Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Lousy Evangelistic Tools for Answering Postmodernists and Others

Answering Postmodernists
How does one answer a postmodernist (or rather pseudo-postmodernists, since there aren't really any real ones)?

Evidentialism
Well many selective postmodernists, pseudo-postmodernists, are really good old-fashioned modernists at heart, convinced that beliefs are justified only if there is sufficient evidence for such a belief.

However, such modern evidentialism, stemming from René Descartes' requirement of absolute proof (or alleged requirement anyway since "I think therefore I am" is hardly absolute proof), fails as a method of justifying any beliefs. The Cartesian requirement for absolute proof in turn requires prior evidence that this standard is indeed correct as a method of justifying beliefs, and if such evidence is produced, that evidence would itself have to be justified, ad nauseum, ad infinitum.

On human terms, evidentialism appeared to be the path I trod to a saving relationship with Christ. But upon further reflection, evidentialism was but a bridge. Coming to Christ was ultimately, not a long road travelled but a miraculous teleportation from one dimension to another.

Evidentialism doesn't force anyone to believe that there is a good God who is control of the entire universe, nor that we rebelled against him by ignoring him, nor that rightful judgement awaits us for this rebellion, nor that Jesus Christ is the only way by which we will be saved from eternal destruction. The historicity of the Gospels, the reliability of the New Testament documents, the textual and manuscript evidence, the archaeological evidence, the internal consistency, the hundreds of fulfilled prophecies might make one think of Christianity as pretty neat and slightly interesting, but they don't cause people to cling to Christ as their only hope of salvation.

Other Apologetic Tools
Other apologetic methodology like presuppositionalism and reformed epistemology can be read about elsewhere.

However, whatever the apologetic poison (whether evidentialism, presuppositionalism (revelational, rational or practical), reformed epistemology or others), the Scriptures are quite clear that none of them are foolproof and all are bound to fail as tools for turning the hearts of the people to God.

Why? Because the problem lies not with the message nor the proclaimer of the message but the listener.

Man's Total Depravity
Says Paul of all mankind every where in the world:
what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. (Romans 1:19-20)
So there are no valid excuses for thinking that there isn't a God, or if there is one, that he's an unworthy unconcerned weakling.

The message of the existence and glory of God is clear as day, very plain to see and very easy to understand. But the listeners blinded themselves, stopped up their own ears and, apparently, sneezed their brains out through their noses. They deliberately suppressed any knowledge of this and instead wallowed in their own dark clouded theories. So no matter what creative evangelistic methods are used to put the message across, the audience just. won't. get. it.

And so
although all men knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened (Romans 1:21).
Instead,
claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles (Romans 1:22-23). They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25).
And the result of this is the suffering and horribleness of this world:
since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. (Romans 1:28-31)
And so
the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Romans 1:18)
Escape Route
How can people be saved from this terrible wrath of God? How can we be made to see our folly of exchanging the truth about God for the worship of a self-constructed lie? How can we be saved from our certain destruction?

The thing is, we can't. Remember, our eyes, ears and hearts have been darkened. No amount of reasoning or nagging will dissuade us to come off the edge of the cliff. We don't need to be told the truth, we just need the ability to see and comprehend the truth that is already plain to us. But our sinfulness pervades every part of our being, preventing us from doing so. Then what hope is there for anyone?

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). All deserve eternal death. But (and what a wonderful "but" it is), God, in his divine forbearance, passed over our former sins. How could he do that and still be just? How could he redeem people from hell without paying for them? Through his gift, his payment of the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. (Romans 3:24-26). And all there is to be done to receive this salvation is by having faith, trusting that God will deliver us from destruction as he promised.

Tally ho! We're home safe!

Or are we?

Remember that our eyes, ears and hearts have been darkened. Therefore, even with such a unbelievably shiok precious free gift right in front of us, we will never really be persuaded to take it and hang on to it, creative evangelism, powerful persuasion or not. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14).

What we need is a complete and miraculous overhaul of the heart and mind. And only God can perform such an overhaul.

