In recent months it has become evident to me that some post-moderns have a different idea of what the Gospel and its communication is all about. As in so many fields of life, post-moderns are inclined to deconstruct the nature of the Gospel itself. The way this comes out is that some of them don’t think the Gospel consists so much of propositional truth as it does in demonstrating a relationship of love, and in this way somehow expressing the life of Jesus. Along with this is the idea that people become believers in process rather than in a decisive act of the will. Discipleship, by this view, is not considered an experience of how to learn to follow Jesus after coming to believe in him, but as the whole process of learning to live in relationship with God — including all the time it takes to get to a place of actual commitment. They base this on the idea that the original disciples became followers of Jesus through a long process of trial and error even though Jesus called them to follow him. By this view, conveniently, everyone may be considered a disciple and on the journey to become a Christ-follower and no one should be judged differently. Thus we are all part of the same family and should think of everyone as believers in one form or another.
Certainly this lack of definition among post-moderns in what it means to be a Christ follower should not surprise us since post-modernism by definition seeks to deconstruct modern systems of structured thinking. Fine definition is something rather foreign to post-modern thinking. Thus the extreme sense of confusion among the younger generation of what it means to be a follower of Christ. But while some deconstruction of the old ways of thinking was necessary, it is easy to see how this can be taken to an extreme in which the very essence of the Christian faith and what it means to become a Christ-follower is severely threatened.
It is good to see that this is not always the case with the younger generation. This week I met a young man who has been very diligent in his personal study of Scripture, theology, and church history and has affirmed orthodox ways of thinking and communicating about Christian truth. I was heartened that at the age of 26 this young person was so concerned about precise definitions of spiritual reality as set forth in the Holy Scriptures. Though having become a believer in his later teens he figured out that the divinity of Jesus and his cross-work were central to personal Christian faith and the life of the church.
Post-modernism not withstanding, I believe Scripture calls us to a very precise understanding of who Jesus is and of what he has done in order for us to have a relationship with God. The Gospel according to the New Testament Gospels as well as the Epistles is that Jesus Christ, as God’s Son, came in order to give his life as a sacrifice for the sin of the world (Matthew 16:18, Mark 10:45, Luke 2:10, 11, John 3:16-18, Romans 3:21-26, to name only a very few.) The Gospel is that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve (1 Corinthians 15:3, 4). Another part of the Gospel is that it is only effective in individual lives on the basis of heartfelt faith expressed by a verbal confession (Romans 10:9, 10). On the basis of such a confession anyone can have the assurance that they have passed from death to life (John 5:24). Faith is not a general feeling of agreement, but a decisive act of the will in which a person recognizes that Jesus is the Christ and one’s Saviour from sin. And in every instance of New Testament theology, it is evident that this confession is confirmed by baptism, whenever possible.
Contrary to the post-modern way of thinking of discipleship as a process, according to the New Testament, discipleship consists in a decision to become a follower of Jesus based on his call. When Jesus called the first followers to leave their nets and follow him, as an act of faith in who he was, they immediately left their fishing nets and followed him (Matthew 3:18-22). Did they know all that there was to know about Jesus at that point? Of course not! But I’m sure they knew enough — perhaps from John the Baptist’s preaching — that Jesus was the expected Messiah.
In this time of post-modernism, I believe it is more important than ever to be very definitive about what it means to be a Christ follower even though there may be different ways of describing what this is all about. Assurance of a relationship with God is as wonderful a promise as ever and is based on a response of faith to God’s definitive Word. Faith comes through hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word of Christ (Romans 10:17). Evangelism still consists in proclaiming God’s Good News of Jesus’ salvation, but it will require a wiser form of persuasion than may have been previously necessary.