For better or worse, today’s Church lives in the postmodern era. When I first began hearing about postmodernism many years ago, I would always walk away with a foggy understanding of what it was. Then I just looked at the term “Postmodernism”. “Post” speaks of what comes after. In this case, modernism, which was the era we have been transitioning out of for the past 60 years. What helped me to understand postmodernism is when I started to notice the things it reacts to. Postmodernism is a reaction to the age of Modernism that began during the Renaissance and focused on science and reason as the way to find truth. In modernism, Sunday morning Church was based on many hours of Bible study, apologetics, and exegesis, which although is important, does not always connect with postmodern seekers.
Postmodernism is characterized in general by a rejection of objective truth. You might hear post modern’s say things like, “There is no such thing as one way to God”. They tend to reject a single definition of truth. In fact, for postmoderns, truth is based on each person’s own experience. Postmoderns take a wrecking ball to the last era of modernism and rebuild it with materials borrowed from every religion and philosophy the world has to offer.
How is postmodernism affecting the church? Postmodernism has not been without impact on the Church. Here are some ways this has occurred.
Challenge of authority: Postmodernism challenges the authority of the Church and the revelation it stands on. This is all done in an attempt to discover truth for oneself – a personal “journey of spirituality”
No Objective Truth. Since postmoderns don’t believe in “one truth fits all”, Christianity is seen as just another buffet line where you pick and choose what you like and then go to other religions and philosophies for the rest.
The image has replaced the truth. Postmoderns tend towards a shallow understanding of truth. Because we live in a media saturated “copy and paste” society where ideas can be remixed and photo-shopped, there is a tendency for postmoderns to create their own image of the “truth”. To put it simply, an image has replaced what is real. This is no different that Aaron’s golden calf in Exodus 32:1.
The problem with postmodernism is that Christ taught a specific set of non-negotiable truths that are relevant for every age.
The problem with postmodernism is that Christ taught a specific set of non-negotiable truths that are relevant for every age. John 14:6 ESV
So how do we as the Church thrive in a post modern world? How do we reach postmoderns? Here are six suggestions.
- We can continue to do what we have always done and see what the next age brings. It may be a while however. Or we can go to where the postmodern lives. Paul did this by “becoming all things to all men”. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. (1 Corinthians 9:20–23 ESV)
- We can engage the postmodern person. We can do this by affirming what is right and challenging what is wrong. If there is one area where postmoderns are correct it is that intellect and reason is not enough to find truth. At the same time, we can lovingly challenge the postmodern’s notion that “there is no absolute truth”. The problem postmoderns cannot account for is that it’s impossible to make absolute statements when you don’t believe in absolutes.
- Let’s be sure that we are fighting for the right thing. We don’t want to contend for the “good old days” of modernism where people swooned at our insights. One of the faults of modernism is the arrogance and condescension that came from knowledge.
- Let’s change our methods without changing the message. In an honest effort to reach people, some postmodern seeker-sensitive Churches have reworked certain Bible passages to soften their blow. It is a dangerous thing to amend what one did not write, especially when it involves a saving truth.
- Experience and encounter. Provide opportunities for people to encounter God. This brings them beyond just head knowledge and into intimacy with God.
- Use stories and metaphors to illustrate Biblical truth. One final thing we can do to reach postmoderns is to tell a story to illustrate a deeper truth. Postmoderns love stories and will respond to the truth easier when it is embedded in a story. This isn’t just postmodern, this is Jesus. Jesus used parables as a delivery system for eternal truths.
The Church has a sacred responsibility to engage the postmodern world, and with the wisdom and discernment of the Holy Spirit, to bring people to the unchanging Gospel truths that are relevant in every generation.
By Lou Perez serving Bishop Domina,