Postmodern Apologetics

leaderu.gifMike Metzger at Leadership University has an excellent article about defending the faith in a postmodern society. Here are his summary points:

  • We don’t just offer “answers”; we offer mystery. We should offer faith as a context for exploring mystery.
  • We don’t debate minutiae; we focus on essentials. Rather than old earth vs. young earth, we should wrestle with larger issues.
  • We don’t push credibility alone; we also stress plausibility. Many commentators of the postmodern scene underscore this point. Credibility has to do with coherence. That is difficult to prove to a postmodern. Plausibility has to do with beauty and satisfaction. This is essentially what Schaeffer promoted.
  • We don’t condemn our competitors; we see them as colleagues of sorts and reason with them with winsome gentleness and respect. People are sick of religions fighting one another.
  • We don’t rush people; we help them at a healthy pace. We will have to emphasize the process of conversion.

thinker.jpegIf we Christians could defend Christianity with this mindset, we would see a lot more progress. You have to understand the differences between modernism and postmodernism.  Here are a few differences that come to mind.

  • Modernism uses logical, sequential argumentation to prove a point. Postmodernism sees no point as proven–ever–arguments are fruitless and negative. Postmoderns prefer dialogue or conversations, and most of them avoid conclusions.
  • Modernism believed the law of non-contradiction: two opposite propositions cannot both be true at the same time. Postmodernism never heard of non-contradiction: postmoderns can simultaneously hold contradictory ideas and not be bothered by it or even aware of it.
  • Modernism sees truth as objective: facts, certainty, clarity, universality, absolutes. What’s true for one is true for all. Postmodernism has no absolutes.  What’s true for you doesn’t have to be true for me; in fact, only a narrow-minded bigot would make a universal truth-claim.
  • ge_truth.jpgModernism sees truth as objective.  Postmodernism sees every truth as subjective, biased, and hopelessly colored by our backgrounds.  We cannot disengage our personal histories from our understanding of truth:  every truth is biased and therefore subject to attack or rejection (except theirs, which is unbiased!).
  • Modernism rejected the mystical/supernatural in favor of logic and science.  Postmodernism still accepts logic and science, but leaves a lot more room for the mystical and supernatural.
  • Modernists say: Show me your arguments.  Postmodernists say:  Make me feel your truth;  show me your life.

This is why Metzger’s points are so crucial today.  A lot of us in ministry are losing ground because we’re trying to reach a postmodern mindset using modern methods.  So, what’s a good Christian to do?

paulmarshill.jpgBack to Mars Hill!   When Paul interfaced with the philosphers on Mars Hill in Acts 17, he stepped into a postmodern mindfield.  Plurality of gods.  Plurality of philosophies.  Broad minded tolerance.  A moral landscape that would resemble Amsterdam today.  Sophisticated.  Educated.  Liberated.  Tolerant.  How did the apostle Paul interact with this highly pluralistic culture?  What pointers can we distill from Acts 17?

We’ll talk about that in our next posting… and I’ll give you some links to some really good apologetic web sites.


19 thoughts on “Postmodern Apologetics

  1. i really have no idea about this but my guess is that postmodernism was a reaction to modernism? a modernism that denies the supernatural? the old covenant concept of pluralism was that it was anathema, at least in the theocracy of israel…….is there a hint in this blog beginning (“amsterdam”) that such pluralism, even moral pluralism, is wrong? why should we even care? (and that is not a rhetorical question)

  2. It seems the descriptions of postmodernism was written by someone who sees postmodernism as incompatible with Jesus, and speaks from a decidedly ‘modern’ point of view. Is this the case? (I wasn’t quite sure who had formulated the list…)

    Speaking personally, I find that the gospel is growing in much more furtile soil when it is cast onto postmodern fields as compared to modern ones…

    I don’t see postmodern people as against truth and absolutes per se, only that they don’t trust people who make claims about the truth in absolute terms. When people try to sell me something I don’t want, I too am a skeptic; skeptical of their motives primarily, not so much skeptical of their ‘truth.’

  3. RICK: I added Amsterdam. It was on the news yesterday morning because the gov’t is raising taxes on prostitution and there’s a moral debate over the legitimacy of those taxes… a real irony if you ask me. The reporter summed up the city in the terms I used above (Sacramento radio station).

    STEVE: Actually, the author was quite open to postmodernism, and says this: “Our evangelism must take seekers beyond their unexamined assumptions and beliefs. Obviously, postmodernism is not necessarily better than modernism. It may be the case that all worldviews share similarly in the amount of insight they have into reality—and all suffer from the comparable amounts of absurdity.”

    I agree with you: there is a softening toward the gospel in some quarters. I think it’s from a greater openness to that which is mystical/supernatural and from a longing for something solid to hold onto.


