The Wrong Side of Modern
By Tim Willard
April 26, 2006
The Christian subculture intensely churns the waters of the mainstream culture in attempts to better understand and communicate with the unbelieving world. Now, arguably, more than ever, the church struggles to keep pace with cultural shifts in media and pop culture. The old, “modern” guard of Christianity attempted to reach the culture through mass evangelism and apologetics. Knowledge is king to the moderns. However, the tide shifted years back, and a revolution of sorts began to permeate “modern thought.”
The postmodern tide crashes the shores of Christendom, and demands that Christians think differently. Experience and encounter drive postmodernism; knowledge (leading to wisdom) is all but denied. It has become relative.
Moderns rely too heavily on systems; postmoderns don’t rely on anything. Which is right? In an attempt to progress Christian thought many of today’s emerging church leaders desire a new kind of Christian. But at what cost? We think our culture is so far advanced and complicated that no other culture faced what we face. Have we forgotten the great Roman civilization and their advanced waterways and highways and politics and education?
As always, whenever a new way of thinking comes into vogue, we are quick to hoist it up as our mainsail. We pull down the ragged sails of modernity, replacing them with the new guard of Christian thought—postmodernism. But have we fallen in love with the reactionism or the substance of the postmodern mindset? Are we so bent on being postmodern that we forget the reason why we desired change in the first place?
It is frightening to see churches infatuated with the postmodern paradigm. We don’t need to throw the moderns out with the bathwater. Integrating worship services with the older crowd is a great way to incite cross-generational discipleship. We must find ways to progress with the times and still keep the wonder of enlightenment strong.
So caught up are we in our little culture feuds, that we forget the depth of simplicity that defines our faith. Allow me to interject a short passage from C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce.
Every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from love of the thing he tells, to love of the telling till, down in Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about Him. For it doesn’t stop at being interested in paint, you know. They sink lower—become interested in their own personalities and then in nothing but their own reputations.
The Christian subculture is infatuated with the ideas of postmodernity so much so that we focus more on a social gospel than on the impact of the gospel. If anyone ever desires to make an eternal impact, the first steps should be taken from a prostrate position.
The postmodern Christian successfully tells a compelling story about how the Christian life should be lived; but in so doing, allows itself to be drawn away from the very thing it loves. Reminiscent of the Church of Ephesus described in the book of Revelation, the American Christian subculture too often stands in a vacant lot and shouts truth about nothing really.
In the passage above C.S. Lewis describes what it is like to put our own infatuations before God. This is called idol worship and, according to Lewis, gains us nothing but hell.
The Apostle Paul writes about idol worship in his letter to Rome. In verses 1:25-32, Paul uses the example of homosexuality to drive home his point. Women and men exchanged natural relations for unnatural relations. Paul is not singling out homosexuality as a greater sin than the others; he is using homosexuality because it is the best example of a sin that takes man away from his original intent, setting aside the authentic for a perversion. This is idolatry—the worship of self.
Today’s Christian mindset is based more on self-need and self-help than on selflessness and self-sacrifice. Our narcissistic mindset dictates our worldview, which is defined by James Emery White (Gordon-Conwell President) as “the lens through which we look at the world and therefore think about the world.” If our worldview asks, “What can I get for myself, to help myself, to better myself?” then we are idol worshippers, replacing God with ME. The postmodern mindset struggles to reconcile this point.
As I read in Hebrews, I am confronted by the fact that these first Christians were cut into pieces, stoned, flogged, and lived in caves and holes in the ground for their faith. Yet the scriptures say the world was not worthy of them. Today’s American Christian faces, at most, a political bashing and harsh name-calling.
We are at a point now where mainstream culture views evangelical Christians in a most disgusting light. This is due in part to uncompromising leaders who polarize people and dominate the media with political rhetoric that taints the Christian name. This is what the modern leaders have brought to the Christian name and why postmoderns are so adamant about swinging to the extreme. There needs to be some kind of balance. It is not necessarily a postmodern or a modern mindset that will change the hearts of men, but Christians with the mind of Christ.
Don’t Call Me Christian
It is increasingly true that many young adults do not like to be referred to as “Christians.” I would agree that some evangelicals do more harm than good at times to the name. We polarize on non-essential arguments and look to government to rectify the moral depravity of our great nation. Truly Christians miss the mark in this regard.
The term “Christian” was a derogatory name given to followers of the Way. These followers were routinely fed to lions and mutilated in front of thousands of rabid onlookers. Early Christians paid attention to the poor and lepers, not how their “name” affected culture. Their involvement with those in need dumbfounded the Roman government.
In the film Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne discovers that it is not who he is on the inside, but what he does that defines him. Why are we so caught up with trying to redefine our name instead of attempting to live up to the one we are called after?
I wonder if we are on the wrong side of modern, more "ancient" than "post." Would that be so bad? Can you imagine the church on fire, leading the way in community, poverty and AIDS? I wonder if we will ever begin to see that it is not about the paint on our brushes, but the light pouring all around and within. “No, You’re forgetting,” said the Spirit. “That was not how you began. Light itself was your first love: You loved paint only as a means of telling about light.” (The Great Divorce)