Today Alan Roxburgh addressed why “geography matters” using Albert Borgmann’s book, Crossing the Postmodern Divide. Borgmann argues that there are three features of modernity that have led to an understanding that geography no longer matters.
- Aggressive realism. This is the notion that all of nature can be conquered. Example: airplanes can carry us against the jet stream, over mountain ranges, across borders and over oceans. Business can now be conducted across international boundaries and, with the advent of the internet, in real time. The modernist believes that nature, space and time have been mastered.
- Methodological Universalism. Simply put, what we do in one place we can do in others. Technology has created universality and homogeneity. We believe that if a method worked in one context we can reproduce it in another.
- Ambiguous Individualism. People are lonely. In an attempt to alleviate their loneliness they seek out and join other gatherings of lonely people. They interpret these gatherings as “community” but there is nothing authentic about these pseudo fraternities. These are groups of instant and superficial affiliations, not genuine relationships (think “I’ll meet you at Starbucks”).
In sum, in modernity there was a belief that geography didn’t matter. In a postmodern context we find that this is a bankrupt belief primarily because people are not satisfied with the superficiality this brings. Pomos are suspicious of aggressive realism, methodological universalism and ambiguous individualism and are returning to the “local.” Have you heard about the “slow food” movement? Have you bought food from a local co-op? Have you grown food in your own backyard? Are you inclined to buy American? Have you seen the gentrification of your city’s downtown so that people can live in the area they work? Do you know someone who has moved closer to their church? Geography matters again.
A final comment. A vital problem of the church growth movement is that it buys into the notion that geography doesn’t matter. The three features Borgmann defines come eerily close to describing the contemporary church. Are we simply building superficial communities? Geography matters, and all theology is local. More on that later.