So while apologetic tools like presuppositionalism and evidentialism do help to build bridges to unbelievers and remove some barriers to belief, they can never cause anyone to be saved. We need to be born again. People in their natural, unregenerate state do not have the ability to turn to God. Rather it is the grace and will of God through the Spirit that causes men who are dead in sin to be reborn through the Word of God. No one can come to Jesus unless the Father who sent Jesus draws him and Jesus will raise him up on the last day (John 6:44).

And we pray and depend on God to work through our faithful proclamation of the gospel to generate this rebirth in others as we were once reborn. For their salvation and ultimately, for his glory.

9 Comments:

At June 21, 2006 2:19 pm , Anonymous TV addict said...

Or as I learnt once in a bible study: how can anyone who is dead save himself?

Ever seen someone who just had a massive heart attack perform CPR (DIY!) on himself or charge those pad thingys to jump start the heart again? That'd be one unusual scene on ER...

As for you, you were DEAD in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. (Eph 2:1-2)

 
At June 22, 2006 12:28 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

this is a rather strange blog entry. It is strange because first you identify a group of people you call the postmodernists. Then you said they aren't postmodernists because they are no real postmodernists. They are really just some modernists pretending postmodernists. Then you seek to answer the postmodernists' questions after establishing them as non-postmodernists?

Then you said that they are pretending to be postmodernists because they ask for evidence. Why are they pretending? When a postmodernist asks a question, he is doing exactly what a postmodernist would do - deconstructing the truth you have presented to him. We can't really prove the truth to him, he believes that there is no absolute truth. It is relativism. Truth to him is not important, it is transcient to a postmodernist. Then how do you tell a postmodernist that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and tommorrow? Only if he recognises the futility of postmodernism, the meaninglessness of relativism.

 
At June 22, 2006 12:28 pm , Blogger shadow said...

tv addict: Quite right! And btw, less time in front of the telly eating chippies, less time on the potty with my copy of "American Gods"! Eeewww. Do I really want that back?

anonymous: Ah yes indeed, strange is what a post is when it's written while at negotiations, between emails and Gchat sessions. :-)

Hmmm...so is traditional apologetics dead in a postmodern world? If arguments won't win a postmodernist, may be relational apologetics the way to go?

I suppose most people aren't really categorisable as modernists, postmodernists etc and tend to be a mishmash of learned behaviour and beliefs and whatever happens to be comfy, "in" and convenient at any given point in time. Therefore, contextualisation in this sense would mean using a corresponding mishmash of evangelistic methods.

But we know for sure that we can't argue (or love) people into salvation. You can lead a dehydrated desert-weary horse to water but you can't make him drink it. You can demonstrate how dehydrated he is, you can point out the carcasses of dried-out horses lying about in the sand nearby, you can show how good and fresh the water is by drinking it yourself, but you can't get him to admit that he is really in need of a good drink. Unless of course, there is a change of his curmudgeonly brain and heart.

There needs to be the gospel proclaimed and the Spirit working.

Gospel-wise, the sandwich method, with appropriate amendments, might be a good starting point. Spirit-wise, well, "the wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit" (John 3:8)

~ 2¢ while in more horsey negotiations

 
At June 23, 2006 1:03 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

you do what the bible tells us to do - you love. You don't love a person to salvation, you simply love and you love that person according to 1 Cor 13:4. We want to see the result of our evangelistic work, whether it is love or winning arguments, only because our vanity dictates so. Can we be contented with just loving the person or do we need to see results to affirm us to spur us forward? Only through our love can he know a greater love, postmodernist or not.

 
At June 25, 2006 10:00 pm , Anonymous Above All Earthly Powers said...

anonymous, your underlying assumption is that the chief barrier to conversion is sociological and not theological. By catering to certain preferences, and avoiding dislikes, people will naturally come to Christ.

One problem with this perspective is that it is Pelagian; it assumes that people are not embarrassed by their own sin and scandalized by the Cross of Christ. Rather, non-Christians avoid the gospel because churches fail to fit their cultural sensibilities. Seeker methodology rests upon the Pelagian view that human beings are not inherently sinful, despite creedal affirmations to the contrary, that in their disposition to God and his Word, postmoderns are neutral, that they can be seduced into making the purchase of faith even as they can into making any other kind of purchase. The answer to this theological defection, as The Shadow suggests, is a return to revealed truth:What distinguishes the Church from this consumer satisfaction industry is truth. It is truth about God and about ourselves that displaces the consumer from his or her current perch of sovereignty in the Church and places God in the place where he should be.

