Who Speaks for Culture?

At least some of the church is becoming postmodern. Others are trying to figure out how to reach a postmodern culture. These two fall in to the Emerging Church phenomenon that is currently sweeping through the fad driven church. Still others are trying to stem the tide of postmodernism in the church. Dr. Ergun Caner, President of Liberty University spoke at EMNR in February. In his talk Christians Coming Out of the Closet he made the point that culture is no longer postmodern but is transmodern. Many reading this will be wondering “What does that mean?” Understanding how culture thinks is the key to being effective in our evangelistic outreach as well as our discipleship within the church. As Dr. Caner demonstrates, answering the question of who speaks for culture informs our understanding and guides our approach.

The Church was born in to a pagan culture in which common folk viewed all truth claims as equally true. Philosophers viewed all truth claims as equally false. Politicians viewed all truth claims as equally useful. Homosexuality was common and accepted. Pedophilia was part of the passage into adulthood as men had a catamite accompany him for recreational sex. Abortion, infanticide and child abandonment were socially acceptable and not uncommon. Over a fairly short amount of time the church transformed the thinking of Western culture and all of these practices were largely abandoned. With that the view of truth changed. There was truth, it was knowable and found in Scripture. Up through the Reformation theologians and pastors spoke for culture.

The age of Modernism set it and it was no longer truth but proof. What could we know from our five senses and testing? The church didn’t seem to be up to the challenge and primarily turned to evangelism through emotionalism. The new spokesman for culture became the scientist. The pursuit of through shifted to the pursuit of proof and Western culture gradually began adopting another worldview.

In 1989, with the fall of the Berlin wall, the postmodern age set in and the transition back to the worldview and values of paganism gained a firm foothold. Again common folk viewed all truth claims as equally true. Philosophers viewed all truth claims as equally false. Politicians viewed all truth claims as equally useful. Human life had been successfully devalued and abortion was common. Homosexuality was well on its way to being morally acceptable on an equal plane with heterosexuality. Psychiatrists were beginning to toy with the idea that pedophilia may not be wrong but only wrong if the child feels bad about it. The only reason a child would feel bad about it is the social stigmas and so perhaps we should be using more affirming terms such as adult-child sex rather than pedophilia. The spokespersons for culture were mystics. Call in psychic hotlines grew. Wicca claimed a place front and center as a religion. Eastern mysticism was the rage and truth was based on feelings. As the theme song of the time said, “There ain’t no good guys. There ain’t no bad guys. There’s only you and me and we just disagree. Oooo, Oooo, Oooo”

On September 11, 2001 this came to a crashing halt as the world watched hijacked airliners crash in to the twin towers in Manhattan. We then entered in to the transmodern age. Now it is not only that everyone has a right to believe what they want to believe but it is demanded that everyone assert the rightness of their right. It is no longer the case that homosexuals have a right to their behavior but all must affirm the rightness of their sexual escapades. The spokes persons for culture are now celebrities. Anna Nicole Smith, even though dead, captures every news show for the last two months. Paris Hilton exemplifies the life that all young ladies should strive for. Oprah Winfrey endorses The Secret and sales run over three million copies.

What we are looking at is bookends in history. We have the pagan worldview on each end with the biblical worldview sandwiched in between. It seems to me that if the church wants to speak to culture rather then trying to look more like culture we need to turn back to the pages of holy writ. What is it that the first century church did which so profoundly influenced culture? The pastors and theologians trained their people. They taught doctrine. They guarded against false teachers on the outside and from within. They named the false teachers so that all would be aware and avoid them. They out thought, outlived, out loved and out produced the pagan culture around them. So powerful was this that the last pagan emperor, Julian the Apostate (that is not what he called himself but was what Christians later called him) tried to reinstitute the pagan religions he had to resort to telling the priests to emulate the Christians if they wanted to be successful in reaching culture:

“Why do we not notice that it is their kindness to strangers, their care for the graves of the dead, and the pretended holiness of their lives that have done most to increase atheism [i.e., Christianity]? I believe that we ought really and truly to practice every one of these virtues. And it is not enough for you alone to practice them, but so must all the priests in Galatia, without exception…In the second place admonish them that no priest may enter a theatre or trade that is base and not respectable…in every city establish hostels in order that strangers may profit by our generosity; I do not mean for our own people only, but for others also who are in need of money…for it is disgraceful that, when no Jew ever has to beg and the impious Galileans [Christians] support both their own poor and ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us.”

