[Today’s Christian, May-June, 2004]
The Postmodern Puzzle
‘Our world today is driven by post-modernism. We seem to tailor everything to best meets our needs—including our perception of God. What can we do to battle this tendency? Please help me.’ —Pastor Nicholas Lolik Lemi, Church of God in Southern Sudan
Pastor Nicholas, I think it was the ‘Help me’ at the end of your question that struck me the most. There are so many things Americans could do to help our brothers and sisters in lands where faith, and even life, is threatened. It’s frustrating to think that instead we have added to your burden by exporting the controversial and difficult-to-grasp concept of post-modernism. Maybe some readers are vague on what ‘postmodernism’ means, so let me take a minute for review—though by the time a term has reached the southern Sudan, it’s probably achieved what they call ‘market penetration.’ Pretty good work for something so amorphous that it doesn’t even have its own name but only claims to come after something that came before.
What came before, of course, is ‘modernism,’ a period of rationalist, scientific triumphalism that began around 200 years ago. Modernism also challenged Christianity. Two centuries ago, Bible-believing pastors like you were likely concerned about the kind of modernist thinking that led many people to believe in a ‘watchmaker’ God, who set the world in motion and then walked away to let it run on its own.
Now post-modernism (also known as ‘pomo’) claims that modernism is over and something new is happening. One aspect of this vague new thing is an increased hunger for spirituality. What has been a persistent trickle of ‘new age’ interest for a few decades has now broadened into a stream and includes people for whom the usual ‘new agey’ forms are too foreign. They want to be spiritual in a way that is somewhat Christian, but they are allergic to the idea of biblical truth and don’t want to be told God’s views on sin and morality. How should we respond? It’s good to adapt to the needs of the time, so far as it is possible. But isn’t God eternal and unchangeable?
This is the question that faces all missionaries: How much should you change your presentation of the gospel to reach a new culture?
There’s nothing Christians can do to appear ‘cool’ to the postmodern crowd, and trying to do so only makes us look foolish. Christianity has lost a lot of credibility in recent decades by tagging after the latest trends and begging to be liked.
My advice is to concentrate on building up the life of Christ within the community. Help each member to continually advance in restoring the image of God within that was damaged by the Fall. Don’t dumb down the faith for the sake of attracting unbelievers, because dumbed-down faith is unattractive. Let it retain its mystery; a newcomer should not have the feeling that he ‘gets’ it all on the first visit.
Individuals who are personally living the life are the key to evangelism, now as in the first century. A community of transformed believers—radiant, humble, and holy—will have more impact than any smiley-face ad campaign, no matter what the culture.
When God Seems Silent
I have been going through a deep valley for quite some time now. God seems so distant, prayer seems to bounce off the ceiling, there is no motivation to get into the Word. Can a ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ (if that’s what this is) last for over a year’ ‘Blake Otwell, Leeds, Alabama
Blake, you bring in a technical term, ‘The Dark Night of the Soul,’ that comes to us from a work by the 16th-century Roman Catholic monk St. John of the Cross. In his usage it means a very high degree of spiritual progress, one most of us will never see. But this evocative term does express something many ordinary Christians experience, a feeling that prayer and Scripture have ceased to resonate and the spiritual life has become a dead end. Notice, though, that you’re not simply bored. You’re not tempted to go back to frivolous pastimes. Something in you has changed, and now you know no earthly distraction can fill that need. This is a turning point that has profound and lasting implications. While your mind worries and your heart feels sad, there is another place inside that is fully fixed on where you’re trying to go. So persevere with your dry Scripture reading and broken prayers. They are keeping you nourished while you wait. Remember: ‘This same Jesus, Who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go’ (Acts 1:11). There is light ahead.