Suppose God called you to share the gospel in a foreign culture. After the
initial panic subsided, what would you do? How would you take the message of
Jesus Christ to an unbelieving world?
Youd probably start by trying to gain a basic understanding of that culture,
right? Youd try to learn some of the language, customs and characteristics of
the people you hoped to introduce to the glorious gospel of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4,
KJV), wouldnt you? Of course you would.
Well, brace yourself for a news flash: you no longer need to imagine
becoming a missionary to some pre-Christian culture. You already are!
Who changed the channel when I
wasnt looking?In the last 40 yearswithin the short span of two
generationsa brand new culture has arisen just beyond the lawns and driveways
of our homes and churches. The cultural landscape around us has been
transformed from familiar territory into a foreign landforeign, that is, to us,
and resistant to our accustomed ways of sharing the gospel.
Im talking about postmodernism, of coursea word you
hear a lot these days. Its become commonplace. Its thrown around like peanuts
at a ballpark. Books, magazines, seminars and websites exist to warn us of the
dangers of postmodernism. But for all that, most of the time, were not really
sure what it means.
Like an international missionary facing the task of understanding a new
country, we would be wise to study this new culture, its language and its
customs. As Dr. Rick Ferguson, senior pastor of Riverside Baptist Church in
Denver, Colorado, says, We need to be good missiologists and adapt to our
postmodern culture, so that we can clearly communicate in [a postmodern]
The trouble is not with your setBut the road to
understanding this foreign culture is full of bumps and potholes. Ferguson says
postmodernism defies definition because it is constantly changing. To borrow a
line from The Sound of Music, its
a lot like trying to catch a cloud and pin it down.
In fact, its fitting that the very term postmodernism
describes this school of thought by what its not. In other words, postmodernism
is the prevailing philosophy that succeeded and, to some degree, has supplanted
modernism, a way of thinking that has itself challenged the Christian worldview
for centuries. Whereas modernism rejected religion and superstition in favor of
science and it exalted Reason as the means by which Truth could be found and
progress made, 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
So, while postmodernism is tough to pin downnot only because its constantly
changing, but also because its complex, and its individual points are sometimes
contradictorylets summarize its most common beliefs:
An ultimate Truth does not exist in any objective sense.
Instead of discovering Truth in a metanarrativewhich is a story (such as the
Bible) or ideology (such as Marxism) that presents a unified way of looking at
philosophy, religion, art and sciencepostmodernism rejects any over-arching
explanation of what constitutes Truth and Reality.
Truthwhether in science, education or religionis created by a specific
culture or community, and is true only in and for that culture.
Individuals are the products of their cultures; individuality is an
illusion, identity is constructed from cultural sources.
All thinking is a social construct. That is, what you and I regard as truths
are simply arbitrary beliefs we have been conditioned to accept by our society,
just as others have been conditioned to accept a completely different set of
beliefs, wrote Jim Leffel in The Death
of Truth (Bethany House, 1996).
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 other cultures.
Many people hold these views without consciously thinking through their
Must-see christianityWhen the Apostle Paul faced a
marketplace of philosophies and spiritualities in his day, he managed to adapt
his presentation of the gospel without compromising it. We must do the same. But
how? How can we be good missiologists and adapt to todays postmodern culture,
so that we can clearly communicate the gospel?
For one thing, 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 Gods righteousness, and of the coming judgment
(John 16:8, NLT). The salvation of our postmodern friends, neighbors and
strangers is not completelynor even primarilyour responsibility.
Still, we are called to be faithful, and as we do so, God can help us become
more effective at sharing the gospel in a postmodern context, particularly as
we understand a few key contrasts that express what resonates to a man, woman
or young person in todays culture:
Spiritual vs. ChristianCapitalize on the spiritual curiosity of the
day. America is more spiritual today, Ferguson says, but less
Christian. Many postmoderns are spiritually hungry, even starving. [They] are
open, curious, seeking, and they want help with their struggles and hurts, adds
Palms. That spiritual curiosity makes this a great time to talk openly about
Christopening with questions such as Do you have any interest in spiritual
things? and May I tell you how my life has changed? will usually open doors
better than If you were to die tonight, would you go to heaven or hell?
