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The Postmodern Puzzle

How can Christians navigate the confusing world of postmodernism?

Q. Our world today is driven by postmodernism. We seem to tailor everything to best meet our needs–including our perception of God. What can we do to battle this tendency?

A. Maybe some readers are vague on what "postmodernism" means, so let me take a minute for review.

What came before, of course, is "modernism," a period of rationalist, scientific triumphalism that began around 200 years ago. Modernism also challenged Christianity. Two centuries ago, Bible–believing pastors like you were likely concerned about the kind of modernist thinking that led many people to believe in a "watchmaker" God, who set the world in motion and then walked away to let it run on its own.

Now postmodernism (also known as "pomo") claims that modernism is over and something new is happening. One aspect of this vague new thing is an increased hunger for spirituality. What has been a persistent trickle of "new age" interest for a few decades has now broadened into a stream and includes people for whom the usual "new agey" forms are too foreign. They want to be spiritual in a way that is somewhat Christian, but they are allergic to the idea of biblical truth and don't want to be told God's views on sin and morality.

How should we respond? It's good to adapt to the needs of the time, so far as it is possible. But isn't God eternal and unchangeable?

This is the question that faces all missionaries: How much should you change your presentation of the gospel to reach a new culture?

There's nothing Christians can do to appear "cool" to the postmodern crowd, and trying to do so only makes us look foolish. Christianity has lost a lot of credibility in recent decades by tagging after the latest trends and begging to be liked.

My advice is to concentrate on building up the life of Christ within the community. Help each member to continually advance in restoring the image of God within that was damaged by the Fall. Don't dumb down the faith for the sake of attracting unbelievers, because dumbed–down faith is unattractive. Let it retain its mystery; a newcomer should not have the feeling that he "gets" it all on the first visit.

Individuals who are personally living the life are the key to evangelism, now as in the first century. A community of transformed believers–radiant, humble, and holy–will have more impact than any smiley–face ad campaign, no matter what the culture.

Frederica Mathewes–Green is the author of The Illumined Heart (Paraclete Press).

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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