This complete paper appeared in the Spring 1999 edition of The Journal of Ministry & Theology, Baptist Bible Seminary, Clarks Summit, PA.
When Charles Dickens wrote The Tale of Two Cities depicting the French Revolution, he began with the words, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” Now at the end of that modern period, we may again repeat the words of Dickens. We are glad for the decline in modern and atheistic thought, but a greater foe is approaching on the horizon. While defending the doctrine of faith to our generation, James R. White asks, “Now a new tidal wave, called by the scholars postmodernity, is sweeping across Western thought, undermining the very idea of absolute truth. What should be the response of the Christian church in the face of these waves of philosophical attack?” (The Roman Catholic Controversy, p. 9).
This paper is an attempt to answer that question as well as define Postmodernism in our generation. In an interview, Dennis McCallum responded, “A simple definition of postmodernism is the belief that truth is not discovered, but created. . . No one has more to lose from postmodernism epistemology than Christians.” (focal Point Magazine, Spring, 1997, p. 5). By the very nature of postmodernism, Christian churches may be falling into this mode without even realizing it. If the modern era has indeed ended, as most think, then we are now postmoderns and the question only remains as to whether we will be postmodernists.
The story is told of three umpires representing the three ages of human history. The first, representing the pre-modern age says, “Three strikes and you’re out and I call ‘em the way they are.” The second umpire, representing the modern age says, “Three strikes and you’re out and I call ‘em the way I see ‘em.” The third umpire, representing the postmodern age says, “Three strikes and you’re out, and they ain’t nothin’ til I call em.” As we look at the approach of postmodernism, this outlook will become all too clear. Truth doesn’t exist except as the individual wants it to exist. As a matter of fact, he can create his own truth.
From the classroom to the television and even to the churches, institutions are asking the audience what they think truth should be and what it should look like, and then marketing their products to the whims of the world. This is the first time in Western Civilization that people are asking not to know and are being obliged by their society. The symbol of this age could easily be the bungee cord. It is a free-fall into nothingness just for the sake of doing it. We had better stop and check if the cord is really hooked to anything solid.
The History Of Postmodernism
The Pre-Modern Era
The Time Frame
What most of us learned as “Western Civilization” is the study of the western world before and including the advent of modernism. Since modernism began in the 16th century with the Enlightenment, brought on by the French Revolution, pre-modernism is that long period of history that led through the Dark Ages, the Reformation and up to the 1700’s.
The Philosophical Foundation
This pre-modern or “classical” era was a mixed bag of beliefs and cultures. Gene Edward Veith, Jr. has included three elements:1
Mythological Paganism was the belief in the supernatural, although it was usually polytheistic. Most of the mythological traditions contained moralistic stories about the battles of good versus evil. The good, as defined in the story, almost always triumphed.
Classical Rationalism was the extension of Greek thought and philosophy. Socrates drank the hemlock as a protest against the mythological worldview. He reasoned that there must be one supreme God behind all of history. Plato developed his classical idealism, that the world’s particulars come from the transcendent ideals in the mind of God. Aristotle argued for first causes and that all causes must be traced back to one supreme First Cause.
Though this era fell far short of Christian belief, it allowed the mind to investigate the world without ruling out the possibility of God. On Mars Hill, Paul began at this point and introduced them to the truth about God that only divine revelation could bring.
Biblical Theism was the influence of Christianity on the rational mind of the pre-modern era. Sometimes Christianity brought classical rationalism to its logical conclusion and sometimes Rationalism influenced Christianity too much. Augustine may have drawn too much on Plato, Aquinas too much on Aristotle. During the Middle Ages there was a mixture of European pagan culture with Christianity that obscured the gospel message of God’s revelation. It was not until the 14th and 15th centuries that Christianity returned to its roots. Whereas “Renaissance humanism rediscovered and reasserted the Greeks; the Reformation rediscovered and reasserted the Bible.”2
For all of its faults, the classical and middle ages carried with it certain assumptions that were rarely challenged:
1. There is a God (even if it is the god of paganism).
2. Good and evil exist as present realities which affect our lives.
3. Man is a sinful creature and sin must be accounted for.
4. Nature was created by a Creator.
5. Man is autonomous in the created world.
The Modern Era
Since the terms “modern” and “postmodern” refer to time, it is necessary to set some sort of start and stop for each period. Thomas Oden says, “By postmodern, we mean the course of actual history following the death of modernity. By modernity we mean the period, the ideology, and the malaise of the time from 1789 to 1989, from the Bastille to the Berlin Wall.”3 Veith adds,
“The French Revolution exemplifies the triumph of the Enlightenment. With the destruction of the Bastille, the prison in which the monarchy jailed its political prisoners, the pre-modern world with its feudal loyalties and spiritual hierarchies was guillotined. The revolutionaries exalted the Rights of Man. They dismissed Christianity as a relic of the past. During the course of the revolution, they installed the Goddess of Reason in Notre Dame Cathedral. In the modern period, human reason would take the place of God, solving all human problems and remaking society along the line of scientific, rational truth.”4
The French Revolution and the Enlightenment meant the beginning of the age of reason. All supernatural now became superstition. Man became the highest rational being and the master of his own fate.
English Deism became prominent in the 1600s. Deism denied the possibility of the supernatural. They did not deny the existence of God but believed rather that God had begun all that exists and then stepped back and let it run without the intrusion of the miraculous.
French Skepticism grew out of the Enlightenment in the 1700s. As men such as Voltaire turned science into a god, the supernatural was no longer needed. Science could explain everything and there were no limits as to how far scientific man could lift himself. The world could now be explained totally by rational laws.
German Rationalism took over the Reformation country in the 1800s. The German contribution to modernism was to relegate the scriptures to the level of human writings. The Bible became a totally human book and all supernatural elements were discovered to be human manipulations and compilations of various authors (e.g. JEDP documentary theory).
American Liberalism came across the ocean in the 1900s. The Enlightenment had come to America as full-blown liberalism. The existence of God was denied outright, the Bible was not believed to be a divine book and the possibility of miracles was ridiculed.
The assumptions of the old pre-modern age became exactly reversed:
1. The world as a closed system–All could be explained from cause and effect within the system.
2. Utilitarian morality–Stealing is wrong but only because it interferes with the balance of economics–Slavery is right because it has economic benefits.
3. Evolution and natural selection–Nature is self-contained and man is the highest product of the survival of the fittest.
4. Rationalism and materialism–Only the senses contain “reality.” “Logical positivism” becomes the law of scientific investigation: If we cannot see God, he does not exist.
5. Social sciences and socialism–Marx’s dialectical materialism eradicated individual rights for the sake of the community.
The Postmodern Era
Carl Henry wrote, “The intensity of ‘anti-modern sentiment’ is seen in the widening use of the term ‘postmodern’ to signal a sweeping move beyond all the intellectual past—ancient, medieval, or modern—into a supposedly new era.”5 The sweeping changes, however, have not come overnight. Veith presents two precursors from within modernism that have been protesting and setting the stage for a hundred years.6
First. In reaction to the anti-spiritual and mathematical attitude of the Enlightenment humanism, Romanticism brought back an appreciation for the human and spiritual. Although God is usually only seen as a “life force” and man is often seen as “one with nature,” “The romantics believed that God is close at hand and intimately involved in the physical world.”7 Romanticism, however, paved the way for today’s postmodern view of life and the world.
