Postmodernism and Christianity (Part 1)

I read a book recently called “by demonstration: God” by Wade Bradshaw. In it, Bradshaw writes about the way our culture has become increasingly postmodern as reflected in the students who come to L’abri. A little background might be helpful here as to what L’abri is. Suffice it to say that it is a study center where students can come from every corner of the world and stay from a day to the whole of a three month term, studying whatever they choose and seeking the answers to their questions in the truth of Christianity. Because of this, at any given time there is a random sampling of the questions the culture is asking represented in the students who come to L’abri. L’abri, therefore, often has its finger on the pulse of the ever-changing landscape of our culture, making Bradshaw’s insights carry a lot of weight as he talks about his many years at L’abri and how postmodernism has affected the students.

Let me give an example from the book. Bradshaw has seen a shift in what students want to talk about in conversations; where once conversations would center around “ideas” now they are much more likely to center on “experience”. There is a distrust of knowledge that is seen as abstract, theoretical, or heady. Students are not interested in ideas that do not seem directly connected to their actual experience of life. On the other hand, knowledge which is personal, experiential, or rises out of their own or others’ stories finds fertile ground and eager ears. For example, the question “What do you think about how Christianity should interact with the culture it is in?” (…the question I want to begin to raise in this post) might lead to dead, awkward silence around the lunch table. Whereas, the question, “Who is a hero of yours and why are they heroic?” might lead to a conversation that runs for hours and the lunch table has to be set for dinner before everyone is done talking.

One of the themes of the book is the idea that as the culture of the students coming to L’abri changes, so too must L’abri change to continue to hold out the truth of Christianity to the culture it finds itself in. Think of it this way: if a missionary was sent overseas to a country with a radically different culture than his own, wouldn’t his first task be to learn about that culture he finds himself in? What is its language? What does it love? What are its taboos? How does it think? What does it fear and hate? What do its people want most deeply and what do they treasure most highly? What pieces of the truth does it retains, and what pieces has it abandoned? That is the challenge that Bradshaw writes about: how to hold out the ancient, beautiful truths of Christianity to a generation that is quite different than the one before it?

This is not a challenge unique only to L’abri; it is one that faces us all. Anyone who would speak of the truth of the gospel today speaks to a radically postmodern audience. That culture has affected what they value, as well as how they think, communicate, converse, love, believe, and trust. Just like a missionary freshly arrived in a new country, we must learn the culture of the people we are speaking to. What does it mean to be a part of a postmodern culture? We must find the answer to that question and call people to belief in the gospel in a language they can understand, and challenge their own unique ways they are tempted to turn away from the truth. If we do not we will be as effective as a missionary walking around rural China speaking English.

In the following posts I want to take a short survey of what culture is generally and what the landscape of our culture today is specifically. Then ask the questions: “How is the Christian community to be salt and light to this culture today?” and “What are the dangers and challenges inherent in the process of becoming a good missionary to our culture?”

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