Postmodern Evangelism

While teaching my Contemporary Worldviews class, we wrapped up the semester with Postmodernism. While Postmodernism may not necessarily be considered a worldview, as it is the absence of any absolutes, it is a common approach to life in 21st century America. With each successive worldview I sought to help the students think about engaging others with the Gospel. I think each class we teach should have a missiological bent. In concluding the course with postmodernity, we dove into the discussion on taking the Gospel to the postmodern generation. The one idea we all agreed upon was TIME. It takes time.

Postmodernists approach life from a different direction; they deny any objective knowledge or reason. JP Moreland said, “According to Emergent church leader Brian McLaren, making absolute truth claims becomes problematic in the postmodern context.” In quoting McLaren, Moreland wrote,

“I think that most Christian’s grossly misunderstand the philosophical baggage associated with terms like absolute or objective (linked to fundamentalism and the myth of neutrality)…. Similarly, arguments that pit absolutism verses relativism, and objectivism versus, subjectivism, prove meaningless or absurd to postmodern people.”

A postmodernist often rejects the notion that rationality is objective on the grounds that no one can approach life in a totally objective way or without bias. Postmodernists also deny objective absolute truth. No absolute truth exists. Therefore, we as Christians claiming to have “the truth,” are only seeking power, authority, and abuse. They assume we are self seeking, because their approach to life is driven by self construct. You can define who you are, or want to be. You can make any words mean anything, and no one can tell you otherwise.

So, as the class thought through the foundational ideas of postmodernity, we discussed our approach to reaching them with the Gospel. As mentioned above, we began with the idea that it won’t be quick. It will take time, and probably significant amounts of time to break down the walls of postmodern thinking. In an effort to take the time, we concluded that instead of the one on one, confrontational approach, we thought the best idea was to befriend this person. In fact, we went so far to say that it may take some time to build a legitimate friendship with the person(s), nothing platonic or artificial, but a genuine new friendship. Through that friendship, and life on life time, one must intently seek to interject and discuss Gospel ideas. In the introduction to the class we discovered that individuals reveal what they truly believe about life’s tough questions when they encounter a trial or crisis. While spending time getting to know your new postmodern friend, you will eventually walk with them long enough to encounter such a tragedy.

As I personally thought more about the class discussion, I began to think about much of the current day approach to evangelism. The thought that kept coming to mind is that we aren’t equipped to spend the time investing in a person’s life for the sake of the Gospel. We teach all these methods, FAITH, GROW, EE, etc, and each one is designed to be a one on one confrontational immediate presentation. We don’t have a long term plan for reaching someone with the Gospel. We don’t teach folks to intentionally engage in new friendships with a LONG RANGE goal of reaching them with the Gospel. We teach an approach that says, ASK THEM NOW!!!

We didn’t figure it all out in the class, but I think we began to ponder a more accurate, biblical approach to our evangelistic efforts. TIME, invest time in the lives of people in order to reach them with the Gospel. With the postmodern generation, when you start with the absolute notion of truth in Christ, they will certainly shut you off. However, I think if you begin with sincerity toward friendship, and investment, they will over time be softened to listen to what you have to say. Who knows, maybe not; that work is ALL THE HOLY SPIRIT anyway, but I think we need to take the best approach to reaching the current generation for the sake of the Gospel.

Comments

  1. says

    I always think sincerity trumps a utilitarian approach to anything. And the idea of making friendships to be a genuine friend and perhaps have an opportunity to share the gospel at the right time is right.
    But, does it take God time? Is sincere friendship the power of God unto salvation? Well I think most would agree that both of these answers are “no.”
    That being said it does appear, as in my life, God does ‘take’ time to pursue and reveal Himself, and to bring about regeneration and salvation thru the communication of the gospel.
    How do we account for the effectiveness of friend sharing the gospel with a friend as opposed to a more confrontational style? I’m not sure I know the answer to this. But I suspect it may have something to do with the truth being communicated in love. God does seem to use the love of a caring friend. THis is not to say evangelists from Billy Graham to Whitefield didn’t love the masses that gathered to hear them. I believe they loved the Lord and He gave them a love for the lost.
    Still, when you get to know someone and love them, even if they’re difficult to love, it may be akin to preparing the soil for the seed.

  2. says

    I haven’t worked this through, but it seems to me that as relativistic and postmodern as our society is, the one concept rooted in objectivity that they still cling to is the concept of rights. Would it be possible to develop an approach starting from there?

    • Max says

      “… the one concept rooted in objectivity that they still cling to is the concept of rights.”

      Abraham Lincoln, when addressing slavery rights, said “You don’t have the right to do wrong.” In postmodern thought, few questions have one right answer. That’s why postmodernists can so easily reject Jesus as THE Way, THE truth, and THE life. They reject this absolute truth because they don’t accept that the Bible is inspired and the Word as inerrant. Such stinking thinking allows the postmodernist to live comfortably in the wrong, because there is no absolute truth to steer their intellect in the right direction. Dealing at the level of “rights” has been made more difficult by a government which has thrown out the Judeo-Christian moral compass in legislation … not to mention organized religion which is no longer counter-culture to the world, but a sub-culture of it. If we are to reverse this trend, pulpits across America must not surrender more ground, but stand the high ground and proclaim as Lincoln did “you don’t have the right to do wrong” … and tell them what wrong is without compromise. That approach doesn’t have to take time, but it will require the hand of God and a fresh anointing of the messengers. I don’t see the church praying for that. “IF My People … THEN Will I.” But will we?

