REACHING A GENERATION WHO DOES NOT BELIEVE IN ABSOLUTE TRUTH
BY DANNY W. DAVIS
The wise king Solomon wrote, “Buy the truth and sell it not” (Proverbs 23:23). Solomon understood that truth is invaluable and should never be compromised. However, in our modern society and culture we are experiencing a massive shift toward the selling of or complete disregard of truth. When beliefs are no longer based in reality and those who hold to absolute truth are considered intolerant, we must ask, How do we effectively evangelize a world where these ideas are predominant?
The Rise of Postmodernism
We are in the midst of the greatest cultural change America has ever seen. Terms such as relativism, multiculturalism, diversity, and tolerance are commonplace. These terms spring from a philosophy termed postmodernism. This cultural change, when it is finished, will overshadow the changes brought about by Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species. Darwin’s ideas on evolution have revolutionized almost every aspect of our society and now are simply regarded as fact and no longer theory. Most Christians were not prepared for the revolution brought about by this theory, and sadly many are not prepared for this current change either. There is hope, however. We can begin to equip our minds and hearts to reach a society that has declared that truth is dead!
Objective truth is under attack in current thinking. The idea that there are some moral and natural absolutes draws much criticism in our society. The reason is that when we declare that something is absolute, we in effect declare that something else is not absolute.
For example, a person who declares there is an absolute deity, i.e., Jesus Christ, will be labeled intolerant and arrogant. The reason is that if there is one absolute deity, then those who call on Allah or Krishna must be wrong. Therefore, out of respect and “tolerance,” our society says that we are not supposed to declare an absolute deity but must accept these other views without question. To question or challenge these views is the height of intolerance according to postmodern thought. Current thinking says that reality is only based on internal paradigms gathered by cultural influences; therefore everything is subjective.
Not all things are subjective, however. It is possible to know reality and therefore to know truth. Avicenna, an eleventh-century philosopher, stated, “Those who deny a first principle should be beaten
or exposed to fire until they concede that to burn and not to burn, to be beaten or not to be beaten, are not identical.” First principles are the basis for all conclusions drawn in any area of knowledge, whether
in science or philosophy. In other words, it is true that a burn hurts and a beating hurts; this is an absolute and to say otherwise is faulty.
Most critical thinkers believe we are shifting from modernism to postmodernism. Until recently, the consensus in secular (non-Christian) thought has been modernism.’ Modernism, or what some have termed secular humanism, believes that reason is the answer for everything. It promotes the idea that science and technology can cure all human evils. The modernist ideology can be characterized as follows:
1. Truth is only discovered through reason and logic.
2. Humans are rational and not spiritual beings who define their existence only by what they can perceive by the senses.
3. The world should be conquered.
4. Belief in the supernatural should be rejected, and instead we should gain answers about life and the world by strict scientific method and rational thought.
5. The progress of humanity will happen only through understanding of science and reason.
On the surface, these concepts appeal to human beings. We are rational people who, for the most part, enjoy a life of order. However, when we look at this thinking in the light of theism (the belief in an infinite and personal God) we see some stark contrasts. We can describe theism as follows:
1. God reveals truth to us.
2. Humans are spiritual and material beings created in the image of God.
3. God is the Creator and the preserver of the world and has instructed us to have dominion over it and care for it.
4. Reason can disclose truth but we must also have faith and revelation.
5. Humanity is not progressing, but we are awaiting deliverance from this world to the next world.
In the year 2001 we are living in the transition from modernism to postmodernism. Many people still embrace modernistic assumptions, but increasing numbers of people are embracing postmodern assumptions. This transition has tremendous implications for us as a society and in particular for us as Christians.
Postmodernism is harder to define than modernism because it declares that there are no absolute truths by which to govern our lives. However, we can characterize it as follows:
1. Truth does not exist objectively; it is only a product of a person’s environment and culture.
2. Humans are simply cogs in a social machine and products of their culture and environment.
3. We must cooperate with the earth.
4. Reason and language are arbitrary-not guided by a universal truth but a product of “social construct,” a product not of our thoughts andattitudes but of our environment and culture.
