New Era

It appears the church is beginning to understand, albeit slowly and somewhat begrudgingly, that we are now completely immersed in a new age of thought and morality. Our culture is no longer in transition; the church is now conducting ministry within a society that has undergone a complete metamorphosis. The United States is no longer a nation anchored by the truth of the Bible or the methods by which it has been preached for the past 50 years. The United States is now a full-blown postmodern society.

For the past decade the church has witnessed the meteoric rise of ideologies like secular humanism and relativism. Subjective experience has become the high-water-mark for every medium and measure of human morality. Biblical principles that were once widely accepted in our culture decades ago are now viewed by postmodern people as restrictive and even hateful. However, even though the Judeo-Christian ethic is no longer the normative worldview in America, there is still a sizable population of Christians who are hungry for an unpolluted message of hope and truth. There is a next-generation of Christian who is faithfully seeking biblical answers in order to address some existential questions; questions about purpose, sexuality, materialism, marriage, fidelity, friendship, work-ethic, health, the arts, politics, social justice, philanthropy, humanitarianism, environmentalism, recreational drug use, wealth, etc. And, what I’m witnessing is a group of next-generation disciples trying to decipher whether or not their God, faith and convictions speak to the realities of their culture. Does the Christian message they’ve inherited from their parents or heard preached by Baby-Boomer pastors translate into a practical and meaningful way-of-living for the NEXT 50 years? Does their faith need to resemble their parent’s faith at all? Does it need to encompass the politics, patriotism, social views and financial priorities of the generations that preceded them? These are the hard questions and concerns sub-40 Christians are wrestling with … and it’s a concern because, frankly, their parent’s culture is just as guilty of bastardizing the teachings of Jesus as anyone else, e.g. divorce-rates, materialism, racial injustices, etc. The new postmodern age we’re living-in coupled with next-generation concerns lead us to two critical questions.

The first question is: are the unchanging truths of the Bible and the unchanging nature of God compatible with a postmodern society? The answer is, yes. The Bible and nature of God is compatible with every society. Postmodern America does not own the patent on godlessness. There have been many societies and people groups throughout the past two millennia that could easily rival and even surpass the godlessness of our current United States culture. In my opinion, the Gospel message of Jesus Christ has faced more daunting cultures than ours. And, even if this weren’t the case, in Matthew 16:18 Jesus says that the “gates of Hell will not prevail against [the church].” Hell seems like a pretty godless and terrible place to me and yet hell itself will not overpower the message of Jesus Christ or the organization he leads. So, suffice it to say, we do not need to modify or cleverly obscure the truth of God in order to minister to a postmodern culture. The truth in the Bible is still more than capable of ministering to every tongue, tribe and people with power and authority just as it has for the past 2000 years.

The second, and perhaps more difficult, question is: are the 50-year-old methods by which our preachers and church leaders communicate the Bible compatible with a postmodern society? Asked another way, will the methods of articulating the Bible from the PAST 50 years continue to effectively influence our culture for the NEXT 50 years? I believe the answer to this question is, no. Our methods of communicating the truth of the Bible must be retooled to minister a different cultural context. There’s nothing heretical or scary about this.  As matter of fact, Paul did this in Acts 17 when he visited the Athenians during his second mission journey. In many ways, Athens was a lot like our modern American culture. They were literate, well-educated, eclectic and affluent. They prided themselves on religious tolerance and what we’d call open-mindedness towards all practices of idolatry. It says in Acts 17:16 that Paul was in Athens waiting to rendezvous with Silas and Timothy after leaving them in Berea and traveling ahead. It says that while Paul was “waiting for them” he began to feel “greatly distressed seeing that the city [of Athens] was full of idols.” And, because of his burden for the people of Athens Paul begins to evangelize in one of their pagan synagogues until being noticed by a group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. These philosophers were intrigued by Paul and his message and decided to give him an opportunity to preach in the local amphitheatre which they called Mars Hill. It’s obvious when reading the text that follows their invitation for Paul to preach (vs. 22-31) that Paul understood the Athenian culture and took some very apparent and deliberate steps to modify his method of delivering the Gospel as a result. Paul did NOT modify the Gospel itself but rather the way in which he communicated it. He delivered the unchanging and exclusive message of salvaion with an Athenian crowd in mind and, while it says that some “sneered” (vs. 32) at his message, some were reached and became ministers of this Gospel. God honored Paul’s commitment to preach the unchanging and authoritative truth of the Gospel through methods that were tailored specifically for this audience.