Personal vs. PropositionalFocus your Christian witness on the
personal. Our culture today is not so much asking whether the gospel
is credible; it is asking whether it is relevant. In other words, the question
Is it true? has been replaced by Will it work for me? Thus, there has never
been a better time to share our personal testimonies. As Discipleship Journal editor Sue Kline says,
Most postmoderns are interested in hearing peoples stories. If we listen with
genuine interest to the stories of non-Christians, they will listen to our
stories, which are just like theirs but with the added surprise of redemption.
A personal testimony of Christs love and forgiveness is more effective in these
postmodern times than ever.
NAMB has launched an evangelism approach called The Net, designed to equip
Christians to effectively share their faith to postmoderns in a conversational
and culturally relevant manner.
The greatest apologetic for Christianity is a changed life, says Ray Jones,
NAMB personal evangelism manager. It is the truths of God that make our
The Net focuses on sharing the gospel through a Christians personal story of
the difference Christ has made in his or her life. The Net requires minimal
scripture memorization, because the telling of ones personal experience of
faith drives the presentation.
For more information on The Net, call 770-410-6313 or visit namb.net/thenet. To order The Net kit for
$59.95, call 800-448-8032.
Process vs. PresentationView your Christian witness as a
process. Postmoderns tend to be process-oriented. Many will come to
Christ inch by inch, not mile by mile, says Ferguson. In other words, they have
to process the gospel, and so while there will always be a place for
confrontational evangelism, the best opportunity is for incremental movement in
their understanding of the gospel through ongoing dialogue with Christians. The
goal is not to immediately give them a gospel presentation but to form a
relationship with them and begin to build a bridge. Sharing the gospel
effectively in a postmodern age will mean building long-term relationships with
pre-Christians and engaging in dialogue about matters of faith at their own
Dialogue vs. Monologue
Engage in dialogue, not monologue. Contrary to popular belief,
Postmoderns are not won by emotion, says Ferguson. They are attracted to reason
and rational thinking. They will not be persuaded by argumentation, however,
but by dialogue. Most of us, Kline adds, learned to do evangelism as a
monologue: we share a presentation and ask the listener to pray a prayer. But
in every friendship I have with a non-Christian, I entered that relationship
mostly as a listener. We have got to become better listenerscompassionate,
sincere listeners, not listeners who are only listening for a weakness in the
other persons worldview.
the church as a community, not as an institution. Postmoderns are
repelled by organized religion, but theyre starved for community. True
Christian communitywhat the New Testament calls koinonia is powerfully attractive and
winsome, and many of our postmodern friends and neighbors crave the kind of
community we Christians often take for granted: eating in one anothers homes,
sharing material blessings with each other, supporting and encouraging each
other, praying together, weeping together and celebrating together. Sharing the
joy of Christian community is one of our most powerful witnessing tools in a
Focus more on the universal character of the church than on
denominationalism. Postmoderns are turned off by denominations, which
they interpret as a sign of discord, not diversity. Therefore, take every
opportunity to emphasize, as Peter Tze Ming Ng of the Chinese University of Hong Kong wrote in an article for
Religious Education, that The real
church isand always has beenmulticultural ... 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 languages,
following different customs, practicing different habits, but all worshiping
the same Lord.
With the advent of postmodernism, on
mission Christians face an opportunity that comes roughly once a
millennium: not only to witness but to respond to a major shift in the cultural
climate of the world around us. May we respond, like Paul, in a way that
prompts those around us to say, We want
to hear more (Acts 17:32, NLT).
Bob Hostetler is an award-winning author of 13 books,
including The New Tolerance (co-authored with Josh McDowell). Hostetler lives
in Hamilton, Ohio.
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and theAnnie Armstrong Easter Offering® ©Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC