I really appreciate your interactions with me on this series topic and rather sobering subject. After my last blog posting, a gentleman from our church texted me this message: “Charles, I have never been challenged by someone saying to me that there is no such thing as absolute truth. But if I am so challenged, I will ask them if they are absolutely sure.”
Brilliant! I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Today let’s ask ourselves this question: what did modernism mean for the church? Asked another way: since we’ve left behind the cultural sway of modernism, what else have we left behind?
We’ve left behind a climate in which people are searching for the truth. This postmodern, and in many ways post-Christian, context in which we find ourselves casts doubt not only on the ability of a person to discover the truth, but it also daily asks the question: can truth be known at all (does truth even exist)? Modernism meant: absolute truth exists; absolute truth can be discovered; and absolute truth can be known. Those days are gone.
We’ve left behind the widespread conviction that Christianity, and the Judeo-Christian ethic in general, are a sturdy foundation for the advancement of human flourishing. As you observe today’s media reports, you get the distinct impression that Christians have never done anything good for the world. Never mind widespread advancements in education for everyone, healthcare for the needy, promotion of the arts, care for the poor, elevating the status of women, and ministry to the orphan and widow – and much of that accomplished in Christ’s name since the days of the early church – you would think that Christians should be feared. It used to be that the average person, by and large, accepted the fact that Christianity – as a belief system – rests upon an unshakeable foundation of truth. (Thus we in the church promoted apologetics and sound, reasonable thinking under the Lordship of Christ.) Now we are finding that our presuppositions about truth, and truth claims, sound foreign in the ears of most of the people around us.
We’ve left behind the generalized assumption that the church can expect to enjoy a prominent place in the marketplace of ideas. Again, those days are gone. People are skeptical and suspicious of us. They consider us anti-truth and anti-science. They regard us as both culturally and intellectually irrelevant. Similarly, no pastor today should expect to be respected simply because of his position or title. That simply is not the world in which we now find ourselves.
We’ve left behind the belief that the Christian faith is inherently personal. And, in all honesty, this might be a good thing. The tenets of modernism tended to reduce the gospel to “my personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” You may remember: “I come to the garden alone …” The sentiment is sweet, but my aloneness with Jesus is only part of my story. The whole truth is: we were created and redeemed to be in community (Romans 12:1-5). I personally think it’s a wonderful development that we’re rediscovering what it really means to “do life” with other followers of Christ. It was always designed to work that way – so maybe we’re going to get back to something really, really important. Rugged individualism and the Bible are largely at odds after all. Could postmodernism have a plus-side for us? Please stay tuned.
Finally, we’ve left behind the notion that Christ-followers can expect to live peacefully and comfortably in this life. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that persecution – and I’m not talking about the “Starbucks reneging on their red Christmas cups” variety – may well loom on our horizon. Our Lord told us to expect as much. But, again, I note for the second time in this blog posting, this might be a very good development in disguise. Personal security is of some value, of course, but Christ’s gospel never called us to minimize all risk for ourselves and for those whom we love. The gospel is risk. We can no longer expect to live out our lives within a comfortable American context where the church remains untouched by the evil and confusion of our day.
Friends, we have our work cut out for us! But it’s good gospel work, and that’s who we are, and that’s our high calling – so let’s be us!