Postmodernism presents a unique challenge to the church. The challenge may appear to be insurmountable, but in centuries past, the church has faced equally great challenges (persecution, Gnosticism, Arianism, the Great Schism, the Reformation, Modernism, etc.) and managed to survive each challenge.
Before one can articulate a strategy for ministering in the postmodern world, one must identify the beliefs of the postmodern mind. What are the values of today’s postmodern society? First, is the celebration of diversity. Second, there is a demand for tolerance. Third, there is an expansion of secularism.
1. Postmoderns believe there is no absolute, objective truth. Postmoderns are suspicious of truth-claims. They believe that all metanarratives are to be distrusted because they are used by those in positions of power to subdue and control the masses. They feel that truth-claims are advanced because of hidden agendas and a desire to oppress the marginalized. This creates suspicion of anyone in authority and a tendency to reject their truth claims. The modern viewpoint struggled to identify absolute truth. They wrested with Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” But, the postmodern viewpoint did away with the question all together. The postmodern thinks “What is true for you may not be true for me.”
2. Postmoderns believe there is no objective morality. There is a tendency among postmoderns to celebrate personal freedom. One can do whatever one wants to do. This is why there is a move to legalize drugs, to allow gambling, prostitution, abortion, homosexual marriage, and transgenderism. In the recent “bathroom wars” over allowing transgenders to use the bathroom that corresponds to the gender they chose to be, there has been much halabaloo over allowing perverted men to pee alongside six-year-old girls. While this picture is horrific, the real problem on this issue is a clash between two different worldviews. If there is no absolute truth, there is no absolute gender. One can become whatever gender one feels like. So, one worldview says there is an absolute scientific truth that a person with XY chromosomes can never become a person with XX chromosomes. The postmodern worldview says, “gender is an artificial construct determined by cultural stereotypes.” But the Bible says, “male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27).
3. Postmoderns believe the greatest virtue is tolerance. Postmoderns bash “extreme religious belief.” In practice, they are tolerant of every viewpoint except the Christian viewpoint. They excuse this intolerance by saying, “I refuse to be tolerant of intolerance.”
In postmodernism, optimism turned to pessimism. The modern mindset believes in objective certainty based on rationalism. But the postmodernist believes in pluralism and relativism. Postmodernism believes in a celebration of diversity.
There is some good in the postmodern movement. First, not all knowledge is objective, some knowledge comes from feelings. Second, postmodernism values communities, which is a similar value to those in the kingdom of God. Third, the postmodern mind appreciates stories. The Christian can build on these commonalities with the postmodern worldview in order to reach people with the Gospel.
In practice, how can the church use these commonalities to reach out to a postmodern world?
1. Postmoderns value experience over knowledge. Thus, it is important for the church to invite young people to participate before it asks them to sit and learn.
2. Postmoderns value feelings over facts. Just as a missionary translates the truth of the Gospel into the local culture where he is ministering, the preacher attempting to reach postmoderns must translate his message into the vocabulary and culture of the postmodern audience. Tell lots of stories. It is difficult to argue with truth that is discovered in a story. Postmoderns do not want to know, “Is it true, they want to know “is it real?” They do not want proof, they want an experience.
3. Postmoderns do not want anyone to be in authority over them. They want to be their own authorities. The church should stop forcing acceptance, instead she should invite participation.
How does one communicate the realities of the Gospel in a postmodern context?
Paul wrote, “…It pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21). “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). The best way to communicate the truth of the Gospel in a postmodern context is the same way the Gospel has been communicated ever since the Day of Pentecost. By preaching to anyone who will listen. Today, like always, this method appears to be foolish, but it is God’s chosen method of saving people. If one follows Johnston’s advice by wrapping the truth of God’s Word in the metaphors, stories, and language of popular culture, one will be even more effective at reaching the postmodern generation.