The EPIC Church: Sweet calls his postmodern paradigm the EPIC church where the acronym EPIC stands for:
Experiential (rooted in relationships and personal experiences)
Participation (interactive, self-involving and pro-active toward others)
Image Driven (driven by memory/heritage imagery)
Connected (ever changing connectedness)
In Sweets opinion the EPIC characteristics of the postmodern church are in contrast with four characteristics of the modern culture: (1) intellectual, (2) observational, (3) phrase/slogan driven and (4) myopic. Postmoderns are facing a new reality they have created (or that has created them) without the past which they have purposefully denied and excluded. Therefore, contextualization becomes a main factor in the churches ministry in order to give answers to the questions which postmoderns are asking in their search of identity. While the paradigm of the modern church has proven dysfunctional in postmodernity, Christianity must rediscover and relive the message of salvation as the answer for the present ever-changing reality.
In relation to my present context of ministry, Sweet’s proposal has a double side effect. In working with the Church of God in the United States, Postmodern Pilgrims is not only a description of the present situation in the average North American Christian church, but also a prophetic blueprint for the future development of its mission and ministry. As such creating an EPIC church makes sense as helpful and purposeful.
However, while relating the Postmodern Pilgrims to a Bulgarian Pentecostal audience, the EPIC church takes a more theoretical than practical form. Evangelical churches from the post-communist countries are still struggling with going through the age of modernism, where the sudden political changes and severe economical crises have created political, economical and spiritual chaos after the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
Most interesting, however, is applying Sweet’s plan for postmodern pilgrimage in the Bulgarian evangelical churches in North America. In this context, typical post-communist, modern men and women are exposed to the postmodern North American culture. Both realities are combined to form a new reality – the reality of the immigrant. These people are left alone to perform the adaptation “jump” from modernity to postmodernity without actually having the chance to live through the transition process. In their context of ever-changing cultural adaptation, absolutes have very little meaning. Ministering to them, then, requires not simply words and managing techniques, but rather through Biblical spirituality which serves as roots replacing their missing past, as an identity for their ever-changing present reality and eschatological hope for both their future and eternity.
Pentecostalism and Postmodernity
Both Sweet and Johns approach postmodernity in a somewhat similar way. They see it as a process of denial of prior value systems which not only challenges present social systems, but also challenges one’s personal sense of identity. It is a reaction to the modernistic rationalism and to the concept that truth can be discovered through induction methodology. The most common concept of postmodernism is making everything relative. While postmoderns may not deny that there is truth, they question one’s ability to differentiate truth from non-truth. Postmodernity is about both loosing the old modern identity and finding a new postmodern one. As such, postmodernity calls for a search of a new, redefined identity for both the individual and the community as a whole. It is also about the opportunity for reinventing oneself; hence, postmoderns desire to constantly invent new identity. The new identity is rooted in a personal experience, rather than in the experience and model of others.
The difference in their views however comes with the application of the postmodernity in the Christian church. Of course, while Sweet writes about the Christian church as a whole (but focuses mainly on Western Christianity), Johns speaks specifically of the Pentecostal movement, its relationship to the postmodern culture, its roots and origin as a world view. In his customary style of writing, Sweet sounds like he is selling postmodernity to the church. He claims that the church must reconfigure its structure and ministry methodology in order to answer the new challenges. If the church fails to do this it is destined to eternal ministry failure in the era of postmodernity.
Sweet brings a number of conclusions based on current corporative management practices – a characteristic that has formed his writing/ lecturing style in the past several years. This distinguishes Postmodern Pilgrims from typical books about the Christian church. He consistently brings up facts, figures, statistics and analysis from corporative-industrial models to recommend the next step the church should make to assure its success in postmodernity. At times the book strongly resembles of the recent Bill Gates’ Business @ the Speed of Thought. Similar to what Bill Gates proposes to the management world, Sweet suggests that the church of postmodernity should adopt a somewhat virtual lifestyle to better understand and minister to the needs of the postmodern society.
On the contrary, Johns speaks of the church (Pentecostalism) as a movement that contains the characteristics of postmodernism long before postmodernism ever occurred. Differently than postmodernism, however, Pentecostalism is independent from any scientific paradigm and is not a worldview or structure, but rather a God-centered movement of believers. Thus, while Pentecostalism seems similar to postmodernity it not only occurs earlier in time, but carries a different set of characteristics and values.
Both Sweet and Johns come to the agreement in their conclusions that through reclaiming the past, the church of postmodernity, can remain in its original identity and give identity to others as well. Rooted in holiness the Christian church can provide an affective experience of God in the postmodern search for personal experience of reality.
In the beginning of the 20th century, Pentecostalism began as a rejection of the social structure which widely included sin, corruption and lack of holiness. These factors have spread not only in the society, but have established their strongholds in the church as well. Pentecostalism strongly opposed sin as a ruling factor in both the church and the community, seeing its roots in the approaching modernity. As a modern rebel, for a hundred years, Pentecostalism stood strongly in its roots of holiness and godliness, claiming that they are the foundation of any true Biblical church and community. Indeed, the model of rebelling against sin and unrighteousness was a paradigm set for the church by Jesus Christ Himself.
In the beginning of the 21st century, much is said about the church becoming a postmodern system serving the needs of postmodern people in an almost super-market manner. Yet, again, it seems reasonable to suggest that the Pentecostal paradigm from the beginning of modernity will work once again in postmodernity. While again moral values are rejected by the present social system, Pentecostalism must take a stand for its ground of holiness and become again a rebel – this time a Postmodern Rebel.