In our Postmodern era, many young people have become uncertain about virtually everything. When we do Christian Apologetics, there is often a prior step we need to take before we can convince someone to believe the Bible. Before they can believe the Bible, they must believe that truth exists and that it is knowable.
If you don’t believe that objective truth exists, and that you can know it with at least some level of certainty, you will be skeptical of any and all truth claims, including Biblical ones.
After the Protestant Reformation, a new ethos pervaded the Western world. Christianity began to infiltrate every aspect of culture, from the Arts to Literature, from Philosophy to Science. But then French enlightenment thinkers like Voltaire, Rousseau and Decartes began to assert that we could know truth and reality apart from revelation; we could be good without God.
When Charles Darwin published “On the Origin of Species” in 1859, rationalists and empiricists began to win over the masses by claiming scientific support to their atheistic dogmas. 1859 was, in my view, the beginning of the Modernist era.
The Modern Industrial Revolution of the early 20th century typified the new cultural modus operandi. The new methods of industry were mechanical, predictable, mass-produced, calculated, and mathematical. The church is usually about twenty years behind the world in terms of allowing cultural trends to infiltrate her ranks. In time, however, Modernist tactics were seen in churches’ organizational structures and even in the evangelism approach of Billy Sunday and other Christian leaders.
Around the 1950s the seeds of Postmodernism began to grow. By the 1960s, America was witnessing a full-scale cultural revolution. In contrast to Modernism, its sociological step-child, Postmodernism is decentralized, relativistic, experiential, pluralistic and in many ways irrational. Again, it took 20 years, but soon enough Postmodernism found a foothold in many churches.
Today we find ourselves in a near civil war within the church. Postmodern Emergents are on one side facing off against died-in-the-wool traditional, institutional Fundamentalists on the other. The questions range from doctrine to style, with cultural presuppositions under-girding many of the arguments on both sides.
Culturally, I believe that September 11, 2001 has provided a sociological turning point into a new era. It has ushered in, in my opinion, the beginning of post-Postmodernism.
When a civilization is embodied by relativism and hedonism, history tells us that it falls apart from within. Despair first entered Philosophy, then the Arts, then General Culture and finally, the Church. (See: The God Who Is There, by Francis Schaeffer.) Dr. Schaeffer told us that the church is the final hold out in a culture against nihilism and despair. There are only two things that can keep a nation from sliding into the abyss of pleasure:
1. The gospel of Jesus Christ as preached by the true confessing church. The gospel exerts its restraining influence by means of he Holy Spirit working in someone’s heart to convict him of sin and empower him to live righteously. (i.e. Self-Government)
2. The arm of a totalitarian state. Totalitarianism can assault us from within or without. Neither one is very desirable.
Postmodernism is seen, in part, in the ordination of homosexuals in the liberal mainline churches, the embracing of higher criticism and skepticism of the Biblical texts, and the utilization of pop culture advertising techniques in reaching the masses.
While the church is waging internal wars about power-point choruses versus hymnbooks, praise bands versus organs, formal attire versus casual, our Postmodern nation is on the verge of losing the ability to maintain its foundational institutions. Wimps can’t govern themselves. God told Jonah that Ninevah was on the verge of being destroyed. “You’ve been concerned about this vine [something that made Jonah comfortable]…but Ninevah has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left…should I not be concerned about that great city?” (Jonah 4:10-11)
We face the threat of Islamo-Fascist attacks on hand and Femi-nazi dictatorship on the other, and yet we are so busy with our personal “vines” that I think we’re missing the big picture. It reminds me of the musicians on the Titanic playing ragtime as the ship sank. Perhaps it’s time to change the tune to “Nearer My God To Thee.”
We can be part of the solution by believing, living and proclaiming the unchanging truth of the gospel. As Schaeffer said in his excellent book, The Great Evangelical Disaster, “There must be confrontation: Loving confrontation, but confrontation nonetheless.”
The issue isn’t whether Modern or Postmodern church is better. They’re both bad. Neither culture from which they sprung was based on Biblical ideologies. The issue is Truth. Truth isn’t a Modern invention. Absolute truth is only found in Jesus Christ, who said, “I AM the Truth.” (John 14:6)
The bottom line is this. Yes, we need to be concerned about secular cultural influence within the church, whether Modern or Postmodern. But we also need to be concerned about the fact that the church finds herself within a broader cultural context that is self-destructing at an alarming rate. If the church can’t get her act together and faithfully proclaim the Truth to a waiting world, we will find ourselves in a depressed cultural ghetto much like the weakened churches of Eastern Europe in the last century.
