Several decades ago — in 1968 to be exact — Francis Schaeffer, the Christian philosopher and theologian, wrote a book called, Escape from Reason. In it he theorized about the cultural evidence of modern man’s tendency to depart from a theistic world view. He postulated that human rationalism without God actually led people, ironically, to greater expressions of irrationalism and even to ultimate despair. True rationalism on the other hand, he said, comes from appreciating the wonder of God’s creation and the nature of grace. (He was thinking of grace as the recognition that God is good and that we are dependent upon him for life both here and in the hereafter. It includes the concept of forgiveness and eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.)
Though Schaeffer wrote long before post-modernism became popular, it seems that he accurately anticipated this phenomonon whose chief characteristic is the reduction of all of life to individual interpretation. With its common disregard for the existence of objective reality post-modernism has produced a myriad of cultural expressions that often seem chaotic and absurd. You may have noticed, for example, that post-modernism delights in challenging conventional patterns of decorum in dress and ceremony — something also evident in church life and ministry.
I think post-modernism has had a postive effect in making us aware of the need to challenge rigid structures of authority that often seem self-seeking. It teaches us that it is important not to assume that every convention established by a previous generation is a good one. However, the danger of post-modernism is for people to conclude that true reality consists only in one’s own life experience. This leads to its own irrationality because in the end it disregards objective reality and the accountability that such implies.
I have noticed in these post-modern times that there is a tendency within the church to emphasize personal experience at the expense of good explanations about the reasonableness of Scripture and the Christian faith. As a result churches often seem to provide cultural comfort for their own people but fail to relate meaningfully to the world around them. Explanations about the origin, destiny and meaning of life are not well-articulated. Christians lack a good rational foundation for their own faith and are at a loss to know how to talk about it with others. It is said, in these post-modern times, that we need to appeal to people on the basis of emotion rather than reason because “people think with their hearts instead of their heads.” This tendency may be true, but the fact is that this generation still needs a well-reasoned apologetic for faith. After all, the Christian faith ultimately is built on truth claims about the existence of God and His revelation to us.
Genuine love is a vital part of Christian community and evangelism, but you can’t build a strong Christian church and mission without also addressing the deeper questions of the mind. In authentic Christian ministry the two are inseperable. That is why I have always appreciated John’s words in his Gospel (1:14) that Jesus was “full of grace and truth.” and it is those words that I have always hoped would describe my own life and ministry.