Jesus: For Post-Modernists
37/98 1/11/98 Scripture: 1 Peter 1:23-24
I GRIEVE for a young woman I knew. I had dinner with her and her husband when they were living together. She belonged to a new generation. Her parents were divorced. She was a depressive. Her marriage a loveless failure. She divorced after ten years. She had trouble with her in-laws, attempting suicide in a cry for help. She was bulimic needing psychiatric help, but she preferred an astrologer and a tarot card reader. She could not cope with work and marriage. She lurched from one unhappy affair to another and was willing to talk to anybody about her unhappiness. During another affair, she was killed by speed, alcohol and a drunken driver.
At her funeral, her brother said: `For all the status, the glamour, the applause, Diana remained throughout a very insecure person at heart, almost child-like in her desire to do good for others so she could release herself from deep feelings of unworthiness of which her eating disorders were merely a symptom. The world sensed this part of her character and cherished her for her vulnerability whilst admiring her for her honesty.' Diana, Princess of Wales, an X Generationist, was a post-modernist.
Britain did not know quite how to handle a post-modernist funeral. Her contemporaries are a huggy generation who are scornful of protocol, unmindful of precedent and who regard emotional soul-bearing the way of handling grief. The people who left millions of flowers couldn't understand why the Queen didn't react more emotionally. When told `The Queen does not react' the reply was incomprehensible. Britain changed that week. It swam in a tidal wave of public emotion. It became less deferential and more pluralistic.
The public mourning was a sign that Britain had entered the post-modernist era. People in the western world used to share basically Christian values. Now those values are denied or at least questioned. Those challenging our basic values are not only atheists but people within the mainline churches. They are post-modernists, even if they do not know what this name means. They are people you expect to defend Christian values but who often deny them the strongest. Why is this so?
Why have some Christians so changed they attack the faith? How can they believe in Christian truth if they say there is no universal truth? They are part of a shift from theological modernism of the 1920's to the 1960's to a theological post-modernism of the 80's and 90's. What do these new attitudes mean to the ordinary person?
1. LIVING WITH POST-MODERN ATTITUDES
In this post-modern generation everything is subjective, open to your own opinion. Everything is pluralistic. There is no such thing as revealed truth as in the Bible. All beliefs are of equal value. What is important is not the Bible, nor what Christians believe, but what is your story. One view is as good as any other. There are no moral absolutes. No behaviour is good or bad, none right or wrong. Everyone does what is right in his or her own eyes.
Post-modernists declare it is useless to look for meaning and purpose in life. All that is, is your feelings of this moment. History is unimportant. Your story is more significant. Moral behaviour is simply doing what feels right to you. Scientific truth is old-fashioned and not to be trusted as it betrays us.
`The X-files' is the world's most popular TV program. It declares the paranormal and superstitious are as valid as the scientific. There is no such thing as truth. In the post-modern world all that counts is how you feel and what you experience. If you want to experience life more then it is normal and OK to use mind-altering drugs or involve yourself with different sexual partners. Religion ought not be limited to one religion and certainly not to a religion that has commandments, restrictions and sins. You need several religions to choose which bits you like. You need not bother with the bits that are uncomfortable. That's post-modernism.
2. POST-MODERNISM IN THE CHURCH
Post-modernism believes Christendom is ended. A Generation X'er asked me what Bishop John Shelby Spong says about the Kingdom of God. My bet was that he would totally ignore it. I checked hundreds of references in seven books by Bishop Spong. There is not one reference. Post-modernists are not concerned with God's Kingdom.
Christians are committed to evangelising the world and spreading the Gospel. Post-modernists think that totally irrelevant. If everyone's religious views are equally valid, what is the point of trying to change them? If there is no set pattern of beliefs and no Good News, what is there to proclaim? If one set of religious writings, The Bible, is no more significant than any other, why bother?
One characteristic of post-modernism is arrogance. Post-modernists believe we are the pinnacle of world history. The world has never seen better. Post-modernists are convinced they know best.
Hence a group at the Uniting Church Assembly in Perth know God's will better than other Church members. The written views representing 50,000 members can be discounted. As Stephen Webb wrote in `Insights': `Most of the Church had not read, seen and heard and understood what those in Perth knew.' The implied assertion is that ordinary church members cannot make decisions based upon what the Bible says. This leads to asserting the church is not democratic with the implication that only elected representatives interpret God's will.
