Postmodern Evangelism

While teaching my Contemporary Worldviews class, we wrapped up the semester with Postmodernism. While Postmodernism may not necessarily be considered a worldview, as it is the absence of any absolutes, it is a common approach to life in 21st century America. With each successive worldview I sought to help the students think about engaging others with the Gospel. I think each class we teach should have a missiological bent. In concluding the course with postmodernity, we dove into the discussion on taking the Gospel to the postmodern generation. The one idea we all agreed upon was TIME. It takes time.

Postmodernists approach life from a different direction; they deny any objective knowledge or reason. JP Moreland said, “According to Emergent church leader Brian McLaren, making absolute truth claims becomes problematic in the postmodern context.” In quoting McLaren, Moreland wrote,

“I think that most Christian’s grossly misunderstand the philosophical baggage associated with terms like absolute or objective (linked to fundamentalism and the myth of neutrality)…. Similarly, arguments that pit absolutism verses relativism, and objectivism versus, subjectivism, prove meaningless or absurd to postmodern people.”

A postmodernist often rejects the notion that rationality is objective on the grounds that no one can approach life in a totally objective way or without bias. Postmodernists also deny objective absolute truth. No absolute truth exists. Therefore, we as Christians claiming to have “the truth,” are only seeking power, authority, and abuse. They assume we are self seeking, because their approach to life is driven by self construct. You can define who you are, or want to be. You can make any words mean anything, and no one can tell you otherwise.

So, as the class thought through the foundational ideas of postmodernity, we discussed our approach to reaching them with the Gospel. As mentioned above, we began with the idea that it won’t be quick. It will take time, and probably significant amounts of time to break down the walls of postmodern thinking. In an effort to take the time, we concluded that instead of the one on one, confrontational approach, we thought the best idea was to befriend this person. In fact, we went so far to say that it may take some time to build a legitimate friendship with the person(s), nothing platonic or artificial, but a genuine new friendship. Through that friendship, and life on life time, one must intently seek to interject and discuss Gospel ideas. In the introduction to the class we discovered that individuals reveal what they truly believe about life’s tough questions when they encounter a trial or crisis. While spending time getting to know your new postmodern friend, you will eventually walk with them long enough to encounter such a tragedy.

As I personally thought more about the class discussion, I began to think about much of the current day approach to evangelism. The thought that kept coming to mind is that we aren’t equipped to spend the time investing in a person’s life for the sake of the Gospel. We teach all these methods, FAITH, GROW, EE, etc, and each one is designed to be a one on one confrontational immediate presentation. We don’t have a long term plan for reaching someone with the Gospel. We don’t teach folks to intentionally engage in new friendships with a LONG RANGE goal of reaching them with the Gospel. We teach an approach that says, ASK THEM NOW!!!

We didn’t figure it all out in the class, but I think we began to ponder a more accurate, biblical approach to our evangelistic efforts. TIME, invest time in the lives of people in order to reach them with the Gospel. With the postmodern generation, when you start with the absolute notion of truth in Christ, they will certainly shut you off. However, I think if you begin with sincerity toward friendship, and investment, they will over time be softened to listen to what you have to say. Who knows, maybe not; that work is ALL THE HOLY SPIRIT anyway, but I think we need to take the best approach to reaching the current generation for the sake of the Gospel.

Practical Theology: Sex Changes and the Post-Salvation Life

Mixed-up sexuality is a pretty big thing in the Deaf community here in Ecuador.  We have men dressing as girls, entering beauty pageants with glittering dresses and fabulous hair.  Lesbians abound as well, forming their own soccer teams and voting blocks in the Deaf clubs and associations.  We’ve even got a small pocket of folks who have gone so far as to have surgery and injections and counseling in order to acquire a new gender that they prefer more than the one they had at birth.

About six months ago, I became aware of a man who had become a woman through the surgical/hormonal route.  He saved his money for years, had the process done…and then found Christ; reportedly, at least.  I’ve not yet met him…or her, whichever it’s supposed to be.  I have, though, been privy to a debate on the subject.

Some Deaf Christians here believe that in order to fully turn from his sin, the newly-minted “woman” should do a surgical U-turn and return to the gender of his birth.  Others argue that economic issues make such a re-assignment impossible.  After all, he hoarded for years before being able to afford the original change; how much longer would he have to scrimp and save?  Would he continue being a disobedient child of the King in the meantime?

