Posts tagged Post-modern
Enigma (part 6): Death to Ism
photo credit: Keoni Cabral via photopin cc
Welcome to Enigma 6, the last post in the Enigma series. In this series I have attempted to engage the mind of Christians with the challenges and opportunities we have in reaching the post-modern community. I have not attempted to be exhaustive or unique in my posts, but simply to share some thoughts and observations that have been percolating in my mind since arriving in Australia and observing secular/ post-modern challenge the church faces here. Today marks the end of Enigma and to top it off I want to highlight in a more detailed way the challenges the church is facing and then look at those challenges in the light of eschatology (last day events). 

Reaching the culture for Christ has always been a challenge. Post-modern or not, the human love for sin and our susceptibility to Satanic delusion has always made us anti-God. As a result mankind has always been difficult to reach. Just read the story of the flood (Gen. 6) which introduces us to Noah who preached (2 Pet. 2:5) for many years with the help of Christ himself (1 Pet. 3:19) and never gained a single convert. The challenges the church is facing today are nowhere near as bad as they were in Noah's day. While post-modernism may be a difficult worldview to counteract Noah had to preach to a world in which "every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time" (Gen. 6:5). After many years of preaching the end result was that not a single person listened to Noah. None of them cared.

And take a look at Jeremiah who was sent by God to prophecy to Israel. Israel had become to enamored with its sin that the people were unwilling to repent. After dedicating his entire life to serving God and trying to reach the people the end result was that "they did not listen or pay attention..." (Jer. 44:5). Jeremiah felt like such a failure that at one point he even quit. Although he eventually recommitted his life to God's cause his mission was, by human standards, a failure. He called a rebellious people to reconnect with God and in the end, none of them cared.

The same can be said of Jesus who was condemned and crucified by the very people he came to save, and the apostles all of which died a martyrs death (besides John) because people didn't want to hear what they were saying. And all throughout history Christians have been persecuted, imprisoned, and killed by those who wanted nothing to do with God. We have always been the minority. Nothing has changed.

After the persecutions subsided the pre-modern church emerged. The pre-modern church also faced incredible challenges such as the dark ages, religious apathy, superstition, legalism, pagan philosophy, and biblical illiteracy. Then came the enlightenment era, the age of skepticism, and the liberalization of Christianity with concepts like the demythologization of scripture. Modernism, atheism, naturalism post-modernism, deconstructionism, and relativism have followed. And all throughout we have been challenged by the propositions of absurdism, nihilism, pantheism, asceticism, deism and countless other "ism's." All of these "ism's" have risen at differing points in history and presented monumental challenges to the mission of the church. 

But in Revelation John says something interesting. He says that "all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him [the beast], whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb" (Rev. 13:8). This beast, according to Revelation, is a religio-political power that will gain the allegiance and support of every human being on earth in the last days. Satan is said to work miracles through false Christs and false prophets (Mat. 24, Rev 13:14) that will gather the human race into a final, unified rebellion against God.

John's vision ultimately represents death to ism. Not every ism of course, and perhaps in some strange philosophical way not even death. But the reality is that as Satan begins his final campaign against God and his people he will have to somehow undermine many of the philosophies he has raised over the centuries to delude humanity. Naturalism and atheism will all but die in the wake of last day events and post-modernism, while it may retain some level of reverence, will nevertheless be abandoned by the vast majority. In order for the culture to embrace a religio-political power that claims allegiance to God while warring against him a certain degree of post-modern rejection will have to take place - especially in the realms of relativism and the rejection of meta-narratives.

So what does this all mean? It means that post-modernism, along with many other "ism's" will meet their demise in the face of the religious and miraculous events that will characterize the last days. When post-moderns begin to experience the reality of the spiritual war presented in scripture they will begin to deny the foundations of their philosophy. Unfortunately, at that time the experience will come not simply from a Cristo-centric worldview aiming at connecting man to God, but also from a rebelio-centric worldview aiming at placing its seal of rebellion upon the hearts of as many human beings as possible. Thus, super natural experience will serve to undermine relativism with the intent to maneuver believers from one illusionary worldview onto another.

The challenge this proposes to the church is, therefore, quite serious. Post-moderns crave experience. As a church we have been slow to provide this experience. We are satisfied with our dogmatic, dry, irrelevant, and robotic liturgies. As a result we are failing to speak the language of a generation that craves experience. And the longer we fail to provide them with a Cristo-centric experience the more Satan prepares to deliver his rebelio-centric counterfeit. We must, therefore (and in the words of Ellen White), "awake to the necessities of the time in which [we] are living" (Ev 70.1). While Bricolage? will dive more deeply into this, I would like to end Enigma with the following note: The church must recapture the experiential element it originally possessed in order to reach a generation that is burnt out on liturgies, programs, and irrelevance (all aspects of modern Christianity alien to the original church). In order to do this the church must do two things. Number one, it must rediscover itself in light of scripture and number two (and most importantly) each member of the church must rediscover his/her individual selves in light of that same word. 

