After the Protestant Reformation, a new ethos pervaded the Western world. Christianity began to infiltrate every aspect of culture, from the Arts to Literature, from Philosophy to Science. But then French Enlightenment thinkers like Voltaire, Rousseau and Decartes began to assert that we could know truth and reality apart from revelation; we could be good without God.
When Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859, rationalists and empiricists began to win over the masses by claiming scientific support to their atheistic dogmas. 1859 was, in my view, the beginning of the Modernist era.
The Modern Industrial Revolution of the early 20th century typified the new cultural modus operandi. The new methods of industry were mechanical, predictable, mass-produced, calculated, and mathematical. The church is usually about twenty years behind the world in terms of allowing cultural trends to infiltrate her ranks. In time, however, Modernist tactics were seen in churches’ organizational structures and even in the evangelism approach of Billy Sunday and other Christian leaders.
Around the 1950s the seeds of Postmodernism began to grow. By the 1960s, America was witnessing a full-scale cultural revolution. In contrast to Modernism, its sociological step-child, Postmodernism is decentralized, relativistic, experiential, pluralistic and in many ways irrational. Again, it took 20 years, but soon enough Postmodernism found a foothold in many churches.
Today we find ourselves in a near civil war within the church. Postmodern Emergents are on one side facing off against died-in-the-wool traditional, institutional Fundamentalists on the other. The questions range from doctrine to style, with cultural presuppositions under-girding many of the arguments on both sides.
Culturally, I believe that September 11, 2001 has provided a sociological turning point into a new era. It has ushered in, in my opinion, the beginning of post-Postmodernism.
When a civilization is embodied by relativism and hedonism, history tells us that it falls apart from within. Despair first entered Philosophy, then the Arts, then General Culture and finally, the Church. (See: The God Who Is There, by Francis Schaeffer.) Dr. Schaeffer told us that the church is the final hold out in a culture against nihilism and despair. There are only two things that can keep a nation from sliding into the abyss of pleasure:
1. The gospel of Jesus Christ as preached by the true confessing church. The gospel exerts its restraining influence by means of he Holy Spirit working in someone’s heart to convict him of sin and empower him to live righteously. (i.e. Self-Government)
2. The arm of a totalitarian state. Totalitarianism can assault us from within or without. Neither one is very desirable.
Postmodernism is seen, in part, in the ordination of homosexuals in the liberal mainline churches, the embracing of higher criticism and skepticism of the Biblical texts, and the utilization of pop culture advertising and marketing techniques in reaching the masses.
While the church is waging internal wars about power-point choruses versus hymnbooks, praise bands versus organs, formal attire versus casual, our Postmodern nation is on the verge of losing the ability to maintain its foundational institutions. Wimps can’t govern themselves. God told Jonah that Ninevah was on the verge of being destroyed. “You’ve been concerned about this vine [something that made Jonah comfortable]…but Ninevah has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left…should I not be concerned about that great city?” (Jonah 4:10-11)
We face the threat of Islamo-Fascist attacks on hand and Femi-nazi dictatorship on the other, and yet we are so busy with our personal “vines” that I think we’re missing the big picture. It reminds me of the musicians on the Titanic playing ragtime as the ship sank. Perhaps it’s time to change the tune to “Nearer My God To Thee.”
We can be part of the solution by believing, living and proclaiming the unchanging truth of the gospel. As Schaeffer said in his excellent book, The Great Evangelical Disaster, “There must be confrontation: Loving confrontation, but confrontation nonetheless.”
The issue isn’t whether Modern or Postmodern church is better. They’re both bad. Neither culture from which they sprung was based on Biblical ideologies. The issue is Truth. Truth isn’t a Modern invention. Absolute truth is only found in Jesus Christ, who said, “I AM the Truth.” (John 14:6)
The bottom line is this. Yes, we need to be concerned about secular cultural influence within the church, whether Modern or Postmodern. But we also need to be concerned about the fact that the church finds herself within a broader cultural context that is self-destructing at an alarming rate. If the church can’t get her act together and faithfully proclaim the Truth to a waiting world, we will find ourselves in a depressed cultural ghetto much like the weakened churches of Eastern Europe in the last century.