Postmodernism, Catholicism, evangelism – all in three days!

The past week has been quite interesting in terms of discussions. First, last Thursday, a brief cooking session turned into a 3+ hour debate with two housemates of mine on everything ranging from postmodernism and religious epistemology to the nitty-gritty of Roman Catholicism and its theology of priesthood.

It was great. I was surprised to find myself “exporting” a lot of stuff I wasn’t even aware I had stored away. But, more importantly, I had the privilege to share the Gospel with them twice: once as clarification of what a Christian is and once in the context of the Reformation and its difference to Catholicism.

So, on two fronts then, blasting through History, Philosophy, Christian Theology – and even Islamic theology. And in the end, both of them decided that they had to better aquaint themselves with the Bible – for different reasons.

I don’t know if they are following up on their resolutions, though I will make sure I’ll ask in due time. But I was so thankful for the opportunity to once again share the Gospel with those around me – and to be reminded that after the debating dust settled with all its -ism’s, -al’s, -ic’s and -tion’s, the Word of God was still the bottom line and the place to go.

But I did warn them: Be careful. You don’t go reading the Bible lightly; it will affect you in a profound way, and if doesn’t, then you’re not READING it.

And suggested the Gospel of John as a starting point.

Actually, it’s unfair to call the discussion with my Catholic housemate a “debate”, since she admittedly hadn’t really given it much thought. And being an Evangelical from Eastern Orthodox Greece, I always have a lot of ready-made, pre-packed arguments for justification by faith, and against confession, the worship of Mary and priesthood. All she had to go on was “inherited religion” and some cozy ideas about faith that makes you feel better. So, not really a debate there – though I did get to use my paradigm of forgiveness by means of bovine slaughter, which I will decribe to you some other time (or if you’re soooo interested, email me and I’ll tell you).

But it was the other foot of the coversation that caught my interest, because it was more epistemologically oriented – in other words, it was on postmodernism.

Now, I haven’t written much about postmodernism in this blog because 1) I’m not an expert on the subject, 2) there are experts out there who have written about it in a far more informative way than I could ever do, 3) simply doing Bible studies on this blog goes miles in arguing against it.

But for those who don’t know, Postmodernism’s essential idea is that we can never really know anything absolutely since everybody brings their own presuppositions/ideas/cultural influences/NARRATIVES to the table, and thus everyone defines truth differently and, subsequently, EQUALLY VALUABLY. According to that, even you, reading these words, are NOT understanding them EXACTLY as I intend to – especially since, by putting them in written words, I have already removed them myself from my original, abstract and intended meaning.

(This is why I took Science.)

But believe it or not, Postmodernism has infiltrated the Church under the vague umbrella of the so-called Emergent or Emerging Church. It’s a movement that originally seemed to have aimed to bring the Gospel to a Postmodern culture, but in doing so, a lot of it has opened itself up to some suspicious liberal theology. Sermons are replaced with “everyday stories” and terms like “cultural relevance”, “missiology” and “conversation” are bread and butter.

As far as I’ve listened to and read the current Emergents (especially leading figure Rob Bell – although Emergents don’t really believe in modernist concepts like “leadership”), I find them to be very difficult to categorise (I guess that’s the essence of Postmodernism). Their “talks” are like wind-blown butterflies – beautiful to look at, but hard to pin down. Wishy-washy is the term I’m avoiding here. They always seem to be going on about creativity and the like, but never really get to talking about sin, God’s holy wrath, repentance and salvation – the things that ANY Christian Church should repeatedly clarifiy and expound on.

Why am I going on about this? Well, last week I sent the following email to some Christian friends, two of which are full-time ministers. I paste the whole thing here, so that you can accuse me later for being flippant and disrespectful (those were the words on the review of my first Biology presentation ever):

Hi everyone,

When the Word is neglected, there is no permanent life change. Thus, we run after cheap substitutes. And knock-offs.

Perhaps you’ve heard of it – but even if you haven’t, it’s coming soon at a church near you! It’s called “Emergent Church/movement/conversation/narrative” and it’s essentially liberal theology for our postmodern era.

(Did you KNOW our era was postmodern? Don’t worry. According to Postmodern philosophy, you can’t KNOW anything anyway)

They’re eating it up in the US and if they’re not doing so yet, it’s on the fad menu right after the Jabez prayer and the Purpose-Driven life. Fast-food is not only restricted to MacDonalds.

Anyway, this article makes a very clear study of the Emergent Church and is far more informative than this email, so I’ll let you go ahead and read it. As always, I’d appreciate your comments! The article itself (almost forgot to link it!):

PS. I really have no big bone to pick with Rick Warren’s “Purpose-Driven life”. Well, actually I do — but mostly it annoys me that in many circles it has even replaced the Bible. Also, its proverbial catchphrase “teach a man to fish” has made my blog famous because of this old article. Seriously.

Well, I had the opportunity to meet with one of the two ministers and soon the conversation got to it (I’m glad that not every week is like this – I’d never get any work done!).First I was corrected for implying that the Emergent/ing Church is a new thing – though I never actually said that in my email. Truth is, it’s a little over a decade old.

Then I was informed that the congregation that minister leads has been Emergent/ing for 4-5 years now (I wonder if they had an announcement), and I learned a new phrase: “Belonging before believing” (English just LENDS itself to alliteration, doesn’t it?). In short, I was told, this is the idea that people come to Christ in stages, so a person can be an active member of the congregation even though they might not believe anything or everything about the Gospel. But by “belonging” they can come slowly and at their own pace to Jesus.

From there, the conversation went through many turns, some of which were specific to that particular congregation and some were wider. The main point was that the whole “modernist” Church approach is “culturally irrelevant”; people don’t come to a church that has “answers” – but they will flock to a church that asks “questions”. In other words, uncertainty is the new “Jesus Saves” T-shirt.

I won’t recount the whole conversation here. But when I quoted the Bible, I was sorry to see Postmodernism REALLY kick in: “That’s your interpretation based on your Western Evangelical background”. Homosexuality was not a sin, homosexual practice was; the Rapture was not a literal event; the preaching of the Gospel was always in the form of everyday stories; and Rob Bell was the new Martin Luther we’ve all been waiting for.

It wasn’t all like that, though. We blessedly agreed on several good things, and I’m glad that one of them was the need to combat Biblical illiteracy in today’s Church.

Bottom line: Debating the Emergent movement is hard, and I learned that I am not educated on the subject to my satisfaction. It looks to me as if it all began as a reaction to the dry-bones, academic and often hypocritical “modernist” church that had more people going out than coming in. And I agree that that needs addressing, as even the Lord did (Rev. 2:1-7). But to go from there to swallowing a man-made philosophy, twist it into historical Christian doctrine and call the resulting mess “contextualisation” is essentially saying that God doesn’t really want us to ever know ANYTHING with any degree of certainty, whether that is eschatology or the very Gospel message itself.

So what does this mean?

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14

Or this:

God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth – John 4:24

Or this:

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free – John 8:32

Or this:

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth – 1 Cor. 13:6

And so forth…

The Church has NEVER been perfect – but its worse times came when it sucked in the world and called it “the new thing”.

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