Accommodating the Message to Culture
Emergent churches are not fond of defining themselves theologically. They want to be clever, coy, and provocative rather than understood. The emergent church defies definition. It defines itself more through practice. This type of church wants to placate the most prevailing secular movement today (postmodernism). That movement denies that we can arrive at certainty about anything: no religion has the right to declare its belief correct. All religions hold parity with each other, even in the face of the fact that they hold mutually contradictory ideas. The only absolute is that there are no absolutes. We must tolerate all viewpoints as equal in value. All beliefs are arbitrarily assembled by opinion and prejudice. All beliefs are subjective. There is no such thing as heresy.
At heart, this is unadulterated skepticism about all beliefs. The idea of absolute truth is abhorrent to the present generation, which boils down every idea to consensus, as if all truth were equivalent. The emergent church has lost its appetite for asserting itself, with its loss of objective truth and prevailing subjectivism. The last impression it wants to give is that it holds exclusive truth.
Because practice takes priority over theology, emergent church adherents go to people to find a practice that fits their needs. This is what they mean by “missional.” Their mission determines their theology. They begin with mission,
and a theology emerges out of it. Definitely their mission is not bringing people the substitutionary death of Christ so that people can avert judgment from God. Practice takes priority over doctrine. This is a reason why they cannot come to certainty. By rejecting the idea of certainty, they put the Bible into oblivion without clear communication from God. They can know truth only at some point in the future. Ideas are in the process of emerging.6
The emergent church introduces remarkable softening of its message to the world. Preachers today build their messages with felt needs in mind rather than with the God who talks. It is one thing to keep felt needs in mind, but it is another to eliminate what God says in his Word. The Word of God insists that certain things are false and others true. It warns of a wrath to come. The emergent preacher has to blunt the hard edges of the Bible. How far can these communicators of the gospel religion go before their message is no longer distinctively Christian?
These people must retreat to the idea that their belief is independent from reason (fideism). They allow prevailing culture to effectively engineer their message. Emergent church leaders have not come to terms with the idea that they undermine their own faith in doing so. Adherents tolerate varying views of truth rather than adopt an attitude of forbearance toward persons. What used to be civility toward people has become civility toward truth. Instead of seeing truth as the basis of what they believe, tolerance toward truth governs their sense of what is important. They have employed what used to be known as “civility”—an openness in listening to others—to define their mission and have consequently denuded their message. They diminish the merits of opposing ideas by adopting this new form of tolerance. Avoiding criticism of other ideas
results in little thoughtful discussion of important ideas revolving around truth. This brand of tolerance is muddleheaded, and their sense of what is significant biblically is lost. Instead of seeing truth as the basis of what they believe, mere tolerance governs their sense of priorities.
Increasingly, people in the general public are not offended by new religions, no matter how off the wall they might be. The media and people in general willpursue the novelty of these religions. Society views the attempt to win people to Christ from other religions as an intolerable idea. Exclusive claim to one’s belief is the only religious proposal that they cannot tolerate. Tolerance sets the “rules” for playing the game of ideas. This is a dogmatic opinion that rules out all other dogmatic opinions. By this attempt to transcend all other ideas, they prove to be enormously intolerant and dogmatic. Political correctness is the new absolute. This political correctness is intolerant of intolerance, not of substantive ideas. This form of open-mindedness does not identify with open discourse but with the conclusions of skepticism. It wants to own its own premises while denying other ideas the right of certainty. It reinstates certainty by denying it!
Yet the media loves to depict evangelicals as “intolerant.” Postconservatives committed essentially to emergent thought are intimidated by this attitude, so they adopt the culture of complaint as their own and adjust their message to the relative and subjective. They hold the idea that their beliefs arise out of their associations and communities, not from the transcendent Word of God. Their view is that the finite individual cannot possibly come to the conclusion of absolute truth.
This view’s assessment of reality thwarts the vitality of vibrant Christian conviction. Christian witness then has no basis for exclusive claim. The gospel becomes no more than the subjective opinion of a group called evangelicals.
