If we were to sum up the way that much of the world thinks today, one word would express it: Postmodernism.
This world view states that there is no objective, absolute truth; that”truth” is what you believe it to be. Something can be “true for you, but not true for me”.
So, how can we convey the truth of the Bible and an understanding of the One who is the “way, the truth and the life” to this generation?
Who are postmodernists?
I am not talking about some hard-to-grasp intellectualism, or a high-flown philosophy, but about real people who are spiritually confused and lost. The average person on the street has absorbed postmodern thinking without realising it.
“I don’t know any postmodernists,” you may say. The chances are you do. Your dentist, neighbour, work colleague – anyone you know may have gradually taken on board the postmodern mind-set.
In Practical Considerations for Postmodern Sensitive Churches, Ross P. Rohde wrote:
What does the postmodern person act like? How are they different from modern people? The following is a profile of postmodern people from their own perspective.
- I’m looking for a truth that works for me.
- I can only try to see life from my own perspective; reality is too complex to understand it all.
- I’m interested in the values of my group and my community.
- I believe in being tolerant.
- I believe in letting others live like they want to.
- I don’t like it when people argue about how their group or beliefs are better.
- I want practical answers to life. I’m not drawn to idealistic schemes.
- I am suspicious of schemes that try to explain everything or give simplistic answers to complex questions.
- When people talk to me about these schemes I think of it as “noise” to be ignored.
- I like to have a group of close friends with which I share common values.
- I don’t like institutional religion.
- I do have a vague desire for non-institutional spirituality. But I don’t know how to find it.
These are a few of the more common values of postmodernism. Not every person in a postmodern society holds each one of these values. However, most people hold many, if not all of these values.
To the postmodernist there is no objective absolute truth. “Truth” is what you believe it to be. Something can be “true for you, but not true for me”.
“Choice” is a big virtue in our consumer society. And choice extends to value systems, beliefs, and lifestyle choices. All are seen as equally valid. The postmodernists’ choice of religious belief is by mix and match – whatever you feel comfortable with.
Should we re-interpret the Bible for the postmodern context?
No! Indeed there is a danger that doing so will dilute and pollute the message of the church.
Neil Richardson wrote in Vanguard magazine July 2007, “We should not be searching for novelties or reformulations, but sticking to the apostolic, historic gospel as it has been handed down.” (See 2 Thessalonians 2:15)
Nevertheless, we must also consider how we can be effective witnesses of Christ to our postmodern friends and family.
Traditional methods of evangelism?
The traditional model of evangelism has worked well in the past. Decades ago people wanted a clear rational presentation of the truth. They needed to know that this was the universal truth that governed the universe.
They often received this truth in the context of a church service. When they were convinced of the truth, they made a clear decision to believe it and act upon it.
Nowadays, in some instances we may need to use other methods.
Relationships are important
Let’s hear again from Ross Rohde:
The postmodern model [of evangelism] starts with ‘relationship’. The postmodernist sees spirituality lived out in the life of someone he trusts. He is invited by his friend to explore spirituality with him. He learns that spirituality is really a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. He is invited to explore this relationship not only individually but also in the community of others who are seeking relationship with Jesus. As he encounters spirituality in the form of the fruit of the Spirit in the lives of his friends, in their love for him and one another and in the beauty of artistically creative corporate worship, he decides to believe and follow Jesus.
Out of the comfort zone!
The church of the first century embraced to the Great Commission to go into all the world. Jewish Christians burst out from their own cultural comfort-zone into the gentile world and the church grew and spread.
“Christianity was extremely successful in the ancient worldview as it spread rapidly through the Greco-Roman world. It was able to express itself very well in the Renaissance through Protestantism and in the Enlightenment with Modern Evangelicalism. Now as the worldview has changed around us, biblical Christianity again finds itself needing to develop ways to culturally express itself without losing its fundamental truths.”
How might we go about doing that?
9 Aspects to consider when sharing the gospel in a postmodern culture.
1. Postmodernists do not like to be told what to think or believe.
To them, personal discovery is more important. So the process of opening up to the gospel may seem to take longer than we imagined.
Be prepared to meet several times, even many times, rather than cramming everything into a single conversation.
2. Postmodernists accept the value of stories from all cultures.
They will not reject the narratives in the Bible and your story (testimony), too, when you can relate how God has helped you in practical ways.
Chuck Swindoll reminds us: “The sceptic may deny your doctrine or attack your church, but he cannot honestly ignore the fact that your life has been changed.”
We can convey a lot through our own stories, and God’s story, without pushing our own dogmas. Teaching can come later, once bridges and relationships have been built.
3. Postmoderns are most interested in the here and now.
They want “what works for me”. By concentrating first on the benefits of Christianity to your practical life, you can use this to capture their interest, before speaking of eternal things.
Speak of how God guided you when you had a choice to make, about a divine healing, or some other answered prayer. They want to see how God interacts in the nitty-gritty of real lives.
4. Show respect for their viewpoint by listening.
Take a genuine interest in their lives. Listen, even if their ideas make no sense to you. Early conversations are not the time to correct their misunderstandings. Take time to really understand their views and circumstances.
5. Ask pertinent questions.
One church training program makes some suggestions. Ask questions that get them thinking and talking. In doing this you are checking for open doors.
• Do you ever think about spiritual things?
• Where are you at on your spiritual journey?
• Do you ever pray?
• Do you ever think about God?
• Do you have a spiritual background?
• What do you do in your free time?
• Can I pray for you?”
Leave them with food for thought, rather than pressing your own opinion or force-feeding them doctrine.
6. Major on areas of agreement.
There will be a lot upon which we will agree — concern for the oppressed, the need for the world to become a better place, etc. This encourages trust and establishes relationships. We do not need to compromise our beliefs, but on no account should we appear critical or judging of the postmodernist, or of anyone else for that matter. That is seen as arrogance.
7. Do not be loud and argumentative.
Rather, be temperate and considerate. Anything we say which is couched as an argument will not be very persuasive. Our goal should not be to win an argument, but to win a friend.
There is a lovely old saying which is still true : “He that would win some must be winsome.”
8. Don’t be pushy.
Explain about Christianity without forcing a decision. In the words of evangelist Will McRaney, our conversations with postmoderns should be “more supernatural — less supersales”.
Do tell of your own experience of the supernatural through Jesus Christ, but be patient and don’t force Jesus on them. This is a process not a project!
9. Trust the Holy Spirit to do his work according to his timetable.
Pray for opportunities to engage in spiritual conversation, and trust God to anoint you for it, then doors will open and you will see needy people becoming open to the truth of the gospel.