Post-modern-what-ism? (from Sunday, 9/21/08)

(For those just joining us, every we I post the notes from our Sunday School lessons with the youth group. Click “youth studies” to view past entries or to catch up with the current series.)

As I mentioned last time, we are exiting the main road again onto another detour. Why does the world reject the Gospel? One of the reasons is a cultural trend you may not have heard of, or, at least, thought of much.

Before we begin, let’s review a bit. We looked at these two verses:

“And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

– 2 Co 4:3-4

“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

– 2 Co 4:6

Neither Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, nor the like are the enemies. There is but one enemy of our souls, and he blinds the world. That is why debate barely scratches the surface of what we need. We also need love and prayer in all we do, for God is the only hope for the lost in this world.

We also looked at this heart diagram:

We must examine our own hearts to consider how much Christ is Lord in our lives, and, of course, encourage others to do the same. This diagram illustrates a great deal of the error found in churches today.

The Rise of Modernism
Briefly, we mentioned the world “modernism” on our detour into evolution. I said the irony was that it is a bit out-of-date, for we live in a post-modern age. But, let’s look again at some of the factors leading to the rise of modernism.

Let’s begin right after the time of the Renaissance, after Martin Luther and the Reformation. One of the unforeseen effects of the Reformation was freedom to question all authority. What resulted was not simply a righteous stand against injustice, but the sprouting of all-out rebellion that shed much blood.

Modernism arose more quickly as increasing numbers began to lose faith in “unseen” forces and instead turned to their senses to understand the world. The “Age of Reason” came about because people began to call faith “unreasonable.” More were questioning everything about religion and society, looking to “the savage” for more pure lifestyles. Reason reigned king, and everywhere religion tainted society.

Various writers such as Charles Darwin came at just the right point in history. Science no longer wanted God to help explain or define the universe. Reason could answer any question.

The Rise of Postmodernism
Postmodernism began to rise as early as the nineteenth century as some began to tire of the intellectualism that had come to define society. One of the major issues the rationalism of modernism could not seem to provide was hope or optimism. Hope is not empirical, not something that can be placed under a microscope. New rebellions in art, literature, and music would begin to appear, trying to provide the optimism and emotion modernism could not. Let’s look at just a few examples of this.

Impressionism and then Post-Impressionism bucked the previous trends. Nature in this art was reduced to dream-like images and basic geometric shapes. Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” is a famous example of such art, a sharp departure from even the art of the Romantic period not much earlier, such as Friedrich’s “Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon.”

In the twentieth century, Picasso further fragmented nature in the various stages of art he produced. For instance, an example of his cubism is found in “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” featuring the destruction and even demonization of the female with the then-popular African mask:

We could also consider Marcel Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase:”

Though neither Picasso, Duchamp, nor the art world was always consistent, the fracturing of reality continued. We could look also at the randomization of Jackson Pollock, for instance, who allowed paint to splatter the canvas haphazardly. There is no nature depicted here – only lines and splotches.

Though time does not allow us a full examination of the arts, we may also think of music of John Cage. Because Cage viewed the universe as random, he attempted to create music by random means, most of it noise from a melodic standpoint. He even “produced” the now famous piece 4’33” in which the musicians sit silently for four minutes and thirty-three seconds to give the audience a chance to hear the random sounds around them.

Considering Postmodernism’s Impact on Church
If modernism is the belief that reason is all we need to answer the questions of life, what is postmodernism but a belief that there is no ultimate answers. Reality is fragmentary in the minds of many today, leaving them disillusioned and wary of any claims of clarity.

As MacArthur put it in his book, The Truth War:

I would say [postmodern thought, boiled down] is the rejection of every expression of certainty. In the postmodern perspective, certainty is regarded as inherently arrogant, elitist, intolerant, oppressive—and therefore always wrong.

– p. 12

At this point, let us consider our all important question: Why does the world reject the Gospel? If, in modernism, the world rejected the Gospel because it was “unreasonable,” in postmodernity, the world rejects it simply because it claims to be true.