Why should people share their faith if they are not certain that it is true? This move away from a propositional presentation of the gospel will have enormous impact on how the public perceives our message. Emergent adherents bulldoze the gospel into the nearest landfill of relativism. They blow the uncertain sound that all ideas come from pre-understanding and opinion. They believe contingent interpretations without objective truth. The text today might not be the same for me tomorrow. Final certainty is impossible; sheer subjectivity is all that remains. They bind knowledge to the knower rather than to the objectivity of the Word of God. If truth resides in the interpreter, all that remains is as many meanings as there are interpreters. Objective truth disappears in this method. All we have in the final analysis is skeptical nihilism.
Knowledge and belief are different. Knowledge rests on what is self-evident, whereas belief rests on opinion and is only probable. We know knowledge with certainty. Because God revealed the Bible, we know that with certainty.
Conciliation and Capitulation to Culture
The evangelical church must face this new and ominous challenge. There is cancer within the camp. We live in a day when evangelicals attempt to denude the Word of God. They believe little that it contains. Skepticism reigns in their
thinking. They care little for clarity, certainty, or logic. They have been seduced by society. They cut the evangelical ship from its moorings to drift in a philosophical wind that blows wherever it will. We call this movement postconservatism. Evangelical postconservatism manifests itself in the emergent church and imposes a system of philosophy upon Scripture—the system of postmodernism that is skeptical about truth, wherein no one can come to certainty. Everyone
has a personal perspective, but no one has the truth.
Evangelical postconservatives want Scripture to accommodate the prevailing culture of tolerance toward all viewpoints. They accommodate Scripture to philosophy rather than philosophy to Scripture. They reject certainty and give heed to ambiguity and doubt; in other words, they live by a philosophy of skepticism. Postconservatives equate “authenticity” with doubt, skepticism, and uncertainty. They want to redesign evangelicalism into another image. No wonder they have lost confidence in the sufficiency of the Word of God. This doctrinal deviation changes the basis on which evangelicalism stands.
The issue is not about method in approaching people who do not believe in truth but about the adoption of skepticism itself. The exclusiveness of the gospel or of Christ himself is no longer objectively true to postconservatives. They implicitly ignore the Bible for the purpose of contextualizing the gospel to society. They offer sentimental twaddle in place of sound biblical preaching. Their message is horizontal rather than vertical. They sell out to prevailing paradigms. By doing so, they gut the essence of evangelicalism.
Evangelical postconservatism today is feckless, frail, limp, and spineless. It cares little about truth but gives much heed to the prevailing opinion of culture. There is a core value problem in their thinking—culture prevails over truth. This is what the Bible calls “worldliness.” Worldliness is the love of values other than God’s values. In the name of keeping up with the Joneses of postmodernism, some evangelicals adopt assumptions of pluralism and relativism. In doing so, there is great defection of faith in the land.
The last book that Francis Schaeffer wrote was The Great Evangelical Disaster. His book predicted that the evangelical church would so accommodate its truth to culture that it would diminish the essence of Christianity and rip away the foundation of Christianity. This is exactly what evangelical postconservatives are doing to evangelical Christianity today in the form of the emergent church.
There is a growing chorus of evangelical leaders speaking against this pervasive iniquity. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, adds his warning about the sad state of affairs among evangelicals: “Evangelicalism is in big trouble, and the root problem is theological accommodation. Compromise and confusion stand at the center of evangelicalism’s theological crisis.”7
Richard J. Mouw, president and professor of Christian philosophy at Fuller Seminary, says that he is “troubled by extravagant claims made by various evangelical scholars about the nature of the ‘postmodern’ challenge.” Postconservatives attempt to redefine the center of evangelicalism and thus the very nature of evangelicalism itself.
