(The following post is part 2, for part 1, please click here.)
I have argued before that this has been a result of rampant consumerism which has permeated churches in America as well as churches elsewhere where American missions have spread, but I think it could also be argued that a lack of satisfaction and a lack of ever finding “the perfect church” to worship with could be because the modern conscience has begun to deny the existence of church altogether and perhaps merely clings to some ideal of a literal perfect church not only to suit their individual needs, but also where there is no sin, no suffering, no pain, no problems, and everyone is perfect. The quest though ultimately for your best life now is ill-advised as it is an endless wandering in this life for meaning and truth which at some point along the way the person has cast aside the Truth for the mere journey, i.e. utterly embraced postmodernism.
Some scholars have been arguing today that certain Christians have sought to engage postmodernity and gone too far to the point that they’ve kind of become postmodern themselves, kind of like when Neo touched the mirror in the first Matrix movie and it then sticks to him and he can no longer tell the difference between fantasy and reality. However, I think this is a little too simple. We all live in a postmodern world and it is naive to assume that we cannot be affected in some ways by postmodernity whether for better or worse. In the midst of a church that bleeds membership all over the country and an Academy that has become full of people simply deciding what they are going to do in life or taken up the slack by churches in discipleship or simply feeding a thirst for knowledge, I think it is safe to say that we are no longer in a time where postmodernity is off in the distance coming up over the horizon and we need to take shelter, but it is here and among us. We have looked for too long at the danger of postmodernity and secular philosophy as if it were going to invade like blitzkrieg when in reality it has come from within us like some parasitic disease which is highly infectious.
So, the Church and Academy have been infiltrated by postmodernity as both are within the broader culture which is postmodern, and the Church and Academy are still decrying the dangers of postmodernity and how we need to guard against it. I believe both have been blinded by the darkness of postmodernity and in the attempt to navigate the waters around it, have become a part of the very problem they have been trying to avoid. Traditionally, one would say one is blinded by light, but I believe that darkness too can cloud the senses making one blind to sin. Sometimes, we think of sin as a sudden event and moment in the timelines of our lives. However, if we’re honest, sin is often more sudden and gradual than that and can appear in it’s most potent moments as something undeniably good, useful, and appealing. The cloud is the temptation which muddies the senses until the Truth that we then ought to do and be, is clouded and we no longer understand our purpose except that which we find so undeniably appealing. What if one of the more clever ploys by the Evil One were not the quick temptation for each individual in daily life, but a gradual clouding of what Truth ultimately is, what the church ultimately is, and what the purpose of the Christian is?
So, sorry for the bleak hypothetical outlook, but one might ask in light of this, “Okay, so where do we go from here? How do we remedy the problem?” I for one don’t like hearing problems without solutions proposed, but it is difficult to propose anything that hasn’t already been said before and perhaps arrogant to suggest something could be said which hasn’t already been said as well. How does one remedy the eschewing of Truth in the life of the Church and Academy? How do we remain evangelical Christians amidst a steady tide turning to new horizons?
My answer might not be satisfying for some, if any, but I believe what evangelicals need is something akin to a covenant renewal. This is not a re-dedication of one’s decision. I think on a much larger scale we need to go back and understand what an evangelical is by definition and what it means to be a Christian, going back to our rich heritage of trusting in God’s Word, and seek to navigate the ever-moving waters of the world by the one steady and unmoving bit of Truth which is simply the Bible which testifies to the Gospel of God’s grace for sinners in Jesus Christ. In a world of changing tides and movements and beliefs, if we float the Bible along with those tides than we are a ship without navigation using a compass that doesn’t work. As evangelicals, we hold to distinctly Protestant ideals of faith, grace, Christ, and the Bible, except to a more radical level supposedly. If we are to recover our evangelical heritage we need to remember that is a heritage strongly steeped in God’s Word and seeking to engage the world around us with the Gospel of Jesus Christ with endurance and boldness.
What better means of navigating the shifting waters of postmodernity than the unchanging Word of God? However, if postmodernity undermines the unchanging-ness of the Word, than what is there to hold onto but simply ourselves and worldly pursuits? Which is to say, there is really nothing to hold onto at all. In a world which asks along with Pontius Pilate, “What is truth?” We need to be willing to respond, “God’s Word is true and Jesus is the Truth.” Beyond a response, we need to believe it, not just say it as we often have the past few decades. We need to renew our covenant with the Lord by remembering who God is and what God has done, and trusting in God to fulfill His great promises to His people. We need to persevere as God’s people amidst the dangerous challenges of postmodernism, but perseverance without God’s Word is as running a race without a course and finish line and starting line. It is faith in God and trust in God’s Word that help us in running the race, but we need to keep rehydrating ourselves with that which helped us begin the race to begin with lest we lose sight of our purpose and change courses. What we need is the Gospel not only to become Christians, but to help us along the way to grow into Christ and to continue to throw off the weight of sin in our lives by His Spirit.
Let us pray that both the Church and Academy do not run blindly by either a quest to appeal to the broader culture of academia or relevance of contemporary culture, but continue to trust in God and God’s Word while being salt and light in the world for the glory of God. May we as Christians continually return to our first love in Christ Jesus and not lose sight of our love as the church in Ephesus did, and may we continue to look to God as light amidst a dark world and not grope for darkness as our guide. May we go back to the Bible to understand our purpose as opposed to our own corrupt and depraved devices in creating new ones in order to appeal to others in new ways or to create a system of preservation of values while losing sight of what we ought to value most.