The world has changed – as much as Christians don’t want to admit it.
We’d love the stay in our rationalistic, explain-it-and-believe-it world, but the fact is that many people (increasing numbers in fact) simply don’t think that way anymore. Our culture has spent so many years viewing movies and television shows that suspend reality for the sake of entertainment (How many times have you said, “There’s no way that could happen!” while watching the latest action flick?) that people have begun to view life and the world in the same manner. It doesn’t have to make complete sense – as long as it seems to work.
There is a small sense of healthiness to this attitude – a type of humility that says we haven’t gotten it all figured out yet – so therefore it’s O.K. to believe or embrace something even though you don’t understand it. I can respect that kind of attitude. It’s one of learning to be comfortable that in life and in the created universe, there is a very real sense of mystery.
But, where it inevitably leads is the belief that every opinion and viewpoint is equally valid, no one viewpoint can claim an exclusive possession of truth. In short, that’s pluralism. And it’s the direction our world has gone…
I’ve been reading a very insightful book lately – “Preaching to a Postmodern World” by Graham Johnston. In describing the world we live in he has clearly given example after example of how our world has become a place just as I’ve described. And it’s from that context that he addresses the need for Pastors / Christians to be able to present the uniqueness of Jesus to a culture that has begun to believe that there is nothing unique about anything or anyone. How do you present exclusive claims to a culture that denies that anything can be exclusive? How do you remain true to the Biblical message while at the same time communicating to a generation that seemingly speaks a new language of relativism?
Some of Johnston’s ideas…
Concerning the current idea that everything should be included (inclusivity):
“In determining the veracity of an idea…inclusiveness does not serve as much of a guide. Postmodern listeners, in fact, assume inclusiveness is the unity of core beliefs – or that all religious systems are basically the same. How many people can honestly claim to have investigated the tenets of belief in the major religions? Most are functioning under a blind assumption of unity. People would like to believe or accept by faith that all religions are basically the same…. Preaching should direct people to weigh a belief system on its own merit based on personal investigation as opposed to the postmodern axiom that they are all the same. In the words of the prophet Elijah, ‘If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal is God, follow him’ (1 Kings 18:21)…. The uniqueness of Jesus presents an obstacle, but is also a powerful strength in preaching to postmodern listeners. Examining the distinctiveness of Christ, the question that every preacher should probe is, ‘How much do these people really know about the person of Jesus?'”
Referring to Mark chapter 4:
“Consider delivering a series of messages on the life of Christ without resolving the tension, ‘What manner of man is this?’ Instead, allow the listeners to grapple in their own hearts and minds concerning the nature of Christ.”
It seems that much of what “convinces” modern listeners is personal experience, or what seems to work. So I could see an approach like this, that allows people to struggle through the questions could be very powerful. It requires us to trust God to do His work in His timing. It requires us to make sure we are not afraid or threatened by the questions, doubts, skepticism, etc. that people may feel. Those are the barriers that keep many from faith in Christ – and we have to allow room for those questions to be asked and the answers to be understood.
For me, the tendency is to want to give the answers right away – and to press for a response. I want to present what I know (from scripture) to be the truth and get a response (i.e. life change) right away, without being patient enough for the person to get there in their own time (or God’s timing). As Jesus said, the Spirit does His work in people’s lives in ways that we can’t see – or understand. I think I’ve learned a bit in this area over the years, but it’s still a work in progress.
The truth is: Jesus is unique. He is God. He is the ONLY Savior. But people nowadays don’t agree with that right off (unlike a few decades ago). It is going to take loving, patient dialogue, on a continual basis to help those in our present cultural mindset to see it for themselves and embrace it in faith.