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How a Basic Understanding of Postmodernism can Make Your Message More Effective

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Trent could barely contain his excitement as he walked down the hall to his high school reunion. Ten years had brought many changes. Most significantly, he had become a Christian-and he couldn't wait to tell his old buddies about it. An opportunity to share the gospel presented itself immediately, and he seized the chance. But the result left him shaking his head.

"That's great, man," his friend Mike responded after Trent explained how Christ had changed his life. "I'm glad you've found what you were looking for."

"Thanks," Trent said, "but it's not just what I was looking for. It's what all of us are looking for. It's what all of us need."

"Yeah, I'm real happy for you." Mike shrugged and looked around the room. "If it works for you, that's cool."

"But, Mike," Trent said, "it's not just for me; it'll work for you too."

"Nothing personal, buddy, but we've all got to find our own way, OK?" Mike said with a slight edge creeping into his voice. "And right now, I'm going to find my way to the buffet table."

Daftar isi

The P Word

Trent is not the only one shaking his head these days. Talking to others about our faith in Christ can leave us wondering who changed the channel when we weren't looking. That's because in just two generations, the cultural landscape around us has been transformed from familiar territory into a foreign land that is resistant to our accustomed ways of sharing the gospel.

I'm talking about postmodernism, of course, something we hear a lot about these days. The word postmodernism has become so commonplace that it's thrown around like peanuts at a ballpark. Many books, magazines, seminars, and websites have described its dangers. Despite such warnings, however, most of the time we're not really sure what postmodernism actually is-or why it seems to be such a big deal.

All believers are called to share the truth of Jesus Christ with those around us. Just as foreign missionaries must strive to understand the culture in which they minister, so we would be wise to study the emerging postmodern culture, its language, and its customs.

The trouble is not in your set

Trying to understand postmodernism can be a lot like standing in an appliance store trying to watch three or four television shows at once. Rick Ferguson, senior pastor of Riverside Baptist Church in Denver, Colorado, says postmodernism "defies definition because it is constantly changing."

In fact, it's fitting that postmodernism defines itself by what it is not. Postmodernism is the philosophy that has followed and, to some degree, supplanted modernism, a way of thinking that has shaped Western culture and challenged the Christian worldview for centuries.

Modernism rejected religion and superstition in favor of science. It also exalted reason as the means by which mankind could discover truth and advance civilization. In contrast, postmodernism repudiates any appeal to reality or truth. "Ours is a day," says Roger C. Palms, former editor of Decision magazine, "where people believe everything is true but nothing is absolutely true."

While postmodernism can be tough to pin down, it is possible to summarize its most common components.

- Postmodernists do not believe that truth exists in any objective sense. Instead of searching for truth in a metanarrative-a story (such as the Bible) or an ideology (such as Marxism) that presents a unified way of looking at philosophy, religion, art, science, and life-postmodernism rejects any overarching explanation of what is real or true.

- Truth-whether in science or religion-is created by a particular people or community and is only "true" within that culture.

- All people are the product of their cultures. We are not unique individuals created in the image of God. Instead, our identities are defined by our cultural heritage: African, European, Eastern, Western, urban, rural, etc.

- All values and beliefs are merely "social constructs." The things we regard to be true are actually arbitrary, the result of our cultural conditioning.

- Any system or statement that claims to be objectively true or unfavorably judges the values, beliefs, lifestyle, and truth claims of another culture is a power play, an effort by one culture to dominate others.

Improving Your Reception

When the Apostle Paul faced the marketplace of philosophies and spiritualities of his day, he successfully adapted his presentation of the gospel without compromising it. We must do the same. But how?

First, we can relax a little. God still speaks to the hearts of men and women by His Holy Spirit, to "convince the world of its sin, and of God's righteousness, and of the coming judgment" (John. 16:8, NLT). The salvation of postmodern friends, neighbors, and strangers is not in our hands but His. God is not limited in the least by a person's predisposition to postmodern thought. He is "the God of all the earth" (Isa. 54:5), and He will accomplish the redemption of His people.

Still, we are called to be faithful witnesses. As we share the gospel, it's helpful to understand several key contrasts. Recognizing what postmoderns value will help us communicate in ways that resonate with their perspective.

Spiritual versus Christian

Effective Christian witnesses find ways to capitalize on the spiritual curiosity of the day. "America is more spiritual today," Ferguson says, "but less Christian." Many postmoderns are spiritually hungry, even starving, and are willing to talk openly about spiritual things.

Elissa, a young woman in her early 20s, described to me an experience she had one day after settling into a diner booth with a book and a cup of coffee. Before long, a young man approached her and asked what she was reading. He explained that he had an interest in the occult and was curious about the title of her book. She showed him the book and explained that it was written from a Christian perspective.

