Friday, August 09, 2013

Postmodernism: A Dangerous Mood

In his book, Recapture the Wonder, Christian apologist, Ravi Zacharias, summarizes the decline of Western society over the past 60 years:
In the 1950s kids lost their innocence.  They were liberated from their parents by well-paying jobs, cars, and lyrics in music that gave rise to a new term—the generation gap.

In the 1960s, kids lost their authority.  It was a decade of protest—church, state, and parents were all called into question and found wanting.  Their authority was rejected, yet nothing ever replaced it.

In the 1970s, kids lost their love.  It was the decade of me-ism dominated by hyphenated words beginning with self.  Self-image, Self-esteem, Self-assertion....  It made for a lonely world.  Kids learned everything there was to know about sex and forgot everything there was to know about love, and no one had the nerve to tell them there was a difference.

In the 1980s, kids lost their hope.  Stripped of innocence, authority and love and plagued by the horror of a nuclear nightmare, large and growing numbers of this generation stopped believing in the future.

In the 1990s kids lost their power to reason.  Less and less were they taught the very basics of language, truth, and logic and they grew up with the irrationality of a postmodern world.

In the new millennium, kids woke up and found out that somewhere in the midst of all this change, they had lost their imagination.  Violence and perversion entertained them till none could talk of killing innocents since none was innocent anymore.”
What caused these losses of innocence, authority, love, hope, reason, and imagination?  And how did our society get to this point? 

The late jurist Robert Bork, in his book Slouching toward Gomorrah, identified the two chief cultural influences of the past 60 years as being "radical individualism" and "radical egalitarianism."  In a nutshell, radical individualism means, "I can do whatever I want;" and radical egalitarianism means, "...and you don't have the authority to tell me otherwise."

These two influences have combined powerfully in the cultural movement of postmodernism, which is a mood—a dangerous mood—of skepticism in our interpretations of culture, literature, art, philosophy, and religion.  Zacharias comments, "A mood can be a dangerous state of mind, because it can crush reason under the weight of feeling.  But that is precisely what I believe postmodernism best represents - a mood.”

Most Christians are keenly aware of the way in which postmodern skepticism seems to be aimed particularly at Christians.  It is all right to express almost any religious idea as long as you do not bring Jesus Christ into it.  Zacharias notes: "If a spiritual idea is eastern, it is granted critical immunity; if western, it is thoroughly criticized. Thus, a journalist can walk into a church and mock its carryings on, but he or she dare not do the same if the ceremony is from eastern fold."  And the immunity from criticism being given to Islam, even by those who are quick to denounce Christianity as misogynist or homophobic, is glaring.

Truly the spirit of this age is the Christian apologist's greatest challenge.  We who know Jesus Christ to be "the way the truth and the life" are confronted with the fruit of a diabolically-sown seed.  To the assertion that "Jesus is the Way," we are told that there are many ways to God, many spiritual paths.  To the assertion that "Jesus is the Truth," we are told that there is no absolute truth that is valid for everyone.  To the assertion that "Jesus is the Life," we are offered many ways that our society calls "life," but the end of these paths is destruction.

A chief characteristic of those who are now looking at the world through postmodern eyes is that, for them, truth is no longer seen as the outcome of rational discourse but, rather, as a sympathetic identification with a point of view.  Something is true for them because they choose to believe it—they identify with it in a subjective or even emotional way.

So, while we might wish to see people come to Christ on the basis of a rational argument, my experience as one who has done apologetics for many years is that I never saw anyone persuaded to become a Christian on the basis of rational argument, and this was even prior to the rise of postmodernism. 

Rather, people must come to Christ because they are attracted to him.  "If I be lifted up..., I will draw all people to myself."  This means that we do not necessarily hold up Christianity as a superior philosophical system, even though we should commend the truth it teaches at every opportunity.  We do not necessarily hold up the Church as a more perfect society, although there should be something about the love among Christians that is compelling.  It means that we hold up the Savior and tell of what he has done for us and means to us.  And if we are authentic in our reflection of Jesus and his love, especially to those who are hurting in the midst of a lost world, he can use us to draw others to himself.

Ravi Zacharias, despite his own considerable experience in making persuasive arguments for Christianity, explains his own Christian perseverance this way:
“I came to Him because I did not know which way to turn.  I remained with Him because there is no other way I wish to turn.  I came to Him longing for something I did not have. I remain with Him because I have something I will not trade.  I came to Him as a stranger.  I remain with Him in the most intimate of friendships.  I came to Him unsure about the future.  I remain with Him certain about my destiny."  (Zacharias, Jesus Among Other Gods: The Absolute Claims of the Christian Message.)
This does not mean that our witness to Christ is devoid of rational appeal.  Christian philosopher J. P. Moreland cites the danger in an approach that is based solely on feelings or on presenting Jesus as the answer to human need:
"Today, we share the gospel as a means of addressing felt needs.  We give testimonies of changed lives and say to people if they want to become better parents or overcome depression or loneliness, that Jesus is their answer.  This approach to evangelism is inadequate for two reasons.  First, it does not reach people who may be out of touch with their feelings.  Second, it invites the response, “Sorry, I do not have a need.”  Have you noticed how no one responded to Paul in this manner?  In Acts 17-20, he based his preaching on the fact that the gospel is true and reasonable to believe.  He reasoned and tried to persuade people to intelligently accept Jesus."  (Moreland, Love Your God With All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul, p. 25.)
So our witness must be intelligent but, above all, winsome.  As theologian Alister McGrath puts it:
"Apologetics is to be seen not as a defensive and hostile reaction against the world, but as a welcome opportunity to exhibit, celebrate, and display the treasure chest of the Christian faith, and to explain and commend it to those outside the church.  It aims to set out the intellectual, moral, imaginative, and relational richness of the Christian faith—partly to reassure believers and help them develop their faith, but primarily to enable those outside the community of faith to realize the compelling vision that lies at the heart of the Christian gospel." (McGrath, Mere Apologetics: How to Help Seekers and Skeptics Find Faith.)
" enable those outside the community of faith to realize the compelling vision that lies at the heart of the Christian gospel."  That is our task.  How do we enable those to whom we witness to realize the compelling vision?  By first making it clear that the vision at the heart of the Gospel is compelling to us.  1 Peter 3:15 admonishes us: "but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy; always be ready to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect...."

Making it visible that we honor Christ the Lord in our hearts as holy is the first step in demonstrating to others that we find the Gospel to be compelling.  This does not mean making an exaggerated  display of our piety in front of others.  The world will only be reached by people who genuinely honor Christ in their hearts as holy (who display his enormous worth), not by those who make a show of being "holier-than-thou."

Why does Peter say, “Always be ready?”  Because Peter is looking back on his life and reflecting on a time when he denied he even knew Jesus three times in the space of one night.  But he also remembers the day of Pentecost when the Spirit of God came falling down on him and the other disciples, and they saw three thousand people come to the Lord in one morning.  It happened through the power of the Holy Spirit and because Peter had become a man who was ready to give an answer for the hope that was within him.

The dangerous mood of postmodernism is not giving people genuine answers.  People you know, people you meet, people who live next door to you, people who work with you are dying, both physically and spiritually.  It is only in the good news of Jesus Christ that people can find true life, hope, and peace.

Do you have the love of Jesus to share?  Are you empowered by the Holy Spirit?  And are you ready always to give an answer for the hope that is in you?

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