The Truth About Truth: Part 3 – The Christian’s Response to Postmodernism

If a Christian or church embraces every aspect of multi-culturalism, including its rejection of objective truth, they can become nearly indistinguishable from the postmodern world.

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What is the correct response to the postmodern movement for the Christian? In particular, there are two responses that are often proposed in view of postmodernism, both of which have been seen through the impacts upon the church. These responses are multi-culturalism and counter-culteralism, or in other words immersion and rejection. Multi-culturalism is a natural progression from the postmodern philosophy, in that it celebrates unity in diversity. All cultures, beliefs, and values are accepted and encouraged by the multi-culturalist. A Christian missionary would therefore be a threat to a multi-culturalist who sees the Christian “robbing” the Hindu man of his culture through attempts to convert him.

Multi-culturalism is different than multi-racial therefore, seeing as two people of different races can grow up in the same culture. So the question is asked if the church should learn to integrate and merely accept the beliefs and teachings of all cultures? This has been the approach of the United Church of Christ, though in doing so have needed to overlook and reject biblical truths that conflict with cultural practices they accept. To be clear, the claim that American culture is the “correct” Christian culture is absolutely false. Gluttany, materialism, and rampant fornication which are all a part of American culture must be rejected along with other religions or cultural practices that stand in contradiction to Christ. By not doing so, a church can become immersed in the postmodern culture of the day, leading to multi-culturalism (which sadly in some cases is the desired outcome).

One way crosswalk with hand

Perhaps the answer is not in immersion but in rejecting culture and becoming counter-cultural. The one who rejects culture views the culture around them as evil, leading to withdrawl and isolation like that of a monk. As the world continues to fall apart and moraly decline, those who love truth and respond counter-culturally would escape from the world and live in safe isolation. This is similar to the response of churches that chose to divide and stay divided, avoiding other churches they believe to be erring. After all, isnt the Christian supposed to be separate from the world, and not love the world? Should we therefore respond counter-culturally so as to remain pure to the Word of Truth?

I believe the answer is that we must allow Christ to define our culture first, making us in a way “cross” cultural (that is refering to the cross of Jesus). There are ways in which we are to be multi-cultural and also counter-cultural, and ways in which we should not. What is important to remember is this, “Man’s relationship to God procedes and proscribes all other relationships. In this sense true religion is prior to culture, not simply a part of it.”[1] In other words, the culture we live in does not define us, but we are defined by Christ. Having our identity found in Christ, we live “cross” cultural lives. That is to say, we allow Christ through his Word to be the standard for what we practice within our culture, and how we respond to cultural philosophies like postmodernism. For example, let us return to a multi-cultural response to postmodernism. If I accept all beliefs and values as equally authentic and valid, not posessing objective truth, then that response does not align with that of the Lord and will destroy the church.

“These Christians, sensing the need for radical identification with human culture, fail to maintain the radical difference so important to the rejectionist. As a result, they become essentially indistinguishable from the world. Their salt loses its saltiness and effective evangelism ceases. They have an audience but no message. These believers succomb to the world’s pressures, allowing it to push them into its mold.”[2]

If a Christian or church embraces every aspect of multi-culturalism, including its rejection of objective truth, they can become nearly indistinguishable from the postmodern world. This is in direct contrast to Christ’s words recorded by Peter who says, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; beause it is written, ‘You shall be Holy, For I Am Holy.’” As Christians, we are to be set apart and holy before God, making us clearly distinguishable from the postmodern world and its pursuit for selfish lusts. If Christians cannot attain this level of separation, then it will lead us to be unfruitful and lead others away from the truth. “The fact that most of our non-Christian neighbors cannot pick us out from the rest of their non-Christian neighbors – or if they can what makes us pick-outable are matters relatively incidental to the gospel – suggests that they are right in refusing to accept what we say we believe but which our lives make a lie.”[3] Far too often as Christians what we say and what we do are not the same. This is called cognitive dissonance, because there is a disconnect between what one claims to believe and what one does. Living like there is no objective truth yet claiming to still believe in truth makes one a practical postmodernist. The only thing that separates the Christian from the postmodernist in this case is what they say.