Carefully consider what is said here: postmodernism does not reject the Gospel because it necessarily disagrees with the claims of the Gospel, but because it sees any and all exclusive truth claims as arrogant and untrue.

Postmoderns seek to embrace mystery over fact, which seems to be an odd and, (as any friendly Vulcan would say) illogical. When ships and icebergs attempt to occupy the same space at once, there are immediate problems. Yet, somehow, people will believe two contradictory claims can be true at the same time, contrary to what nature teaches us.

The church has begun to accept such muddled thinking.

As such, when postmodernism filters into the church, people will begin to emphasize the love and deeds of Christ over His teachings, beliefs, or any doctrine taught in Scripture. They do not believe orthodoxy is as important as practical theology, such as feeding the poor.

[Edit: Sonya pointed out in class that so much of this sounds like the Hippie movement, with the Hippie emphasis on peace and love. This is a great observation, especially considering that most of the Hippies grew up and now teach in universities and lead churches.]

Here is an example of such thinking in our churches. This is also from The Truth War. (I removed the names in the following quotes because it is not always good to focus on individuals on a Sunday morning, especially if those involved are still living.)

A leading pastor and his wife found themselves increasingly uncomfortable with church.

“Life in the church had become so small,” the wife says. “It had worked for me for a long time. Then it stopped working.”

They started questioning their assumptions about the Bible itself – “discovering the Bible as a human product,” as the husband puts it, rather than the product of divine fiat [“word”].

“The Bible is still in the center for us,” he says, “but it's a different kind of center. We want to embrace mystery, rather than conquer it.”

“I grew up thinking that we've figured out the Bible,” she says, “that we knew what it means. Now I have no idea what most of it means. And yet I feel like life is big again—like life used to be black and white, and now it's in color.”

– p. ix-x

Only in the postmodern mind would not knowing be considered a good thing. It is with mystery, not mastery, that life becomes more vibrant. I just hope that if one of my children contracts a disease, the pediatrician would not be of this mindset!

Here is another example of postmodern thinking infiltrating the church, straight from MySpace Pisteuo. One of the more recent blogs from a youth study gained many comments, some of which were in opposition to the teaching of the Flood of Noah.

I have one question for you: Why does any of this matter? Really? Is God going to judge someone for not believing in a worldwide flood? That's ridiculous. Absolutely none of this matters. What if the story is based on myth? What if there was just a local flood? Does that change the meaning of the story? No. Does that change the point? No. Does that change the application? No. So why defend it with scientific evidence? How does any of this make someone more Christ like?

I've pondered this comment since it was first posted, and I still cannot understand what the meaning or point of the story of Noah would be if it was simply a work of fiction. What application is there from such a story if it is not true? The message and application of the account of Noah seems to depend on its reality.

That is what Christ believed about it, anyway. Yet, while it seems to follow that Christlikeness includes believing what Jesus believed, the postmodern rejects this out of hand. As I already stated, the emphasis of the Christian postmodern is on Christ’s actions, not His doctrines. Thus, Christlikeness is reduced to simple moral duty to fellow man – a reduction that leaves us with a religion that might as well be promoting “Buddha-likeness” or “Gandhi-likeness.”

The Battle for Truth
The truth of God’s Word is always and has always been under attack. Today’s attack may seem unique, but it is only the latest in the enemy’s attempts to undermine faith.

To be fair, postmodern Christians would not even see themselves as attacking God’s Word – they would only see themselves as rethinking it. Yet, despite their best intentions, they are the waves Satan is using to erode the foundation of belief.

For their sakes and your own, you must either commit to the truth of God’s Word or quit playing games. There is no in-between.

Unfortunately, we did not get as far today as I had hoped. There are verses I want to get into concerning the question of truth. There are also more examples of postmodern thinking in churches I want to show you in order to guard yourselves against the rising tide. Hopefully, we will finish this next week.

Until then, God bless.

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