How to Bridge the Culture Gap: How John Dewey’s Aesthetics May Benefit the Local Church
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In my personal experience, I have discovered notable aesthetic problems that face many contemporary evangelical churches. In spite of these churches’ best efforts, they fail to bridge the culture gap and foster a meaningful worship service. But John Dewey’s aesthetic philosophy understands the shifting nature of our environment and the value of aesthetic experience, providing beneficial insights to assist unhealthy churches. To better understand the applicability of his philosophy, Chapter II is an exposition of John Dewey’s aesthetics that revolves around four central questions: What is Dewey’s starting point for aesthetics? What distinguishes aesthetic experiences from others? What is his criticism of the “museum conception of art”? What is the significance for Dewey of our activities having or not having aesthetic quality? Chapter III is a Deweyan investigation of four real churches: the elite church, which promotes an aesthetic that is reserved for its members; the broken church, which is divorced from community; the humdrum church, which is preoccupied with the routine; and the sensational church, which is characterized by indulgence. Chapter IV is a description of two recent attempts to bridge the culture gap and offer meaningful worship activities: the seeker-sensitive movement which contends that the church must be “culturally inviting” to the community, and the emerging movement(s), which seeks to dismantle traditional churches using deconstructionism and reconstructing worship services that are experiential, pluralistic, and sensory. My Deweyan argument in Chapter V is that both the “seeker-sensitive” and the “emerging” movements fail to adequately understand the shifting character of our environment and our relation to it. If problem churches acknowledge that discontinuity with environment is inevitable, seek to meet the needs of others, embrace adjustment as a core component, and value aesthetic experience, they will be in a better position to bridge the culture gap and offer an enriching worship experience in their services. Three Deweyan lessons are gleaned from this inquiry: value aesthetic experience and its contribution in bridging the culture gap, implement Deweyan insights drawn from our examination of traditional churches, and contribute to society by generating artproducts that will benefit the community.
Art as Experience
Shockley, Paul Russell (2010). How to Bridge the Culture Gap: How John Dewey’s Aesthetics May Benefit the Local Church. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from