Justin Taylor, editorial director of Crossway books, warns that this postconservatism is a significant shift from evangelicalism.8 Most evangelicals committed to truth (with few exceptions) sit on their hands and watch in wonder what is
happening to their faith. Seminary professors, pastors, and other leaders appear inept to do anything about this absconding from the faith.
There is a need to sound an alarm about so-called evangelicals who are currently leading the church astray. The evangelical church is in the process of turning from verities of the truth to fables and false doctrine. Postconservatives
accuse those who sound this alarm of being alarmists who reason under rigid belief systems. Their loss of distinctive biblical Christianity and the inability to define themselves theologically takes them down the same road as their liberal
predecessors. They have fallen into a pool of subjective experientialism without any doctrinal arms to swim to safety. This results in the loss of hope of valid certainty. It is a philosophy of unending doubt that even the one who believes it
may be wrong and that clarity is overrated.9
Postconservatives are not certain about anything because they are “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7 esv). They are not sure about anything. Objectivity is impossible, they say, because
evangelical prejudices skew truth. All knowledge is relative, so we cannot come to certainty about truth. Because postconservatives begin with the self and stay in the self, they miss out on the certainty that is available only to Christians
who begin with God’s revelation of himself.
David Wells, distinguished senior research professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, indicts current evangelicals who want to accommodate truth to culture by making the faith relatively true:
Even among those who seek to guide the Church in its belief, many are of the mind that Christian faith is only relatively true, or they think, against every precept and example that we have in the New Testament, that Christ can be “encountered” in other religions—religions that they view not as rivals but as “interpretations” with which accommodation should be sought. What would have happened over the ages, one wonders, if more of the Church’s leaders had been similarly
Following a Perverse Path
The compromise of the postconservative emergent church follows a very similar path to that of the modernists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Church leaders of that time accepted the philosophy of modernism, so they rejected the inspiration of Scripture, the deity of Christ, and miracles. Postconservatives have so accommodated themselves to postmodernism that they reject certainty, mutually exclusive truth, and objective understanding of
the Bible. All that remains is cultural, random opinions and personal perspective. All beliefs are legitimate only to those who embrace them. With this view, it is impossible to distinguish truth from heresy, for there is no longer any
doctrinal foundation for doing so.
Some evangelicals no longer have confidence in what they purport to believe. They mute their beliefs both to themselves and to the world at large. These postconservative evangelicals are now taking the same alleyway that tumbled
liberals doctrinally and emptied their churches by the middle of the twentieth century. Liberal churches and theological seminaries became hollow shells by the end of the twentieth century because they first accommodated their beliefs
to culture, then ultimately renounced those beliefs. There are many indications that evangelicals are beginning to walk down that same dark corridor of minimizing truth.
Speaking of the way churches are doing church, David Wells says that “those who once stood aloof from the older liberalism are now unwittingly producing a close cousin to it. By the time this becomes so evident that it will be incontrovertible, it will be too late.”11 This deviation occurs because postconservatism is cutting loose from the moorings of biblical structural understanding and has lost its way in a cultural and pragmatic morass, leaving muddled wanderers in the
wilderness. This produces our “new kind of Christian.”
A number of media outlets, such as CNN, do not like to use the term “terrorist” because “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” Imagine, these people do not have the capacity to make a distinction between those who purposefully kill innocent people and those who kill innocent people by accident or collaterally! This thinking reflects the essence of why people reject certainty, absolutes, and conclusions about the validity of Christianity. Today,
evangelicals and postevangelicals buy into this thinking.
Accommodating Truth to Culture
The emergent church is postconservative in presumption and culture-bound in its view of truth. The emergent worldview is an attempt to move beyond modernity (presuppositions of philosophy and science). It believes there is no single worldview (metanarrative), so truth is not absolute. This view is a form of cultural relativism in relation to truth, reason, and value. Experience takes predominance over reason. Secular postmodernism readily accepts spirituality and gods by syncretism. The evangelical emergent worldview follows closely on the heels of the secular emergent worldview in that it prefers syncretism to truth and spirituality without biblical content. Postconservatives believe they need to deconstruct the fallacy of evangelicalism in its culture-bound interpretation and view of Christianity. Some question every essential doctrine.
