Postmodern Pilgrims:
First Century Passion for a 21st Century Church

by Leonard Sweet, Broadman and Homan Publishers, July, 2000.
Reviewed by Jack Heppner.

At the heart of this book we see Leonard Sweet offering handles for how the contemporary church can embrace the postmodern era with confidence and passion. While it will be helpful for readers to be somewhat familiar with postmodern thought, Sweet doesn’t take this for granted. But he is adamant in his assertion that if the church is to be relevant in the 21st century it will have to come to grips with what drives postmodernism. Not only that, he finds in the postmodern worldview an opportunity for the church to reclaim an authentic, apostolic, witness to the world. Instead of fearing postmodernism, he states, we should try to understand it, learn from it, and find creative ways of communicating the gospel within it. This will mean, however, that we must come to grips with how our present understandings of faith have been skewed by the modern worldview of the past three or four centuries.

Sweet uses the handy acronym EPIC to help us understand what postmoderns are looking for. According to Sweet, a relevant postmodern church is characterized by being Experiential, Participatory, Image-driven and Connected. Such a church, he argues, goes “back to the future.” By that he means that the more we will catch the dynamics of the first century church, the more we will be relevant in the 21st century world.

What does an EPIC church do differently? It is Experiential. Instead of focusing on propositional statements as being the truth, it will reclaim the original concept of “troth.” Truth only makes sense when it is experienced. It is Participatory. Instead of one way communication, it will invite people into an interactive dialogue in which our mutual stories and God’s story are heard. It will be Image-driven. Instead of relying mostly on spoken and written words, it will as well employ a variety of artistic forms to symbolize what we mean and who we are. Imagery, metaphor, story and icons will become central in its worship. And it is Connected. Instead of using its primary energy to keep programs running, the church will focus its attention on building an inter-generational community in which it is safe to take off masks and meet each other on the sacred ground next to our hearts.

This is a “must-read” book for anyone concerned about making the church relevant in the 21st century. It is a hard read for persons hoping to keep the church and its programs intact as they are. But for those who already recognize that some profound paradigm shifts are needed in our churches if we want to touch our contemporary world, it is a breath of fresh air.