Postmodernism and Christianity (Part 5)

Martin Luther said, “We can preach the gospel with the loudest voice and in the clearest manner, but if we are not preaching the gospel at the point where it is currently under attack, we are not preaching at all.” This means that the places where truth is under attack in our culture must be challenged. So the question is how can we respond to those areas where our postmodern culture is saying something different than the gospel?
The church should not be only a voice of condemnation toward the culture, for to divorce the gospel from the love inherent in its message is to corrupt the gospel. But likewise, the church should not be simply condoning the culture’s misconceptions about reality as if it were not possible to come to wrong conclusions or the need to believe the truth was not an urgent one. Of course it is urgent. It is life and death, and the church must find a way to hold out the truth to whatever culture it is in. There must be a response, or else, as Luther said, we have not preached the gospel at all.
What is the response in the three areas of Authority, Truth, and Morality? I want to try and devote a little bit more space to each one of these separately, starting with authority.

Authority:
I saw a t-shirt in Wal-Mart the other day that said, “Your rules don’t apply to me.” It was meant to be glib, but if you think about that phrase as representative of the voice of our culture toward all authority it becomes a very sad phrase. I got a fresh view of this while reading a biography of Jonathon Edwards, a preacher who lived at the height of Puritan New England. Life for Edwards was an ordered chain of authority that extended into every area of life, marriage and the family, the church, the government, etc. Children were raised to value submission to this authority structure; it was the air they breathed. Sermons were preached about the value of obeying the “fathers” meaning not only the Heavenly Father, but also earthly fathers which God had placed in positions of authority. Today we breathe a different air. As I read the biography I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if you transplanted a preacher from that time to our time and put him on TV (perhaps Oprah…). He would probably be viewed as narrow-minded, oppressive, and offensive. Best case: he would not have a rapt audience for long. Worst case: the audience would start throwing chairs (maybe not on Oprah). Either way, the values of that time would rub abrasively against the grain of the hearts of his hearers.
We have shaken our shoulders free of such an ironclad authority structure, and it is anathema to us. Our feelings of earthly authorities are mirror images of our feelings for heavenly authority. In such an environment the idea of a God who rules is an offense. We find a God who is willing to serve us more palatable than a God before whom we must bow. This is a starting point for the conversation between Christianity and our culture. You cannot tell someone to obey the Bible if they do not see the Bible as an authority in their lives. Each individual must see God’s claim on them before they will bow to Him.
The Christian response to this message of the culture must be to tell the truth about the human situation. There is an authority above us, and our happiness is not found in bucking it, but in bowing to it. We did not create ourselves, nor are we products of an accident, but we were made by a Someone larger than ourselves who knows our names. Every individual on this planet has the common origin of a Creator which we must relate to as creations. Not only is God the creator, however, but he is the savior. Christianity says that God gave himself for our redemption, a word which means “to buy back.” The story goes like this: we were made, we fell, and Christ’s blood bought us back. We are doubly His, as 1 Corinthians says, “You are not your own, for you were bought at a price.”
We would think of ourselves as above every authority where our own lives are concerned, but this is not the reality of the human situation. Our place is to live under the Lordship of Christ, the one who has made us and redeemed us. I do not say this to diminish humanity or say we are nothing. We are not nothing. We are made in God’s image and he had endowed us with dignity, but it is the dignity of occupying our rightful place, one of bowing before God. It is the glory of humanity to occupy that place and our happiness lies in doing so faithfully.
If Christianity is going to be faithful in holding out the gospel to this generation then it must live and speak in such a way that shows that authority is not a dirty word. This will be a place of tension and of contrast with the culture and there will be great pressure to deemphasize the gospel at this point, but if we do that then we “have not preached the gospel at all.” Rather, the Christian must declare that there is a God and that to him belongs all authority, as well as demonstrate in a winsome way what a life lived under the Lordship of Christ really looks like.

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