As my father once said, "The main problem of a church is the main problem of the members of that church." If a church is collectively unloving, it is because the majority of the members are individually unloving. If a church is collectively cold, its because its people are individually cold. If a church is collectively irrelevant, it is because its members are individually irrelevant. If a church is collectively unable to give post-moderns the experience they seek, it is because the members are individually lacking in that experience. And if we fail to acquire and share that experience with this generation we will have set them up for the enemies forgery.

More to come,

Farewell Enigma.
Enigma (part 5): Dear Method, Farewell
photo credit: Keoni Cabral via photopin cc
Before I write today's post I want to do a quick recap of what I have shared so far with regard to the challenges and opportunities the church has in light of the post-modern affair. The first thing to note is that in order to reach this generation we cannot continue to do the same things we have done for the last 50 years. To do so would be disastrous and unwise. New methods must be introduced without redefining Christian identity or tampering with the very foundations and pillars that make Christianity what it is. Secondly, along with new and radical methods we must also (and foremost) seek a new and radical connection with God through prayer and the study of his word. Third, we must not allow post-modernism to scare us and neither should we feel helpless in its presence. Post-modern culture contains many redemptive qualities and, as history has proven, they are willing to forsake their philosophy if they discover a truth worth dying for. But how exactly do we help them see that that truth is Jesus?

I know that's what everyone has been dying to read about but I wont be going there just yet. Enigma (the current blog series) is not intended to go into "how to's". This series is merely setting the philosophical foundation for the next blog series I will be co-authoring with friend and "post-modern outreach guy" Nat Tan (sorry Nat, I couldn't think of a better title). That series will be titled Bricolage?[1] and will deal more with the how to's. But for now allow me to propose two more concepts that I find absolutely necessary as we embark on the search for the "how to's." The first deals with what blueprint or method would be most effective in reaching post moderns (today's post) and the next one will deal with the post-modern challenge and eschatology (next post).

So what method is best for reaching post moderns? How do we, as I mentioned in yesterdays post, help them see that Jesus is the absolute truth and scripture the metanarrative that is worth suffering for? Before I answer that question allow me to present the post-modern culture to you once more. In the post-modern culture there can be seen a break down of walls and distinctions that separate and alienate cultures, ethnicities, religions, and worldviews. Due to the influence of relativism post-moderns do not feel threatened by differing points of view. As a result post-moderns are very accepting of a multi-cultural society and are open to all sorts of "new" and "different" expressions of faith, art, culture etc. Thus in his paper, "Street Art as an Expression of Post-Modern Consciousness"[2] Christopher M. Suzuki could write, In this respect it [street art] is truly an expression of post-modern consciousness, drawing from all eras and all worlds without regard to traditional boundaries of discipline or taste." Suzuki then goes on to hit the nail on the head when he says, "Part of what defines Post-Modern thinking and art is the belief that all boundaries are constructions and not absolute realities. In reaction to this truth much of post-modern art is a mismatch of different styles, mediums, and disciplines."

Due to this eclectic worldview it is apparent that post-moderns are extremely diverse, random, and undefinable as a culture. While there are foundational values that all post-moderns share the reality is that there is no structure, style, or absolute framework by which one can define or even comprehend this culture. With this in mind I will now return to the question: "What method is best for reaching post moderns? How do we help them see that Jesus is the absolute truth and scripture the metanarrative that is worth suffering for?" And the answer is straight forward: there is no method. There is no blueprint. To take it further, not only is there no method; there can not even be a method. Pre-moderns were reached by a mass evangelism method that worked wonderfully. Moderns were reached by apologetics and reasonable arguments that helped them see the truth behind the faith of Jesus. But in order to reach a post-modern the church can no longer rely on a "blueprint" or a "method". Instead, we must take the foundational values that post-moderns share (authenticity, community, tolerance etc) and allow the Holy Spirit to reveal to us the best way to reach the particular post-modern community closest to us. However, because no post-modern community is the same that one method cannot be successfully used with post-moderns all over the globe. The only solution then is for Christians to do what they are most afraid to do - leave the comfort of their homes and churches and connect in an intimate way with their community all the while seeking to discover the most Biblical way to reach that particular group. Gone are the days when we could just send out flyers and expect a huge gathering. Gone are the days were we could pay some evangelist to fly out and sit on our pews while he and the elders did all the work. That may have worked in the past but it can no longer work. The only way to reach post-moderns is to become acquainted with the culture in our immediate vicinity and ask God for wisdom on how best to connect with them. No blueprint is coming. No method will arise that will give us worldwide success if it is followed faithfully. Each church needs to discover its own method and its own way of reaching the post-moderns within their reach and this can only be accomplished by leaving our comfort zones and connecting authentically and intimately with this generation.

