Theology of Joy
8/20/09 at 10:48 AM 0 Comments

Communicating the Gospel with Postmodernists (Part 1)

text size A A A

"Theology of Joy" implies that an informed faith can be a very joyful faith!  It also implies that the communication of faith can be an act of extravagant joy for the "ambassador of Christ". In sharing our Christian faith with others, we are able to re-visit what we actually believe, why we believe it, and why we think it is so attractive for those who do not yet believe.

However, communicating one's faith may not seem to be as easy in our present "postmodern" culture. Postmodernism often seems to pose an insurmountable problem for Christians seeking to share their faith joyfully. Why does it often seem difficult to communicate Christ in postmodern times?  This series of three articles will address the challenges we face along with the opportunities we have for communicating the message of Christ effectively in postmodern times.

We know that the gospel itself may have an "offensive" sound to some non-believers (1Peter 2:8). Today's postmodern culture, though, sometimes seems to be more easily offended than previous ones. The offensiveness of the gospel lies mainly in its claim to authority. The gospel not only speaks of God's mercy, but also of His rightful rule over our lives. Today's "postmodern" attitude, is that, while the notion of "divine authority" may have been legitimate for those living in biblical times, "what was true for them is no longer necessarily true for us." The mantra today is "tolerance" - not the sort of tolerance that allows various views to each have a voice, but the sort that does not allow a claim to a superior view. This was displayed in a bumper sticker I saw recently. It simply said "CO-EXIST", and each letter was a different religious symbol. Many postmodernists have adopted this "new tolerance", feeling they should have the right to choose which authority they want to submit to--or to not submit to any authority at all.

As a result, God's authority--described in Scripture in terms of a Kingdom that transcends time--is not often "felt" in our culture. This situation is partly due to a defective communication model being utilized by Christians. Some churches have bought into postmodern attitudes, placing their desire to be relevant to "felt needs" above the impartation of the gospel. According to Grant Osborne, "Evangelical ethicists all too often seek political correctness rather than Bible-based stances on issues like homosexuality and abortion. Pastors in many churches sound like talk show hosts rather than like Whitefield or Spurgeon . . . The problem today is that there seems to be no controls. In our postmodern church, it is almost as if anything goes, as long as it brings people in the doors."

Many Christians today seem to feel that, because there exists a large time gap between the Biblical culture and our present culture, they are not able to trust that God, and scripture, hold the same authority as when the scriptures were originally inspired.

In this article we will attempt to develop a biblical model for communicating God's truth and authority (that which transcends history) to the postmodernist (who does not feel that any authority can transcend history). First (below), we will examine the context of God's Kingdom (particularly as it relates God's authority to our present world), as well as the postmodern context. In our second article, we will look at the role of the ambassador--the present-tense messenger of God's timeless authority. In the third article, we will attempt to develop a practical, compassionate model for communicating the authority of God to postmodernists.

I. The Context of God and His Kingdom

A. The authority of God (as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit)

God's authority is seen in Scripture as a loving yet powerful rulership over all the affairs of the universe. One of God's titles as Father is "Adonia," which means "Lord" or sovereign one. This position is reserved for the One who has the highest "office" in the universe. This is reflected in Acts 1:7, where Jesus says, "It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own authority." As such, God has supreme authority over our lives. He is creator, sustainer, provider, and judge of all our affairs. He is as a potter who has "authority over the clay to do with as He pleases" (Rom. 9:21; also Isa. 29:16; 45:9; Jer. 18:6).

Jesus, as God the Son, has been given all authority by God the Father (Matt 28:18). As a result, Jesus has supreme authority over all earthy powers (Eph 1:21), has authority to execute judgment (John 5:27), and grants authority to become God's children (John 1:12). Jesus confirmed His divine authority through His resurrection from the grave. And, as we shall see later, Jesus' arrival on earth brought God's authoritative kingdom into direct confrontation with the people of His day, and even with us in our day.

