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Saturday, January 12, 2008

How Can We Reach Our Post-Christian Culture?

“Pastoral ministry is far different now than it was in the 1950s,” a pastor friend intoned as he pushed his coffee cup aside and leaned across the table at Village Inn. “Somehow churches must find fresh ways to reach our post-Christian culture!”
Maybe these words were intended to educate me. After all, I am in my seventies, and what do seventy-somethings know about twenty-first century culture? We aren’t expected to know how to Google let alone know how postmodernists think? We grew up in an era of music with a melody and lyrics with a message. We based our theology on the Bible, not on our feelings. We learned to respect authority and to believe biblical truth was absolute. We didn’t always live up to the truth, but we didn’t try to reinvent it to fit our personal taste.

I didn’t try to convince my pastor friend that a seventy-something preacher might know something about postmodern culture, but I pondered his challenge long after we had emptied our pot of coffee. First, I acknowledge that new ways of reaching today’s culture are not wrong just because they are new. I’m all for using high tech means to reach a generation keyed in to i-Pods, Blackberries, Bluetooth, the Internet, cell phone cameras, GPS, video games, Tivo, MP3s, YouTube,, modems, and gigabytes. Second, I believe it helps to know how our contemporaries think if we hope to persuade them to believe the gospel. However, in our efforts to reach the culture are we running the risk of letting the culture reach us?

Here’s what I mean. Knowing our post-Christian culture is biblically and theologically ignorant, do we pare away essential biblical and theological words from our vocabulary and replace them with user-friendly ones? For example, do we cringe from using words like “sin,” “saved,” and “Hell,” and replace them with words like “mistake,” “a relationship with God,” and “eternal disappointment”? Do we opt for songs and choruses that appeal to the emotions but bypass the intellect?

Knowing our post-Christian culture is biblically ignorant and ambivalent about— or even bereft of—morality, do we give our churches a makeover in order to project an image of unconditional acceptance of all who want to continue a lifestyle that offends God? If a church hopes to persuade such non-believers that it is totally loving and non-judgmental, its leadership must avoid passage of Scripture that define morality and decry immorality. The desire to increase attendance figures must not squelch the desire to be loyal to God’s Word.

Much of our post-Christian culture believes truth is what works for you in a given situation or moves you at the moment. Touchy feely is in; thinking seriously about propositional truth is out? Discovering “truth” for oneself is hot, learning what is truth from some authority figure is not!

So how do we reach the culture? It may sound simplistic and old-fashioned, but God’s Word communicated in the power of the Holy Spirit through personal witness is still the way to reach any culture—even our culture. The book of Acts reports evangelistic successes in cultures ignorant of the gospel, thoroughly pagan, and morally corrupt. The apostles and other first-century followers of Christ did not conform to those cultures; instead, they confronted them. They boldly declared Christ crucified for sinners, buried, and risen; and they presented the Christian life as one of faith and perseverance. They did not suggest for a moment that Christianity’s purpose is to build self-esteem and make everyone enjoy a warm fuzzy feeling.

The first-century proclaimers of the gospel took to heart not only their obligation to “teach all nations” (Matt. 28:19). Their boldness and effectiveness were fueled by the fact that their Commander-in-Chief had risen from the dead and held “all power [authority]” . . . “in heaven and in earth” (v. 18). The same risen Savior’s authority and the same mission rest with us today and for future generations of believers in every culture. We do not have to adjust the message to accommodate the culture; we simply need to declare it to rescue sinners.

The apostle Paul wrote that he was “not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). Can you conceive of Paul surveying the pagan, immoral Corinthians to find out what would attract them to Christianity and then constructing a “worship celebration” that catered their tastes? Of course not! He reminded the Corinthian church: “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God . . . . And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor. 1:18; 2:1, 2).

If the clear, uncompromised declaration of the gospel could penetrate the Corinthian culture, it can penetrate ours. Although so many of our contemporaries embrace humanistic philosophy, they also exhibit an intense desire to be in touch with something beyond themselves. They pursue parapsychology, new age attitudes, and pseudo-spirituality.

The culture of first-century Athens was similar to postmodern culture. Philosophers congregated daily on Mars Hill to discuss philosophy and hear new ideas. Monuments throughout their city attested to the Athenians’ polytheism. And then, along came Paul. He declared the Athenians were “in all things too superstitious” [too religious] (Acts 17:22), and he observed they had erected an altar to “the unknown God” (v. 23). Obviously, their religion was inclusive and groundless.

So how did Paul get through to the Athenians? He defined the true God, called for repentance, predicted judgment, and announced that Jesus had risen from the dead (vv. 24–31). Was this the wrong approach to use in a culture ignorant of the Bible and Christian terminology? Decide for yourself! Verse 34 reports positive results. Certain men, including a government official, a woman, and others believed.

In addition to biblical preaching, personal godliness can impact our post-Christian culture. Paul urged the Christians in Philippi to “do all things without murmurings and disputings: that ye maybe blameless and harmless, the sons of God, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world” (Phil. 2:14, 15). Their godly life would pierce the darkness of the culture that surrounded them.

How brightly does the light of modern-day Christians shine into our dark culture? Do we offer a personal witness to postmoderns by word and deed? We know evangelism is not the sole responsibility of pastors. Every Christian has been commissioned to be an ambassador for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20), and our ambassadorship demands that we represent our Lord well by leading a Christlike life.

Many years ago, lamplighters strolled our cities’ sidewalks at dusk and lit streetlamp after streetlamp. When asked by a young boy what he was doing, one lamplighter answered, “I’m poking holes in the darkness.” Perhaps at no previous time has the moral darkness been as thick as it is today. Each us should be poking holes in the darkness. Let’s not underestimate the influence we exert by paying our bills on time, by being honest, by showing kindness, by offering a helping hand and a listening ear, by maintaining a loving family life, by keeping our language pure, and by presenting a clear picture of unity in our local churches.

I readily admit we are living in challenging times. Many of our contemporaries are clueless about the gospel and fail to believe the Bible is God’s absolute Truth, but let’s not abandon the preaching of the gospel and a godly personal witness as the means to reach them. The gospel is still the power of God unto salvation, and a godly personal witness is still the salt that makes others thirsty for the truth. We may change our methods, but we must not change our message.

© 2008, Jim Dyet

1 comment:

WhatIsChazaq? said...

Amen Brother!

"If we you don't engage the culture, the culture will engage you." a Mark Cahill Quote.

Engage the culture with the FULL Gospel...including judgment, sin and hell.

The biggest key that has been thrown out of the contemporary Gospel is...God's Moral law which gives us all a conscience! Scripture declares that his moral law is written on our hearts. It is our secret agent that lies waiting to show the sinner his utter hopeless and depraved leave him speechless and without a leg to stand on.

Paul says simply...if it were not for the law I would not have known what sin was...