Post-modernists do not believe in history, so they have never learnt that the arrogant elite who claim to be the only ones who know and interpret God's will, usually don't and can't! The people who claim to be in the power structures with God on their side are inevitably oppressors. Like the SS guards on the concentration camp gates, whose belt buckles declared `Gott Mit Uns', they are an arrogant elite. The concept of the `Priesthood of all Believers' needs to be revived in our church.
Another characteristic is rejecting objective facts in favour of subjective feelings. It is how you perceive things that is important. Your values and judgments outrank anything else. So your experience and story are equal with anything known by anyone else. Everything is relative and pluralistic.
Another characteristic is a rejection of meaning and purpose in life. That view is just another opinion. There is no meaning to life other than what you feel. Humans are constantly changing, so you can never really know yourself, your personal life, family, sexuality, or your morality.
Another characteristic is there is no objective truth such as we proclaim in Christianity. Instead you select bits from various religions and make your own religious pie.
Another characteristic is that favourite values become absolute. For example gender equality cannot be questioned. So a German Protestant Church has approved the Women's Ministry erasing the name of Jesus Christ from their records as the name Jesus implies male dominance. Another favourite is tolerance. Every belief requires equal recognition. No-one ridicules Islamic beliefs or draws cartoons of Mohammed. Yet they lampoon the Virgin Mary in Adelaide's Festival right now, but no other religion. Another favourite is accepting any sexual behaviour. If you question a church leader's immorality as being inconsistent with the Bible, then you are castigated as being fundamentalist, moralist, judgmental and having no right to question such behaviour. This intolerance to Christianity is unbelievable.
Remember the questions we asked about post-modernism: `If everyone's religious views are equally valid, what is the point of trying to change them? If there is no set pattern of beliefs, no Good News, what is there to proclaim? If one set of religious writings, The Bible, is no more significant than any other, why bother?' Now you understand why post-modernists do not accept Jesus Christ as the only way to God; are not enthusiastic about evangelising for personal salvation; do not proclaim the Gospel of redemption through the Cross, and do not uphold the Bible's authority on matters like homosexuality and personal morality. This explains the defiance over immorality and adultery among church leaders.
Craig Bailey, Chairperson of S A's branch of EMU (Evangelical Members of the Uniting Church), writes of post-modernist philosophy which he observed among Christians at the recent Perth Assembly: `We went with our objective approach. We prepared for a discussion about truth. We took well thought-out Biblical material, facts about the homosexual lifestyle and the Assembly analysis of the 8000 Interim Report responses. We expected a reasoned discussion about the Bible, about truth, about God's call on our lives. What we got was the post-modern `spectator sport'. Winners in this `sport' are players who tell the best `story'. Losers, are those who dare critique anyone's sexual behaviour. Since the reigning value of modern culture is not truth but tolerance, anyone who takes a stand disapproving of another's behaviour is bound to lose. The Assembly debate was never a battle for Biblical truth. Statistics were irrelevant. Those who referred to the majority of responses to the Interim Report on Sexuality were openly ridiculed. At best, we felt we were on hostile ground. At worst, we view the Assembly as an exercise in emotional manipulation by those who choose to use the church structures as a means of pursuing their liberal agenda. Our denomination and its structures have been hijacked by those who reject an informed, Biblical position on matters of life and faith. They have rejected it in favour of a liberal ideology that relentlessly extols universalism at the expense of truth; experience at the expense of revelation; and humanism and subjectivism at the expense of Biblical standards.'
3. HOW DO WE COUNTER POST-MODERNISM?
1. Pray. On Reformation Sunday we thank God for the reformers who were obedient to God's Word. We need to pray for a reformation today.
2. Hold fast to the Scriptures. The Bible is true not just for you, but for all, everywhere. This is offensive to pluralists but the Bible declares: 1 Peter 1:23-24 `For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, `All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.''
3. Remember the essentials of the Gospel. Paul declared the truth is not discovered by persuasion or logical deduction, but by demonstration: on the cross for our salvation, in people's lives by conversion, and through the presence of the Holy Spirit who leads us to lives of holiness. Christian truth is not the result of argument or deduction but the discovery of what God has done in Christ once and for all. Christianity holds to revelation from God, not personal pretend religion.
4. Distinguish between what changes and what does not change. Hold fast to your faith for `Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.' Trust Him in a world of faithless people. The Bible warns of people (2 Timothy 3:4-5) who grow `treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.' Your life should be right with God, grounded in obedience to the scriptures and an example of pure and holy living. Such is the true Christian heritage.
Gordon Moyes 1998
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