Well?  Anyone confident enough to solve our dilemma?

Practical Theology: Marital Hostages

A buddy of mine, Oswald, married a terrible woman many years ago.  Oswald was young and dumb and probably lacked chest hair, so he wasn’t the greatest find, either.  Over the last 20 years, Oswald has tired of her antics, her verbal abuse of the children, her affairs.  He walked out about 18 months ago and other than periodic visits to the child, he’s been out of her life.

In the last 8 months, Oswald has found a God-sized hole in his heart and has successfully filled that void.  He drops by the house once or twice a week for coffee and sugar-free pastries (he’s diabetic).  Recently, he decided to whine to me.

“Had another meeting with the wife and her lawyer.  I don’t understand – she won’t give me the divorce.  Demands that I pay off her debts so that she can afford to raise our 14-year old.  What more does she want?  I let that adulteress have the house and the land.  I gave her my dog for security, though she promptly starved it to death and dumped his body in the street.  I did not dispute custody, or money, or lay out her dalliances with her boy toys.  I pay for the kids’ schooling and clothes and medical care.  I just want to be done with her.”

See, the problem is that Oswald did his spiritual homework.  He knows he is free to divorce her due to her sexual sins.  As well, he knows that since he is divorcing her for proper cause, he’ll eventually have the right to pursue another woman to keep him company.  The only hang-up is his wife’s refusal to sign the papers.

He went on….

“Here in Ecuador, if she won’t give me an uncontested divorce, then I have to wait three years for the judge to order the divorce despite her refusal to sign.  That means that because she couldn’t avoid playing the field, romantically speaking, I don’t have the right to be free.  I have to wait three years, right?  Didn’t the Bible say all I needed was some certificate of divorce?  Somewhere in Matthew?  Well, here in Ecuador we don’t have that. We have angry wives holding their departing spouses hostage over money and jealousy.”

So….what do I tell Oswald?  Do I tell him that the Bible leaves it up to culture to define the process for divorce and he just gets to suck it up?  Can I justify telling him to date who he wants since the papers have been filed and they are proof of his intent to divorce her?  Do I tell him to create a certificate of the divorce like the earliest believers would likely have done?

Anyone with a great answer?

 

 

Conflict and Me

Well, they’ve done it again.

One more time, a body of Baptists has gone and done something I disagree with. In fact, they’ve done something that qualifies as downright foolish. One could easily question the ethics of their actions, the righteousness of their thought processes, and perhaps doubt the salvation of the people involved.

Who has done what now?

Oh, any number of things: Brewton-Parker College hired somebody. Louisiana College fired somebody. Southern Seminary didn’t fire anybody, Southwestern Seminary did. The KBC voted for this and the Florida Convention did not vote on it at all. And don’t get me started on the behavior of various evangelical rock star pastors–or the existence thereof in the first place! Why, I could source a blog post a day with the mistreatment of Calvinists, the mistreatment by Calvinists, and the foolishness of the allegedly “Great Ones” of our denomination. And then I could fill in the weekends with the dumb things done by those of us in the small time.

So why don’t I? Surely I should say something, shouldn’t I?

There are times, certainly, when silence is sinful. If we remain silent in the face of abuse of innocent people, then we are complicit in that abuse. If we allow people to be defrauded when we can put a stop to it, then we are complicit in that fraud. If we sit idly by and allow heresy to root, sprout, bloom, and reproduce, then we are complicit in its spread. True, we may not be legally responsible. I honestly do not care if we are or are not in these cases. We are morally responsible and that is of far greater consequence.  (Please note–I’m not saying you’re not legally responsible to report certain things to the police–if you are, then you absolutely better do so.)

Why, then, am I not burning up the webs with critiques and criticisms of the latest controversy? Here are the reasons:

1. Biblical Optometry: Remove the plank from my own eye first, and then go after the speck in my brother’s. (Matthew 7) My first question before criticizing someone is this: Do I continue to do the same thing? Am I standing behind a pulpit because of a deceptive resume? I’m not talking about the gracious people who are my references who told the church I was a good guy–they’re responsible for that. I am talking about the question of hypocrisy: do I intentionally do that which I want to criticize another person for doing?