  4. bill….. i’m not even sure why we should care about moral pluralism? i’m not real comfortable with it, but the opposite scares me more. there seems to be a trend in the u.s. for laws to be passed that aim for a moral singularity, and that is usually from ‘the right’ (and ‘christian’….seems a consistent pattern of right wing politics to codify a particular moral code……another can of worms regarding laws being a coercive force for morality).

    i’m feeling for ya about your dad. i was blessed to have my father around into his 80’s. he was a unique guy, had his flaws, but heck, he was my dad and loved me!

  5. Seems to me modernism/postmodernism/Mars Hill all suffer from the same “disease” – lost, apart from the saving grace of God through Jesus Christ. Our task as Christians is to share the Absolute Truth, which is offensive to some (just because…), with clarity and love so the Holy Spirit can do the convicting and saving of the soul. This worldview is NOT new, but been around since the beginning of time. Prayerfully, the Gospel of Christ is not watered down into something unusable or ineffective. Isn’t that what Apologetics is all about, the sharing of the ONLY way to God? I believe we’d all do better by sticking to the basics too.

  6. “the ONLY way to God?”

    Doesn’t that sound scary and manipulative to you?

    It does to me, and I already call myself a Christian. Shouldn’t we be a little more open about our own fallibility? Especially in light of a culture that navigates thousands of truth claims on a daily basis, each clamoring for us to, ‘buy this soap, take this pill, use this credit card, etc.’

    I would rather simply avoid language that forces people to accept a modern worldview along with accepting Jesus. The cross is offensive enough, I don’t want people to be offended by me…

  7. Steve…

    Are you saying that Jesus isn’t the ONLY way to God? That a person can have a genuine relationship with God apart from Jesus Christ?

    “Scary and manipulative?” Try out: ““Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”” Acts 4:12, NKJV. Are you saying that’s scary and manipulative?

    I’m sure I’m just misunderstanding your point. Help me out; I’m confused.


  8. “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except by Me.” John 14:6. I would never have the nerve to say such a thing, but I certainly don’t mind quoting Jesus. He has the authority to make such a statement. My opinion to the world – believe it or not, your choice.

    I, too, am a little confused just what you mean. I think Creator, Almighty God can say anything He wishes even if it’s taken as manipulative and scary by us puny createes.

  9. 35 or 40 years ago, I heard an interview on the radio that stuck with me all this time. I’ve never heard anyone else make this observation:

    In the early 20th Century, most Americans grew up on the farm. They were surrounded by animals. What’s the difference between us humans and animals? Human beings *think!*

    In the late 20th Century, most Americans are surrounded by computers. What do computers do? They “think!” What can a human do that a computer can’t? *Feel!*

  10. maybe christs words of i am the way, and the concept of ‘thru jesus’…..are not understood correctly or too narrowly…..too literal perhaps, one of those “as numerous as the sands of the sea” sort of phrase. maybe it is thru what jesus taught, which could be interpreted as ‘thru him’…..maybe, just throwing it out there. why couldn’t it be that more general understanding, one that still falls under the category of ‘it’ (whatever ‘it’ might be….salvation, reaching the father etc) being ‘thru christ’ and not it being exactly how we are lead to believe. isn’t there a passage in romans, oft quoted as an answer to those who question the ability to be saved of those who’ve never heard the gospel or of jesus, that nature itself, that god reveals himself in such a way that the heart can understand and respond sufficiently…..and there is no indication that the word or concept of ‘jesus’ happens at all! pre incarnation, there was no ‘jesus’ in mind or thought, though i realize that may be a lame argument but, there is a threatening tone to how this narrow way is portrayed, and i posit that maybe we are not correct.

  11. I am familiar with the words of Jesus quoted above, however, it seems like there is a fundamental difference between saying Jesus is the way to God, and Jesus is in the way!

    I don’t dispute the words of Luke (Acts), nor do I have a problem in saying that Jesus is the ‘name by which we are saved,’ I do have a problem with the way in which the Bible is sometimes used…

    If our quotations of specific statements are taken out of their specific contexts and used to do the very opposite of what the Bible reveals God to be up to (excluding and marginalizing people on the outside instead of including and welcoming those people) then I do have a problem.

    I have gained alot of mileage out of the bounded-set versus centered-set distinction. Jesus (and subsequently, God) are definately operating within a centered-set matrix. I want to do the same thing… encouraging people who have an interest in Jesus, not bludgeoning them with a worldview that they simply don’t buy into (and don’t need to buy into to accept Jesus).

  12. Steve,
    If you want to continue the dialogue great, if not; I understand. But I’m not sure where you’re going with this. Would you be willing to explain Acts 4:12 and John 14:6 without “taking them out of their specific contexts” and using a centered-set matrix? And what exactly does it sound like to “bludgeon” people with a worldview they don’t want or need to buy into? Just a couple of lines would be helpful.


  13. steve, i for one, am really interested in hearing your thoughts re the worldview part. i suspect you are on to a touchy subject….