All history of doctrine and scholarship is open to review in light of postconservatives’ assumption of postmodern methodology.
Postconservatives hold that, given that people cannot know absolute truth, we can only experience what is “true” in our religious communities. Truth, to them, is culturally relative, although some deny this. Universal truth that communicates across cultures is not possible. There is only narrative, not metanarrative. They deem it not possible to be dogmatic about the pre-eminence of Christianity over other religions. Because we cannot know absolute truth, we cannot carry certainty about Christianity. They do not posture themselves as having the answer, but they deem themselves in dialogue with others who have input into the conversation with their beliefs. Doctrinal preaching must give way to dialogue. Postconservatives have no clear message, and all they have to offer is dialogue or conversation with non-Christians.
Arriving at Truth and Certainty
The question of how we know what we know to be true is crucial to the issue of mutually exclusive truth.12 How do we know that Christianity is true as overagainst other religions or philosophies? Is revelation just a matter of taste or
preference? Is sincerity a Christian virtue? I don’t think so, for it is possible to be sincere but wrong. The biblical idea behind the word translated “sincerity” is “genuineness”; this means that both intention and action are right in fact.
Biblical Christianity flies in the face of pluralism, subjectivism, and relativism. Public schools expose our children to every belief except Christianity, whether it is witchcraft, Native American animism, or Eastern religions. The supposed justification for this is secularism, as if secularism were autonomous or neutral. This amounts to brainwashing and an exclusive closed shop in education. True liberal thought allows all viewpoints to be presented openly. Today’s form of liberalism is establishment at its worst, resulting in awful political correctness.
Humanity’s autonomy from God has disastrous social effects. Abortion and divorce are rampant even among evangelicals. AIDS, crime, single-parent families, and political corruption are now normal in society. The church adds to this new standard for society by its weakened view of truth, for it does not fancy exclusive truth as all-pervasive influence on its thinking. Postevangelicals want to set forth a “new kind of Christianity” that baptizes the believer into a relativistic culture, denying the inerrancy of Scripture and many other verities of biblical truth.13 All this is a revolt against truth, against God, against the Word. It is an attempt to put self at the center of reality, to deify self through a fragmented viewpoint without ultimate coherence or purpose. Perhaps the postevangelical shift from personal responsibility to groupthink—to becoming “a village” for one other—comes out of seeking to find reality in the self rather than in the Creator.
The church stands at a crossroads of either adapting to culture or having the courage to stand up to culture. If the church is true to its message originating in truth from God, it will be powerful because the gospel has inherent power (Romans 1:16). We need to understand our culture (acculturation), but we cannot accommodate the message of truth to culture’s proclivity to minimize truth. Hitler bought into Friedrich Nietzsche’s super race forty years after Nietzsche’s death in 1900. Nietzsche proclaimed, “God is dead.” With this, absolutes began to die in the West. Nietzsche’s philosophy was not the
direct reason for postmodernism but a condition for its development. Modernism since the Enlightenment undermined the authority of God’s revelation, and God’s Word became less suitable to meet the needs of people. Rationalism marginalized God but did not meet the epistemic needs of humanity, so postmodernism rose up in skepticism against philosophy and science. Man’s attempt to play God did not solve his problems.14 The twentieth century did not fulfill the promises of modernism, so postmoderns lost hope in attaining any sense of certainty. To postmodernism, all viewpoints are relative, and any claim of absolutes creates intolerance. Relativism allows for openness and is the zenith of postmodern values. This controlling feature influences postmoderns’ entire worldview. Truth is not a priority because truth divides.
Younger evangelicals grew up in the dialectical system of thinking that any viewpoint is as valid as the next. Some no longer believe that the Bible is inerrant and that it sets forth a system of absolutes. They flow with the flotsam and jetsam of current thinking, not believing that God is absolute and reveals a system of absolutes through his Word.