If you have been hearing about these terms, “Modern” and “Postmodern” but aren’t certain where to begin, The Death of Truth, (Dennis McCallum, General Editor), is a great place to start. The topics are dealt with in a scholarly manner, but are explained in an easy enough manner for the common person to understand. One of the most helpful aspects of the book are the wonderful charts, that give a great visual aid to the comparison of these worldviews.
Health Care, Literature, Education, History, Psychotherapy, Law, Science, and Religion.
If there is a downside to the book, it may be that some of the authors tend to defend Modernism a bit too much in their zeal to show the imbalance of its rebellious progeny: Postmodernism. This shows up the most in the chapters on education and health. In health, the author seems so opposed to any form on alternative medicine that I think he goes a bit far and throws the baby out with the bath water. Not all alternative medical approaches are “new age” or bogus superstition. In education, there is more credence given to the modern approach to education that is warranted. Modernist education wasn’t Biblical either. On a good note though, they do have a great explanation of the views of Multiculturalism and the real relatvisitic motives behind the facade.
With those disclaimers aside, I really think this book is a very useful tool for anyone who wants to understand the culture in which we live. Ideas have origins and destinations. This book does a good job of filling in the gaps between the two.
On a scale of 1-5, I’d give this a 4 overall.
Dr. Francis Schaeffer, a brilliant Christian philosopher who died in 1984, gives great insight to the Postmodern crisis we are experiencing within the church today. He explains how Thomas Aquinas opened the door for an Epistemological compromise between the Bible as an authority on one hand and Aristotelian philosophy being an equal viewpoint on the other hand. This mixture, known as Syncretism, led to Christians questioning whether the Bible was needed at all.
This is something we are struggling with in our day. Is the Bible merely “a” source of truth, or is it “the” authoritative source for all moral truth? Is the Bible “a” truth (i.e. Relative Truth), or are there real absolutes that relate to all of life and reality?
If you have never read Dr. Shaeffer’s works, you need to rediscover this man’s amazing contribution to the Christian community. It may change your life, as it did mine nearly 20 years ago.
Our friends’ son (a homeschooled young man raised in a Christian home) now states that he is not a Christian, doesn’t believe that Jesus lived and the Bible, to him, is just another old book. Very sad but it was coming.. He had joined the emergent church several years ago.. Wonder if this is a common thing for those who move to the emergent church?
(A concerned friend)
A big part of Emergent Theology is a Narrative (story) approach to Hermeneutics (how we study and understand the Bible). Nearly every Evangelical scholar will readily admit that Narrative (story) is an important part of understanding the Bible. Jesus used Narrative quite often. The Mid-Eastern culture is deeply rooted in Narrative as a method for transmitting transcendent values from one generation to another. It is an important and vital part of Christian Homiletics (preaching style and methods of communicating the Gospel) and is a substantial part of the content of the Bible itself.
What many Emergents mean by Narrative Theology though is that the Bible is MERELY that…a story. As Brian McLaren, the grand-daddy of the movement says (in his book, The Story We Find Ourselves In), the Bible is a collection of stories that Bedoin shepherds told themselves around campfires to help them learn the story they found themselves in. Today, we read those stories in an attempt to understand important truths that might help us understand the story we find ourselves in.
So Narrative Theology is a deconstruction of the authority of Scripture, and most specifically what is called the “Perspicuity of Scripture“. That means that God wrote the Bible intending for it to be understood. He wanted it’s message to be clear and available for everyone. Emergents deny any claim someone makes that they understand what the Bible means. They would concede that you can know what it means FOR YOU, but not what it means objectively or what it means for someone else.
Really this is just a carry-over from what the German Theologians did through Higher Criticism over a century ago. Everything cycles back around. Back then the Fundamentalists were battling Modernism. Now the Evangelicals are battling Postmodernism. At the root is the fight over the authority of Scripture, and yes, thousands of young adults are embracing Narrative Theology as a replacement for seeing the Bible as Objective Propositional Truth.
May the Lord grant this young man humility, which opens access to grace (1 Peter 5:5).