  14. Bounded-set and centered-set are sociological terms. I first heard it explained from a friend who had actually learned about them in a missiology class at Simpson College (now University). Check this explanation, it will suffice, although I would sugest reading the book the blog references (The Shaping of Things to Come), it is a great look at church and mission from a ‘centered-set’ perspective…

    In this framework, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” is Jesus saying, “I am the Center”, as opposed to, “I am the boundary.” I find that this is an important distinction, one makes Jesus the point of interest, the other makes Him an obstacle. This has a lot to do with my context: moving from ultra-Christian Redding, to agnostic Buffalo; I want to create a space for people to explore Jesus. The people I meet here are intrigued by Jesus, but not ready to relinquish their lives, I want to encourage them to move towards Jesus without putting hurdles in their way (Jesus is His own hurdle!) In centered-set terminology, I want to have a fuzzy boundary and a sharply focused core; ie an inclusive and welcoming, Christ-centered, community.

    As to the worldviews…

    …a great read would be the epilogue to C. S. Lewis’ The Discarded Image

    There was a time when the dominant paradigm for Western Christianity was such that to propose the helio-centric universe was to court execution. We need to encourage people to pursue Jesus, not our ideas of Jesus. In fact, I want people to express Jesus in their own language and culture. This applies directly to worldviews:

    The postmodern worldview is no more or less ‘true’ than the modern. Our formulations of Christian doctrine and practice, however, are throughly entrenched in ways of doing and being that simply no longer have any meaning for the wider culture, in fact, the only reason they have meaning for us within the Church is because we have made the church a culture time-capsule. (The perfect example is the ridiculous insistence by many Christians to continue to use the KJV of the Bible; what are we communicating to people by this?)

    I would say that (with regard to the point in question) we shouldn’t be asking people who are enmeshed in an image-driven, story-based, holistic-point-of-view, to embrace an understanding of God and Gospel that has been formulated in an word-driven, atomized, and scientific-point-of-view. If we ask people to accept as proof, our answers to questions they aren’t even asking why are we surprised when they slam the door in our faces. This is not because we are ‘being persecuted for our faith’ or even because ‘the world is blind to the truth,’ but rather because we are expecting the natives to learn our language before we will let them have a place at the table…

  15. “the cross is offensive enough”…

    Why do you think that is? Does it represent God, or cross, or does the cross what we tried to reflect back at God’s love for us… The cross represents us, or us bound by time, space, and the temptations of flesh…

    that’s the reason it’s offensive.

  16. The Cross shows the depths of our depravity; it makes us total moral charity cases; it shows how deeply we have violated our relationship with God; it defines us as sinners in need of a Savior; it insults human arrogance; it demonstrates our inability to live up to God’s standards.

    “And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why do I still suffer persecution? Then the offense of the cross has ceased.” Ga 5:11.

    “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1Co 1:18.

    “As it is written: “Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.”” Ro 9:33.


  17. maxgrace,

    I’m the philosophy student from APU who met you a few weeks ago at church and I finally made it onto your blog! I like this bit on postmodernism. First, where is your next post referencing Acts 17 you speak of at the end of this post? Also, I can see that this wall is talking a lot about whether or not Jesus is the exclusive way to Christ and I don’t want to disturb this dialog, but I’d like hear and comment on your thoughts about the influence post-modernity is having on Christians growing up in Church, as I see a lot of those influences coming in and polarizing my generation between the “free-thinkers” who love and the “close-minded” evangelicals that discriminate. Maybe you could direct me to another article here, and I’ll check your emergent church articles to see if anything about this is there as well. But I like the blog man, keep it up.

  18. Thanks Ryan…
    I don’t think I ever wrote the second part of the Acts 17 post. It’s all stream of consciousness here!
    The post-modern polarization between free-thinkers and “close-minded” evangelicals (to use your excellent terms) is a struggle between thinking and unthinking. The underlying position of the free thinkers is: we can’t be omniscient, so we can’t be sure of anything… The net result is a “flight from reason” and “settling for ambiguity.” All of this becomes a false humility, predicted in Col 2 and elsewhere. Just because it’s hard to think doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it, right?

  19. I appreciate your attempt at looking at faith through the modern and postmodern philosophies, but using more than one refrence would help you unbias your statements and shed more light on how God is viewed/debated in our culture. “World culture” as you described it, does not exist. Each place in the world has a unique and specific culture, some are similar, some are not. Liberal European countries are beginning to accept postmodern ideas in more educated circles, but on the whole more conservative countries, like the US, still conform more to the modern philosophy. Also, looking at this from a religious standpoint, dietal pluralism has never been reccomended in the Bible. Jesus met people where the were in their life, but “loved them too much to leave them there.” He never supported the idea of having more than one God. As far as Christianity is concerned God, Three in One, is the only God. The pluralistic views of self in postmodernism, while very easy to relate to, is narcisitic to look at next to religion. The role postmodernism would play in connecting Christianity to culture would be looking into truths like “intellegent design”. Best of luck with your future studies! (Look into New York University’s philosophy department our professors there have written excellent work on modernism and post modernism and even religious philosophy)

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