However, this doesn't mean that there are things that wont work and things that will. There most certainly are principles that we can follow that will work on a global scale, but the point is that there is no one blueprint that will work everywhere. Each city, town, and nation needs to connect with its own culture, speak Christ in their language, and reach them in their own unique way. 

The next post will deal with post-modernism, the book of Revelation and how what it says can influence our outreach and evangelism attempts. This post will bring Enigma to a close. We will then dive into more practical concepts in the series Bricolage?


[1] In Post-modernism: A processes by which traditional objects or language are given a new, often subversive, meaning and context. []
Enigma (part 4): Discovering the "Edge"
photo credit: Keoni Cabral via photopin cc
The word enigma means "a person or thing that is mysterious or difficult to understand."[1] This is a perfect description of post-modernism. A friend who is deeply involved in post-modern outreach recently told me that it may take more than 100 years before we can look back and make sense of it all. And this is why post-moderns are taking the church for a spin, no one understands them and if we cant understand them we cant connect with them.

However, the situation is not as bleak as some may paint it to be. Post-modernism, while presenting serious challenges to Christian evangelism, also has elements that make it one of the most attractive cultures to reach. Not only that, but I would like to propose that in many ways post-moderns themselves do not fully embrace their own philosophy and are in fact searching for something better. Allow me to elaborate on these two points.

Older generations always have a way of complaining about how newer generations are so much worse than they were. Just pop in on a conversation about the "kids these days" and you are likely to get inundated with an ocean of superiority complex. Those who take the "older generation" side complain about how kids no longer respect their adults like they used to, work hard for something, or are willing to sacrifice. To them this new generation is spoiled, has a misplaced sense of entitlement, and has no respect for the values and traditions of the elder generation. While this may be true in a general sense what the "older generationsists" fail to capture is that the newer generation, while lacking in some areas (such as the ones mentioned) far exceeds them in others. For example, newer generations are less critical, judgmental, rigid, closed minded, and intolerant than older generations. They are also more open minded and creative. Older generations were more culturally insensitive and prejudiced than the post-modern generation which sees everyone as equal and demands greater respect for different cultures and ethnicities. Post-moderns also crave authenticity and sincerity while the older generation was perfectly content with putting on a mask in order to impress the neighbors. So while post-modernism has negative elements it also contains numerous redemptive qualities that are more compatible with Christianity than the older generation ever had.[2]

So let's stop yapping about how terrible the younger generation is and realize that while they are worse in some areas they are also better in others. And the redemptive elements of post-moderns make them one of the most attractive cultures to reach. Post-moderns have the cultural advantage of being able to create the type of church people have dreamed of for generations. A church that values community above individuality, authenticity above reputation, acceptance above self-preservation, and relevance above dogma.

In reminder of my second point I would also like to propose that post-moderns do not fully embrace their own philosophy and are in fact searching for something better. This was clearly exemplified in the "Occupy Wall Street" (OWS) movement that began in 2011. The two aspects of post-modernism that frustrates Christian outreach attempts the most are 1) relativity: the rejection of absolute truth and, 2) the rejection of the metanarrative. How do you reach someone who denies the idea that there is an absolute truth in the universe? No matter what you say and how logical, rational, and defensible it may be at the end of the day you are dealing with someone who could care less for in their estimation, "what is true for you is true for you and what is true for me is true for me" - even if the propositions grossly contradict one another. And how do you reach someone who denies the existence of "a comprehensive explanation" of history, humanity or the universe (metanarrative) such as the Bible presents?

