The Excellent Postmodern Challenge to Your Theology
Devotional Thought of the Day:
10 The followers came to Jesus and asked, “Why do you use stories to teach the people?”
11 Jesus answered, “You have been chosen to know the secrets about the kingdom of heaven, but others cannot know these secrets. 12 Those who have understanding will be given more, and they will have all they need. But those who do not have understanding, even what they have will be taken away from them. 13 This is why I use stories to teach the people: They see, but they don’t really see. They hear, but they don’t really hear or understand. Matthew 13:10-13
I was trained in the modern method of apologetic argument. In seminary I took a course on presuppositional thinking. “Your basic presupposition,” I was told, “is that there is a God who created the world and revealed himself to the world. Ask your opponent to set forth his or her presupposition, then show the logic of your opponent’s presupposition and the logic of your own, and then persuade him or her that Christianity must be embraced as true.” Christian theologian and philosopher Francis Schaeffer was a master of this approach, and many of us became his pupils and sought to do what he did, but none of us did it nearly as well.
But we no longer live in the modern world that privileges reason, science, and the empirical method of proving this or that to be true. Some bemoan the shift from the modern world. Some even hang onto the modern world because their theology is dependent on it. For them, the thought of thinking differently is threatening, so they do not want to go there.
But in the postmodern world, the way of knowing has changed. We now live in a world in which people have lost interest in argument and have taken to story, imagination, mystery, ambiguity, and vision—and it was Christianity as story that compelled my dinner guests to listen with interest.
“I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.”
6 What does this mean?
Answer: I believe that by my own reason or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and preserves it in union with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.
When I became Lutheran, I loved a number of things about the theology I was introduced to by my professors. It is simple and profound, it embraces mystery and paradox so well. In that, it is perfect to address the post-modern age.
It is the perfect theology, that is if we can rid ourselves of our own reason and strength. It will speak to those who no longer want to submit theology to the empirical method if we can stop hanging onto the modern world; if we can stop using modern philosophy as the skeleton on which we re-structure what scripture teaches.
This should be simple, Luther’s most basic teaching in the small catechism tells us we must rely on the Spirit’s enlightenment and empowerment, the Spirit’s guiding and guarding us in this relationship, this union we have with Jesus.
Yet it is tough for those who were trained otherwise, it is tough to set down theological tomes written during the Enlightenment and Age of Reason. It is a challenge to be still and silent before the Lord, to spend hours (or minutes) in quiet adoration of God as we hear His story, His desire, and the pursuit of a people who He would call His!
I believe this is where Jesus is heading when He is talking about why He teaches in story. For in story you have to be part of it to understand it, you have to be drawn in, you have to be involved. Which is why the empirical model cannot be theological, you can’t observe what you are deeply involved in, it is impossible. It is why the Apostle Peter begs us to be ready, to share the hope we have. Not an empirical, analyzed hope, but a personal hope that allows us to transcend that which oppresses us because we know we are part of His story.
This is what our post-modern people are crying for, the relationship we claim to have. They need to hear to us why it matters, why knowing Jesus is critical, why we adore Him, why we treasure the time with Him and the rest of the people He is drawing to Himself. The people He longs to embrace (including us) need to have that revealed to them.
This is our message, this is our joy, our hope, our future.
We are the people of God… and He desires all men to come to Him, to be transformed by Him. AMEN!
Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.
Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.