5. Progress is only a way for Western society to dominate and oppress non-Western cultures.
Adherents of postmodernism are no longer confident that reason and technology will solve our problems. They see technology as having caused more problems than it has or could solve. Postmodernistic thought has produced such ideas as political correctness; a denial of absolute truth; a reluctance of parents or educators to discipline, grade or test children for fear of labeling them; and defining “tolerance” to mean that we should never question or criticize another culture or question moral decisions because all views deserve equal respect.
One example of how this philosophy has impacted our culture is in the way we view the distinction between genders. No longer do we simply have male and female, but supposedly we have five genders:(1)
heterosexual women, (2) homosexual women, (3) heterosexual men, (4) homosexual men, and finally (5) bisexuals. This reclassification of gender has produced significant implications in national political policy and most recently in the arena of public education. The feminist movement has declared that the terms “male” and “female” are simply socially created categories intended to enslave women to men.
Therefore, if we change this “social construct” we can then reconstruct the definition of family, which in turn will change the face of the nation.
If we are to reach a generation who has accepted this philosophy we must be students of culture in order to effectively share the message of the gospel to those who live in it. The apostle Paul gave us insight into reaching this generation when he said, “To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak:
I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you” (I Corinthians 9:22-23) We must take a fresh look at evangelism methods if we are to reap the harvest the Lord has grown for us in this generation.
How Does Postmodernism Affect Evangelism?
Modern methods of evangelism (outreach) were cultivated primarily using the ideas of the famous evangelist Charles Finney. Finney, an attorney who became a Christian and then a preacher, was the first to use an “altar call” and to popularize outreach events. These events eventually became known in Christian circles as revivals, outreach programs, and special meetings.
They were tremendously effective and undoubtedly millions of people have been reached through them. However, times change and methodology must change as well. A programmatic approach to outreach
was effective when America was at least nominally Christian. We could design programs that sought to attract the person who believed in the Bible, believed in Jesus, and had some form of religious upbringing. I have found in my own personal soul winning that home Bible studies are a powerful tool to win this kind of people, but what about the growing number of people in America who do not believe in the authenticity of the Bible? How do we teach the Bible to someone who simply does not believe it is true? What about those who see no difference between the sayings of Jesus and the sayings of Confucius? For the answer, we must take a fresh look at how we evangelize in a postmodern world!
First we must understand that our context for evangelism has changed dramatically since the 1980s. My generation has seen the rise and fall of several religious leaders, causing much skepticism. This skepticism has caused many to look outside the church for spiritual answers. In looking for answers people have opened themselves to religious influences that have taken a foothold in American society. No longer can we simply say, “Because the Bible says so!” and expect people to believe. The influence of postmodernism on our culture has educated people to be wary of anyone making truth claims, because there is no absolute truth, they would say.
My generation does not even look at reality the same, due to this influence. We hear statements like, “What is true for you is not necessarily true for me!” Reality in a postmodern context is not based on truth but can be different for everyone, thus creating multiple layers of reality. Therefore, we must learn how to peel back the layers of false reality and skepticism, helping seekers to uncover biblical principles that change their lives. We can do so by learning to serve and give seekers time to work through the process of becoming a Christian.
In modernism the idea of outreach was to conquer, but in postmodernism it is about service.2 The conquest mentality has caused many to enjoy debates over doctrine more than the repentance of a sinner. Many non-Christians are terrified of Christians because so many have tried to conquer more than serve. Battlefield terminology works to motivate Christians to fight for the army of the Lord, but we sometimes forget that the enemy is Lucifer and not the sinner. In trying to conquer Lucifer and his kingdom, the collateral damage has sometimes become the souls of humans.
In our present culture we must become service oriented if we are to reach this generation effectively. We must remember the words of our Master when He said, “And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall
be servant of all” (Mark 10:44). We must learn to serve through the building of relationships with those who do not know Jesus Christ. Jesus modeled this method in choosing His disciples. He did not go and
find Christians to serve as disciples; He went and found sinners! Then he spent three and a half years building a relationship with them that ultimately resulted in their full conversion at Pentecost.