Though surprised, he was undeterred, and they began a three-hour discussion of their respective beliefs. "The key," Elissa says, "is that we both shared a belief in spiritual experience. He would listen and engage in the discussion as long as I spoke from the perspective of my experience and not what I claimed he needed to do or believe."

The postmodern interest in spirituality is an open door for Christians. We should keep in mind, however, that some new questions will work better today than the old standbys we've used in the past. For example, "Do you have any interest in spiritual things?" or "May I tell you how my spiritual life has changed?" will usually open doors better than "If you were to die tonight, would you go to heaven or hell?"

Personal versus Propositional

People today are not asking whether the gospel is credible so much as they are asking whether it is relevant. The question, "Is it true?" has been replaced by, "Will it work for me?" Postmodern people tend to be very open to listening to our faith stories.

I recently met a man who explained that he had just begun to believe in God. The reason? His life had been spared in a construction accident. I considered addressing some of the man's theological claims, but instead I simply told him how God had "saved my life" too. Then I described my salvation experience. He hasn't become a Christian yet, but we're still talking.

If we listen with genuine interest to the stories of nonChristians, they will listen to ours-which are just like theirs but with the added surprise of redemption. Our testimonies of Christ's love and forgiveness may be more effective now than they were during the reign of modernism. So in your conversations with postmoderns, focus on your story.

Process versus Presentation

Postmoderns tend to be process-oriented. We need to temper any expectations we have that we will meet someone, share the gospel, and then see that person immediately come to Christ.

Of course, God still works that way at times. More often, however, sharing the gospel effectively with postmoderns will mean building long-term relationships, modeling the truth, and engaging in ongoing dialogue about matters of faith. Honest conversations, not canned monologues, play a crucial role. Thus, we need to view evangelism opportunities with postmoderns as a process.

A while back, I had the opportunity to meet regularly with a young college couple who were living together-and who seemed unlikely evangelism prospects. I was surprised to discover that they were quite interested in discussing the intellectual basis for the Christian faith. Previously, I had entertained the notion that postmoderns are unmoved by intellectual appeals. I was mistaken.

"Postmoderns are not won by emotion," says Ferguson. "They are attracted to reason and rational thinking." They will not be persuaded by argument, however, but by dialogue. That was the case with my friends, who have since married and moved away. At our last meeting, they became followers of Christ. Their decision was not a quick one, but the result of an ongoing process of interaction.

Community versus Institution

Postmoderns are repelled by "organized religion," but they are starving for authentic relationships with others. Genuine Christian community-what the New Testament calls koinonia-is winsome and attractive. Many of our postmodern friends and neighbors crave the kind of togetherness we Christians often take for granted: eating in one another's homes, sharing material blessings with each other, supporting and encouraging each other, praying, weeping, and celebrating together. Thus, it is important to present the church as a community, not as an institution.

Naomi happened upon a small group of Christians near the end of her sophomore year in college. She decided to join the group-not because she was trying to find God but because she was looking for community. For the first time in her life, Naomi connected with a group of people who loved each other and were willing to be vulnerable. As they removed their masks, she realized she could ask tough questions without fear of condemnation. Naomi also had a chance to listen to other students who talked about their experiences with God. Eventually she came to know Him herself. Christian community is a powerful witness in our postmodern culture.

Multicultural versus Homogenous

Postmoderns are turned off by denominations, which they interpret as a sign of discord, not diversity. Therefore, take every opportunity to emphasize the richly diverse makeup of God's chosen people. Focus more on the universal character of the church than on denominational distinctives. As Peter Tze Ming Ng of the Chinese University of Hong Kong says,

The real church is-and always has been-multicultural. . . . When we think of the church, we must conjure up a picture not of people like ourselves, but of people of all colors and shapes and ages, women and men speaking different tongues, following different customs, practicing different habits, but all worshiping the same Lord.

Postmodernism is not going away. But it doesn't have to dull the impact of our Christian witness. In fact, if we respond wisely to it, the ascendancy of postmodernism can sharpen our testimony and make us more effective at sharing the gospel.

May we respond to every opportunity to witness amid a foreign culture in a way that prompts those around us to say, "We want to hear more" (Acts 17:32, NLT).

About the Author

BOB HOSTETLER is the author of 13 books, including The New Tolerance (coauthored with Josh McDowell). He lives in Hamilton, Ohio, with his wife and two children. He was helped in the writing of this article by Jamie Puckett.

Artikel ini diambil dari:
Milis i-kan-untuk-Navs-Alum, 21 April 2002. Discipleship Journal, Issue 129 May/June 2002. Oleh: Bob Hostetler.
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