The cultural mindset against absolutes prohibits this age from believing the claims of the Bible about itself. Postmodern cultural thinking has no truth except the absolute that there is no truth. It claims that there is no absolute truth or universal truth but holds an absolute nevertheless, contradicting the very premise of postmodernism. By accepting postmodern belief systems, postconservative postmoderns can no longer draw truth from universal principles. Each situation shifts with subjective value judgments. Postmoderns attribute no objective meaning to language; therefore, no conduit of understanding can endure between viewpoints.
Some institutions, such as Fuller Theological Seminary, changed the meaning of “inerrant” to mean “reliable” or “coherent,” so they argue that the Bible can no longer claim to be factually without error. To them, the Bible has historical and scientific error. Words no longer have objective meaning but only “interpretation.” Words cannot communicate propositions of truth, so postconservatives have to “deconstruct” the Bible into “interpretations” of fluidity of meaning. This produces a form of nihilism among evangelicals that will leave them without fixed norms and beliefs. Evangelicalism will end in collective uncertainty.
Evangelicals today rationalize sin because it “meets my need.” Therefore, evangelical young couples can live together without marriage. Businessmen can rip off their customers because “everyone does it and I have to do it to survive in
the corporate jungle.” Seminary students can cheat in class because this is part of culture. Pastors no longer proclaim truth from the pulpit because they know that objective truth sounds strange to the ears of their congregations. Seminaries
shift from truth orientation to experience, therapeutic counseling, and practical orientation.15
Loss of Certainty in Dialectical Method
Philosophers of the twentieth century came to a sense of despair in coming to ultimate truth; they found no rational basis for certainty of truth, and they saw people moving from non-meaning to whatever meaning can be found by irrational leaps of faith. They believed that faith and reason do not have anything to do with truth. They held that truth is paradoxical, and faith is an irrational leap at significance. This is unadulterated mysticism.16 Many people attribute the shift from antithesis to synthesis to George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and the dialectic model to Soren Kierkegaard. However, Hegel did not hold to dialectic model. It was his students, such Schopenhauer, who reinterpreted Hegel. It was these young Hegelians that developed the dialectic, not Hegel.17
Emergent thinking is integrative or integral thinking, and it rests on a dialectical approach to truth as opposed to the biblical didactic/narrative approach. Because God deductively revealed himself in the Word of God, he did not leave
truth open to be constantly put in the tension of thesis/antithesis/synthesis without the possibility of coming to certainty about truth.
“Transformational” and “managed” change is the postconservative method for retooling the evangelical church. This is a dialectical method of group consensus and the polar opposite of the biblical idea of didactic truth.18 The dialectical
approach flies in the face of the Bible because the Bible is a priori revelation (deductive), not a posteriori (inductive).
In a Leadership Journal article where Brian McLaren calls himself a postevangelical, he states that “instead of an exercise in transferring information so that people have a coherent, well-informed ‘world-view‘. . . preaching in the emerging culture aims at inspiring transformation.”19 This accommodation of truth and change of worldview shows lack of confidence in the sufficiency of Scripture through the power of the Holy Spirit to change lives. McLaren hopes that “post-evangelicals and post-liberals will begin finding one another in this common ground of spiritual formation, welcomed and hosted by our Catholic and Orthodox sisters and brothers. What is terra nova for us has been their native soil for a long, long time.”20 McLaren’s baptism into postmodernism fails to distinguish evangelical from non-evangelical and blurs the message so
that it is no longer distinctive. This, in turn, will make the evangelical church irrelevant because it no longer carries a biblical message. It is amazing how thoughtlessly many evangelical leaders hop aboard this postconservative bus going nowhere.
