Should We Be Emerging? Postmodern

McKnight writes,

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.

Frank Chesser, “Liberalism and Grace,” The Spirit of Liberalism, quoted in Seek The Old Paths, vol. 13, no. 5 (April 2002).

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.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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6 Responses to Should We Be Emerging? Postmodern

  1. Terry says:

    It may be because I associate mostly with the poor and working class, but I do not see the broad appeal of moral relativism and uncertainty about the existance of truth among the people with whom I work and worship. The story-telling approach to reaching people is appealing, but the underlying philosophy of postmodern thought does not seem to be as popular. Please read the first 5 paragraphs or so of a column in my local newspaper from July at http://www.tulsaworld.com/opinion/article.aspx?subjectID.... It is an article about why the GOP is losing the working class, but the first several paragraphs accurately describe the appeal of theologically conservative churches to the working class and poor. I understand that few if any of your readers will agree with my conclusions, but I don't believe the postmodern philosophy can find much appeal among people who are seeking answers to the biggest questions in life, because the postmodern philosophy seems to value questions over answers. Struggling people are attracted to churches that have compassion and solid, biblical answers to their deepest questions.

  2. Jay Guin says:

    Terry,

    That's a very interesting article. Very insightful in many ways. But I'm really thinking along different lines. The distinctions are kind of hard to express.

    The last thing I'd want to have the Churches of Christ take up is theological liberalism. No, we need to stay as close to the scriptures as we can.

    On the other hand, I find the opposite just as dangerous — the presumption that we have all the answers. Been there. Didn't like it.

    The middle road is humility before God and his word. It's recognizing that we've been mistaken in the past on some things and might be wrong even now — and so being willing to hear what others have to say, to genuinely listen and learn.

    On the other hand, this humility doesn't mean we doubt our faith in Jesus. Or our confidence in scripture. Or our salvation.

    Rather, this is the kind of humility that allows us to study the role of women or divorce and remarriage expecting to learn something, rather than to prove the other guy wrong.

    It's the kind of humility that allows us to be moved and challenged by The Shack, even though we aren't in agreement on all the doctrine the book teaches.

    Am I making sense? Yes, the scriptures are true. Yes, truth is attainable. Yes, we can teach hard, firm, certain moral truths.

    But, no, we don't know all the answers. We know enough to go to heaven and to serve God in his mission, but we expect to grow in our knowledge of God and to change our opinions as we do. Therefore, we are delighted to exchange ideas and sometimes be proven wrong by other believers.

  3. mattdabbs says:

    More and more the world around us is turning into a mission field. It is important we try to understand where they are coming from so we can reach them. Thanks for this post.

  4. About 30 years ago, I preached a sermon in which I said, "There is more to know about God that what is in the Bible."

    As you might expect, several folks reacted pretty negatively to that, but the few who came to speak to me about it did acknowledge that there must be more to God than what has been revealed in the Text.

    Too often, folks in the CofC forget that they don't know everything about God — and that is the threat of Postmodernism. But, as you observe, it's only a threat to those know they know the answer to everything.

    I rely on God's grace for what I don't understand.

    But Dobb's declarations that we are still under Law, even in the face of Jesus' statements to the contrary, is just an example of the traditional CofC view that seems irrational (and personally, very scary) — and in fact, misses the true joy of knowing Jesus' love and God's grace.

  5. My experience has been that you can usually find the truth somewhere between the extremes.

    (Especially between the extremes of "You can know all the truth perfectly! [I do!]" and "You can't ever know any truth for certain! [Just because I think doesn't prove I am!]")

  6. Todd says:

    The issue of post-moderns with truth and the metanarrative is not that there is no Truth but that the metanarratives passed along with or as Truth in the past have failed. Communism/Socialism did not produce a workers paradise. Fascism did not secure the prosperity of the nation state. Christianity (as commonly practiced and taught) did not help people live better lives. Capitalism did not produce permanent wealth for the masses. The promises behind these truths proved fruitless.

    This is why practice indeed makes Truth perfect. If our right beliefs do not lead to right actions they are meaningless. But powerfully transformed living proves the rightness of our beliefs. And this must be lived out in the public eye, not in a building on Sunday morning.

    The young postmoderns I meet have not rejected the idea of Truth they are actually starving for it, they just haven't seen it yet in those who claim to have it.

    But if we begin to produce the true fruit of the Spirit they will see it and respond.

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