March 28, 2017

Preaching the Gospel in a Postmodern World (2)

By David McClister

In the previous article we introduced the basic tenets of postmodernism, a way of thinking that already has a firm foothold in the educational and social institutions in this country and that promises to be a formidable opponent of the faith in the days ahead of us. What can we do in the face of this great enemy of the truth? How can we preach in a world where more and more people are rejecting the ideas of absolute truth, a spiritual realm, and a transcendent God who is the source of life and morality? These concerns deserve some attention.

Of course, we must not sell out to non-biblical ideas. There will be the temptation on the part of some to postmodernize the gospel and change it to make it more palatable to those who have accepted the postmodern way of thinking. It may be that this is already behind some of the efforts of some of our own brethren to broaden fellowship beyond biblical limits. Could it be that a postmodern de- valuation of the truth and a despising of the idea that God’s truth does not change is playing a part in some attempts to create fellowship with those who are not in fellowship with God? I fear this may be the case. The only way to allow for more latitude in fellowship is to deny that there is only one legitimate faith (Eph. 4:5), and the movement in this direction by some brethren shows all the signs of a typical postmodern shift.

Is it possible to find something useful in postmodernism, something that will help us communicate the gospel to others? Again, we must not change the gospel, and we must not be ashamed to preach it when it is “out of season” to do so (2 Tim. 4:2). If the world is at odds with the gospel message, so be it. We must please God rather than tickle the ears of men. But it seems that there may be a few things about postmodernism that may give us room to present the unaltered gospel. For example, when rationalism was in its heyday, defenders of the Bible rightly emphasized that there are rational grounds for belief and they appealed to the evidence (rational, archaeological, scientific, etc.) sup- porting the biblical claims. They used a rational method to preach to people whose thinking was dominated by rationalism. The same kind of thing may be possible in various ways with postmodernism.

First, postmodernists believe that significance lies only in society. Can we not similarly assert that man’s real happiness and worth and purpose lie not in looking to himself or to this world, but that it is found only when he is a member of God’s society, the church? Like the postmodernists, we agree that isolation and retreat within oneself is no way to find meaning in life. Life has meaning only in relationships. But it is not in a set of purely human relationships that such happiness and purpose is found. Those things are found only in relationship with God and with others who are in relationship with him also. God has created a fellowship, a spiritual society if you will, a spiritual community in which we can find our proper place and be happy. The postmodernists are right to assert that man can find significance in society, but they are looking for it in the wrong society. What man wants and needs exists in God’s society, the church, not in man’s society.

Similarly, postmodernists deny that reason is the means to the truth. They have rejected the claims of modernism that man could somehow, on his own, find such a thing called the truth. Well, we would agree. Man cannot, on his own, know the truth. He needs revelation from God to do that. Human reason is not a tool for discovery of the truth. It is instead a tool for analyzing information that is fed to it. That is, reason needs something to work on, it needs information to be supplied to it. Reason then appropriates that information by comparing it to what is already known. In a similar way, can we not preach that reason alone can- not get a man to God? Man’s knowledge of the truth is the result of revelation from God, not the result of the working of his own reason (see 1 Cor. 2:6-16). We would then agree with the postmodernist that reason does not bring us to the truth. The mistake the postmodernist makes here is that he comes to the erroneous conclusion that there is no truth at all. We assert that there is truth, but that we do not know that truth simply by reasoning our way to it. It comes from God and is received by faith.

A third area of agreement with postmodern thinking is in the way it views information. Modernists were convinced that man could find, through reason and other means, the truth, and that this truth would be the answer to man’s problems. Under modernism man searched and learned more about the world than he ever had. It was under the tutelage of modernism that the information age came into full bloom. Man thought that the answer to his problems lies in knowledge, that the key to a longer and better life was to gather information. Some great things came from this, such as the advance of medical technology. Post- modernism, however, rejects the idea that knowledge or information is our savior. With this we can agree. Secular knowledge (which is often more speculation than anything else) is not the answer. We could even go as far as to say that even information about God is not enough. The gospel is not simply data given to us from God, and receiving the gospel is not like storing information in a computer database to be rearranged and manipulated. The gospel is wisdom from God (1 Cor 1:24) and it produces faith and its fruits in our lives. Preaching and receiving the gospel is not an intellectual exercise. It has to do with creating a new man with a new heart, a new mind, and a new character. The information alone does not save. What saves us is when we make our lives conform to the revealed truth of God.

 

Changing the gospel to fit a changing world is not an option, but we can usually find a way to use the unbeliever’s thoughts to introduce him to the gospel. Paul used this very method in Acts 17 when he preached to the Greeks in ancient Athens. We should try to do the same thing in the present day. If history continues on the course it has been going, postmodernism will someday be replaced by something else, but while it is here we have to find ways to preach to those who are steeped in it.

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