Religious Postmodern Talking Points
by Rick Shrader
In the last few years we have been inundated with information from within political circles that has been crafted by certain individuals but is intended to be heard by the general public. Sometimes this is a “trial balloon” of information, floated in public conversation to evaluate its effect. Often it is a specific piece of information which is intended to feed the public only as much as the operatives want it to know. As time goes by, these “talking points” become generally accepted information and begin to shape the way people think. Our postmodern culture is adept at the verbal symbolism even over factual substance.
As believers, we are part of this postmodern culture but we utilize our own unique vocabulary in constructing our own verbal symbolisms. As time goes by, these “Religious” talking points become as accepted as gospel within religious circles. Within a few minutes one can list dozens of phrases and wordings that began for some individual’s unique purpose but have now become household terminology. I cut my list down to a dozen and categorized them into three groups.
Contemporary Talking Points
“I’m sorry if I offended you.” We hear this every day from Christians and non-Christians alike. Janet Jackson used this phrase as her excuse for her indecent performance at the Super Bowl halftime. What has become obvious about those using this line is that they are making no admission that what they did was wrong. Rather than taking blame and apologizing, they are actually placing the blame on the offended ones. “If they weren’t so morally weak, shallow people, they wouldn’t have been offended. Who are they to judge me, anyway.”
Ronald Nash described similar people by writing, “Such people seldom try to argue that there is nothing wrong with cheating or stealing or lying. Such people attempt rather to find some way of showing that what they did doesn’t violate the principle or at least is a justifiable exception to the moral standard.”1 This has become a mantra for believers who are intent on doing what they want but wish to characterize those who object as weak brethren.
“If you have a problem with it, you shouldn’t do it.” This is Christian relativism. I have heard this used more than once as an answer to those who have changed their mind about a questionable practice and have left it. When some musicians have left the CCM movement due to its worldliness and have gone back to a more conservative approach to church music, this has become the response of their critics. I think this is akin to Hollywood’s rating system where what is wrong for one age group is not wrong for another. Romans 14:22-23 concerns truly neutral issues such as which meat to eat or whether to work on Saturday. Paul has more direct language for culturally moral issues (e.g. Rom 12:1-2).
Wendy Shalit, in a speech at Hillsdale College said, ”When I talk to college students, invariably one will say, ‘Well, if you want to be modest, be modest. If you want to be promiscuous, be promiscuous. We all have a choice, and that’s the wonderful thing about this society.’ But the culture, I tell them, can’t be neutral. Nor is it subtle in its influence on behavior.”2
“You can only help those in sin if you have been there yourself.” Of course, this would eliminate Jesus as being the “Counselor.” The truth is, when a person falls into a sin, he/she has stopped learning anything about the sin at that point. From then on he/she is only a captive of it. The person who knows the most about how to help is the person who has resisted to a deeper level and has successfully overcome the temptation. The real danger in this thought is that it encourages Christians to sin so that they may be good counselors.
In reading Oswald Chambers’ devotional book this last year I read, “The saint who satisfies the heart of Jesus will make other saints strong and mature for God. The people who do us good are never those who sympathize with us, they always hinder, because sympathy enervates. No one understands a saint but the saint who is nearest to the Saviour.”3 “Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water; but a man of understanding will draw it out” (Prov 20:5).
“We have to reach people on their own level.” Besides this being rather insulting to a thinking lost person, what does it say about the power of the Holy Spirit? Where exactly is it that we ought to depart from living or thinking one way (in which we are convinced biblically we should live or think) in order to reach the sinner? Do we know more than the Scripture? Are we more useful to the Holy Spirit now that we have changed into this “relevant” Christian? This cannot be more effective in evangelism. Paul’s prayer for Philemon was “That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus” (Phile 6). The cults, not Christians, use stealth tactics.
In 1 Corinthians 9:22, Paul’s determination to be “all things to all men that I might by all means save some,” is the conclusion to his explanation not to take wages from the churches but rather to work with his own hands. This is a willful humbling of oneself in order to be effective with people, not a willful violating of conscience or biblical principle.
Francis Schaeffer was sometimes perceived to accommodate the culture. But in describing the downfall of the Church he wrote, “It is my firm belief that when we stand before Jesus Christ, we will find that it has been the weakness and accommodation of the evangelical group on the issues of the day that has been largely responsible for the loss of the Christian ethos which has taken place in the area of culture in our own country over the last forty to sixty years.”4
Philosophic Talking Points
“We must continue to change if we are to stay relevant.” This philosophy proposes that we can live in a constant state of change to be relevant to a culture that is constantly changing. But this is like trying to say that there is no such thing as absolute truth. The great postmodern dilemma is to try to make a definite statement about the belief that nothing can be definite. This religious postmodern talking point is also caught on the horns of an opposite dilemma. How can we adopt a state of constant change in order to convince people that there is a definite set of Christian beliefs?
When we need to make a statement in support of change, however, we become much like C.S. Lewis’ observation, “When changes in the human mind produce a sufficient disrelish of the old Model and a sufficient hankering for some new one, phenomena to support that new one will obediently turn up. I do not at all mean that these new phenomena are illusory. Nature has all sorts of phenomena in stock and can suit many different tastes.”5
“We cannot force our values on anyone.” Why not? We do it all the time beginning with our children and going right through the university. Now if we mean that we cannot force a mind to believe what it has determined not to believe, this may be true. But we do not hear it in that fashion. What is usually meant is that we cannot put someone in a forced situation and have them learn or become convinced of anything (Of course, not everyone who needs to be forced, needs to be convinced, as in traffic laws, but the human nature does not want to learn many things which it needs to learn). The amount of force used in learning depends on the ability of the learner and the urgency of the truth to be learned. Teaching children not to play in fire requires different force than teaching adults to like okra. When it comes to moral truths, if they exist at all, by their nature they force themselves on us all. Exam day will not accept personal excuses.
