Living as a Christian in a postmodern context means different things to different people. Some—to borrow categories I first heard from Doug Pagitt, pastor at Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis—will minister to postmoderns, others with postmoderns, and still others as postmoderns. …
The vast majority of emerging Christians and churches fit these first two categories. They don’t deny truth, they don’t deny that Jesus Christ is truth, and they don’t deny the Bible is truth.
Now, the Churches of Christ do none of these. We don’t minister to Post-moderns — not as Post-moderns. Rather, we try to persuade Post-moderns to be Moderns and then persuade them to be Christians. It’s a losing strategy. I mean, is the greatest need of the Post-modern generation to accept Modernism? Or to accept Jesus?
We are even less inclined to minister with Post-moderns. I mean, we struggle to minister with each other. We sure don’t minister with those outside the Churches of Christ — much less with those whose philosophy we so enjoy refuting.
The third kind of emerging postmodernity attracts all the attention. Some have chosen to minister as postmoderns. That is, they embrace the idea that we cannot know absolute truth, or, at least, that we cannot know truth absolutely. They speak of the end of metanarratives and the importance of social location in shaping one’s view of truth. They frequently express nervousness about propositional truth. LeRon Shults, formerly a professor of theology at Bethel Theological Seminary, writes:
From a theological perspective, this fixation with propositions can easily lead to the attempt to use the finite tool of language on an absolute Presence that transcends and embraces all finite reality. Languages are culturally constructed symbol systems that enable humans to communicate by designating one finite reality in distinction from another. The truly infinite God of Christian faith is beyond all our linguistic grasping, as all the great theologians from Irenaeus to Calvin have insisted, and so the struggle to capture God in our finite propositional structures is nothing short of linguistic idolatry.
Now, these are difficult thoughts, but they seem to me to squarely indict much of the thought found in Churches of Christ. We are very bad to try to define God by propositions — 5 fingers, 5 acts of worship, and various rules and laws. We are very propositional as a people.
This is not to say that truth is unattainable. As McKnight says, “That is, they embrace the idea that we cannot know absolute truth, or, at least, that we cannot know truth absolutely.” Plainly, we can’t know truth absolutely. We can certainly know the Truth. But not absolutely.
But some in the Churches of Christ actually claim to have achieved perfect, complete knowledge of God —
We are required to keep every specific of the law of Christ, if we receive spiritual blessings, which include forgiveness and the promise of eternal salvation. … The grace of God guarantees our final salvation. This, of course, does not mean grace alone, but grace accessed by faith, which includes works of obedience.
H. A. (Buster) Dobbs, “Does Grace Guarantee Final Salvation?” The Firm Foundation (September 1996).
God will not do for man what man can do. God performed only that which man could not do. The commands of grace are obeyed by faith. Works perfect faith, otherwise it is dead.
Goebel Music, Behold the Pattern (Colleyville, TX: Goebel Music Publications, 1991), 508.
However, man’s reception of God’s gifts is not the work of grace alone. Man must cooperate with God in order to benefit from the rich provisions of grace. This principle embraces both physical and spiritual matters. Physical sustenance is a gift of grace; yet, a tremendous amount of human effort must be exerted by the farmer in order to receive this gift. The consumer must then match the farmer’s effort with sufficient work to accumulate the funds necessary to purchase the food grown and harvested by the farmer.
You must believe that you can know God’s will perfectly to assert that we “keep every specific of the law of Christ,” to do all that man can do, or to earn God’s favor by means of “a tremendous amount of human effort.” I mean, the only reason sin is sin is because we could have done better. As Jesus proved, the best we can do is perfection.
Therefore, I’m very grateful that God does more than what I can’t do for myself. I’d be damned for sure if God forgave nothing I could have done better!
You see, in an effort to contain God within language, we write rules and pretend that obeying those rules accomplishes everything God wants from us — we find the rules by our own efforts and we obey the rules by our own efforts. And such thinking is rightly condemned by the Post-modernist.
That’s not to say that all that Post-modernists teach is right. It isn’t. But Post-modernism does ask some hard questions that we need to take seriously.