We now witness a sea change of enormous proportion in evangelicalism, but most evangelicals are blind to this fast-moving heterodoxy. Brian McLaren and Stanley Grenz and their ilk negotiate away essentials of biblical truth, and hardly anyone takes notice. This is philosophical adaptation of the message of the Bible to culture and is a far cry from the Apostle Paul’s change of method to convey an unchanging message (1 Corinthians 9). Note David Wells’s view of this situation:
There is a yawning chasm between what evangelical faith was in the past and what it frequently is today, between the former spirituality and the contemporary emptiness and accommodation.21
This new thinking is not propositional and linear but circular, or web-like, associative thinking.
Differentiating Tolerance of Attitude and Truth-Equivalence
Embedded pluralistic viewpoint is so pervasive in culture that few are willing to assert something as truth as over against something that is not true; that is, that Christianity is true and any other belief is false.
There is significant confusion between a pluralism of attitude and a pluralism dealing with truth. Christianity respects all viewpoints and the people who hold them, which is not the same as saying that all viewpoints are equally valid. If a person who holds that all truth is relative claims that a pedophile does not have the right to engage in sex with a child, the moment he makes that claim, he asserts a certainty. There is then a difference between tolerance in attitude and tolerance of truth. The biblical value is that Christians are to portray a tolerant attitude toward all people. That is not the same as saying that all perspectives on reality are valid. The way to truth, certainty, and reality is found in the Word of God that stands mutually exclusive from other viewpoints. The Christian does not hold to truth-equivalence.
Christians who assert that we cannot be dogmatic are inconsistent in their contention. They want to hold that “Jesus is the answer” but do not want to hold to it dogmatically. They undermine their own fundamental belief system like a dog that bites its tail. If they claim there is no absolute, they undermine their own belief that Jesus is the only Savior. Where do they get the unmitigated gall to assert that Jesus is the Savior of the world? Is that not just a preference? Worse, why would they assert a triune God? Coming to that conclusion requires theology. No extant statements of Scripture formulate Trinitarian doctrine.22 These timid so-called evangelicals are left with a probability gospel: To be honest, we cannot assert that Jesus is God and Savior; we have maybe a forty percent chance of this being true.
They cannot have their cake and eat it too.
Accommodation to Uncertainty
We are in a war of worldviews where postconservatives leave certainty homeless. People change viewpoints as quickly as they change channels. Evangelicals perplexed by the postmodern condition create a vacuous condition for themselves. Postconservatives haul into the court of public scorn anyone who has the audacity to claim certainty.
The desire of the emerging church movement is to reach a generation that does not believe in absolutes, that does not hold to certainty of truth, but looks askance at those who do. Postconservatives use accommodation of message to address skepticism toward certainty; however, by doing so they compromise fundamental belief in the verities of the Word of God.
The prevailing viewpoint of our age (postmodernism or the belief that there are no ultimate answers) shapes the context of modern evangelicalism, whether it means how we live out our lives or how we share our faith.23 Those who do not accept the gospel view Christianity as narrow, obscure, and biased. To a generation that does not believe in absolutes, the gospel or Christianity is not plausible.
The widespread philosophy of our day says that all truth is equally valid and that no single truth can claim advantage over any other truth. This intimidates evangelical pastors and their people because they judge that it is arrogant to claim finality or certainty of truth. They think that dogmatic people have fallen out of phase with the times and are obscurant with regard to the culture and political correctness of our day.
After all, has anyone examined all truth of all times both qualitatively and quantitatively equally? Has anyone searched for truth everywhere in creation and examined it for all time? Has anyone done this with complete dispassion and absolute objectivity? Obviously, this is a pragmatic impossibility, so according to postconservatism no one can claim certain truth.24
This entire thinking rests on the idea that finite mankind can find the infinite God autonomously, but this is a particularly unwarranted assumption.25 If we begin with finite man, there is no hope of coming to certainty about universal truth or of finding God. We will look at this fundamental flaw among evangelicals throughout this book.
The trend in thinking today is that people cannot find truth and that we live in a hopeless morass of viewpoints and opinions. Each opinion or viewpoint is just as valid as the next. No one has the answer, but everyone has “viewpoints.”
