Berean cogitations

Saturday, June 07, 2008

How to reach post-moderns

Evangelical Christians often talk about the need to reach young people who espouse a post-modern view of life. In brief, post-modernism is a worldview which declares that there is no absolute truth -- or alternatively, if there is absolute truth, it cannot be known. Thus, people who fully buy into the post-modern philosophy regard straightforward declarations of truth to be arrogant and intolerant. Instead, they prefer that "truth" be communicated through illustrations, storytelling, and similar gimmicks, rather than being declared outright.

So many Christians agonize over the question, "How should we reach post-moderns? What kinds of tactics should we use? They don't want to hear 'truth', so what should we do instead?" This has given rise to a large number of "emerging" and "emergent" churches that avoid the use of Biblical exegesis or making dogmatic statements of belief. They employ narratives instead of exegesis and plead for tolerance instead of dogmatism; after all, wouldn't post-moderns say that it's arrogant to claim to know what a particular Bible passage really means?

Personally, I think they're overcomplicating this issue. I think the only right way to deal with post-modernism is to show people that it's wrong. For example, I'm sure that many of you have already picked up on one severe problem with post-modernism -- namely, that it's self-refuting. After all, if we can never really know the truth, then how can you know that we can never know the truth? And if claiming to be right is automatically arrogant, then how can you justify criticizing others who disagree with that viewpoint? In other words, the fundamental tenets of post-modernism violate their own logic, and are therefore false.

I expressed this viewpoint to a friend of mine a few days ago. He laughed and said, "But Dean, you're thinking logically! Post-moderns don't think with their heads; they think with their hearts. That's why your method won't work. We need need a different approach instead."

I think there are two problems with his answer. First, he assumes that post-moderns are completely incapable of rational thought. I disagree; after all, the self-refutations that I outlined are not difficult to grasp, and even people who are not logical thinkers by nature still retain some capacity for logical reasoning. Second, I think that the use of non-logical approaches -- appealing to their emotions, for example -- are bound to backfire.

Emotional arguments have their place, but they have shallow roots. Somebody who is swayed one way by an emotional argument can be swayed the other way, given enough time. This is why we need to ensure that our teachings are rooted in FACT, not just emotional appeals. A preacher can spin all sorts of stories about the harmful side of adultery, for example; but then "The Bridges of Madison County" comes on TV, and adultery is depicted as a wonderful thing. Or a preacher may object to homosexuality (couching it in storytelling and emotional appeals, of course), but when "Brokeback Mountain" comes on the screen, all of those emotional appeals can be undone within just two hours.

This is why we need to make sure that our teachings are firmly rooted in FACT, not just narrative or emotion. That is how Jesus Christ and the Apostles preached, even when reaching cultures that were different from their own.

Of course, none of this negates the need for missionary zeal, charitable works, or authentic Christian living. Those elements are necessary as well. Nevertheless, the point remains -- we can NOT afford to dance around the issue of truth, nor can we pretend that we are not making firm declarations about what the truth is. By doing so, we might "reach" larger crowds, but we will simply be validating their postmodern viewpoint, and we won't be reaching them with the real gospel.