How are Christians to engage with our postmodern generation? I have been exploring this question for a while now and am currently using the analogy of leading a horse to water. The horse is the postmodern and the water is the Gospel. The question is how do we lead this horse to water. Here are the options of the original post:
Option 1: Deny the horse is really postmodern. No one can be a consistent postmodern. We simply need to convince them of the untenability of their professing worldview and show them how they don’t hold to it in reality.
Option 2: Convert the horse from being postmodern. Create common ground in epistemology (the way we come to know truth), then they will be able to drink the water.
Option 3: Change the rope. Christians need to change the communication method and style for a postmodern audience, being sensitive to the ethos of our culture.
Option 4: Change the water. The water we are calling “Gospel” today may not represent the true Gospel due to traditional folk theology and misinformation. Therefore, the water needs to be “purified.”
I would like to expand on option 3.
To change the rope means that we evaluate our presentation method and change where necessary. This might be considered the choice of many within the emerging church (although number 4 will also play into this as well). It is also the method of many “seeker” churches to a less radical degree.
When changing the rope, there are no sacred cows. As the culture changes, so must our methodology in presenting the Gospel and doing church. This might take many forms. It could be as simple as changing the worship style from traditional music to contemporary or it can be as radical as sculpting the Gospel out of clay instead of words. Whatever communicates best to our culture should be used as a medium for the Gospel. Whatever the culture shuns or distrusts as far as communication is concerned should not be used. If we live in a drama-driven culture that seeks to experience life through fictional movies, then the Christian community should be making movies that communicate truth. If we live in a culture that has acquired a disdain and distrust for traditional church gatherings, then lets change them. In other words, there is nothing sacred in the way we do things, only in what we do. Those who adhere to this option would see a distinction between form and function. Function represents the basic principles (i.e. the water), the form is the way the function is made manifest (i.e. the rope). The form is always in need of change, even if the fundamentalists of each generation cry wolf-they always have and always will.
As well, changing the rope can be seen as following the pattern set by God. God did not write in a “God-type” literature, but condescended to the culture in which He was communicating. He used Psalms where Psalms were common, He used Near-Eastern suzerain-vassal treaties when in the Near-East, and used parables for relevance to those who would understand them. Therefore, according to this position, God changed the rope, so should we.
Like the others, I see much to commend with this option. We all have the tendency to see the rope as sacred as the water due to longevity of use. “I use this rope because mom used this rope, and her mom used this rope, and her mom used this rope. If it is good enough for them . . .” you know the rest. The rope is not sacred, yet we have the tendency to make it such. I agree very much with this view since it sees a great need to evaluate the culture and make change based upon the ethos of the generation. I do believe that God condescended His message to make it understandable and relevant. Heck, even language itself is a condescension in many ways. To the Hebrews, He spoke Hebrew. To those in the first century, He spoke in Greek. Why? Because that is the only way they could understand. He changed the rope. So should we.
C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger.
Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I’m a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]