of viewing the world (and God and the church) is changing.



[1] Brian McClaren, A New Kind of Christian, (San Francisco: Josey-Bass, 2001), 29-31.