The Holy Sprit's supreme authority is witnessed in His several unique roles, which include the creation of the church (Acts 2), providing power for ministry (Acts 1:8, John 16:13), and disclosing truth (John 16:7,8). The Holy Spirit also empowers believers to speak with the authority inherent in Christ's gospel. This is seen in Acts 4:31, "And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak the word of God with boldness."

The Holy Spirit plays the crucial role of communicating God's authority to people as they hear His word being proclaimed. This is accomplished by "illuminating" God's word in ways that prove it to be creative, living, and active. The Holy Spirit thus has a crucial role in bringing God's authority into our present-day historical context. We will observe this further in the next article.

B. The authority of God's Kingdom

The Kingdom of God refers to God's dynamic reign or kingly rule, and the sphere in which this rule is experienced. In the Old Testament, this Kingdom is often referred to in terms of expectation and hope, as something yet to be realized (e.g. Is. 24:23, 52:7; Obad. 21; Zeph. 3:15; Zech. 14:9). Now, however, according to Jesus in Mark 1:15, "the Kingdom of God is at hand." The idea here is that God's Kingdom is intimately connected with the Person of Christ and His present activity on earth. "In fact, we may go even so far as to say that the Kingdom of God is Jesus and that He is the kingdom." "At hand" portrays a Kingdom that has "come close to men in the person of Jesus, and in his person actually confronts them." The idea that this present Kingdom continues into eternity, only to be fully exposed at Jesus second coming, is a major theme of the entire New Testament (e.g. Matt. 5:3,10; Acts 19:8; Rom. 14:17; Rev. 11:15).

It is this present Kingdom that men and women are being called to be in submission to. Ladd holds that "in biblical idiom, the Kingdom is not identified with its subjects. They are the people of God's rule who enter it, live under it, and are governed by it." And it is this present Kingdom which Christ's ambassadors proclaim. The role of the ambassador will be examined further in the next article.

C. The authority of Scripture

In order to communicate God's authority and the authority of His kingdom, we must also identify the crucial role of Scripture in this communication process. The Scriptures have authority because they contain a proper description of God's character, and this character is revealed through His interaction with men and women in the context of history. As we have seen, God's authority is continually revealed throughout the Scriptures. The authority of Scripture is thus an extension of the authority of God, its author, and as a result, Scripture holds the same "weight" of authority as God does. As Grudem points out, "to disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God himself."

Scriptural authority is proclaimed by Scripture itself. Paul states in 2Tim. 3:16 that "all Scripture is inspired by God, and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." In other words, whether our concern is for correct doctrine, correcting errant behavior, or spiritual development, God has personally inspired or "breathed" an authoritative word in this regard. Thus, in order to communicate that God is the ultimate authority over all areas of life, we need only to look to the Word of God in Scripture, which has authority over all other words. According to Luther, "Scripture by itself is the ultimate source of certainty as it proves, judges, and illuminates the words of all."

Scripture does not only have authority for those living within the time of biblical history. The idea presented in Scripture is that, as long as God lives, so His Scripture has authority. Psalm 105:8 tells us that God "has remembered His covenant forever, the word which He commanded to a thousand generations." Isaiah 40:8 reminds us that "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever."

The Bible is thus to be viewed as a historically "transcendent" (supreme, never-changing) authority. Newbigin states that the Bible is "universal history." Unlike (the sacred books of the East, the Bible) sets out to speak of human life in the context of a vision of universal, cosmic history. Although, of course, it contains a great variety of material--legal codes, prayers, wise saying, and moral instruction--it is, in its overall plan and in a great part of its content, history. It sets before us a vision of cosmic history from the creation of the world to its consummation, of the nations which make up the one human family, and--of course--of one nation chosen to be the bearer of the meaning of history for the sake of all, and of one man called to be the bearer of that meaning for that nation. The Bible is universal history.

CP Blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of The Christian Post. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author(s).