I’m thinking and praying a lot these days about the anticipated release of a book I have written this past year. It is in publishing preparation stage just now with a Canadian self-publisher called, Friesen Press, of Victoria, BC. The book is entitled, Thoughtful Adaptations to Change: Authentic Christian Faith in Postmodern Times. Its main thesis is that there has been a significant philosophical shift over the last 40 – 50 years or so, that has greatly affected popular culture and also the ministry of the evangelical church in the western world.
Postmodernism is difficult to define, but essentially it means that the structured paradigm by which the western world processed knowledge and its application in the modern period has given way to a much less structured way of thinking. No longer does the world think in terms of a beginning and end to the existence of the natural world, or even world history. In postmodernism, western thought has concluded that such questions are impossible, as well as unnecessary, to answer. The most important thing about life, the postmodern person would say, is one’s own existential experience in the world. The philosophical underpinnings of people like Aristotle and Aquinas, that guided our thought processes for centuries, have given way to the existential ideas of Frederick Nietzsche and Immanuel Kant.
This paradigm shift from modernism to postmodernism is evident in many elements of popular culture including personal tastes in dress, grooming, morality, and religion. Though the Christian idea of sin has always been a huge factor in inter-personal relationships, social practice, and political development, it has become even more prominent in postmodernism because the human self is now the new reference for everything. Whereas previous generations demonstrated a greater sense of faith in God, as well as fear and reverence toward Him, today’s generation exists without this important reference, having basically dismissed the idea of God as an extension of human imagination.
Some of the prominent themes of postmodernism then are such notable ideas as extreme tolerance, inclusiveness, non-Judgementalism, anti-authoritarianism (non-hierarchal), religious pluralism, and an almost religious fanaticism about the human self. This shift has radically changed how we relate to authority in any form, how we think about moral abnormalities in society, and how we relate to religious ideas. In the latter case, for example, it’s become increasingly difficult to gain a hearing about the uniqueness of the Christian faith — partly because to do so would imply some sense of superior knowledge as well as judgment, but also because rational debate, in this environment, is so difficult to achieve. Besides, various anomalies of Christianity have exposed the moral and human weakness of many who say they are Christians, so that the most prominent feeling about it is its hypocrisy.
But, as I take pains to point out in the book, all has not been lost in this shift as far as Christian faith is concerned. One fault of the modern period was the seeming invincibility of human rationality. Despite the sense of pride in so many aspects of human achievement during the modern period, it is evident that human rationality is very finite. It is a good thing that this kind of rationality has been dethroned. After all, faith is not merely based on scientific data — since it is evident that there is much about the natural world, including the details of its origin, that we will never understand. In the end, faith is a matter of our response to a reasonable understanding of God’s revelation to us in the Bible and in His Son, Jesus Christ. There is much, even in the Bible, that has to be taken simply by faith.
Postmodernism has opened the door, for Christians, to a much deeper experience of the gospel of Jesus Christ than merely a cognitive one. In this environment, faith has the opportunity to experience God in a much more intimate and personal way. The general interest in organic life and experience has also given Christians the desire for a more organic faith. Though the danger in postmodernism is to lose sight of the rational component of faith, its advantage is that passion and the emphasis on emotion opens the door to deeper and more fruitful experiences of faith.
Through the publication of this book, I look forward to important conversations about how the move toward postmodernism can equip Christians and the church for more effective ministry, while also alerting us to many possible pitfalls. I also hope it will be an encouragement to pastors and church leaders to more effectively tailor Christian ministry to align with this new reality.