Some evangelical believers challenged the romantic worldview, especially in the field of art and literature. Francis Schaeffer was the best known voice. In 1968 he wrote Escape From Reason and The God Who Is There. In 1970 he first published The Church At The End of the 20th Century. In 1974 he wrote How Should We Then Live? His friend and colleague, H.R. Rookmaaker of the Free University of Amsterdam in 1970 wrote Modern Art and the Death of a Culture. Even then Rookmaaker wrote, “Perhaps a new culture is growing that can come into being only when the old civilization is completely destroyed. But if things continue the way they do the new culture will be neither humanist nor Christian.”8
Second. In reaction to the Enlightenment materialism with its cold humanism and calculating evolution, Existentialism proposed that perhaps there really is no meaning to life. Individuals create their own meaning for themselves through relativism (wrongly supposed to come from Einstein) that made truth to be truth only if it is relative to one’s situation (“situation ethics” was today’s result). Today’s “Pro-Choice” movement capitalizes on this now entrenched belief. Schaeffer wrote that “The only accurate way to describe this [post-Christian] view is that it is a form of neo-orthodox existential theology.”9 Gene Veith proposes, “Existentialism is the philosophical basis for postmodernism.”10
By the end of WW II and with the prosperity of the 1950’s, the stage was set for full-blown rebellion against the old modernism. Though the winds of change had been blowing for quite a while, a new generation (raised on Freudian psychology, television and Dr. Spock) was ready to have it their way. In the 1940’s Sir Arnold Toynbee suggested that societies, sooner or later, suffer a certain “schism of the soul.”11
In 1949, George Orwell wrote 1984 in which he predicted America would be taken over by a “Big Brother” from without who would set up a totalitarian oppression. It didn’t happen. In fact, the only Big Brother candidate (Russia) collapsed a few years after 1984. In 1932, Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World in which he predicted that the day would come when no totalitarian regime would be necessary because we would collapse from within, in apathetic stupor. Truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Huxley is proving to be right.
In a commencement address, John Silber, President of Boston University, referred to a 75 year old speech by Lord Moulton, an English Judge, entitled “Law and Manners.”12 Moulton divided human actions into three domains. On one side is law, where we are forced to act a certain way. On the other side is free choice, where we have complete freedom to act as we please. In the middle is the domain he called manners. When the middle ground shrinks into nonexistence, either law will take over or chaos. Silber was proposing that law lost out in the 1960’s and chaos began its reign.
In 1947, C.S. Lewis objected to new textbooks that were being introduced into English schools. His response to the new direction of education became his book, The Abolition Of Man. The first chapter is called, “Men Without Chests.” He could foresee the day when we would train students with powerful heads, full of information. We would also develop students with visceral appetites beyond our comprehension. What is missing is the area in between—the chest! He says, “The head rules the belly through the chest. . . . In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function.”13 Postmodern man is truly a man with a powerful supply of information, an enormous appetite for lust and selfishness, but possessing no heart, no moral compass to direct the head or stomach.
The Starting Date
Since the postmodern era refers primarily to time, there must have been a starting point where modernism died and postmodernism began. All would agree that the 1960’s was a great catalyst, if not the turning point itself. Students began questioning the fruits of modernism; social constructions had not brought internal happiness; the Vietnam War epitomized the evils of capitalism, technology and American democracy. 1968 was known as “The year of the student revolution” when many universities were shut down due to student takeovers.
According to Charles Jencks, the end of modernism and the beginning of postmodernism took place at 3:32 P.M. on July 15, 1972. At that moment the Pruitt-Igoe housing development in St. Louis, a pinnacle of modernist architecture, was blown up. Though a prize-winning exemplar of high technology, modernistic aesthetics, and functional design, the project was so impersonal and depressing, so crime-ridden and impossible to patrol, that it was uninhabitable.
The demolition of the Pruitt-Igloe development is a paradigm for postmodernism. The modern worldview constructs rationally designed systems in which human beings find it impossible to live. This paradigm applies not so much to housing projects as to philosophical systems and ways of life.14
We have already noted that Thomas Oden places the beginning of postmodernism at the fall of Communism in 1989, a neat 200 years after the Fall of Bastille, beginning the French Revolution in 1789. He says, “If modernity is a period characterized by a worldview which is now concluding, then whatever it is that comes next in time can plausibly be called postmodernity. We are pointing not to an ideological program, but rather to a simple succession—what comes next after modernity.”15
1. Truth and error are no longer relevant terms. Truth has only been constructed by what someone wrote. We create our own truth in our own situation.
2. Culture has become the garden for growing truth. Whereas culture used to conform to accepted standards of truth, now truth conforms to accepted group culture.
3. Language must be deconstructed from its oppressive cultural overtones to a non-standard flow of amoral values.
4. Western Civilization, with its Christian culture, must be discarded and Afro-centricity, with its polytheism and paganism must be reaffirmed.
5. History has become unknowable since language is meaningless. The present and the future, both virtual worlds, are the only realities there are.
Whatever time we set for the beginning of postmodernism, it is evident that we are living in a different world than modernism. All around we see the erosion of truth, morality, commitment, accountability and even realism. The arts have come to the point of the ridiculous; television deconstructs historical fact and then reconstructs it in the way we want it to be; music has become nonsensical and violent; science is no longer based on evidence but on fantasy; and worst of all, churches are capitulating to a market-driven mentality that mirrors the “truth is what you want it to be” mentality.
Os Guinness concludes,
Yet vague, slippery, and confusing though the term may be, postmodernism is too important to be discarded casually. For what it gropes to describe is central to the character of our time. ‘Postmodernism,’ whatever it is, is a term reaching out to describe the outline of a vanishing ‘modern,’ whatever it is. Both terms are critical for followers of Christ who seek to act, think, and know the world in which we live.16
The Expressions Of Postmodernism
The Postmodern Culture
If we understand where postmodernism is coming from and where it is going we will begin to see its expressions in every area of our culture. In 1984, the year of Orwell’s prediction, Francis Schaeffer stated, “Finally, we must not forget that the world is on fire. We are not only losing the church, but our entire culture as well. We live in a post-Christian world which is under the judgment of God.”17 Ravi Zacharias, himself Indian born, observed, “What’s happening in the West with the emergence of postmodernism is only what has been in much of Asia for centuries but under different banners.”18 It is the postmodernist himself who wants to convince us that culture is neutral and has no moral connotations. But that is because a non-Christian culture does not believe in morality, at least to the extent that anything we do, think, say or observe has anything to do with right and wrong. Morality is relegated to the spiritual level which can only be highly personal and certainly not judged by our actions. Gene Veith comments, “For all its talk about culture, postmodernism lacks culture since the traditions, beliefs and morals that define culture are all disabled.”19
An Attack On Truth
Perhaps the most identifying mark of postmodernism is its flat denial of the possibility of truth. With its roots in existentialism, postmodernism maintains that truth is created by a social group for its own purposes and then forced on others in order to manipulate and suppress them. Postmodernism’s main objective, therefore, is to “deconstruct” this build up of language and society (i.e. “culture”) and liberate the oppressed from the oppressors. Tim Keller writes, “In this view, all ‘truths’ and ‘facts’ are now in quotation marks. Claims of objective truth are really just a cover-up for a power play. Those who claim to have a story true for all are really just trying to get power for their group over other groups”20
The modernist attack on Christianity was to try and prove that the claims of Christianity were false by verifiable (usually “scientific”) standards. The postmodernist attack is quite different. David Dockery explains:
Postmodernists would critique Christianity by claiming that Christians think they have the only truth. The claims of Christianity are rejected because of the appeal to absolute truth. Absolute truth claims will be dismissed by the postmodernist for being “intolerant” –trying to force one’s beliefs onto other people. Postmodernists have genuinely given up on the idea of absolute truth.21
Of course, the age-old response to such skewed thinking is, “How can you say absolutely that there is no absolute truth?” Postmodernists do not care about the apparent contradiction. The oppressive attitude has been disabled and that is all that matters. A typical statement by a “Repressed Memory Therapist” reveals this agenda, “I don’t care if it’s true. What actually happened is irrelevant to me.”22 One wonders how such “therapy” could ever help anyone.
The Loss of Identity
If modernism proclaimed the death of God, postmodernism proclaims the death of self. As strange as that may sound to the remnants of a modernistic society who were born and bred on rugged individualism and humanism, this must be understood if postmodernism is to be understood.
Gene Veith describes the progression of thinking that leads to this loss.
The postmodern mind-set can have a devastating impact on the human personality. If there are no absolutes, if truth is relative, then there can be no stability, no meaning in life. If reality is socially constructed, then moral guidelines are only masks for oppressive power and individual identity is an illusion.23
The role-models for such culture become the homeless who choose to live on the streets instead of in shelters; the cyberpunks who live inside a computer in a virtual world where they really do not exist; the city gangs where identity is lost and rules of society are discarded; or the grunge kids who (while coming from wealthy enough families to afford nice clothing) wear the uniform of the “group” and lose their individual identity.
