As we discussed in our last post, as ambassadors for Christ, we are to go into the world and urge men to be reconciled to God.
However, if we are going to accomplish that objective, we must have some understanding of the cultural context that surrounds us – we must discern our times.
A review of the history and characteristics of postmodern culture quickly reveals the postmodern worldview is very different from the worldview which prevailed during the ministries of our spiritual fathers and grandfathers. Clearly this is not our fathers’ world!
One of the key differences between our society and theirs is that in modernity people knew about the God they rejected, whereas postmodern society is largely ignorant about the basic tenets of the Christian faith.
Our fathers’ task was to present an apologetic for a rejected Christianity. Our task is to present an apologetic for an unknown and unfamiliar Christianity. This is particularly important for the preaching task. As one contemporary apologist observed,
We can no longer assume our preaching takes place within a more or less “Christian” culture. The great narratives of Judeo-Christian belief, the pivotal stories of the Bible’s characters, the events of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ are either not known or do not carry the meaning-making significance they did for previous generations. Bible knowledge, Christian doctrine, and theological reflection must be presented and re-presented from America’s pulpits – yes, even to American Christians.
He is not alone in his concern. The lack of basic Bible knowledge among confessing Christians is being noted by Christian educators and authors in almost every forum for discourse available.
The traditional role of Christian apologetics was always to defend the Christian faith against attacks from unbelievers. While this will continue to be necessary in any cultural context, postmodern culture mandates an additional aspect that must be considered and incorporated into our attempts to do apologetics in a postmodern society. Not only must we be prepared to defend Christianity against the attacks mounted by her enemies, we must now contend with presenting and defending a Christian belief system to a culture that is largely ignorant of its most basic doctrinal tenets.
Christianity in this culture is largely misunderstood or not understood at all. It is not that its claims have been carefully considered and rejected – they are virtually unknown.
Christians will face the same struggle that the cults now face. The average person rejects Mormonism without any real knowledge (correct or incorrect) about the elements that comprise the belief system of that particular cult.
Those who reject Christianity do not do so on the basis of fair evaluation but rather simply because they do not wish to consider Christianity at all. Even more frightening than the basis on which Christianity is rejected is the uncritical basis upon which it is received by many. Just as there are many who have accepted Mormonism because they like the family-based values presented by the marketing strategy of the Mormon Church, there are many people who have accepted Christianity without knowing what true biblical Christianity really is.
How is the contemporary Church to minister redemptively and biblically in a postmodern culture? How are we to thrive – not merely survive – in our world?
If we are going to stand for God in a world that doesn’t know or has largely forgotten what He is like or that He even exists, then we are going to have to formulate a biblical response to the prevailing worldview of our cultural context. One important key to all of this is learning how to effectively preach the timeless message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a society that for the most part has no meaningful understanding why they stand in need of His saving message.
The first-century Church was commissioned to preach the Gospel to a world similar to ours. They faced many similar challenges and thrived. They managed to present a simple, effective, powerful, dynamic, authentic, and life-impacting witness. So powerful was the impact of their witness that it had profound impact for change in their generation and for those who followed after.
They did not trim the truth claims of the Gospel to make it acceptable to the worldview of their hearers. They affirmed Christ, and they did not back down from the incredible claim of the resurrection.
In ministering to a postmodern world, we must identify the nonnegotiable elements of the Gospel and refuse to back down from them regardless of the offense created or the apparent loss of opportunity or hearing.
As there was for the apostles, there must be for us some irreducible and nonnegotiable content to the Gospel – content that must not be abandoned, no matter how unacceptable it is to some other worldview.
It follows that especially when we are trying hard to connect wisely with some worldview other than our own, we must give no less careful attention to the nonnegotiable of the Gospel, lest in our efforts to communicate wisely and with relevance, we unwittingly sacrifice what we mean to communicate.
Our culture needs an apologetic that is not merely argued but passionately lived – so passionately lived out that the teller is willing to incur risk.
For instance, Paul risked a great deal when he confronted the intellectuals on Mars Hill with the truth of the resurrection. He risked much once again when he, a prisoner, determined to confront Felix, his judge, with the truth about Felix’s life and spiritual need.
Our apologetic must be seen as well as heard. Our life and conduct must not detract from the message we are preaching.
Our apologetic must be the right message delivered through God-ordained means. It is not enough to just “image” or “picture” the message through our example and our life. The message is fundamentally propositional in nature, so we must use our words to communicate the Word to needy men in all cultural milieus.
Let us take up the uncompromised Gospel and communicate it to a postmodern culture that knows very little about it. There will be risk, but preaching the Gospel has always been risky. Like Paul and the apostles, we must not back down from the Bible’s truth.
Our world knows very little about truth. It is time for us to step up to communicate it – from pulpits, from pages, and from practical living.
Craig A. Loscalzo, Apologetic Preaching: Proclaiming Christ to a Postmodern World (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 24.