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postmodernism sbcimpactnet

A fortnight ago I had a conversation with a Methodist minister.  We were discussing something involving Christianity, which now escapes me, and he said, ‘You see, we live in a postmodern world now.  Everything has to have a narrative.  That’s how it is with postmodernism.  That’s how we live today.’  He had fully embraced the concept. 

I then thought about how he had recently removed the words ‘Biblical truths’ from an article I had edited for the local ecumenical newsletter about a Scripture study programme at one of the churches.  He said we couldn’t use them.   

I didn’t say anything at the time as it would have been useless, but I desperately wanted to hear another point of view.  Over the weekend, I found a trilogy of articles that Dr John MacArthur wrote, entitled ‘Mo and PoMo’.  The second in the series particularly impressed me.  I’ve highlighted certain points.

MacArthur explains:

Modernism was indeed folly and needed to be abandoned. But post-modernism is a tragic step in the wrong direction. Unlike modernism, which was still concerned with whether basic convictions, beliefs, and ideologies are objectively true or false, post-modernism simply denies that any truth can be objectively known.

This is because:

To the post-modernist, reality is whatever the individual imagines it to be. That means what is ‘true’ is determined subjectively by each person, and there is no such thing as objective, authoritative truth that governs or applies to all humanity universally. The post-modernist naturally believes it is pointless to argue whether opinion A is superior to opinion B. After all, if reality is merely a construct of the human mind, one person’s perspective of truth is ultimately just as good as another’s.

Consequently:

Having given up on knowing objective truth, the post-modernist occupies himself instead with the quest for ‘understanding’ the other person’s point of view. So the words truth and understanding take on radical new meanings.

Don’t forget, if there are no universal truths, ‘understanding’ no longer means grasping a principle or gaining knowledge, it’s all about agreeing with someone else’s subjective experience.  It especially helps when the person pushing his point, no matter how false or absurd, gets emotional and angry about it.  It’s the way we live today, don’t you know.

MacArthur would concur:

That is the one essential, non-negotiable demand post-modernism makes of everyone: we are not supposed to think we know any objective truth. Post-modernists often suggest that every opinion should be shown equal respect.

When it comes to Christianity and postmodernism, he warns:

But what really underlies the post-modernist belief system is an utter intolerance for every world-view that makes any universal truth-claims — particularly biblical Christianity.

In other words, post-modernism begins with a presupposition that is irreconcilable with the objective, divinely-revealed truth of Scripture. Like modernism, post-modernism is fundamentally and diametrically opposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

He explains this further in another article outside the series but also related to postmodernism, ‘The Rise of Extreme Tolerance’.  In an effort to appeal to everyone, pastors are watering down doctrine, Scripture, sermons and liturgies.   MacArthur observes:

In the church today, there is a growing reluctance to take a definitive stand on any issue.  Discernment is frankly not very welcome in a culture like ours.  In fact, the postmodern perspective is more than merely hostile to discernment; it is practically the polar opposite.  Think about it:  pronouncing anything ‘true’ and calling its antithesis ‘error’ is a breach of postmodernism’s one last impregnable dogma.  That is why to a postmodernist nothing is more uncouth than voicing strong opinions on spiritual, moral, or ethical matters.  People are expected to hold their most important convictions with as much slack as possible.  Certainty about anything is out of the question, and all who refuse to equivocate on any point of principle or doctrine are therefore automatically labeled too narrow.  Zeal for the truth has become politically incorrect.

Thanks to cultural norms morphing over the past 20 – 25 years with the previously unacceptable becoming something we must embrace, we are no longer allowed to criticise or say that an activity or a lifestyle contradicts Scripture.  In fact, we’re not really allowed to mention Scripture in connection with anything nowadays: our history, our education, our family or our lifestyle.  It’s just ‘wrong’ to say something is ‘wrong’.

MacArthur notes the effect this has had on churches:

Some Christians unwittingly began following suit several years ago.  That has opened the door for a whole generation in the church to embrace postmodern relativism openly and deliberately.  They don’t want the truth presented with stark black-and-white clarity anymore.  They prefer having issues of right and wrong, true and false, good and bad deliberately painted in shades of gray.  We have reached a point where the typical churchgoer today assumes that is the proper way of understanding truth.  Any degree of certainty has begun to sound offensive to people’s postmodernised ears.

In ‘Postmodernism: The Spirit of the Age’, Philosophy lecturer Jim Leffel from Ohio Dominican College in Columbus explains:

Postmodernists hold that the pretense of objective truth always does violence by excluding other voices (regarding other world views to be invalid), and marginalizing the vulnerable by scripting them out of the story. Truth claims, we are told, are essentially tools to legitimate power. That’s why in postmodern culture, the person to be feared is the one who believes that we can discover ultimate truth. The dogmatist, the totalizer, the absolutist is both naive and dangerous.

