Okay, I was one of the early “post” boys to the United Methodist table, thinking about our place in a “postmodern” world, moving to thinking about “postcolonialism,” and even thinking about post-evangelicalism, post-liberalism, yada, yada, yada, and the list goes on.
However tonight I was asked by a friend and member of my congregation about what it means to be “post-traditional.” This person holds a position at Infoserv and shared that they had received a question from someone wanting a definition of “post-traditional,” as there were United Methodist congregations that they were checking out that identified themselves in that way, and these folks were wanting to make sense of what these churches believed as “post-traditionalists.”
I confess that I was stumped for a minute to give a definition. I mean, I have been around the emerging church “post-er” boys for quite a while, but I can’t say that “post-traditional” is a descriptor that I have heard often.
I assume (and yes, I know what that does….) that these congregations (which seem to be either new church plants or in an active revitalization process) are trying to identify themselves as somehow different than a “traditional” church (which of course, in itself, is a problematic descriptor). The problem is that “post” really doesn’t mean anything other than “after.” Thus, to call one’s congregation “post-traditional” is to suggest that you are doing something “after traditionalism” . . . but that could be anything! A post-traditional church might be offering seeker sensitive “contemporary” worship, OR some sort of ancient future liturgy. A post-traditional church might be saying that they are re-appropriating the old tradition for a new time and place, OR it might be saying that the old traditional stuff that is part of our denomination, things like the Book of Discipline or a consistent theology of grace, is being discarded in favor of something else.
My fear is that the claim of post-traditionalism is one that fails to recognize the power of tradition in telling us who we are and where we have come from as we move into the future. We don’t create new structures or ways of being in a vacuum. The one’s that have staying power are always created with an understanding of where we have come from as we move into the future. “Tradition” is not an evil thing that keeps us from changing. No tradition is simply the story of where we have come from. Tradition only become stale and monolithic when we allow it to overwhelm the need and desire for change.
So, what does it mean to be post-traditional? Am I missing something here, or is this simply another example of trying to be hip with “post” words with little thought about what is behind those descriptors?