People portray these answers in stories (narratives). No one has a total or final answer to the universe (a metanarrative: a narrative that explains all other narratives). The postmodern approach to reality is not linear or logical. Its mode of
operation is via stories, images, and relationships.
Evangelical pastors and leaders today jump on this bandwagon to the detriment of the evangelical movement itself. They run pell-mell toward a type of thinking that accepts certainty about hardly anything. This will rip the heart out of the evangelical movement because it will destroy its mutually exclusive message that Jesus is the only way and that there is no salvation in any other than the Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).
Our society holds Christianity more tentatively than ever. As North America moves toward greater pluralism, the number of options for belief multiplies. The consumer can choose a menu of religions or philosophies at will. None can claim mutually exclusive truth. Because of this influence of pluralism and its extenuating postmodernism, Christians now prefer a cafeteria approach to Christianity: No one has the truth for sure, so pick and choose as you prefer from your individual perspective.
Evangelical belief is coming to accept truth as religious preference, private opinion, or personal preference. In doing so, evangelicals lose certainty from God’s Word. This results in vulnerability to cultural relativism. According to a Barna poll, in 2001 sixty-eight percent of evangelical adults and ninety-one percent of evangelical teens believed in cultural relativism.26 David F. Wells, speaking of the astounding growth of evangelicals and the attenuating loss of biblical convictions, said,
There has nevertheless come a hollowing out of evangelical conviction, a loss of the biblical Word in its authoritative function, and an erosion of character to the point that today, no discernible ethical differences are evident in behavior when those claiming to have been reborn and secularists are compared.27
Accommodation to Provisional Belief
Postevangelical postmoderns believe in constant, chaotic revision of doctrine
and interpretation of the Bible.28 They come to little more than provisional belief. They view past evangelicalism as a dogmatic and intolerant viewpoint that produces disputes within the evangelical community and insults the pluralistic world around them. Their challenge is to strip the Bible of its aura of infallibility so that people can live in tolerant and amorphous belief. They want ambiguity because categories and clarity cause division. This is the motivation behind postevangelical, postconservative postmodernism. If our beliefs are nebulous, vague, unstructured, fluid and formless, we can avoid dogmatism and definition of truth.
All this downgrades the inspiration of Scripture, especially the inerrancy of Scripture. Fundamental re-evaluation of how the Bible operates as the Word of God will lead to a different perceived status that evangelicals give to Scripture. The task is to “deconstruct” the Bible into a disparate, non-coherent collection of writings packed with error. There is little call for an inerrant Bible in a postmodern world because of the need to move away from ideological belief. The postevangelicals’ approach is to commit to Jesus Christ historically in a grossly general way. They want to go back to a pre-Constantine time, when doctrine was less developed and more general, so that Christianity is not offensive to the postmodern world.29
Postevangelicals want to draw a dichotomy between the “religion of belief” and the “life of faith.” They do not allow faith to elevate Scripture above perspectives on truth. Evangelicals, they say, define identity by belief. Postevangelicals define themselves by historical experience of imagination.
This is especially true with salvation. In postevangelical opinion, evangelicals developed a highly complex view of salvation that has taken on a life of its own. This resulted in the “myth” of justification by faith alone, according to them.
Accommodation to Story Telling Rather than Truth Telling
Non-Christian postmodernism views the holding of a universal truth (metanarrative) as an attempt to control thought. Postevangelicals want to maintain a metanarrative of sorts, but they have no objective reason for doing so. They
find themselves in a dilemma between truth and the denial of universal truth by rejecting absolute, objective truth.
Postevangelical postconservatives must readjust their reading of Scripture to something creatively interpreted by a community of believers. Interpretation comes from narrative rather than propositions and systematic thought. The
narrative way of interpretation puts understanding of Scripture outside formulas of orthodoxy. Objective truth is not possible in this process.
