Humility as the Bridge Between the Gospel and PostmodernismFriday, July 01, 2005
the Gospel and Postmodernism
This past week, I read John Armstrong's latest Weekly Messenger entitled "Modernity and Postmodernity: What's a Non-Specialist To Do?" John is a personal friend of mine, and a mentor to me in several important areas, not the least of which is the skill of fervently loving one another despite any and all differences I might have. John has learned this skill in recent years and has taken much flack for it, even losing much of his ministry support from friends and colleagues who have argued so vehemently from their 'modernistic' mindset that they have missed what I believe to be the most important message he has been trying to get across: if you say you're a follower of Christ then live with the lowliness of mind, meekness, humility, and gentleness of Christ.
This is best communicated in his recent Messenger. John can argue at times way over my head. But I find that when I engage him personally and read him again and again, forcing my heart to stop overreacting to what I only think he's saying, I actually get what he is really saying and benefit greatly from it. Take the following two paragraphs as an example. John wrote,
"Postmodernism is thus a word widely used to show how all of life is lived differently following the 1960s. What one has called postmodernism’s “laid back pluralism” in style, and it’s vague desire to be done with all pretensions of the modern way, mark its general direction. For our purposes this means postmodernism challenges the presumptive roles of philosophy and theology as privileged, truth-telling forms of discourse. It particularly becomes a linguistic challenge that wants language to become the object of its own intense scrutiny. This is why it often seems to challenge everything in how a text is read and understood.
This linguistic aspect is very dangerous to the gospel since it is communicated by and through words from ancient texts. But it also allows important rhetorical insights to emerge that are often extremely useful. The results can lead to a regress that is utterly destructive. This is precisely where Christians are concerned when they encounter the word postmodern but it is also where they are easily misled and often misinformed. "
Many gospel-centered friends and allies in the faith, Reformed or not, would nod to everything only to stumble bug-eyed at the last statement. But if we read the rest of the article, wiping away the foam from the corners of our mouths, we will realize that in all of John's philosophical renderings, the main point he is trying to communicate is very simply, humility. It was not until I got to the end of his article in reading one of my favorite theologians, John Calvin, that I understood what both John's were after.
“Since the Spirit of God here opens a common school for all, it is not surprising that he should chiefly choose those subjects which would be intelligible to all...When God descends to us he, in a certain sense, abases himself, and stammers with us, so he allows us to stammer with him" (Calvin on Genesis 1:16).
“God lisps, as it were, with us, just as nurses are accustomed to speak to infants" (Institutes, I.xiii.1).
Humility is at the very bottom of these statements. How so? Because it is only in understanding this infinte, wise, all-knowing, all-powerful, immutable God and His incredible condescension to communicate with finite, foolish, little-knowing, impotent, finicky creatures that we are brought to the place where we cannot allow ourselves to arrogantly assume we can put that God in a box we create for Him.
That is what John Armstrong is saying that modernistic evangelicals have done with the Scriptures and theology, and this is what he says postmodern evangelicals are reacting to the strongest. So perhaps John is right. Perhaps we modernistic evangelicals have done the very thing we rant and rave about liberals and other such factions do with God - fashion Him after our image and put Him in a box we design for Him (or a coffin, more like it). Listen to John's closing words.
"When this mistake is made we simply assert too much, way too much. We make claims for what we know that are way too large. By this means we build a comfortable box. God becomes the 'god of the equations.' This gives pastors and lay people, who refuse to go outside the box to engage the postmodern world, a veritable license to label other evangelicals as liberal. The cause of truth, indeed the Truth, and the cause of mission are directly impacted when we live in this box. Christians should embrace the Christ of Holy Scripture without the box."I, along with John Armstrong, believe that postmodernism is dangerous to the gospel. But I also believe that modernism is dangerous to the mission of the gospel. The only way modernistic evangelicals can hope to reach a postmodern world, it seems, is to be humble enough to recognize that at best we can only lisp about this great God and Savior Jesus Christ.
So let us believe His perfect truth in Scripture, the truth which He has communicated to our hearts by the anointing of the Spirit (1 John 2:20, 27). Let us hang on to it until our very last breath. But let us also communicate it to others the way the Spirit first did to us - with the 'wooing' love of a humble, and meek and gentle Savior who called us to come to Him for rest (Matt. 11:28-29). That is how we will reach a postmodern world with a genuine gospel unfettered by the chains of arrogance with which we have so seemingly disgraced it.
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