Francis Schaeffer describes this phenomenon taking place years ago,
This rather reminds me of young people whom we worked with at Berkeley and other universities, including certain Christian colleges, and those who came to us in large numbers with packs on their backs at L’Abri in the 1960s. They were rebels. They knew they were, for they wore the rebel’s mark—the worn-out blue jeans. But they did not seem to notice that the blue jeans had become the mark of accommodation—that indeed, everyone was in blue jeans.24
As we will see, the postmodern person tears away at every foundation that would give him identity. He would even object to my using “him” in the previous sentence as a preconceived way of oppressing and manipulating women. The genders are therefore removed and another layer of identity is gone from their world.
The Loss Of Centrality
The loss of identity leads to, and goes hand in hand with, the loss of man’s place in the universe. Modernism took God from His place as the center of the universe and replaced Him with man himself. But postmodernism will not allow man to be in that place either. Zacharias notes, “To the secularist, the Bible cannot be the Word of God, for to grant even that theoretical possibility would be an admission of the supernatural. That concession by the postmodern person sold out to a naturalistic view of reality would be tantamount to the surrender of his or her world-view of a voiceless universe.”25 Man is rather seen as existing for no designed reason, floating on “the third rock from the sun,” himself a collection of atoms that has no more right to exist than the rock itself.
As a matter of fact, the rock has more right to exist. Veith, in reviewing Charles Olson’s 1950’s “new non-anthropocentric poetry,” (that man is like any other object in the universe) points out that this loss of centrality in the world has given rise to both environmentalism and political radicalism.26 Animal rights activists continue to insist that animals have as much right, if not more, (because they are void of oppressive agendas) to space on this rock as humans. Political activists work to destroy western capitalism which has been responsible for social manipulation and class warfare.
Os Guinness uses Madonna as an example of
“cultural cannibalism practiced today in the name of postmodernism. . . She is the ultimate spin doctor to her own PR, the consummate orchestrator of her own controlled, ever-changing, ever-commercial images. Call her shameless, call her cheap, call her what you like. There is no limit to what she will say, do, wear, mock, promote, degrade—all to draw attention to herself and sell her soul along with her latest image and product.”27
This type of meaningless, amoral display is characteristic of a person who sees no sense or meaning to the universe. She is merely part of aimless existence. It is all nonsense. That is why a born and bred postmodernist has no standard of conduct except what is expedient. Cal Thomas relates that R.C. Sproul said to him that the president’s view of law “echoes the definition of pornography—the test is contemporary community standards, not a transcendent, objective standard.”28 When there is no center and purpose to the world in which we live, there is no standard reason for any behavior.
The Rise Of Metafiction
Postmodernists and postmodern critics use the prefix “meta” to describe postmodernism’s use of cultural tools. “Metanarratives” are narratives about narratives, or modern man’s ability to write history by building their own ideas on their own previous ideas. Metafiction is the postmodern cultural phenomenon of “image being everything.” Fiction is built upon fiction, image upon image, until no one can tell the real from the unreal which is precisely what postmodern writers and producers want.
Television and theater are the supreme postmodern art forms using Metafiction. Beer commercials begin with a dying man on an island but end with a lively party of dancing girls and cold beer. A movie begins in an Iowa corn field but eventually has the viewer believing that baseball players from long ago can walk from unreality into reality and play ball. Your television screen begins with a serious drama but is interrupted by a pink bunny crossing the screen while the narrator says, “still going.” Michael Jordan actually plays basketball with the Loony Tunes characters while they teach him the advantages of stretch moves impossible in the “people world.” These are sometimes called “magical realism” or “super realism.” In either case, they blur the distinction between real and unreal.
The rise of docudramas carries this trend over into news, history and biography. The film can claim to be based on a real life story but create the details to be what we suppose they might be, or exactly what the audience wants to see. Did Kennedy really have an affair with Marilyn Monroe? The audience wants to believe he did and that is the way the movie portrays it. The fact of the matter may be forever lost in obscurity. The point is, however, that postmoderns don’t care to know beyond the surface. It doesn’t matter to them what really happened. Building fiction upon fiction fits into their worldview much better than fact.
The Postmodern Language
Language is a most important tool to the postmodern person. Reality resides on the surface of things, and language is a surface tool that “spins” the events in a way that will be best suited for the situation. For example:
In chapter 6 of Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll revealed the philosophical acumen of Humpty Dumpty when he wrote,
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be the master—that’s all . . . When I make a word do a lot of work . . . I always pay it extra.”29
To the postmodern, all meaning is socially constructed and must be deconstructed. Hidden in the text is the agenda of the author. This agenda has been forced upon society throughout the modern and pre-modern ages. People today think and act the way they do because of this manipulation of the language by oppressors.
In an interesting book on the comparisons of Nazi fascism to fascism today, Gene Veith writes,
A common theme in postmodernist criticism is “the dissolution of the self”—claiming that the individual is a “fiction,” a creation of bourgeois ideology. Postmodernists “deconstruct the subject” by attempting to show that human consciousness itself is constituted by social forces and structures of power as embodied in language. The self cannot escape the “prison-house of language,” through which the culture encodes itself and determines the very structure of what one is able to think.30
Though postmodernists believe that “the world is a text,” and that all of our cultural norms have been designed for us by oppressors, written language is especially suspect. Your vocabulary has been taught to you by someone else. The meaning of the words you use have been given to those words by societal forces. When you write them down on paper, you are writing current meaning upon previous meaning upon older meaning and thus creating “metanarratives.” Carl Henry notes, “Not only is all meaning held to be subjectively bound up with the knower rather than with text, but words are declared to have still other words as their only referent. Texts are declared to be intrinsically incapable of conveying truth about some objective reality.31 It is the postmodernist’s purpose, therefore, not to read the language for dictionary meanings, but to discover the biases and oppressive purposes of the writer.
The Hermeneutics of Suspicion
Since metanarratives are full of overtures, deconstructing language takes a special purposed hermeneutic. We have heard it so long that we have become too used to it. If the Declaration of Independence declares “all men to be created equal,” it thus excludes women and since Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, it is no doubt a white, European male power play over the rest of society. Since the Bible uses the masculine pronoun in referring to God the Father, the Bible is merely a history of a male-dominated religion that must be rejected if we care anything about women.
Veith adds some more specifics,
Deconstructionists even analyze the metaphors inherent in scientific language. To speak of “natural laws” is to use a political metaphor; scientists who formulate “laws” are attempting to impose human political power on the natural order. Even technical theories, such as the “master molecule theory of DNA functioning,” contain a gender bias (“master” is a male term). When scientists speak of “unveiling the mystery of the ocean” or “penetrating the secrets of nature,” they are using sexual metaphors—undressing and raping the natural order, which is always conceived in feminine terms. The so-called scientific objectivity and all of Western science’s technological achievements are “texts” that mask the male desire to subjugate, exploit, and sexually abuse “Mother Nature.”32
In the words of Roger Lundin, “Words are indeed in the saddle and ride mankind. You pick up the language of contemporary pragmatism, thinking of it as a net to cast across the waters for a great catch; you find, instead, that you get hopelessly entangled in its never-ending web of words.”33
Using Postmodern Literature
Pragmatists such as George Barna merely “go with the flow” of postmodern language and literature. In an article advocating leaving expository preaching for story-telling, Barna says, “Busters are non-linear, comfortable with contradiction, and inclined to view all religions as equally valid. The nice thing about telling stories is that no one can say your story isn’t true.”34 Of course, then neither can anyone say your story is true!
Postmodern evangelical literature has flooded the Christian bookstore shelves. “Christian Fiction” is another way of saying that the story is constructed in a way that the audience will like. Stories about angels and demons abound in the area of “magical realism.” Commenting on Latin American authors, Veith notes, “This style, heavily indebted to the popular spirituality of Latin American Catholicism, can be exhilarating in the hands of a master storyteller such as Marquez. It may well be a method of raising spiritual issues. Its effect, though, is to blur the distinction between truth and fictionality.”35 Albert Mohler comments, “Thus, the ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’ is now fully in this evangelical tent.”36 It may be standing in the pulpit of fundamental churches as well.
Postmodern Art and Architecture
In 1970, Francis Schaeffer wrote, “In art museums throughout the world, the viewers are at the mercy of the artists. People, even children, who go through the art galleries are being manipulated whether they know it or not.”37 The modern art of 1970 can’t compare to the postmodern art of the 90s. If Dante’s seventh circle of Hell is reserved for those who have sinned against art, surely the postmodern artist will find a place there.