Today’s new generation of pastors tends to agree.  MacArthur has found an aversion to the words ‘preaching’ and ‘sermon’:

One young pastor told me he didn’t like the authoritarian implications of the word preaching.  He said he preferred to speak of his pulpit ministry as ‘sharing’ with his people.  He didn’t last long in ministry, of course.  But sadly, his comments probably reflect the prevailing mood in the church today.    

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones noticed the same trend several decades ago.  His marvelous book Preaching and Preachers began by noting that modern society was becoming uncomfortable with the whole idea of ‘preaching’:  

A new idea has crept in with regard to preaching, and it has taken various forms.  A most significant one was that people began to talk about the ‘address’ in the service instead of the sermon.  That in itself was indicative of a subtle change.  An ‘address’.  No longer the sermon, but an ‘address’ or perhaps even a lecture…what is needed is a chat, a fireside chat, quiet talks, and so on! 

And, of course, the Emergent Churches are pushing the concept!   MacArthur writes:

At the Emergent Convention in 2004, a gathering of some eleven hundred leaders in the Emerging Church movement, Doug Pagitt, pastor of Solomon’s Porch (an Emergent community in Minneapolis), told the gathering, ‘Preaching is broken’.  He suggests that a completely open conversation where all participants are seen as equals is better suited to a postmodern culture.  ‘Why do I get to speak for 30 minutes and you don’t?’ he asked.  ‘A sermon is often a violent act,’ he declared.  ‘It’s violence toward the will of the people who have to sit there and take it.’

Lloyd-Jones was simply noticing one of the subtle harbingers of postmodernism’s contempt for clarity and authority.  A problem that existed in embryonic form in his era is now a full-grown monster.

Just as an aside, but around this time, The Guardian in the UK had several schoolteachers who used to write in online to say they didn’t believe in teaching children how to spell, because spelling is a ‘bourgeois construct’.  Surprisingly, about half the readers debating the subject online agreed, saying that if they could get their point across adequately, there was no problem.  The other half asked how teachers expected children to communicate if they couldn’t spell. 

But, it gets worse.  What if you went to this pastor’s church? 

Rudy Carrasco, a Pasadena-based Emergent pastor, agreed that preaching is simply too one-sided, too authoritative, and too rigid for postmodern times.  ‘Every day, every week, there’s stuff that pops up in life, and it’s not resolved, just crazy and confusing and painful.  When people come across with three answers, and they know everything, and they have this iron sheen about them, I’m turned off.  Period.  I’m just turned off.  And I think that’s not unique to me.’

Wow!  So, preaching is ‘too authoritative’ and sermons are ‘violent’ because the congregation needs to sit there and listen?  What is church going to be like in the next decade?  Is a pastor going to say, ‘Okay, no address this morning.  Instead, I’ll facilitate an open forum discussion.  Mrs Jones will have her say, followed by Mr Miller, then Ms Smith.  Ms Smith is a 12-year old junior school student in favour of alternative lifestyles.  We feel it is important that everyone’s opinions are considered.  As such, we won’t have a Gospel reading today.  That would be too dictatorial.  We won’t be reciting the Creed, either.  I wouldn’t want you to think that our church tells you what to believe.’

Back to MacArthur, who says people ask him why he doesn’t ‘steer clear of controversy’ and ‘present everything affirmatively’ like other pastors and Christian media pundits.  He responds:

Those who dare to take an unpopular stand, declare truth in a definitive way—or worst of all, express disagreement with someone else’s teaching—will inevitably be marked as troublesome.  Compromise has become a virtue while devotion to truth has become offensive.
 
But many of the issues being compromised within the evangelical movement today are not questionable.  Scripture speaks very clearly against homosexuality, for example.  The Christian position on adultery is not at all vague.  The question of whether a believer ought to marry an unbeliever is spelled out with perfect clarity.  Scripture quite plainly forbids any Christian to take another Christian to court.  Selfishness and pride are explicitly identified as sins.  These are not gray areas.  There is no room for compromise here.

As to aforementioned Pastor Carrasco from the Emergent church, MacArthur has this to say:

Compromising, changing, tolerant opinions don’t provide answers for the ‘crazy and confusing and painful’ issues that confront pastor Carrasco every day.  Only truth saves and sanctifies and gives hope.
 
What’s needed today is a generation of men and women who will take a stand … to uphold His truth in an age of extreme tolerance.    

Hear, hear!

Woe to you that call evil good, and good evil: that put darkness for light, and light for darkness: that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter. (Isaiah 5:20)

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