The simple fact is, the methods of articulating the Word of God from the past 50 years in the American church are no longer good enough … we must do better. We are Paul in Athens and we must handle the unchanging truth of God with more thoughtfulness and intentionality if we hope to influence a new crop of disciples.

The following points are not exhaustive — they are three examples of methods that have been used for the past 50 years to communicate the faith. These are just a few methods that need to be re-tooled in order to communicate the truth about Jesus to a new culture. There are many more that I could add but these three should offer a clear example of our challenge.

The following three points finish the statement “It is no longer good enough to …”

1. speak a truth that no one really understands or that everyone interprets for themselves.

Some examples of this might be:

“God has it all figured out”
“God won’t give you more than you can handle.”
“God doesn’t want our works he wants out hearts”
“Let go and let God”
“Keep God number one in your life”
“Make God the center of your marriage”

What do any of these statements really mean? To one person these statements mean one thing and to another they mean something completely different. They’re not all that helpful.

To speak truth without really understanding it or being able to clearly explain it is thoughtless and trite. It is a cliché and it is usually the product of laziness, ignorance, a general lack of concern or a combination of the three. Principles of truth are only genuinely adopted by postmodern people when the purpose/reason supporting those principles has been genuinely adopted. For example, I do not run red lights in my car because I have embraced the purpose for not running red lights. If we (the church) hope to influence a generation of cynics, relativists and humanists then we must be able to explain the reason for the Christian life. We must be able to answer the question “why” and utilize the word “because” if we hope to influence this new culture for Jesus Christ.

2. be right … and nothing more.

The church needs to be right … and, by and large, the church is right when we are committed to preaching biblical truth. But, this isn’t enough. The church also needs to be smart about our “rightness.” It is easy and unproblematic to be right when everyone involved in the debate is playing by an established set of rules. But, in a postmodern culture this doesn’t happen. Rules vary and are often subject to change based on the whims, emotions and propaganda that rule the day. Effective Christian influencers must learn how to compensate for people who do not play by the “rules” – the rules in this case being the Bible. Being right will not defend or champion your “right position” with a postmodern mind if you’re not being smart about “being right.” This means that we must think-through the context, timing, manner and packaging of our “right” statements (notice I did not say “conten”) if we hope to affect this new culture for Jesus.

3. preach from the Bible without communicating the heart of God with it.

When I’m given the privilege to preach the Word of God to the people of God it is my conviction to preach and apply the Bible in a way that gives those people tools — tools that will help them transform their lives … their marriage … their fidelity … their thought-life … their spending … the way they eat … the amount of alcohol they consume and so on. I believe the church is edified by the full Counsel of God (2 Tim. 2:14) and I believe it should be preached so as to give people purpose and direction in this life. Redundancy, predictability and/or catering to comfort are not effective methodologies … and they need to end. When God speaks it is to restore his people! It is to bring them into a right relationship with him so that they may experience abundance – a goodness that only a life devoted to God can generate. This does not necessitate modifying or tapering the Bible in any way but I do beleive it involves articulating the heart of God better then we’ve doing.

One of the things I heard growing up was “take a cold a shower” … but telling young postmodern Christians to “take a cold shower” is simply not good enough anymore. It’s not good enough because the world they live-in is slicing and dicing the biblical paradigm of sexuality. They don’t need to be told what to do sexually as much as they need to be told why it’s impotant. They must understand the affection their God has for them by desiring they experience his incredible goodness through his design for sexuality. It isn’t good enough to tell postmodern Christians to obey the Bible because that’s what Christians are supposed to do. Postmodern Christians must understand the nature and purpose for their obedience. They must understand the sanctification and blessings that come with obedience. These things must be made real for them because they need to understand and be able to explain the deep affection within the will and precepts of God before it is fully embraced.

I’d love to hear about any methods or philosophies that have helped you process your faith better in this culture of postmodernism. Please leave a comment or email me so that I can hear from you.



About Matt Brecht
Lead Pastor of NorthPointe Church

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