by Clive Calver
I believe that postmodern thinking is totally non-Christian, but I also believe in the power of the gospel.
As a European, now resident in the U.S.A., the relevance of cross-cultural distinctives has increased enormously. So much of what I once took for granted has to be changed when living in a different culture. While 92 percent of the language might be the same, around 80 percent of the culture is different. Few people are aware of the difficulties that I and my family encounter. Were we in Africa, everyone would expect us to be enduring a culture shock.
It is always difficult to appreciate cross-cultural change when you don’t anticipate it. Perhaps that is why the American evangelical struggles to understand postmodernism. Despite witnessing it on a daily basis, few even recognize its existence.
In a more secular, less-Christianized European context, its pervasive influence has been more easily discerned. The impact on Europe has been so colossal that few major evangelical conferences would dare to leave it off their agenda.
Yet, it was North America that first sounded a warning on this issue. When Francis Schaeffer protested the loss of a belief in "true truth" during the 1960s, he proclaimed the advent of the postmodern era.
For 1,700 years, Western society looked to revelation, mediated through Scripture and/or the church, as the basis of truth. Then came the 18th century Enlightenment. When French philosopher Voltaire was confronted with the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, he led an exodus from belief in a God of absolutes. Relativism was the logical result. To the postmodern mind, right and wrong become the conclusions each individual draws according to the circumstances of the time. My truth becomes mine, and your truth is yours-unless we share the same experience. Everything has become relative; only one absolute truth remains-the one that says there is no absolute truth. To the postmodernist, true truth is dead.
The postmodern view of the arts has confirmed this opinion. Increasingly, the reader, spectator, or viewer-not the author, painter, or director-has been placed in control. Fact and fiction become blurred, style becomes as important as substance, and the material can be interpreted according to the recipient’s wishes.
Why is this so important for Christians? Ultimately, postmodernism affirms that it is unthinkable for anyone to claim superiority for any religion. No moral or ethical code can provide the final word. No people can avow that their truth is valid for anyone other than themselves. So the follower of Islam, the gay practitioner, and the proponent of abortion do not have to claim that their view is "right" or "wrong." It is valid simply because it is their opinion.
Christians urgently need to discover how to relate to a postmodern worldview. This means being prepared to face a cross-cultural challenge. Many of us still assume that society has, if not a revelation-based view, at least a "modernist" one. That is no longer true, and people who believe it is should have their TV sets examined.
Truth is no longer viewed as it once ethical nihilism. Yet I have also seen the spiritual hunger it confesses. I have watched the rejection of the human self-aggrandizement of modernism, and I have listened to the desire to see a faith that works.
I believe that postmodern thinking is totally non-Christian, but I also believe in the power of the gospel. Confessing one God-one way to life, one truth to live by-is not a postmodern act. But to love people, live with passion for others, and proclaim a truth was. The story is told of three soccer referees who met together for a tasty beverage to discuss their profession.
The first said, "There are penalties and free kicks, and I call them the way they are." That is the classic position of revelation.
The second said, "There are penalties and free kicks, and I call them the way I see them." That is the modernist position-it all depends on human perception.
The third said, "There are penalties and free kicks, and they ain’t nothing unless I call them." That is the postmodern view.
Now many Christians see postmodernism as the advent of the most anti-Christian concept on Planet Earth. I, however, hesitate to draw that conclusion. Admittedly, I have seen the rampant progression of New Age, the spiritual child of postmodernism, and the awful results of its that changes lives-this still triumphs over the desperate conclusion that I am all there is.
In one sense, postmodernism opens a door of hope. It confesses that a spiritual dimension exists beyond the physical. We claim to have the answers to this hunger in Jesus. We only have to live in a way that will confirm that our truth is true for all. That will require amazing self-sacrifice, and not just rational argument.
Clive Calver is president of World Relief Corp., the assistance arm of the National Association of Evangelicals (US). Formerly Calver was genereal director of the Evangelical Alliance of Great Britain.
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