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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Adapt, Adopt, Reject

During a recent training seminar, a leader in our region rhetorically asked: "Now, the real question is: can a Postmodern be a Christian?" As a believer who isn't very modern, I wanted to ask: "Can a Modern worldview be compatible with a Christian one?" But it wasn't until Dr. Robertson McQuilkin presented his talk on Postmodernism outlining those elements of postmodernism that we should adopt, what we can adapt, and what we must reject, that I saw a good way to discuss the issue. I've tried to address this before, but some friends pitched in to help this time. What we've come up with is more of an outline than a paper, but it is a work in process. Basically, we'd like to challenge people to stop thinking of the Modern worldview as good or even neutral in terms of it's influence on our faith. Here's what we've got so far:

Modern tendencies we should ADOPT:
Seek the Source
We should read and know the scriptures and view them as authoritative, true, and beautiful.
If you want to know what someone said about something, the best place to go is to the source. This also follows a biblical means toward resolving personal conflict and sin issues.

Due Diligence
Care should be taken to be sure that no function of the church is overlooked, no member left out, and that we not repeat the mistakes of our those who have gone before us.

Critical Evaluation

The use of plain old common sense still has an important place in following Christ. Scripture tells us not to lean on our own understanding, but doesn't prohibit us using our brains. Genuine critical analysis was deveoped in the modern era, won’t go away any time soon, and can serve us Christ-followers well.

Modern tendencies we should ADAPT:

Utter dependence on logic/reason.
Matters of faith are logical by human standards to the extent to which they “make sense” for the group/individual.
God cannot be proved, contained, or fully defined. But, since He reveals to us His character, He is knowable. We must recognize the beauty of the mystery of God.

Fight for the Faith
Modern Christians often see themselves as “Defenders of the Faith” whose task it is to hunt and expose false doctrine wherever it may be found by exposing its logical inconsistancies, ridiculing it, or personally attacking those who believe it. “Good” theology is revealed by the living and active God and is not such a fragile thing. We should, however, lovingly confront false teachings whenever they come up in our relational sphere of influence. Discipleship and mutual submission/accountability require it.

Absolute Truth
God’s truth (the only truth) is indeed absolute, but our understanding of it is always subject to the limitations of our human perspective. We will never have full and complete knowledge of truth this side of heaven, and we must always recognize that our interpretations are from a limited perspective.

Truth is knowable as a person. Jesus is God revealed to humanity in history, and He continues to be active today.

Labels are helpful. While labels tend to be negative and prone to gross generalizations, they are indespensible for meaningful conversation. If we cannot define what we mean, we cannot communicate anything.

Modern tendencies we should REJECT:

Radical Dichotomies
Faith/Science: Faith should not/does not come into play only at the limitations of science. Science is good for helping humanity learn about the ourselves and our environment. This shoud allow us to be better stewards of the resources God blesses us with.

Christian/NonChristian: The (now global) Christian subculture is an example of the people of God withdrawing from the world and creating their own “safer,” “better,” “God-pleasing” version of it. It is neither “safer” nor “better,” and only serves to remove us from the mission God has commissioned us to.

Good/Evil: The Enemy is not God’s opposite. Fear has no place in the Christian Life. God’s good has/will overcome evil in the world. C.S. Lewis said that “Even the devil is God’s devil.” This leaves a lot for us to work out (i.e.: the problem of evil), but is a more Biblical perspective.

That Faith Requires Religion
Jesus rejected the religious requirements of the Pharisees every time He came across them. Yet moderns tend to replace the child-like faith Jesus talked about with religious traditions. While faith necessarily brings with it good works, Jesus did not come to start a new world religion. The first “Christians” continued to identify with and continue in the Jewish religion. We must recognize that as we mature in Christ there are a) certain things we are compelled to do, b) certain things we are compelled to avoid, and c) things we should continue to do, but with a new, Christian motivation.
Mimicking the World’s Systems
The Church is not a business. To manage it as such is to subjugate it to the world’s standards of success, performance, and relationship. This affects the way we “hire” and “fire” personnel, manage interpersional conflict, and approach the lost people around us.

The Gospel is not just information. There is more to the Good News than the propositional message. The Christian task is more than dissemination of information; it is contextualization, translation, and lifestyle support of the Truest Message of All.

Missions must not be viewed as a finite task, but as an ongoing act of obedience. Years of “what’s it gonna take?” mentality has perpetuated a human-centered, militaristic, utilitarian interpretation of the Great Commission that effectually keeps us one step ahead id the Holy Spirit.
To many modern thinkers, the church IS the institution we see around us. The goal of the whole Great Commission exercise is to build a better institution which does a better job of getting to gospel out (or of discipling, or raising money, or whatever). Postmoderns would simply rather do these things themselves, organically or in affinity-related groups.

The distance between the scripture and my life is actually quite short: I read the scripture and I obey it. All the better if I can obey it with some others who are willing, like-heearted and (hopefully) fun. There is no reason to make this distance unnecessarily greater by requiring that we build instituions to obey scripture.

