Once again, we continue with our evaluation of the four primary views that people have taken in engaging our postmodern culture. And, once again, 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.”
Let’s expand on option four.
I can hear the reaction. “Change the Gospel? This cannot be. This is the last thing that I would choose. The Gospel must remain pure and unadulterated.” I know that it is very easy to have an elbow-jerk reaction to this, proverbally slapping it in the face, but, like the others, let us consider it in the way that those who opt for it would.
There are many in the church who would say that the “Gospel” that we call the “Gospel” is not really the Gospel at all. In other words, the water is not pure. According to this group, the culture is reacting strongly against church, christians, and religiousity in general. They are not only sick of the self-righteousness that is so easy to find, but against the dogmatism of the various groups represented. This dogmatism has the “I’m right, your wrong; Your going to hell, I’m not” feel about it. They like Jesus, but not the Church. What does that mean? Well according to those who hold to this option, it means that the church does not have Jesus, at least the real, essential Jesus. In other words, if Jesus is the subject of the Gospel, and the church does not have Jesus, then the water as it is now is nothing but a poisoned, bitter, and false representation of the Gospel. Therefore, the church needs to re-evaluate the water. The church needs to put the water to the test and purify the impurities.
There are two groups that represent this option:
Radical water changers: Those who would say that the historic christian faith is wrong in many ways.
Moderate water changers: Those who say that the contemporary christian faith is wrong in many ways.
How can we purify the Gospel? By removing unneccesary and bad doctrine that has misrepresented the truth and given the church a bad name. But the question becomes: What are these impurities?
The radical water changers would have no ties to tradition at all. They would entertian the thought that many beliefs that have defined the historic Christian faith are wrong. Included in these beliefs could be the doctrine of Hell (is it really eternal? Is it really real? Let’s not speak about it), the doctrine of God (is God really eternal? if so, how can He relate?), the exclusivity of Christ (is Christ really the only way?), the atonement (would God really enact “cosmic child abuse” to secure redemption?), the docrine of sin (are we really condemned for the sin of another?), and the like. The water is purified to the point where all that secure is the fact that God loves all people and will eventually save all somehow (univeralism). These can be found in the liberal church and many of the more radical representatives in the emerging church.
The moderate water changers, on the other hand, would say that the church must always be evaluating the water to make sure that no impurity has crept in unaware. Sometimes these impurities come as a result of reaction against the culture or other false teachings. They are added to the water during the battle, but never taken out – even when the battle is over. This group would look to historic Christianity for the basic essential elements of the Gospel, often looking to the early creeds and confessions. Additives that they would consider unworthy of the water would be issues of practice that have become normalized to such a degree that you cannot distinguish them from the Gospel. It may be how we do church (“big church,” “little church”), how we present the Gospel (the “sinners prayer,” walking the aisle, the Four Spiritual Laws), how we relate to the culture (“if the culture does it, Christians should not” mentality), and legalistic practices (Christians should not drink, gamble, dance, smoke, or go to the movies), political additives (Christians must vote Republican), and the like. According to this group, these practices have been traditionalized within the church to such a degree that they are now part of the water. As well, according to this group, non-essential doctrinal additives are present in the water. Some Christians have elevated non-essential beliefs to that of essentiality (views of the end-times, views on election, views on the inerrancy of Scripture). Therefore, the church needs to purify the water as it has become corrupt, getting the water back to the basic essentials. This option is held by many evangelicals and has much representation in the moderate emerging church.
In evaluation of this option, I don’t believe that the radical water changers are on safe ground. How can one depart from two-thousand years of essential Christian belief and still call themselves Christian? Is God absent from history. Is He a cheerleader on the sidelines or is He in the game? You cannot justify a radical change in basic Christian doctrine. You may not like it or agree with the way God did things, but if the Church has held strong to these basic essentials, we must respect God’s work through the giants of the past. When they speak in unity across time, you had better humble yourself and listen. This amounts to diluting the water according to the feelings and opinion of a contemporary audience. This will not do.
The moderate water changer option, on the other hand, has much to commend. They don’t seek to dilute the water, but to remove the additives. We are always in need of re-evaluation and reform. I believe that the Reformers were moderate water changers with regards to the culture and church at the time of the Reformation. Interestingly, the institutionalized church of the day believed that they were radical water changers. I believe that the church does need to inspect the water to make sure that there are no impurities present. I do believe that the Gospel can become identified by non-essential methodology and folk lore. Indeed, this makes the water not only hard to drink, but it can become completely destructive to the representation of Christ. Christ, in this sense, can be separated from the Gospel and the church. We need to make sure this does not happen.
In short, the water needs to be mere Christianity. Once it is, then it cannot be changed.
To bring this series to a conclusion, I believe that all the options have their place when rightly understood. How do we engage postmodernism? I believe that we meet people where they are and bring them the essential Christ. The options will be relative to the situation. Therefore, there is no one option that is always right or wrong. (Boy, that sounds postmodern!)