Because we are to be “cross” cultural in our response, there are ways in which multi-culturalism and “cross” culturalism do align, though not in every way. For example, Paul celebrates unity in diversity within the church in 1 Corinthians 12. The church is made of many different members that all make up one body, and without that diversity the work of the church could not be a body. Some are teachers, some are evangelists, some are encouragers, etc. The “foot” cannot do the job of the “hand,” nor can the “hand” do the job of the “eye.” There is then a great need for diversity, yet in that diversity there must be unity in Christ. One cannot bring their culture’s religion and bind it upon the church to be accepted, but they can bring their heart to Christ who adds them to his body. Therefore, the ways in which multi-culturalism is promoted in the biblical text is through no distinction of race, gender, or status in Christ. Hesselgrave puts it this way, “The New Testament recognizes that certain tensions arising from social differences will exist as long as the church is in the world. Social distinctions which are a major part of human intercourse cannot be erased. But neither are they to be determinative of who will hear the Good News of Christ and how believers will be reveived into the fellowship of the church.”[4] There is room for everyone in the kingdom of God, and in this fashion being “cross” cultural overlaps with being multi-cultural. Yet in that, all who come to Christ from any place and any culture must know that there is only one God, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one body, and one Spirit (Ephesians 4). All who come to Christ in a sense abandon their culture to take on “cross” culture, making Christ their new identity and standard for response to culture.

To the same extent, being “cross” cultural means there are many ways in which we should be and not be counter-cultural to a postmodern world. To begin, we are called to be counter-cultural in the sense that we are not to be like the world in word, tought or deed. Paul writes to the Romans in Romans 12:2, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” To be conformed to the world would be to embrace postmodernism as many churches have, throwing away the standard of the biblical text and allowing their own desires to determine truth. This is not how those who opperate “cross” culturally should act. Rather, transforming our minds, our lives can be a testimony to the postmodern world to what truth really looks like – proving God’s perfect will.

Living “cross” culturally denies one aspect of being counter-cultural, and that is in the desire to withdrawl and remove oneself from the sinful and moraly depraved world. To the Christian that is sick and tired of the postmodern push, a desire to not have anything to do with the world is common. Furthermore, bitterness could take root and move the Christian to no longer have a heart of compassion for the world, but only that of hatred. Christ’s prayer in John 17 bring out a truth that “cross” cultural people ought to follow however. “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world,” (John 17:15-16). Christ makes a distinction when he prays that we not be taken out of the world, but delivered from its evil.  We are in the world, but not of the world. It is impossible to escape this life, though many counter-cultural people have tried before through isolation and withdrawl. However withdrawl is not what Christ wants for the Christian. In fact, we have a responsibility to minister to the world, just as Jesus was a “friend to sinners.” Christ goes on to pray that God would sanctify us in truth, and it is his word which is truth. Though the phrase is cliché, “You may be the only Bible someone ever reads,” is entirely applicable in this context. In a world that no longer believes in truth, it is the job of the Christian to not only speak the truth but live the truth he has been sanctified in. In doing so, Paul says that we are to, “Not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them,” (Ephesians 5:11). It is hard to expose darkness and be light when we hide our light by withdrawl and isolation. Living “cross” culturally then is to like counter-culturalism in denying the evil fleshly ways of the world, but unlike counter-culturalism not hide the light of truth our lives are meant to be. The great comission stated to go into all the world, making disciples among nations; not to slink back and live in isolation. “The proper response of the Christian to religious diversity is not merely to garner the elements of truth from the world’s religions but, far more important, to share with their adherents, in a spirit of love, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”[5]

[1] Hesselgrave, David J. Communicating Christ Cross-Culturally. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978. 80.
[2] Aldrich, Lifestyle Evangelism 59.
[3] Phillips and Okholm, Christian Apologetics 166-167.
[4] Hesselgrave, David J. Planting Churches Cross-Culturally: North America and Beyond. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000. 114.
[5] Phillips and Okholm, Christian Apologetics 97.

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