How should Christians engage a post-Christian, post-evangelical, suspicious generation of people? How do we engage postmoderns?
Follow me here through this “Leading a horse to water” illustration. Here are the objects:
Rope=method of delivery
Question: How do we lead a postmodern horse to water?
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 professed worldview and show them how they don’t hold to it in reality.
This option is held by many in the Reformed tradition, especially those who hold to a presuppositional apologetic. Presuppositional apologetics seek to make an offensive defense of the faith by bringing people to understand that God is the presupposition behind all truth and knowledge. Without God, there is no such thing as an argument or a rational thought. He is required before any claim to truth can be made or any view can be held with conviction. There is a lot more to it than this, but hopefully this explanation will suffice for now. The most popular adherent to such an approach, especially when it comes to the issue of relativism, was Francis Schaeffer.
With regards to the issues surrounding postmodernism, the one who takes this approach says that we yield too much ground when we concede that the “relativist” or “hard skeptic” is really such since in order to be such, they have God as the very basis for their ability to doubt or deny the truth. Their logical reasoning shows that they already believe in the God of the Bible who is the presupposition behind all logical reasoning. As the old saying goes, “chaos cancels reason.” If there are reasons for relativism, they cancels relativism.
Those who opt for option one would not necessarily deny the other options a place, but they would say that we have to present the case as it stands, and as it stands, no one is really postmodern.
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.
The Christian’s job, according to this option, is to create a common intellectual ground from which evangelism can take place. Many times this will involve attempting to convince someone of the existence of a perfect, personal, all-powerful, necessary being from whom all things have their being. Once this is accomplished, then there can be a conversation where a transcendent reality (whom we call “God”) is creating a meta-narrative to which all truth must correspond. Typical biblical apologetics can be used once the common ground has been created to convince people that this “God” is the God of the Bible.
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.
To change the rope means that we evaluate our presentation method and change it where necessary. This might be considered the choice of many within “seeker” churches.
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 let’s 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.
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.”
There are two groups that represent this option:
- Radical water changers: Those who 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.
The radical water changers would have no ties to tradition at all. They would entertain the thought that many beliefs which have historically defined the Christian faith are actually 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 demand “cosmic child abuse” to secure our redemption?), the doctrine of sin (are we really condemned for the sin of another?), and the like. The water is purified to the point where all that is secure is the fact that God loves all people and will eventually save all somehow (universalism). These ideas can be found in the liberal church and many of the more radical representations 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 “sinner’s prayer,” walking the aisle, the Four Spiritual Laws), how we relate to the culture (“if the culture does it, Christians should not” mentality), 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.