As is always the case, our worldview informs and guides our decision making and the way we live our lives. Hearkening back to the first century church and Scriptures would be an interesting and beneficial change in the mission and ministry of the church today. It will be risky for we will have to listen to and proclaim the word of God rather than promote the latest Christian celebrity.


Comments

Who Speaks for Culture? — 2 Comments

  1. Don what are some good links a *novice* such as myself can use to understand the terms “Postmodern,” “Emergent,” etc.. better? I said “novice” because I need to start with the clearest and concise pages you might know of. Is there are difference between “Emergent,” and “Emerging?” Or can you give a shorthand definition of these terms here?

    You said:
    “The age of Modernism set [in] and it was no longer truth but proof. What could we know from our five senses and testing? The church didn’t seem to be up to the challenge and primarily turned to evangelism through emotionalism.”

    I’m not fully understanding what you mean here.

    There are other methods of proof which fall outside of empirical research. And the Lord, when giving the truth of the Word, gave signs in order that it might be believed. Are you saying that the age of Modernism set in and it was no longer absolutes of revelation, but only what could be humanly perceived?

    I do agree about the emotional appeal aspect of evangelism and letting naturalistic science deal with the mind.

    Faith in Christ is a reasonable faith. There is evidence for it, both in prophecy, and in the empty tomb. For us, we have to trust the testimony of eyewitnesses to these things.

    Which kind of gets me back to my troubles with your first sentence. Maybe I need to read about “Presuppositionalism” and “Evidence-i-ism” (don’t know the term for the second one).

    I’m wanting to get a grasp on this, but don’t know enough about the basic terms.

  2. Those are some great questions. Scot McNight’s article in Christianity Today Five Streams of the Emerging Church is not a bad overview. As he points out Emergent is an official organization whereas Emerging is a movement or philosophy. I had addressed some of my concerns about this article and movement in the blog Five Streams of the Emerging Church or Has the Church Sprung a Leak? “Emerging” runs the spectrum from those who want to understand culture in order to better present the gospel to those who have adopted the postmodern view that there really is no truth that we can know for certain.

    You wrote: “There are other methods of proof which fall outside of empirical research. And the Lord, when giving the truth of the Word, gave signs in order that it might be believed. Are you saying that the age of Modernism set in and it was no longer absolutes of revelation, but only what could be humanly perceived?”

    A few things. The signs at the time were empirical. For example the physical body of Jesus rose and was touchable at that time in order to empirically demonstrate that what He claimed He would do He did. However, in the age of Modernism if something isn’t “currently” testable it is ruled irrelevant and often untrue. However, there is a category problem here. Many things are true and provable based on evidence but not scientifically testable. For example, we can prove through historical evidence that Abraham Lincoln lived, he was president and was assassinated. However we cannot scientifically prove any of those things. Science looked past the evidence of God (that the universe exists for example) and concluded that truth can only be obtained based on something that is scientifically testable.

    You wrote: “Faith in Christ is a reasonable faith. There is evidence for it, both in prophecy, and in the empty tomb. For us, we have to trust the testimony of eyewitnesses to these things.”

    You are exactly correct.

    You wrote: “Which kind of gets me back to my troubles with your first sentence. Maybe I need to read about “Presuppositionalism” and “Evidence-i-ism” (don’t know the term for the second one).”

    I would say a couple of things here. First, the book Five Views on Apologetics by Steven B. Cowan, Stanley N. Gundry, William Lane Craig, and Paul D. Feinberg would be a helpful overview. Second, I don’t really advocate a particular methodology (Presuppositionalism vs. Evidentialism) as inspired or even one being better than another. For in truth they use much of the same stuff. A presuppositionalist will have to appeal to evidence to make the case that his presuppositions are true and the non-believer’s are false. On the other hand, an evidentialist has to be sensitive and aware of where the non-believer is at and what sorts of questions they are asking that may have nothing to do with evidence. What may be most necessary is the ability to listen, ask questions and then respond rather than try to pick one particular tool (methodology) to try to use every time.

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