During the Middle Ages, most art was “representational” art. The picture itself was the important thing. The artist was concerned that the picture on the canvas represented what he saw with the naked eye. In a fascinating book on art, Veith writes, “At its best, the Middle Ages produced great Christian art, reconciling form and content, integrating artistry and faith.”38 Of Rembrandt’s portrait, Family Group, Veith says, “Rembrandt has drawn a Christian family, not only in its appearance but in its meaning.”39 Such was the purpose of real art.
During the modern period, art became “Impressionistic” and “Abstract.” Rather than the picture being the important thing, the artist became the important thing. In a humanist frame of mind, the artist must find the true art within himself. Art is not what the naked eye sees out there, it is what the artist “feels” inside himself as he expresses his genius on canvas. No longer can the artist be bound to the rules of the natural world, staying within the lines and matching colors. The rules must be broken and the modern artist broke all of them. Schaeffer makes the same case for modern music and literature.40
In 1970, H.R. Rookmaaker, personal friend and consultant of Francis Schaeffer, wrote, “Modern art in its more consistent forms puts a question-mark against all values and principles. Its anarchist aims of achieving complete human freedom turn all laws and norms into frustrating and deadening prison walls; the only way to deal with them is to destroy them.”41 In destroying the walls (“rules”) of the pre-modern era, modern art left man to himself and the coming of postmodernism.
Whereas pre-modern art was representational and modern art was abstract, postmodern art intends to “shock.” Rather than the picture or the artist being important, the audience becomes the important factor. Because the world is a “text” and we create our own reality, the only value of an artist’s work is the reaction created in the audience.
The implication is revealing—the standard of shock replaces the standard of beauty. Concepts such as beauty, order, and meaning are being challenged by the new aesthetic theories in favor of ugliness, randomness, and irrationalism. The purpose is not to give the audience pleasure, but to assault them with a “decentering” experience. Art becomes defined as “whatever an artist does.” As a result, the work of art becomes less important than the artist, a view which encourages posturing, egotism, and self-indulgence instead of artistic excellence.42
In the name of art, we have endured cows being spray-painted so that when they walk about, art is created; King Kong Balloons tied to the Empire State Building; toilets on display in the middle of a stage. The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) once awarded $20,000 for a work called “The Kiss” in which a pathologist sawed a human head in half, turned the two halves facing each other to resemble a kiss. And, of course, it gets worse and more vulgar from here.
“Performance Art” is designed to reduce the human to the lowest level and to strip him of any dignity and design. The more dehumanizing the experience is for the audience, the more successful postmodern art has become. MTV-style productions are intended to be ugly, violent and nonsensical. The technological production is far more important than the music. Rap music is disjointed, animalistic and violent as well. George Will wrote, “There is an abundance of fine art if you declare that fine art is anything that anyone calling himself an artist calls fine art. . . If I call a tail a leg, how many legs has a dog got? Five? No, because calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.”43 And that is what the postmodernist rejects.
The pre-modern age was an age of representation, as we have said. John Stackhouse writes, “Christians throughout history, therefore, have wisely paid attention to the erection of structures that would convey a particular message to the community. Medieval cathedrals spoke eloquently of the devotion of princes, clergy and townspeople to God—and to civic and personal pride.”44 This was not only true of high church traditions but “even Baptists [constructed] church buildings that asserted the moral status of Christianity in an increasingly materialistic culture.”45
Just as modernism changed other areas of art, modern man was typified also by his architecture of steel, glass, skyscrapers, order, industrial looks. America’s cities at this time are a testimony to modernism as sleek, efficient buildings stretch to the sky and overshadow older, more ornate buildings representing an older age. Even Christian structures have used modern architecture to find their place in society. Stackhouse says, “Oral Roberts University and Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral dramatically exemplify a different approach, declaring in their ‘space-age’ architecture of sharp-angled steel, concrete and glass that they are at America’s sophisticated cutting edge.”46
The postmodernist rejects the architecture both of pre-modernism and modernism. He sees both expressions as those of power and oppression. As Schaeffer wrote, “He is the man who, about 1960, gave birth to the happenings, and then beyond this the environments. . . In the happenings you are put as it were within the picture.”47 By our time, Schaeffer has proved to be right. Postmodernists bring man into the building and surround him with facades. Theme Parks are typical places where we are surrounded by something that looks like another time and place, and yet it is untrue, we are not really there. Shopping malls often create a certain theme and invite us to walk within this miniature virtual world for a short time. Even restaurants now must bring us into Mexico to eat Mexican food, or to Italy to eat Italian food. We enjoy the escape and the attention given to detail, but most of all we enjoy playing with the unrealistic situation.
Postmodern architecture also attacks the patron by exposing contradictions. By walking inside a building you are likely to see trees, shrubs, gardens and those things that should be outside. This is a purposed promotion of the environment as the better place to be.
Just as the atrium brings the outside inside, many postmodernist buildings bring the inside outside. Structural framework such as beams and ventilation ducts may appear on the surface for everyone to see. An example is the Pompideau Center in Paris, built in 1977. Support beams, tie rods, and the plumbing appear to be on the outside of the building, painted in bright, garish colors. The inner workings of the building are visible behind a thin skin of transparent glass. An escalator snakes along the exterior of the building. It is as if the building were turned inside out. The effect is unsettling, like looking at a man but seeing only his insides—his lungs, blood vessels, and red guts.48
This is precisely the postmodern point. The world is a contradiction and there is no truth, pattern or law that must be followed. In fact, to follow a pattern is to submit to the manipulation of societal programmers. Therefore, man is brought into a contradictory, confusing world that is designed to destroy old myths.
Interestingly, postmoderns enjoy refurbishing old structures. Many older sections of town are revitalized into efficiently working structures. Old barns, churches, and warehouses are kept intact on the outside and brought up to date on the inside. Of course, the bathrooms and kitchens are not restored but rather are modernized. Eclecticism works well for the postmodern because it shows the randomness of man’s life and the lack of priority for any given ethic.
Churches are having to ask themselves how far they can go to accommodate the postmodern thinkers. Many progressive churches purposely avoid structures that look like traditional churches. Some take surveys of people to see what they want and what they would like if they came inside. This is far removed from the older, pre-modern structures purposely designed in the shape of a cross with its “nave” crossed by its “transept.” When sinners came in, like it or not, they were brought into the “cross” for worship. Windows were often elevated so the worshiper had to look up for light. In the postmodern world of art and architecture, there is no meaning and therefore “form” which implies “meaning” is discouraged.
As believers we know that the church is not the structure. But are we gaining or losing by giving up on good art and architecture? God commanded the tabernacle to be built for “glory” and “beauty” (Exodus 28:2). We ought to strive to have the best of both meaning that honors the truth of God, as well as form that lifts our thoughts to the Creator.
Orwell predicted that by 1984 we would be controlled by computers as a child is controlled by his “Big Brother.” In 1996 a computer called “Big Blue” tried to control world champion chess player, Garry Kasparov. Kasparov said that he was playing to “help defend our dignity.”49 Kasparov may have won the chess match (because he could “think” and the computer could not) but the computer may be winning the war!
Technological wonders such as television, movie theaters, videos and computers have become realities and no state of existence typifies postmodernism better than “virtual reality.” It is a state of being informed but disconnected; of power without the difficulties of confronting others face to face. Leonard Payton wrote of technological wonders that they are “made by people who tend not to know one another for people they do not know at all and will probably never meet.”50 Indeed, to a postmodernist, “all reality is virtual reality.”51 Since our existence has no meaning and we are not connected to history or its values by any binding truths, no one can be quite certain where reality and non-reality start and stop. Francis Schaeffer wrote, “If one has no basis on which to judge, then reality falls apart, fantasy is indistinguishable from reality; there is no value for the human individual, and right and wrong have no meaning.”52 Technology can be a blessing or a curse. In this regard it is becoming a curse.