If so, then perhaps my mouth should stay shut and my fingers tied about how someone else is doing it, too.

2. Personal Ignorance: I usually know half of the story, and it is ill-advised to over-pursue a case based on one side. (Proverbs 18:17, especially) Do I have all the facts? I honestly do not. This does not mean I do not trust other people to have gathered the facts and accurately report them: I see the concerned reports regarding Vision Forum and the complete meltdown of the leadership there. I have not investigated it, but I trust the people speaking about the issue. It is better to allow someone who is more aware of the facts to address a matter. In that case, for example, the only thing I knew about Doug Phillips and his view of the family was that a friend of mine had talked about starting to follow that method, then they left it. My wife already had plans for how she wanted to teach our children, the programs that had prepared her for college (where she had a better GPA than I did), and I did not question her choice. I still don’t.

If I do not know the facts well, it is better to avoid pontificating at length on an issue–note your concern and then provide links to someone who has the facts.

3. An Assumption of Repentance: This connects to personal ignorance: if an individual flamed out of public visibility ten years ago, and now reappears, before I throw his old sin back at him, it would be wise to consider the possibility of repentance. I have had friends who left ministry roles due to marital issues, addictions, or other personal problems. Yet I would not be fair if the moment I saw those names listed under “Ministerial Moves” in the Baptist paper to let forth a laundry list of sins that God Himself has removed (Psalm 103). This does not apply to those items which are disqualifying: if a man used his pastoral office to abuse children, there is no statute of limitations on his disqualification. He may be forgiven by God without being requalified for office. But if a former friend has walked through the wilderness and now returns, give him the benefit of the doubt.

If I am not willing to rebuild the relationship, then my accusations should stay where my knowledge is from: the past.

4. Closer Threats Abound: I am well aware of the Martin Luther King, Jr., quote that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” I will, however, tell you this:  Southern Baptists in the 80s were right to be more concerned about liberal Baptists than liberal Episcopalians. If I am skipping over a threat to effective Baptist ministry or Christian witness in arm’s reach, I should not spend great effort going after one farther away. I said in the comment stream on one of these posts that it’s far easier to go after Caner or Driscoll or Mahaney because there is no downside for me. All three of these, for example, I could blog about every day and all I would suffer is an eventual drop in blog readership. And I would have no effect, at all, on their continued freedom to do as they please.

Meanwhile, nearer to me, there are threats to the effectiveness of the church. There are racists, crooks, financial frauds, all filling pulpits of various denominations. Do I pursue those with the same vehemence I pursue my online foes? If I am hesitant to engage when it comes at a personal cost, then lobbing online bombs at a distant target is not a courageous stand for the truth. It’s a cowardly avoidance of my duty. The wolves that threaten my flock are closer at hand than Driscoll, Mahaney, or Caner, though I will keep a wanted poster up in the office in case they come ’round these here parts.

If I find myself being “discreet” with my friends and “passionate for light” with everyone else, then I am not rightly engaging in the situation.

5. Response Exhaustion: This ties with the closer threats abound issue above. If I expend, and demand my congregation expend, a great deal of energy over a distant threat that ultimately we can do nothing about, then what do we have left for a near threat? If they book Mark Driscoll for our local association meeting, then there’s a close thing we can deal with. We can readily put a stop to it–or at least greatly impact the event and reduce the attendance and involvement. Yet if I spend all of my time shouting “Wolf” and then telling folks, “You’ve never seen him, heard of him, and he’s not around here, but way over there, in the mountains, there’s a wolf!” then what does the assumption become? That my warnings are of no consequence.

There’s also an aspect here where we need to be proactive more than we are. The Great Commission says to “make disciples” and “teach them to obey everything I (Jesus) commanded you.” When we use all our energy responding to threats far away, we are not making disciples that are more wolf-resistant.

 

In all of this, I do not wish that we would become complacent. We need to be aware of and respond to things appropriately, but understand that there are reasons why not everyone champions your cause. It is not always that we are cowed into submission by the great cover-up machine. It is not that I do not care what happens to people. It is that I have people closer in, a congregation that I am personally responsible for, that I am extremely zealous for. And I am less concerned for a specific personality or two than for the overall machinations that make them–the names change with the decades.

Contend where you must, but focus your efforts where they do the most good for the Kingdom of God.