Before I answer those questions allow me to return to the OWS movement. "The main issues raised by Occupy Wall Street were social and economic inequality, greed, corruption and the perceived undue influence of corporations on government—particularly from the financial services sector."[3] The movement swept across America as post-moderns took to the streets and cities with the slogan "[w]e are the 99%" which "refers to income inequality and wealth distribution in the U.S. between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of the population."[4] So what does all this mean? First of all, it is a rejection of relativity. In order for the OWS movement to even begin there had to be a rejection of relativity. Truth must be absolute. And what was that truth? It was, in the minds of the protesters, the concept that 99% of the population was being held under the thumb of the wealthy 1%. That is an absolute claim, one that is built on data, evidence, historical research, and rational interpretations of present experience - the very aspects of truth that post-modern relativity attempts to deny. Secondly, it is an embrace of metanarrative. The narrative that inspired OWS was a grand tale of corporate greed, corrupt government, and a sense of destiny and power that led the participants to believe that they could take down the massive corporations and agencies that have led to social and economic inequality within the worlds greatest nation. Protesters endured the rage of elements, the brutality of law enforcement, and the bombardment of media for weeks on end in defense of a movement that was built on both absolute truth and metanarrative. They denied their own philosophy, not because they are unintelligent, but because they found an absolute truth and a metanarrative worth suffering for. Their current worldview and life experience was not satisfying enough to keep them quiet. They wanted something better and they were willing, unwittingly I'm sure, to deny the very foundations of their philosophy in order to secure that something better.

So what exactly am I saying? First of all, post-modern culture has many redemptive qualities that make them an attractive culture to reach. As a church we must focus on those redemptive qualities and make use of them to connect them to Jesus Christ. Secondly, scary as post-modernism may appear the vast majority of its believers would be willing to forsake it in the event that they discover an absolute truth and metanarrative that tugs at the core of their humanity. We must discover how to communicate to them the reality that Jesus is that absolute truth and that the God-story of scripture is that metanarrative. When we do we will have discovered an edge in connecting with this generation (more on this tomorrow). 

[1] Google Dictionary: "enigma"
[2] These observations are based on personal experience.
[4] ibid
Enigma (part 3): The Secret to Reaching Our Culture
photo credit: Keoni Cabral via photopin cc

Whenever the topic of reaching post-moderns comes up eager theologians and ministers (myself included) jump into the convo-pool with their radical ideas. One suggests that the language we use to communicate theology must be updated, another suggests that church architecture must be reinvented, then small groups, community, and relevance enter the discussion. After a few minutes of chatter the wise ones calmly remind everyone that the message can never be altered, only the method, to which everyone responds heartily. Then the conversation starts over, only now the focus has shifted toward the radical ministry of Jesus and how we as ministers need to emulate it. We need to connect with the addicted, the broken, and the ostracized. We need to have ministries at the clubs, bars, and strips. Then someone jumps in and talks about the church that meets at a club and ministers to prostitutes and how its reaching hundreds of people for Christ. The group is on fire now, everyone is excited and ready to go be unorthodox, revolutionary, and radical. Best of all, they have Jesus as their example. The stage is set. The goals are made. The vision is cast. And nothing happens.

I love the above scenario. I have participated in it many times. But none of this chatter is ever going to get us anywhere unless we discover the secret to making it all happen. Now before I continue allow me to make a disclaimer. I am not an outreach and evangelism guru. I have not had 50 years of post-modern outreach experience on which to base this from. Instead, what I offer today is what God revealed to me one evening as I prayed to him seeking an answer to the problem of reaching a lost and confused generation that does not respond to any traditional methods of evangelism. In that moment of prayer I experienced one of those rare instances when the voice of God is clear, and his message to me was this: "If you want to make a radical difference for me you must first have a radical relationship with me." 

The thought hit me like a ton of bricks, but the more I thought about it the more I realized how profound and true it was. As a pastor I always want to do something radical. I want to, in the words of Ellen White, "study, plan, devise methods, to reach the people where they are... do something out of the common course of things... arrest the attention." I want to plant that amazing church that succeeds in reaching post-moderns. I want to preach those relevant sermons that shock the church and the culture with the glory of Jesus. Its not OK for me to do what the church has been doing for 50 years. I want to spark a revolution for Gods kingdom. I want to be radical. Yet, while its not OK for me to do the same old thing in ministry I am perfectly content with doing the same old thing in my relationship with God. I want to be radical in the church, but not in prayer. I want to shock the world with ministry, but I still read the Bible the same way I have for years. Well, Jesus burst my bubble and now I am here to burst yours. Unless you are willing to be as radical in your prayer life as you want to be in your ministry life forget about ever reaching this generation. Unless you are willing to be wild in your Bible time, then give up all dreams of being a world changer for God. As the phrase goes, "Ain't gona happen."

The secret to reaching this generation continues to be the secret that has ignited men of every generation and culture to impact their world for Christ - an out of the ordinary, unorthodox, wild, radical, and revolutionary relationship with Jesus. I once asked a professor how I as a writer could write profound things instead of shallow ones. Her answer to me was, "if you want to write profound things you must first be a profound person." And I conclude, that if we want to reach this post-modern culture with radical ministry we must first connect with God in a radical way. There is just no way we can do the great things necessary for reaching this culture of skepticism and indifference while continuing to pray and read our Bible the way many of us currently do. It's going to require a new and out of the ordinary connection with God in order for us to be ignited with the wisdom and fire necessary to carry this movement forward.