In modernism evangelism has been relegated to an event.’ In a postmodern culture evangelism is more a process. We have in the past been very successful at reaching out to the nominal Christian through
revival meetings and events at our local assemblies. Today, more than ever before, people are searching for spiritual roots by which to grow. There is a generation of hungry people who are reaching out to psychics, mediums, New Age religion, occultism, cults, and paganism. Their hunger for relationship and community has caused them to follow any carrot placed in front of them.
Today we are reaching for people who have little if any church or religious background. Because of this, there is much skepticism and fear in the hearts of those who are searching for meaning in life, and
they are reluctant to make a quick decision to give their life to Jesus Christ. Today’s seekers are full of questions and eager for answers but also want the liberty to weigh our answer against others. We must allow them to process the information and make decisions in their timing. In order to do this, we must remember this biblical mandate: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (I Peter 3:15). In other words, when people ask us why, it is not because they want to argue points of Scripture but because they often genuinely want to know truth. In our efforts to win souls, we need to allow time for people to make real, knowledgeable decisions about faith, while at the same time living before them as an example of a Christian. This means we must truly trust the “truth” of Scripture, for the Bible either holds all answers or it contains none of the answers.
Many denominations and many apostolic churches have begun to realize the need for relationship building and service in evangelism efforts. One result is the cell church or home church movement. This
movement has been particularly effective in secular or non-Christian areas. Countries where people were once extremely resistant to the gospel are now seeing people converted to Christianity in large numbers. Many of these converts are not coming through the traditional means of church services but in the living rooms of home church leaders.
Much of this success has to be attributed to the influence of postmodernism on the world. The technology we so depend on for communicating and working has a down side: it hinders true relationships. Therefore, many in our culture are interested in building “authentic” relationships, which cannot be accomplished in large church gatherings. So the alternative is a large church that meets in small groups, thus providing the closeness and kinship desired by people who are living in a fractured society.
Building relationships is harder than simply preaching the gospel. But as one man asked, “How will people trust your God until they trust you?” Relationship building requires that we allow people to see our weaknesses and expose ourselves to vulnerability. The people of this postmodern world are not looking for people who are perfect. They want to see how Christians handle struggles, trials, and tests in order to understand how the Christian faith works. They are tired of spiritual salesmen and gospel gossipers who want only surface relationships but are terrified that the real person might come through. When we take the time to build relationships and teach the church to be relationship builders, we will see an influx of those who are open to the gospel. We must be careful, though, that our attempt to build relationships does not become merely another program of the church.
If we truly care about the lost, we will care enough to become involved in their lives without strings attached. We must extinguish the “I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine” mentality, for it simply says, “I will win souls because it benefits me.” If we are to fulfill the great commission, we must love souls despite the benefit we may or may not receive from them.
I was in a restaurant recently, and I looked across the table at a young man who had practically everything pierced on his body that could be pierced. As if his piercing was not intimidating enough, his
shaved head, tattoos and six-inch-long Fu Manchu beard added to the intimidation. I did what most Pentecostals do-I tried to ignore him. As I busied myself in the newspaper, I could not get him off of my mind. I began to come up with excuses why he would never be receptive to the gospel, then I folded my paper and left.
As I drove away the Lord began to deal with my heart and simply whispered into my mind: Why are you afraid of this man? I had no answer, only excuses. I know that I am not alone in this predicament. All of us have sat across the table and decided who would be receptive to the gospel and who would not; then we decided whether or not we would tell them about Jesus. I hope the Lord will bring me back in contact with this man so that I can right the wrong, but until then I must remember this: The culture may change but the message of Christ never does. If I am incapable of presenting the gospel in a postmodern
context, then I can no longer fulfill the commission of Christ to “go ye.” As Pastor Anthony Mangun stated, “An unpreached gospel is no gospel at all!”
Danny W. Davis is the administrative assistant at the Greater Lighthouse Pentecostal Church in Madisonville Kentucky, pastored by Ron Hendricks, Kentucky District Superintendent.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY THE FORWARD, WINTER 2001, PAGES 8-11.
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