 
At June 30, 2006 1:23 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

That is not my underlying assumption. There are three ways to reach a person for Christ: 1. Truth 2. Prayers 3. Love. If we are reaching out to a group of postmodernists, we have to first understand how and why they exist so that we can treat an ailment with the right treatment. Shadow first acknowledges the presence of this group of postmodernists but then thoughtlessly disregard them as a group of postmodernists pretending to be modernists and in so doing, do not really attempt to understand who they are and why they subscribe to postmodernism. The intellectual establishment on how human being thinks often reflects how ordinary people, like you, me or him (earthly power who I supposed is shadow's boyfriend or husband) are affected by our current world of events and conditions. Often it is not an academic exercise. This is a group of postmodernists who discover that truths turn out to be propagandas, human reason couldn't answer every question, values imposed on society and people are covers for power plays. They will doubt the certainty of the truth you present to them. Truth often eludes us, the christians. We cannot claim to be able to understand fully the complexities of God's Word. A postmodernist can easily point to the innate ambiguity of the language to deconstruct your version of Truth, which in the first time, is not fully comprehended by yourself. If you understand the disppointment postmodernists have in evidentialism, you would be able to love them, which is really my point. We simply love them, take our time to understand their fears and futile attempt to live without God, to emphathise their frustration with the search for the Truth. We have two other ways - love and prayers.

Goodbye and enjoy blogging.

 
At July 02, 2006 6:18 pm , Anonymous Above All Earthly Powers said...

By your reply you demonstrate that it is your underlying assumption and it is not biblical.

You place a premium on marketing and human works which are simply a parroting of the ways of the world, with the stress on technique and methodology. You suggest that love is one way to reach people for Christ. What do you mean by 'love'? Every where now we have seeker-sensitive services catering to those who wish to have religion-lite: nothing too demanding or self-denying. Indeed, it is a self-affirming spirituality that often makes one feel comfortable with oneself, instead of the self-loathing that a full view of God's holiness will have on our sin-soaked selves. There are promises of finding peace, fulfillment and happiness, something the genuine gospel never directly promises. They may well come as a by-product, but are not to be sought for as an end in themselves.

It is not an academic exercise to take our cue from the bible. The bible tells us that what saves people is God. It is not marketing, love, truth or prayer finally (As The Shadow has explained this already I will not repeat it here).

I do not think The Shadow is 'thoughtless' in saying there are no postmodernists around. That has been spelt out in the previous post that is linked at the start of this post Neither do I think that he or she is asking us to beat people with the bible. Even though people label themselves postmodernists and seem to have lost the vocabulary and worldview to discuss it, events like September 11 remind us that they know something is amiss.

I don't blog but instead of clogging up The Shadow's comments may be I should start one....

Why do you say goodbye? Let us discuss this further if you are not happy.

 
At July 03, 2006 12:27 pm , Anonymous tv addict returns said...

wah... looked what i missed while watching many tv shows (& world cup games)!

my stab at summarising shadow, powers and anon:

There are MANY ways to reach a person for Christ, but NONE of them are guaranteed (unlike those TV media products!). So while it's important to LOVE people and thus seek to understand where they come from & what human barriers they may have with the gospel - whether they are post-modernists, pseudo PMs, TV addicts, delusional folks who think that they are above all earthly powers (just kiddin lah!) - we must remember that love does not and cannot convert anyone.

Only God can and (thankfully) does! God will call His people - be it through the love of His children reaching out to others, or through their duh-ness and insensitivity and stupidity.

So we do all that we can from the human perspective (love more sincerely, brush up on ways to present the gospel, build relationships with non-Christians, seek out opportunities etc) in as faithful a manner as we can, but always remembering that only God can save our wretched sinful souls.

1 Corin 3:5-9
What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building.

 
At July 03, 2006 10:42 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

earthly power, it is very sweet of you to jump to defend your girlfriend's point. what you see, you'll get. I will discuss this further with you not because I am not happy. I am mostly happy. Even if I am not, it is not because of some unidentified person by the name of above all earthly powers. What is that supposed to mean anyway?

Tv addict: who is winning?

 

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