“Culture is morally neutral.” In trying to find a way to use all of the world’s cultural expressions as our own we often hear it put in this fashion. It is especially applied to the arts. Rick Warren has repeatedly said that there is no such thing as Christian music, only Christian lyrics. He even says that God invented music.6 But the fact is that God created material from which fallen man has invented his music. All that culture is, after all, is the product of what fallen man does. He can do some things well on the outside, but always with a self-centered bent on the inside. As many have noticed, culture is actually the incarnation of our religion, the outworking of what we believe.7 This is no where as true (perhaps highlighted to a greater degree) as in music. Music is an emotional art that cannot be detached from the soul of the inventor. It is only as morally neutral as a man’s soul is morally neutral.
“You have been inconsistent too.” We heard this from the oval office when immorality was defended by pointing out that famous men in history had probably done the same thing. This is a kind of “lowest moral appeal” argument. When one’s fault is exposed, he quickly turns the table on the questioner and points out equal inconsistencies. Such a person has no intention of changing his actions, rather, he wants everyone to be free to do as they please. Allan Bloom wrote, “The fact that there have been different opinions about good and bad in different times and places in no way proves that none is superior to others . . . On the face of it, the difference of opinion would seem to raise the question as to which is true or right than to banish it. The natural reaction is to try to resolve the difference, to examine the claims and reasons for each opinion.”8
Theological Talking Points
“You can’t please God by keeping rules.” The explanation sometimes sounds like a new form of sinless perfection. “Since all of our sins are forgiven, past, present and future, we should never feel under obligation to strive in overcoming sin.” This is mixing justification with sanctification. Just because, in justification, we cannot do good works to gain salvation doesn’t mean, in sanctification, God doesn’t ask us to do good works. Some people only mean by this, rules that men impose that are extra-biblical. But biblical admonitions are rules as well. And so is our valid application of biblical principles to all areas of our lives. In fact, all morality is obedience to God’s moral laws and in effect is rule-keeping. The obligation to follow such moral laws is right, regardless of how they may or may not be enforced.
“God accepts you just as you are.” This is somewhat like the previous point in that it mixes our standing in Christ with our personal walk with Christ. But there is more here. God cannot accept a sinner as he is. Though we come “Just as I am without one plea,” we must come because we realize (through the repentance process) that we must change or be lost. That is why the sinner must have his sins forgiven through Jesus Christ, that is, he must change if God is going to accept him. Similarly, once a person becomes a believer, he starts on a road of progressive sanctification where he is continually being conformed to the image of His Son. God is not pleased with the Christian who doesn’t grow and progress in his/her Christian walk. Thank God He doesn’t accept us as we are until we get to heaven where, “we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn 3:3).
“You can’t give me chapter and verse.” This also follows in the same vein as the previous two. It sounds good to say that everything we are obligated to do must be found in so many words in the Bible. But some use this as a justification of sin and a refusal to make biblical application. How are we supposed to take a statement like, “lay apart all filthiness” (Jas 1:21)? Does that only apply to things we can find specifically described in the Bible, or does it also apply to whatever is filthy in our life? Is taking God’s name in vain only true of those expressions we find in the Bible? This seems to be a sort of biblical minimalism where we apply the Bible downward to its smallest possible import rather than applying it upward to every area of our lives.
“Who are you to judge what I do?” Often the talking points are borrowed from the very words of Scripture but the real meaning is replaced by subjective meaning. Though the Bible commands us not to judge motives (James 4:11; Rom 14:3), it commands us to judge actions (1 Cor 5:12-13; Gal 4:30). People use this today to mean that we can’t voice any disagreement with what they do. In a postmodern mind, disagreement is a form of hate. It sees the one disagreeing as being arrogant and condescending, which of course is a dodge to avoid having to answer for one’s actions. We are in desperate straits if we cannot discuss the merits of our actions.
Os Guinness wrote, “Ours is a world in which ‘Thou shalt not judge’ has been elevated to the status of a new eleventh commandment. Many people today consider judging evil to be worse than doing evil. But whatever the antipathy toward ‘judgmentalism,’ there are times when the widely acclaimed attitudes of relativism, tolerance, and nonjudgmental acceptance just won’t do.”9
Therefore . . .
We ought to apply the Bible to all areas of life, and to see those valid applications as God’s will. Francis Schaeffer wrote some years ago, “You can carry out your intellectual discussion to the end of the game, because Christianity is not only true to the dogmas, it is not only true to what God has said in the Bible, but it is also true to what is there, and you will never fall off the end of the world.”10
Notes: 1. Ronald Nash, Faith and Reason (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988) 158. 2. Wendy Shalit, “Modesty Revisited,” Imprimis, March, 2001. 3. Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1935) 223. 4. Francis Schaeffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1992) 37. 5. C.S. Lewis, The Discarded Image (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998) 221. 6. See for example, Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002) 65. 7. See for example, T.S. Eliot, Christianity and Culture (New York: A Harvest Book, 1949) 101. Also see Ravi Zacharias, Deliver Us From Evil (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1996) 82. See also the above quote by Wendy Shalit. 8. Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987) 39. 9. Os Guinness, The Long Journey Home (New York: Doubleday, 2001) 56. 10. Francis Schaeffer, He Is There And He Is Not Silent (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1972) 17.