Some things work better in instituions: car manufacturing, delivery of gas, electricity and other commodities, surgery (!) all require infrastructure or a controlled environments which necessitates institution.

Relational things, heartfelt things, passionate things don’t institutionalize well. We shouldn’t try.

The “Silver Bullet” mentality
This mentality, rampant in modern thinking and in churches, assumes that when the right formula, combination of factors, leadership or Tipping Point is discovered, success will inevitably result. This thinking, an outworking of modern mechanization, simply deosn’t work in God’s economy. He’s much more concerned about our obedience and our heart for Him than in us finding and practicing the right formula. The only Silver Bullet in following Christ is…well, following Him.

Well, what do you think?


knnuki said...

I think I would add that we should ADAPT the value of certainty. A modern worldview has everything categorized, sliced, diced and neatly organized in rows and columns. This neatly-ordered paradigm produces certainty - sometimes wrongly so - about some things. Of course we should be certain sometimes: biblical truth, doctrinal essentials, assurance of salvation are all things which deserve spirit-induced certainty in the mind and heart. But scripture also affirms mystery, the unknowability of God the Father, and the ambiguity of some kingdom things we just don't understand. Have a look at I Cor 2.7-8 and 13.12-13, Deut 29.29, Isa 55.8-9 if you doubt this!

steve w said...

Excellent post, Stepchild!

And the first comment above made me think of what J.I. Packer says at the end of the first chapter in his book, "Evangelism & The Sovereignty Of God." He is discussing why we have such a hard time reconciling God's sovereignty and man's responsibility. He says we take sides, so to speak, incorrectly.

What causes this odd state of affairs? The root cause is the same as in most cases of error in the Church--the intruding of rationalistic speculations, the passion for systematic consistency, a reluctance to recognize the existence of mystery and to let God be wiser than men, and a consequent subjecting of Scripture to the supposed demands of human logic.


The desire to over-simplify the Bible by cutting out the mysteries is natural to our perverse minds, and it is not surprising that even good men should fall victim to it. Hence this persistent and troublesome dispute.

That error sounds thoroughly modern to me. J.I. Packer sounding postmodern? (gasp!) Whodathunkit!

Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Stepchild,

What a brainful for me to digest! I'll be thinking about it over the next few days.

Love in Christ,


David said...

I think this is well thought-out and much worth further review. I'm going to print it and take some time to digest further.

Any chance you'll be blogging in this same form on Postmodernism?

stepchild said...

Thanks everyone, for your comments. I know posts like this one are hard to read through and comment on. (Note to self: multi-part posts are not bad!)

I'm really interested in looking at the modernism/postmodernism shift in this light. Instead of talking about how Christianity might look in a postmodern context, I'm curious to see how it's fared in the modern one. I hope to post more about it soon.

Umbuntu said...

I know that it is impossible to totally seperate Christianity from culture, but shouldn´t it supercede culture? That is, while Christianity functions in and through American, European, Eastern, Pop (i´m not totally sure it funtions in pop culture), Modern, and Post-Modern cultures shouldn´t our allegiance be to something higher than a purely cultural form of Christianity. How weird would it be if I went around calling myself an American Christian (although many do just that). Wouldn´t there be quite a few contradictions in that statement where the values of what it means to be an American and what it means to be a Christian collide? When we follow Christ doesn´t our allegience move away from the systems and cultures of this world and into the Kingdom of God. Some facets of each of these cultures may be part of the kingdom, and I may have to translate the kingdom in ways that each of these cultures understand. However, the kingdom is at odds with every kind of man made system or culture on some level, and that is where I say goodbye to modernity, post-modernity,and all of the other cultures and institions that our world has constructed in the image of man.

stepchild said...

Thanks for your comment. I agree that life in Christ runs counter-culture. As followers of Jesus, we are to take on His mindset, which is often opposed to the values and priorities of the cultures in which we live. The Way is the Good alternative to the broken systems that the world has to offer, but it, too has cultural expressions.

The problem with saying that "Christianity should supercede culture" is that our entire understanding of who God is and how He interactes with us is interpreted through culture. We really can't step out of culture and get a culture-free, "objective" take on our faith. It's impossible. That's why Jesus entered a culture. Not only did He become human, but He entered into a specific human culture, adopted its worldview, and spoke a human language.

The point of my post was to try work through the implecations of that. It seems like everyone is talking about how we as Christians can interact with the postmodern worldview, as though they were operating from outside culture. I'm saying that's impossible, and I'm trying to show it by challenging people to think about Christian life apart from modernism.

You wrote:
"Wouldn´t there be quite a few contradictions in that statement (calling oneself an "American Christian") where the values of what it means to be an American and what it means to be a Christian collide?"

I agree. But I would also say that most modern Christians are so content in a modern mindset that they are oblivious to the places where modernism and the Mind of Christ collide. Hence, the post.