Neil Postman has called this technological control, “Technopoly–The submission of all forms of cultural life to the sovereignty of technique and technology.”53 Groothuis, in the same vein as Postman, laments the takeover of our society by such a valueless medium, “When information is conveyed through cyberspace, the medium shapes the message, the messenger, and the receiver. It shapes the entire culture.”54 A key ingredient is not only the blurring of the fact with the fiction, but the participation by the computer user in this virtual world. Today, one can actually participate (of course, only virtually) in sporting events, world-wide field trips, and even in virtual eroticism. In such a world, the viewer is at the mercy of a world created by a technician who probably has only your pocket book in his own mind. This sort of “power” wielded over the helpless souls of society hasn’t seemed to alarm postmodern activists.
The End Of Writing
Throughout the pre-modern and the modern eras, the print medium was the standard tool for conveying ideas. God gave us his Bible in print because print is permanent, precise, and is a type of communication that allows one the time and contemplation to grasp its meaning. Sven Birkerts noted, “Print communication requires the active engagement of the reader’s attention, for reading is fundamentally an act of translation . . . The physical arrangements of print are in accord with our traditional sense of history.”55 This “typographical mind” has been the medium that educated us, allowed us communication with God, gave us the great classic literature of the world, and taught the postmoderns to think.
The 20th century, however, has seen the print medium give way to faster, more titillating and easier forms of communication. When Samuel Morse first sent a message by electrical impulse from Washington to Baltimore, the information age was born. Postman says, “The telegraph removed space as an inevitable constraint on the movement of information, and, for the first time, transportation and communication were disengaged from each other.”56 From that point on, information has been removed from its context, and the observer no longer has to be a partaker of the events. Our “real” world is isolated and separated from the “world over there.”
Technology has played into the hands of postmodernism. Virtual reality “deconstructs” the “text” not only of written history but also of life itself. Groothuis writes, “The character of the computer screen, the strange powers of word processing, and the almost ubiquitous Internet tend to reinforce certain postmodernist themes that may undermine Christian sensibilities and a biblical worldview.”57
We all lament the loss of community as our world moves from the rural life of our grandparents to the urban life of our kids. We live inside fences, automobiles, garages with electric openers (and closers), cubed work areas, and many other “cocooning” influences. We are told that the information super highway is our ticket out. But is it? David Wells observes, “Our computers are starting to talk to us while our neighbors are becoming more distant and anonymous.”58 Groothuis says, “The notion of community tends to erode under the conditions of postmodernity. A common social practice called ‘cocooning’ isolates individuals from others by keeping them safe and snug in front of their home entertainment centers and computer screens.”59
Within the computer, on the internet, these individuals who have withdrawn from the real world, are exploring virtual worlds where they can be someone else, do not have to live by anyone’s rules, can experience realms that are otherwise forbidden to them. Chat rooms become excuses for conversation. Of course, none of the rules of face-to-face manners and deportment apply, and one can walk away with anonymity and without consequence. For all of its hype, the “community” created by technology is no community at all.
The Christian Challenge
Believers have always tried to use the medium available to reach the lost world. Whether radio, television or the computer, we have tried to proclaim a message. In the postmodernist’s virtual world of technology, certain obvious cautions must be taken. J. Gresham Machen, in the early fight against Liberalism, reminded us that Christianity must remain based on something that really happened.
“It must certainly be admitted, then, that Christianity does depend upon something that happened; our religion must be abandoned altogether unless at a definite point in history Jesus died as a propitiation for the sins of men. Christianity is certainly dependent upon history.”60
We cannot present Christ and His atoning work as if it were one of many “virtual” options. The postmodernist can “accept” Christianity or reject it without ever considering its “reality.” To him, there would be no contradiction in accepting more than one if not many religions. Today, we hear of many “faiths” any one of which becomes truth for the one accepting it.
The questions of reaching postmodernists with technology are more serious than simple questions of methodology. Postman, a believer who teaches at New York University among a postmodern culture writes,
This is serious business, which is why we learn nothing when educators ask, Will students learn mathematics better by computers than by textbooks? Or when businessmen ask, Through which medium can we sell more products? Or when preachers ask, Can we reach more people through television than through radio? Or when politicians ask, How effective are messages sent through different media? Such questions have an immediate, practical value to those who ask them, but they are diversionary. They direct our attention away from the serious social, intellectual, and institutional crises that new media foster.61
A.W. Tozer, years ago, sounded a similar warning when he saw the beginnings of postmodern thinking in a technological age,
Failure to see this is the cause of a very serious breakdown in modern evangelicalism. . . We now demand glamour and fast flowing dramatic action. A generation of Christians reared among push buttons and automatic machines is impatient of slower and less direct methods of reaching their goals. We have been trying to apply machine-age methods to our relations with God. . . The tragic results of this spirit are all about us.62
If we are to “become all things to all men,” it will take more than keeping up with the postmodern Jones’. It will take asking ourselves how they think about what they see. It will take a willingness on our part to present the gospel as true, regardless of how that disturbs a comfortable, unrealistic, virtual world.
The challenge to Christians living in postmodern times is enormous. If ever we face the danger of the frog in the slowly boiling pot, it is today. Gene Veith warns, “The end of the modern era opens up genuine opportunities for Biblical Christianity. However, instead of squarely facing the postmodern condition, many Christians succumb to the postmodernism plaguing the rest of the culture.”63 The pragmatism of the new age is more accessible than ever before. With people demanding technological marvel, it is easier than ever before for the church to deliver. And the rewards are immediate and congratulatory. But as we look at 20th (and 21st) century Christianity, we must ask ourselves if we are holding our link in the historical chain of our faith. Is our life-changing message still changing lives?
Os Guinness summarizes well,
But perhaps postmodernism’s main challenge to the church is to our central mission as Christians: following Christ and making him Lord in all of life. The church cannot become simply another customer center that offers designer religion and catalogue spirituality to the hoppers and shoppers of the modern world. Followers of Christ are custodians of the faith passed on down the running centuries. Never must we allow anyone outside or inside the church to become cannibals who devour the truth and meaning of this priceless heritage of faith. Letting the church be the church and the gospel be the gospel is integral to letting God be God.64
The Apologetics For Postmodernism
The most important question for any Christian to face is how to reach his own generation. We understand that the only really important question is the eternal question and understanding our culture has always been a key to reaching the culture. Douglas Groothuis wrote, “Our souls reflect our worlds and our worlds reflect our souls. One who aspires to understand the nature of the soul ought, then, to be an auditor of culture.”65 But there have always been disagreements over the appropriate ways to reach each generation in their own culture.
It is easy to ignore the changes in culture and refuse to “become all things to all men” but it is also easy to become what the culture is in order to reach it. Franky Schaeffer, in 1981, lamented the over-reaction by the new Christian left in reaching this new generation:
Today, we still have this kind of utilitarianism. However, to complicate matters there is a new breed of utilitarianism, which has come about largely through those who (often for correct reasons) have rebelled against the materialistic consumer-oriented utilitarian activity for activity’s sake position of the church.
Unfortunately, those who have rebelled have latched on to another nineteenth-century phenomenon and have been infiltrated by it and just as damaged as those they have rebelled against.66
It seems to this author that either extreme is wrong. Nothing is compromised by learning about the culture in which one lives, nor by trying to think like they think. We cannot retreat out of the world to win the world. But while learning about our culture, we must not adopt the philosophy and life-style that is contrary to God. Retreat is wrong and capitulation is wrong, but infiltration with confrontation must be accomplished.
There are four areas in which the Christian must keep the right balance in a postmodern age.
Truth and Reality
The Apostle Paul tells us that we must have “our loins girt about with truth” (Eph 6:14). God’s Word is filled with the importance of standing for truth as a testimony to God in the world. We are to “buy the truth and sell it not” (Prov 23:23), that is, we must give everything we have to get it and once we have it, we must not give it up for any price. The reason for this emphasis on truth in God’s Word is that lying, or being contrary to what is true, is a denial of God’s reality. We are told that God cannot lie (Titus 1:2) and in fact it would be impossible for such a thing to happen (Heb 6:18). God’s very nature is truth and our very ministry is “For the truth’s sake, which dwelleth in us, and shall be with us for ever” (2 John 2). God’s world was a perfectly truthful world until Satan introduced an element that is contrary to God’s nature—a lie (John 8:44). Man’s selfish nature is inclined to agree with the lies of Satan in opposition to the truth of God. This opposition may manifest itself in false claims, actions that are contrary to God’s will, thoughts that arise out of a selfish heart, immoral actions contrary to God’s holy character, breaking the laws of the land or any number of “lies.” The believer simply cannot agree with a lie whether by word or deed. Such a thing is sin for him because it is contrary to God and the way He made the world.