Perhaps some of you are reading this and thinking, I want to do that but you don't know how. Allow me to provide you then, with a practical resource that will get you going in the right direction. It is a small book called Secret Power by D.L. Moody, one of histories greatest evangelists. I have been reading this book this past week and so far it has revolutionized my view of outreach and evangelism.

Enigma (part 2): How To NOT Reach Post-Moderns
photo credit: Keoni Cabral via photopin cc
Post-modernism is old. Surprising as it may sound, its true. While I am not a post-modern historian I am aware that this worldview has existed and grown since around the period following World War II. That's over 60 years ago and yet the church is still trying to figure out how to reach them. Ask anyone involved in post-modern ministry and they will most likely tell you that no one knows how to reach them. They don't respond to logic, rational arguments, or dogmatic preaching. They could care less about your proof texts, apologetic's, or evidences. Truth is not absolute for them, hence if Adventism is true for you then that's fine, but if Islam is true for someone else then it is equally true. Any disagreement is seen as intolerance and any claim to have absolute truth is seen as narcissism. In a future post I am going to present some challenges to post-modernism's worldview that I believe can give us an edge when it comes to reaching them for Christ, but for the time being I would like to share what will single handedly keep us from ever connecting with them.

While not specifically dealing with post-modernism, Ellen White nevertheless captured the importance and need for new ways to reach emerging generations. In Gospel Workers page 468 she said, "The methods and means by which we reach certain ends are not always the same. The missionary must use reason and judgment. Changes for the better must be made..." (GW 468.3). Again, in her book Evangelism Ellen White noted that "New methods must be introduced. God’s people must awake to the necessities of the time in which they are living. God has men whom He will call into His service,—men who will not carry forward the work in the lifeless way in which it has been carried forward in the past.... (Ev 70.1). Whatever may have been your former practice, it is not necessary to repeat it again and again in the same way. God would have new and untried methods followed. Break in upon the people—surprise them (Ev 125.4). Let every worker in the Master’s vineyard, study, plan, devise methods, to reach the people where they are. We must do something out of the common course of things. We must arrest the attention" (Ev 122.4).

The message is clear, we cannot expect to reach this generation with the same methods we used to connect with the previous generation. New methods (not schemes or gimmicks) need to be devised. The way we do church and evangelism needs to be redefined in a way that connects with this generation while simultaneously holding on to the biblical beliefs that make us who we are. In a recent Facebook post I commented that "I always hear Christians whining about how we are not reaching the culture but when I look around I see us doing the same thing we've been doing for 50 years. So is the culture really that hard to reach? Or are we just slacking?" 

So there it is. How to NOT reach post-moderns: Keep doing the same thing we've been doing for the last 50 years and we are guaranteed to succeed (in other words: fail).
Enigma (part 1): A Heart that Burns for the Post-Moderns
photo credit: Keoni Cabral via photopin cc

Since coming to Australia I have become more aware of the challenges the church is facing in reaching the secular post-modern culture. For those who don't know, the challenges in reaching post-moderns with Christianity are numerous, but perhaps the main challenge is the rejection of absolute truth. How do you communicate Jesus-truth to a culture that rejects the existence of truth?  The questions are many, and the answers are few. 

But we continue to reach for an answer. We reach for an answer because we believe that Christianity is more than an intriguing cultural icon. We seek for an answer because we believe that Christianity is more than a fascinating story, more than a worldview, and more than another religious system among the myriads. Christianity is truth, and although the culture mocks the declaration, those who know it cannot help but predicate it. Jesus is real. He can be experienced and he can be known. But telling the world about Jesus is not simply about inviting them into a marvelous relationship with God - its about leading them to the only source of satisfaction, peace, and eternal life. The human soul cannot straddle the fulcrum of Christ. We must all answer the question of his indirect executioner, the infamous Pontius Pilate, when he asked "What will I do with Jesus?" Try as we may, life does not permit us to avoid that question, and the answer to that question is the only answer that has eternal implications. So it matters to me. It matter to us. Telling others about Jesus goes far beyond any religio-ambitious goals for this temporary world. Telling others about Jesus is about introducing them to a personal constant whose friendship will literally alter the course of their mortality. 

Oh, if only the skeptics could see it! If only the disillusioned and doubting could catch a glimpse of this fire! It consumes to the inward and burns deeper than bone. It takes over every impulse and thought and emotion. That one more may know Jesus, that is the all of life, for his love flows through me and it does not relent.