We can see the postevangelical, postconservatives’ dilemma in their desire to own the postmodern rejection of objective truth, universal truth, and yet hold onto a metanarrative (a broad perspective of belief). They believe in the relativity of all narratives; they also want to believe in a generalized Jesus that covers all religions and is an answer for non-believers, but they have no final message to unbelievers. All they have is provisional possibilities. In a desperate attempt
to placate postmoderns, they void the exclusive message of the Bible.
This tramples principles of the Word of God. We have no criterion to distinguish truth from error with this view. D. A. Carson says that postmodern evangelicals like Stanley Grenz raised the “fine art of sidestepping crucial questions to an annoying level.”30 Instead of talking about the possibility of objective truth, Grenz chooses to deem that question “improper and ultimately unhelpful.”31 In other words, he does not want to deal with the most important question to evangelicals—the exclusive truth of Christianity. Grenz evades the issue in favor of his postmodern bias. He has no biblical basis to rest his philosophy of a community-established worldview. A sociological assumption about Christianity places it on very precarious grounds. Maybe a Muslim jihad assumption would be preferable. Who knows? There is no proper ground of belief. If
evangelicals did not possess objective truth, every wind of doctrine would blow them about where it willed, and the opinion of the Christian community would have no greater validity than any other view.
Brian McLaren, in The Church on the Other Side, and others in the emergent church movement made a break with historical evangelical belief. William M. Easum wrote an “other side” book on leadership titled Leadership on the Other Side. The end of modernity apparently requires new church thinking and new leadership in the era of postmodernism. Leonard Sweet and Stanley Grenz are much-read authors in this movement. Purportedly this movement is not antimodern, although in function it is anti-modern; for example, Brian McLaren challenges leaders to change not only their method but also their message. This message change rests on philosophical pluralism. Under modernism, truth was one. With postmodernism, truth is many. Each community has its own truth. Everyone has input into truth.
Postevangelicalism is an accommodation to postmodern thought and devaluation of objective truth. Postevangelicals place experience over reason and logic. The community discovers truth through consensus in commune. This is a change from objective truth to group-consensus truth.
Accepting Informal Pluralism
Postevangelicals have gone so far as to deny “exclusive” claims to truth and call the gospel a “perspective” on truth. To them the term “exclusive” is pejorative, and they fear that it carries negative overtones to a relativist generation. But truth is truth, so we cannot mediate God’s truth through other approaches to reality, that is, through acquiescence and accommodation to relativists. Postevangelicals find themselves in a place of undermining the essence of their
Postevangelical arbitration of truth is an attempt to appear inclusive to an unbelieving world. This pluralistic accommodation rejects the idea that there is something ultimately authoritative or exclusively unique about God’s revelation. This leaves every approach to truth up to consumer choice; therefore, postevangelicals hold religious commitments lightly. Passionate conviction that evangelicals hold the truth has waned. The church is losing its power and conviction. It acquiesces to the idea that it is just one of many perspectives out there and thus does not have exclusive truth. Belief is just a perspective
Postevangelicals believe that Christians should affirm other cultures and respect differences of thought other than Christianity. That is not the issue at hand. The issue is whether Christianity is valid above all opinion, theory, or religion. Can
Christianity access absolute truth in an unlimited way?
Have postevangelicals come to accept an informal pluralism where evangelical beliefs are no longer normative for all people, in all cultures, at any time? Have they surrendered the idea that other religions or philosophies are not true? Is it
appropriate to judge other beliefs, because all judgments are relative?
Maybe all roads do lead to Rome after all. If this is true, what a waste of energy in the attempt to evangelize the world! We could divert great amounts of money from evangelism to meet the social needs of the world. Christians should not have the temerity or audacity to tell others about Christ. What gall, disdain, conceit, and superciliousness that is! Tolerance should be the name of the game. Any kind of spirituality, such as mysticism or Buddhism, is just fine because the purpose of “religion” is to meets the needs of humanity. These people get along fine without Christ, so why rock their boat? It appears that Schaeffer’s “great evangelical disaster” is well under way. Many have already stepped into that disaster.