As our study has shown, never in the history of Christianity has truth been more under attack, not just the truthfulness of certain biblical propositions, but the very existence of truth as a possibility. Without the possibility of truth, the postmodern man sees no reality in history or science. Francis Schaeffer, some years ago wrote, “History as history has always presented problems, but as the concept of the possibility of true truth has been lost, the erosion of the line between history and the fantasy the writer wishes to use as history for his own purposes is more and more successful as a tool of manipulation.”67 Believers must not give in to this same manipulation. Ron Mayers points out, “The individual who says he is a Christian, but does not live like a Christian, actually gives the lie to his own testimony. Unfortunately, unbelievers interpret this contradiction as an indication of the absence of truth in the claims of Christianity.”68
In reaching the postmodern whether by words and actions or by worship styles and homiletics, Christians must show the reality of God and His hand in this world by displaying an unswerving loyalty to truth. One recent article lamented, in the onslaught of attacks on truth, that “the church in North America is not answering postmodernists effectively, and we are losing ground so rapidly that many church leaders are ready to join the new postmodern consensus.”69 Such capitulation must never take place.
We must be careful of evangelistic stealth ministries. If we are trying to draw the postmodern into our churches by presenting the things he likes (music, style, language, technology, etc) while at the same time hiding fundamental Christian practices (prayer, communion, baptism, self-denial, piety), it will backfire on us. It is not that the postmodern will be turned off by this. That is the bedrock of his world. There is no absolute truth and all practices are to be individually selected according to each person’s likes and dislikes. In an ironic way, Christian ministries that cater to the postmodern’s likes and dislikes, are actually agreeing that Christianity can be taken or left as each individual (or generation) pleases. These people will stay around as long as it benefits them to do so.
Worship and Immanence
To the postmodern, worship is mere technological symbolism over substance. We have discovered that in his world the symbols are the substance. Groothuis writes, “The image is everything because the essence has become unknown and unknowable.”70 Because he sees reality and truth as being constructed at the moment, worship need not go beyond the worship act. This amounts to worshiping worship. The more “real” the worship service seems, the less a postmodern person needs or wants anything beyond that. Some years ago, Vance Havner quoted Newton D. Baker as saying, “The effect of modern inventions has been to immeasurably increase the difficulty of deliberation and contemplation about large and important issues.”71 I believe it was Hitler who was the first to mesmerize audiences with multi-media presentations which made the individual forget his personal struggles and become caught up in the emotion of the moment.
We must proclaim God as transcendent—but not too transcendent. His ways are not our ways and He is above the limitations of the world. But He is not so far away that we cannot know Him. And we must proclaim God as immanent—but not too immanent. He condescends to men of low estate. But He is not the world itself, nor the music, nor the emotion of a worship service. We are not converted by “getting in touch” with the immanent. C.S. Lewis wrote, “Until a certain spiritual level has been reached, the promise of immortality will always operate as a bribe which vitiates the whole religion and infinitely inflames those very self-regards which religion must cut down and uproot.”72 We must be very careful not to give the sinner what he wants, but rather what he needs. And usually, in the spiritual realm, what a sinner needs is not at all what he wants. Pascal wrote centuries ago, “They imagine that such a conversion consists in a worship of God conducted, as they picture it, like some exchange or conversation.”73
Perhaps no word has grown up in our worship services like the word “community.” Active churches are seeking community among attendees in order to draw them into the “group” and thereby seek a commitment from them. The fellowship of believers cannot be minimized in the New Testament nor in our churches. But understanding the postmodern man, we must be careful how the newcomer sees the group relationship. Francis Schaeffer, a sage of sorts concerning the coming postmodern era, in 1971 warned:
Now we are ready to start talking about the community. I would stress again, however, that a person does not come into relationship with God when he enters the Christian community, whether it is a local church or any other form of community. As I have said, the liberals have gone on to promote other concepts of community. They teach that the only way you can be in relationship to God is when you are in a group. The modern concept is that you enter into community; in this community there is horizontal relationship; in these small I-Thou relationships you can hope that there is a big I-Thou relationship.
This is not the Christian teaching. There is no such thing as a Christian community unless it is made up of individuals who are already Christians through the work of Christ. One can talk about Christian community until one is green, but there will be no Christian community except on the basis of a personal relationship with the personal God through Christ.74
It would be abnormal if Christians did not want to reach the present generation in any way they could. But because we are also of this postmodern age, we must ask the sobering question: Are we changing our worship style because it is what will reach the lost? Or are we changing our worship style because it is what we like? The early church reached the lost by doing what God wanted them to do in order to worship Him.
Culture and Moral Law
We are coming dangerously close to believing that culture is morally neutral. Most definitions, however, will necessarily include some word like “expression” or “achievement” to describe the thing called culture. We ought to remember that the root of culture is “cult.” It is a society, or at least the norms of a society, that have been formulated by the members of that cult. That is why John Leo can decry the absence of truth by saying, “This casualness in popular culture is reinforced by trends in the intellectual world which hold that truth is socially constructed and doesn’t exist in the real world.”75 That is why gangs develop strict codes concerning the clothing they wear, language they use and attitudes they must have, because their cult has necessarily created its own culture. The moral value of such culture is abundantly expressed in the mores developed by the people of that culture.
Culture is the spirit of the age. It can be a healthy spirit expressed by believers, but because it is the expression of human beings, it is usually a sinful spirit. The New Testament combines the word “world” (kosmos) with the word “age” (aion) to give us this picture. We are not to be conformed to the “aion” (Rom 12:2); when we were lost, we walked according to the “aion” of this “world” (Eph 2:2); Demas forsook Paul, having loved “this present aion” or actually, this “now age” (2 Tim 4:10). We walk in this world, the “kosmos,” because we are creatures here, but we do not walk by its spirit, the “aion.” Peter said we should not be “fashioning ourselves” (1 Pet 1:14) to this world by our selfish desires.
Many secular culture-watchers have argued for postmodernism’s affect on the culture in a moral way. Steven Connor, professor of English at Birkbeck College, London University writes, “In popular culture as elsewhere, the postmodern condition is not a set of symptons that are simply present in a body of sociological and textual evidence, but a complex effect of the relationship between social practice and the theory that organizes, interprets and legitimates its forms.”76 Edward O. Wilson writes, “If these premises are correct, it follows that one culture is as good as any other in the expression of truth and morality, each in its own special way.”77
Sadly, it is the churches that have been slow to realize and admit that current culture cannot be adapted and used in any way it chooses. While church leaders have ignored the moral implications of popular culture, other Christian leaders have had to sound the warning. Ravi Zacharias writes, “History is replete with examples of unscrutinized cultural trends that were uncritically accepted yet brought about dramatic changes of national import . . . Cultures have a purpose, and in the whirlwind of possibilities that confront society, reason dictates that we find justification for the way we think and why we think, beyond chance existence.”78 David Wells writes, “Culture, then, is the outward discipline in which inherited meanings and morality, beliefs and ways of behaving are preserved. It is that collectively assumed scheme of understanding that defines both what is normal and what meanings we should attach to public behavior.”79 David Chilton, writing about liberal Christian revolutionaries, says, “Revolution is a religious faith. All men, created in the image of God, are fundamentally religious: all cultural activity is essentially an outgrowth of man’s religious position; for our life and thought are exercised either in obedience to, or rebellion against, God.”80
Though culture is often ignored by unwary believers as having moral significance, the postmodern attaches meaning to almost everything he does as well as to what the church does. Veith reminds us, “Every cultural artifact is thus construed as a ‘text.’ That is, every human creation is analogous to language. To use a postmodernist slogan, ‘The world is a text.’ Governments, worldviews, technologies, histories, scientific theories, social customs, and religions are all essentially linguistic constructs.”81 We were better instructed by Robinson Crusoe, watching the cannibals devour their comrades and saying, “whose barbarous customs, were their own disaster, being in them a token indeed of God’s having left them, with the other nations of that part of the world, to such stupidity and to such inhuman courses.”82 We should be so observant of the spirit of our own age.
