In this 4th installment of my blog series on truth in our culture I want to focus in on how postmodern thought has shaped the way that Christianity in the West, and in particular in the United States, deals with the issue of truth. I’ll do so in three areas: Postmodernism and alternate theologies, Postmodernism and the Emergent Church and finally Postmodernism in traditional churches.
CAVEAT- I plan to assess some particular movements and thought within the current Christian culture in America and hope to do so objectively. This is not meant to be offensive as each movement does have some positive as well as negative contributions. I only intend to discuss how these movements have taken a step away from biblical/historical Christian orthodoxy.
I first want to turn our attention to how postmodernism has driven wedges into current culture through differing views of the theology, as they pertain to the effects of the atonement. Historically and traditionally, the church has held the view that the atonement of Christ is God’s means whereby He reconciles sinners to Himself through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. However, some movements have skewed this universal act of Christ, myopically. For example, the Bible and the atonement have been used to spread anti-Semitism (Hitler often quoted Scripture and spoke of Jesus). The atonement has been used to promote white supremacy (Christian Identity movement). Even in current culture you have theologies that radically interpret that atonement of Christ in terms of liberation, black culture, feminism, prosperity, and other subgroupings. How have these movements shown a postmodern view? They do this by using the language of their communities to discuss theology/Scripture, and seeing it as only applying to their reality. What they do is minimize, or in some cases even remove, the core of the Gospel, that Christ’s work on the cross was for sinners everywhere, not just in particular groups or communities.
In the Emergent Church (EC) movement, (which describing in a meaningful way is akin to herding cats), postmodernism has been monumental. For instance, the notion of rock-solid assurance has been nearly eradicated because of both the impossibility of knowing something for sure, and the lack of needing to do so. In the EC, the focus is drawn away from knowing propositional truth and placed upon things such as living in community, being authentic, and practically living out one’s faith (which is interesting, if you cannot know for sure what that is). Now, the aforementioned ideals are certainly good, we should embrace all three. However, what happens when you see absolute truth as a second or third tier issue? For instance you can have Open Theism, the doctrine that there is no settled future in the mind of God. In other words, God does not know the certainty of what lies ahead, but knows the possibilities. God in essence learns as time progresses. Secondly you have the ejection of core theological doctrines and truths. Rob Bell, former pastor of Mar’s Hill church in Grandville, Michigan, opened a powder keg with his book “Love Wins”. In this book, in his usual ambiguously exact fashion, Bell lays an axe to the orthodox doctrine of eternal judgment, in which he all but directly embraces universalism and received criticism from theologians such as Al Mohler, John Piper and David Platt. Likewise, Bell has stated on record that he affirms homosexuals as being committed followers of Christ and that same sex marriages are consistent with Christian living (and heterosexual marriages as well) as long as they are faithful and loving. Again, seeing the prospect of absolute truth as unnecessary, one can then move on to more important issues such as living out an authentic faith. However, how does one live out an authentic faith without knowing to some degree of certainty what that faith entails? In the EC, it seems you can filter out a few teachings, such as love and compassion and then fill in the rest of the blanks on your own. After all, we interpret in our own communities how these things should look; we do not look above for any absolute guidance in these areas.
Finally, postmodernism has also shaped the culture in traditional churches, but maybe not in the way you are thinking. The real problem for the traditional church is how it is shaping our evangelism. Let me explain. Evangelism has been explained in numerous terms, but in essence it challenges a person’s worldview (how a person views reality for themselves). The Gospel entails that all men are sinners and that all men need Christ. This flies squarely in the face of postmodernism. In postmodernism, sin has all but disappeared, since we cannot count on anything outside of our local community to explain right and wrong. We have made morality subjective, and our tendency will always be to interpret truth in our own favor. So how do we explain the issue of sin to those who see it as a moving target? The truth is, we most often don’t. Now, I don’t think it is because we are unloving or uncaring, but because we do not feel with have any right nor any business to explain to someone that their life (and mine for that matter) does not mesh in accordance with righteousness and that we need saving. We now have friends and even family who are cohabiting with their partner, having numerous children outside the bonds of marriage and we are broken over it, but feel as if it is not an issue to be addressed. We all now know someone living openly in a same sex relationship, and while we might feel it is outside of God’s will, we do not feel obligated to make that known to them. We have lost our voice concerning some serious moral issues: abortion, sanctity of marriage, and others. Why? Because of postmodernism. (Notice that Millennials are those who grew up and learned under the most influential form of postmodernism, and those are the voices of truth that are blaringly silent on issues of ethics and morality in the church today).
I do not want to pretend to be an expert on the issue, nor have a great grasp on it. However, I want to share in one last part in this series why I feel that I must be a stern advocate for absolute truth and I will argue why the church must be as well. Last post in this series coming soon……