“Postmodern” is the descriptor for our world today. For me, the word dredges up mental pictures of grey post-apocalyptic cityscapes populated by grey, blank-eyed, place fillers.
In reality though, our postmodern world is peopled with armies of highly engaged individuals who can access a wealth of information on almost any topic with just a few swipes at the screen of their smartphone. Maybe a side effect of this information glut is our society’s relativism.
Relativism is defined as “the doctrine that no ideas or beliefs are universally true, but that all are “relative” — that is, their validity depends on the circumstances in which they are applied.”1
Obviously, individuals who share that world view are going to be more difficult to engage when talking about what we believe to be universal truths that govern the universe—a Creator God, a seventh-day Sabbath rest, a virgin birth and a risen Savior. Those ideas seem antiquated and restrictive to many people today. They believe they have no relevance to their everyday lives. Old-fashioned rules like the Ten Commandments have been pushed aside in favor of more lenient and “relevant” rules. In fact,
“Douglas Taylor-Weiss, rector of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Dayton, Ohio, has proposed a new set of Ten Commandments based on his observations of our culture:
1. Have a good day.
3. Eliminate pain.
4. Be up-to-date.
6. Express yourself.
7. Have a happy family.
8. Be entertaining.
9. Be entertained.
10. Buy entertainment.”
He forgot 11. Get in touch with your feelings.”2
This kind of relativism has given rise to folks who create their spiritual beliefs cafeteria style.
Steven Van Zandt, a guitarist in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band describes himself this way,
“I am a reformed Taoist, part-time Buddhist, Hindu, animist, pagan, Jewish mystic, and Christian. I always got along great with priests and rabbis and mullahs and gurus, even though I spend most of my life constructively criticizing them.”3
In a 2005 interview with the New York Post, singer Sheryl Crow had this to say about her spiritual beliefs.
“I believe in God. I believe in Jesus and Buddha and Mohammed and all those that were enlightened. I wouldn’t say necessarily that I’m a strict Christian. I’m not sure I believe in heaven.”4
How do we spread the Gospel to individuals who have these kinds of beliefs? How can we demonstrate that Christianity is relevant to their lives?
“Christ drew the hearts of His hearers to Him by the manifestation of His love, and then, little by little, as they were able to bear it, He unfolded to them the great truths of the kingdom. We also must learn to adapt our labors to the condition of the people—to meet men where they are. While the claims of the law of God are to be presented to the world, we should never forget that love, the love of Christ, is the only power that can soften the heart and lead to obedience.—The Review and Herald, November 25, 1890.”(E.G. White, Evangelism, p. 57)
Paul ran into many of the same issues when He was preaching all those years ago (I guess postmodernism isn’t so different after all). He was spreading the Gospel to traditional Jews, Greek Jews, as well as people who followed philosophers and those who worshiped heathen gods. He knew he couldn’t approach all of those different groups in the same way and be an effective preacher. He had to know enough about each group that he could begin a discussion with them using terms and references with which they were familiar.
“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law,that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.” 1 Corinthians 9:19-23
We’ve got some work to do—the gospel to share, a mission to complete…let’s keep it real –biblically speaking, that is.
- relativism. (n.d.).The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition. Retrieved July 13, 2012, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/relativism ↩
- Martin Marty in Context (Feb. 1, 1992). Christianity Today, Vol. 41, no. 3. ↩
- Steven Van Zandt, Rolling Stone (1-20-00), p.26 ↩
- Sheryl Crow, New York Post, September 2005 ↩