Normally we react to the situation which we have observed firsthand, especially if we have grown uncomfortable with obvious inconsistencies. Douglas McLachlan responds to cultural abuses from conservatives:
Fundamentalists have tended to limit the application of Christian truth to personal life styles while failing to see its application to the great cultural issues of our day. There are occasions when we will have to turn our attention away from such things as hem lines and hair lengths (and there is a place for dealing with modesty in both dress and grooming—Paul and Peter did!) and to focus on such issues as encroaching secularism, avaricious materialism, pervasive evolutionism and defiant feminism.83
In the conservative church-growth scene, however, many are sounding alarms against those who see no difficulty in bringing today’s culture into the church. William H. Willimon says, “In leaning over to speak to the modern world, I fear we may have fallen in.”84 John MacArthur writes, “The culture around us has declared war on all standards, and the church is unwittingly following suit. . . . It is, once again, a capitulation to the relativism of an existential culture.”85 Francis Schaeffer wrote, “Furthermore, if we acquiesce, we will no longer be the redeeming salt for our culture—a culture which is committed to the concept that both morals and laws are only a matter of cultural orientation, of statistical averages. . . If our reflex action is always accommodation regardless of the centrality of the truth involved, there is something wrong.”86 Groothuis adds, “It is no coincidence that those churches that most readily incorporate elements of contemporary culture into their worship services are also least likely to appreciate the need to confront and to transform contemporary culture according to biblical truth.”87
William Bennett, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities and Secretary of Education, as well as the author of many books dealing with culture, writes, “My worry is that people are not unsettled enough; I don’t think we are angry enough. We have become inured to the cultural rot that is settling in. Like Paulina, we are getting used to it, even though it is not a good thing to get used to.”88 Perhaps we have lost our zeal for God and gained a zeal for the success that cultural relationships brings.
In 1941, Vance Havner wrote these timely words:
There was Demas, who forsook Paul, having loved this present world. Doubtless he had started out in dead earnest, maybe with plenty of fire, but the pull of the old life and the charm of the world were too much for him. Think not, however, of Demas merely as the sort lured away today by dances and movies. Certainly all that belongs to this present world, but we are in danger of restricting “worldliness” to a few pet evils, forgetting that what is in mind here is the age in which Demas lived. The spirit of the times got him, and he got into the tempo of it, was carried away with the surge of it.89
Repentance and Faith
A.W. Tozer wrote, “To the question, ‘What must I do to be saved?’ we must learn the correct answer. To fail here is not to gamble with our souls; it is to guarantee eternal banishment from the face of God. Here we must be right or be finally lost.”90 This must be our bottom line with the postmodern man. Here we cannot be content to have learned what it takes to gather people together week after week, to have been culturally savvy enough to attract attention, or to have been well-liked and accepted by our generation. The postmodern man can follow every demand we make of him, even pray whatever we ask him to pray, and in his mind simply be adding Christianity to the file of other practical self-helps.
If we are truly interested in being “culturally relevant” in the most important thing, we will study our generation to find out how we can bring them to repentance and faith. If all we are doing is winning their approval we have failed. It is not success for a Christian simply to “build a church” or “gather a crowd.” Years ago J. Gresham Machen wrote:
Faith is being exalted so high today that men are being satisfied with any kind of faith, just so it is faith. It makes no difference what is believed, we are told, just so the blessed attitude of faith is there. The undogmatic faith, it is said, is better than the dogmatic, because it is purer faith—faith less weakened by the alloy of knowledge.91
The postmodernist may be the easiest sinner to invite to faith that we have seen in two hundred years! The problem will be whether we can know if that faith is the biblical faith of the New Testament.
To begin with, we must remember that the postmodern man doesn’t regard history as having actually taken place. As Craig says, “Indeed, it is not clear whether there really is such a thing as the past on a thoroughgoing post-modernist view.”92 Or as Benjamin Woolley writes, “Artificial reality is the authentic postmodern condition, and virtual reality its definitive technological expression . . . . The artificial is the authentic.”93 This is why we are evangelizing on thin ice when we turn our church services into technological playlands for the postmodern’s sake, and then ask him to respond to a real, historical message. It is existentialism, not Christianity, that talks much about faith but admits we cannot know the historical facts behind the faith.
Connor, in a chapter on postmodern performance, argues that the medium is what is real to a postmodernist, and the message behind the medium has no urgency or reality after the medium is finished. He writes:
Sound and image are simultaneous with the ‘real’ music that is being performed (although, of course, in the case of most contemporary music the ‘original’ sound is usually itself only an amplified derivation from an initiating signal), even if it remains obvious that what is most real about the event is precisely the fact that it is being projected as mass experience . . . . In the case of the ‘live’ performance, the desire for originality is a secondary effect of various forms of reproduction. The intense ‘reality’ of the performance is not something that lies behind the particulars of the setting, the technology and the audience; its reality consists in all of that apparatus of representation.94
The critical point for the presentation of Christianity is that the message of salvation must be believed as historically true regardless of the quality of the medium. If Adam and Eve did not live, then perhaps we have no real sin for which to repent. If Jesus Christ did not live, die and resurrect as the Bible says, then there is no Christian message. Of all the world’s religion, Christianity is the only one that depends solely on a historical miracle being a fact! Machen wrote, “Salvation does depend upon what happened long ago, but the event of long ago has effects that continue until today.”95 The postmodern man is in a precarious position of denying, or at least doubting, everything in the past and yet still claiming to have faith. He tells the Christian to “get real” but has bought into the notion (i.e. “Minimalism”) that nothing is real outside of his own mind.
For this man, everything is a “text” which tells him the usability of what he is seeing. To dress like him, talk like him, play his music and recreate his world inside the church (or even inside the individual Christian life), may well be telling him that the church’s message is no more “real” than his own, individualized message. This doesn’t mean he won’t like it or commit to it: it means that he never buys it as really real.
In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul was concerned that when lost people came in the church, they might see the same kind of emotional displays that they saw in their pagan temples and simply add their Christian experience to their pagan experiences. “But,” he writes, “if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: and thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth” (1 Cor 14:24-25). We ought to be concerned when the postmodern man comes into our services and is as comfortable there as he is in his own world.
John Knox wrote, “The man, I say, that understands and knows his own corrupt nature and God’s severe judgment, most gladly will receive the free redemption offered by Christ Jesus, which is the only victory that overthrows Satan and his power.”96 We have to trust the power of the gospel message and the work of the Holy Spirit enough to believe that when a man is uncomfortable and feels out of place in church, though he may be far from his world, he is close to the kingdom of God. This is the path of conviction down which everyone must come if he is to come to Christ. Yet, to feel uncomfortable is the epitome of wrong for the postmodern man. Truth does not matter, but protecting one’s space matters most. The gospel appeal, therefore, is a delicate moment for the postmodernist.
When Machen wrote in 1923, he was writing to the modern man and his social and liberal tendencies. This excerpt, however, may still be exactly our problem reaching the postmodern man.
The fundamental fault of the modern Church is that she is busily engaged in an absolutely impossible task—she is busily engaged in calling the righteous to repentance. Modern preachers are trying to bring men into the Church without requiring them to relinquish their pride; they are trying to help men avoid the conviction of sin. The preacher gets up into the pulpit, opens the Bible, and addresses the congregation somewhat as follows: ‘You people are very good,’ he says; ‘you respond to every appeal that looks toward the welfare of the community. Now we have in the Bible—especially in the life of Jesus—something so good that we believe it is good enough even for you good people.’ Such is modern preaching. But it is entirely futile. Even our Lord did not call the righteous to repentance, and probably we shall be no more successful than He.97
We must not find ourselves agreeing with the postmodern man. Our stewardship is to preach the wonderful grace of God through the gospel of Jesus Christ. No generation has been promised that such a task would be easy or popular. But the call to ministry is a call to the proclamation of truth and to believe that what God asks us to give is exactly what our generation needs.
We are all asked to “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15). It may be easier to recognize error than to find a way to combat it. The churches of Jesus Christ must search the Scriptures for truth and then give it out without violating sacred principles. There will always be room for variation as we take the gospel to the people where we live. The concern in this section has been that we do not think we are reaching the postmodern man just because we attract him. The success syndrome may be harder to fight with this generation than ever before simply because this generation can and will follow anything with little or no real commitment. There must be a telling reason why our churches are as large and active as any time in recent history and yet the commitment levels of those making professions of faith are so low.
When we stand before Christ we will be asked to give account of “how” we built on the foundation, not “how much.” Our stewardship is to proclaim what our King has given us to proclaim. It is an awesome task and sometimes we feel inadequate. But the rewards for faithful service will be worth it all.
The apologist, C.S. Lewis, once finished an argument this way.
One last word. I have found that nothing is more dangerous to one’s own faith than the work of an apologist. No doctrine of that Faith seems to me so spectral, so unreal as one that I have just successfully defended in a public debate. For a moment, you see, it has seemed to rest on oneself: as a result, when you go away from that debate, it seems no stronger than that weak pillar. That is why we apologists take our lives in our hands and can be saved only by falling back continually from the web of our own arguments, as from our intellectual counters, into the Reality—from Christian apologetics into Christ Himself. That also is why we need one another’s continual help—oremus pro invice
 Gene Edward Veith, Jr. Postmodern Times (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1994), 29.
 Thomas Oden, “The Death Of Modernity” The Challenge of Postmodernism (Wheaton: BridgePoint Books, 1995), 20.
 Veith, Postmodern Times, 27.
 Carl F.H. Henry, The Challenge of Postmodernism (Wheaton: BridgePoint Books, 1995), 34.
 Veith, Postmodern Times, 35.
 H.R. Rookmaaker, Modern Art and the Death of a Culture (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1994), 170.
 Francis Schaeffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1992), 49.
 Veith, Postmodern Times, 38.
 Toynbee, A Study Of History, Quoted by Veith, Postmodern Times, 44.
 John Silber, “Will Our Media Moguls Do The Right Thing?”, AFA Journal, September 1995, 16.
 C.S. Lewis, The Abolition Of Man (New York: MacMillan Pub. Co., 1955), 34-35.
 Veith, Postmodern Times, 39.
 Oden, “The Death Of Modernity,” The Challenge Of Postmodernism, 25.
 Os Guinness, Fit Bodies, Fat Minds (Grand Rapids: Baker Book, 1994), 102.
 Francis Schaeffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster, 90.
 Interview with Ravi Zacharias, “Reaching the Happy Thinking Pagan: How Can We Present the Christian Message to Postmodern People?” Leadership Magazine, Spring 1995, 23.
 Veith, Postmodern Times, 86.
 Tim Keller, “Preaching Morality in an Amoral Age” Christianity Today, Inc./Leadership Journal, copyright 1996. Downloaded from AOL, 1/24/96.
 David Dockery, “Preface” The Challenge of Postmodernism, 14.
 Quoted by John Leo, “True Lies vs. Total Recall” U.S. News & World Report, August 7, 1995.
 Gene Veith, Postmodern Times, 72.
 Francis Schaeffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster, 98-99.
 Ravi Zacharias, Deliver Us From Evil (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1996), 53.
 Gene Veith, Postmodern Times, 74.
 Os Guinness, Fit Bodies, Fat Minds, 102-103.
 Cal Thomas, “The Gospel According to Bill Should Not Fool Anyone” Ft. Collins Coloradoan, nd.
 John Ankerberg & John Weldon, Protestants & Catholics: Do They Now Agree? (Eugene: Harvest House, 1995), 113.
 Gene Edward Veith, Jr., Modern Fascism (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1993), 37.
 Carl F.H. Henry, “Postmodernism: The New Spectre?” The Challenge Of Postmodernism, 36.
 Gene Veith, Postmodern Times, 56.
 Roger Lundin, “The Pragmatics of Postmodernism” Christian Apologetics in the Postmodern World Phillip, TimothyR. And Okholm, Dennis L., Ed. (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1995), 32.
 Quoted by Steve Rabey, “This Is Not Your Boomer’s Generation” Leadership, Fall 1996, 17.
 Gene Veith, Postmodern Times, 132.
 Albert Mohler, “Evangelical: What’s in a Name?” The Coming Evangelical Crisis, John H. Armstrong, Ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1996), 38.
 Francis Schaeffer, The Church At The End Of The 20th Century (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1994), 91.
 Gene Edward Veith, Jr. State Of The Arts (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1991), 54.
 In Schaeffer’s book, The God Who Is There, he shows how all of the “fine arts” drop below “the line of despair.” Just as modern art broke all of the rules of representation on canvass, modern music broke all of the rules of structure and composition. This was modern man expressing himself as the highest form of evolution, not able to be bound by any laws.
 H.R. Rookmaaker, 161.
 Veith, The State Of The Arts, 21.
 George Will, “The Shocking Bourgeoisie” The Morning After (New York: MacMillan, 1986), 55.
 John G. Stackhouse, Jr., “From Architecture To Argument,” Christian Apologetics in a Postmodern World, 40.
 Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1968), 35.
 Gene Veith, Postmodern Times, 117.
 Quoted by Robert Wright, “Can Machines Think?” Time Magazine, March 25, 1996.
 Leonard Payton, “How Shall We Then Sing,” The Coming Evangelical Crisis, 198.
 Gene Veith, Postmodern Times, 61.
 Francis Schaeffer, The Church At The End Of The Twentieth Century (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1994), 50.
 Neil Postman, Technopoly (New York: Vintage Books, 1992), 52.
 Douglas Groothuis, The Soul In Cyberspace (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1997), 53.
 Quoted by Douglas Groothuis, Ibid., 54.
 Neil Postman, Technopoly, 67.
 Groothuis, The Soul In Cyberspace, 65.
 Quoted by Groothuis, Ibid., 125.
 J. Gresham Machen, Christianity And Liberalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 121.
 Neil Postman, Technopoly, 18-19.
 A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit Of God (Harrisburg: Christian Publications, 1958), 69.
 Gene Veith, Postmodern Times, 209.
 Os Guinness, Fit Bodies, Fat Minds, 110.
 Douglas Groothuis, The Soul In CyberSpace, 23.
 Franky Schaeffer, Addicted To Mediocrity (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1993), 69.
 Francis Schaeffer, The Church At The End Of The Twentieth Century, 89.
 Ron Mayers, Balanced Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1984), 58.
 Jim Leffel and Dennis McCallum, “The Postmodern Challenge: facing the spirit of the age,” Christian Research Journal, Fall 1996, 35.
 Groothuis, The Soul in Cyberspace, 16.
 Quoted by Vance Havner, Rest Awhile (New York: Revell, 1941), 11.
 C.S. Lewis, God In The Dock (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 130.
 Blaise Pascal, Pensees (New York: Penquin, 1966) 27/378, 137.
 Francis Schaeffer, The Church At The End Of The Twentieth Century, 54-55.
 John Leo, “This column is mostly true,” U.S. News & World Report, December 16, 1996, 17.
 Steven Connor, Postmodernist Culture (Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers, 1997) 205.
 Edward O. Wilson, “Back From Chaos,” The Atlantic Monthly, March, 1998, 58.
 Ravi Zacharias, Deliver Us From Evil, 17.
 Quoted by David Doran, “Market-Driven Ministry: Blessing or Curse?” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal, Fall 1996, 212.
 David Chilton, Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulators (Tyler: ICE, 1985) 3.
 Veith, Postmodern Times, 52.
 Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe (Chicago: Moody) 209.
 Douglas McLachlan, Reclaiming Authentic Fundamentalism (Independence, MO: AACS, 1993) 18.
 William H. Willimon, “This Culture Is Overrated” Christianity Today, May 19, 1997, 27.
 John MacArthur, Reckless Faith (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1994), 45.
 Francis Schaeffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster, 64.
 Douglas Groothuis, Christianity That Counts (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 81.
 William Bennett, “Redeeming Our Time,” Imprimis, Hillsdale College, November 1995, 3.
 Vance Havner, Rest Awhile (New York: Revell, 1941), 46.
 A.W. Tozer, The Best Of A.W. Tozer (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991), 100.
 J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Eerdman’s, 1977), 141.
 William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, 167.
 Quoted by Douglas Groothuis, The Soul In CyberSpace, 27.
 John Knox, “On the First Temptation of Christ,” Orations, Mayo Hazeltine, Ed., 1349.