  3. Andy says

    Max,

    The only objective right you have is to act with tolerance toward everyone and everything. My main issue is the confrontational approach we take to EV today, will not work on a postmodern generation. I am not advocating lifestyle only EV, but that a personal friendship with that person is going to be the successful way of seeing a postmodernist repent and belive.

  4. says

    Pastor Jared Moore: “Postmoderns must repent of their epistemology in order to place their trust in Christ alone for their salvation.”

    Professor Andy Hynes: “a personal friendship with that person is going to be the successful way of seeing a postmodernist repent and belive.”

    Let’s assume that both of you are correct.

    Question: How does personal friendship with an unbeliever cause that unbeliever to repent of his/her epistemology so that they may repent and believe and trust in the Almighty Absolute of Jesus Christ as Objective Lord and Savior?

    • Andy says

      Well “repenting” of ones theory of the grounds of knowledge is in no way the only “sinful” practice of a postmodernist. With true biblical repentance which is what we aim for, the whole of the person repents of sin, and turns to Christ in full faith. Does that mean they rethink their epistemology, I think so. I am asserting the way to this successful transition and transformation in their life is through personal relationships, instead of confrontational style EV. It will take more than me telling them I am right and they are wrong.

      Ultimately, the entire work is God’s. I/we can’t do anything. However, I think we do need to be prepared, equipped, and knowledgable before we engage our culture with the Gospel.

      Wouldn’t we do that on the foreign field???

  5. parsonsmike says

    If taking time and being friends by spending time is the the only way, then one is not going to be witnessing to but a few post modernists. If you are working and have a family, just how many people can you truly be friends with?
    Rather, I think living a church filled life, loving your brothers and sisters in word and deed, and also verbally proclaiming the Lordship of the crucified and risen Christ as the fulfillment of life both now and in the one to cone and then leaving the results up to God, is a faithful way to fulfill the Gospel.

    Not tjat you couldnt befriend some,

    • says

      Kevin,
      I think you hit the nail on the head for what we discovered in class. I also think your personal/direct involvement with postmodernists bolsters our case. Thanks for sharing.

    • says

      parsonsmike,

      I am not saying that befriending someone is the “only” way, but it is the effective way with a postmodern audience. Kevin below amplified my argument. The truth is, you may not be able to interact with 10’s, or even 100’s at one time. But did Jesus?? How about a few startegic relationships to begin with, then all God to water and multiple. I appreciate your desire to “leave the results up to God,” and I totally agree; however, we are given common sense to help us approach people. Paul used various approached throughout Acts, so we need to discover our audience and then discern how to approach them with the Gospel truths.

  6. Kevin Peacock says

    Living and working in a thoroughly postmodern society, and even working alongside postmodern Christian brothers and sisters, has changed my evangelism perspective and methodology. Postmoderns value the preciousness of each individual. They also value the importance of relationships. I find these tremendous starting points for evangelistic witness. Pretty much gone are the days in this society when a short evangelistic presentation will bring someone to a point of life-changing response. However, many times there is a willingness to sit down and talk with someone about their story and about spiritual things. I usually ask them for their personal “story” (a postmodern value), then seek for ways to inject the gospel into their personal story. That means that a prefab presentation rarely is effective.

    I’ve also come to the conclusion that the gospel is like a 5-ton load but the relationship with the person is like a 1-ton bridge. Seldom can I present the entire gospel at one setting. For most, it would break the bridge, and seldom would I ever have the opportunity again. A series of conversations is far more appropriate in this context.

    “Inviting someone to church” is seldom effective, because the “church culture” is too foreign for them. It’s a shame that someone has to buy into our culture in order to hear and understand the gospel. The local church is more for worship, fellowship, and training, and less for evangelism within its walls.

    But most importantly, the gospel message is all about relationships — far more so than cognitive content. As important as the content may be, it is possible to know the entire Bible and yet hear from our Savior, “Depart from Me, I never knew you” (i.e. relationship). In other words, “relational truth” may be more important than “propositional truth.” Instead of leading with “Four Spiritual Laws” or “No one comes to the Father but by Me,” I prefer to introduce them to the person of Jesus and let them hear the content from Him. When a person is drawn to and trusts Jesus as a person, then they are more willing to believe what He says. Leading with the propositions most of the time breaks the bridge. Instead, “Let me introduce you to Someone who will change your life.” Once they are drawn to Jesus they are more willing to accept His objective and scandalous statements.

    • says

      Kevin,
      I think you hit the nail on the head for what we discovered in class. I also think your personal/direct involvement with postmodernists bolsters our case. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Steve Young says

    I remember sitting in a service led by a representative of Jews for Jesus. He was asked, “How do you lead a Jew to Salvation.” His answer, “Just like I do someone who is not Jewish.” He went on to talk about relationship building, bridge building, respect, understanding – but bottom line “the Gospel is the power of God unto Salvation.”
    Steve in Montana

  8. says

    Steve,
    You got it. No matter what, it is God’s work, but there is not a cookie cutter way to reach people.

    BTW- your screen Steve Young, and you are in Montana. I immediately thought of the 49ers.

  9. says

    Andy et al,

    While most preachers don’t much spend time with unsaved friends, most believers do – at school, work, gym, neighborhood, children’s ballgames. But most believers aren’t sharing the Gospel using any approach. That is why I developed Every Believer a Witness – to motivate and train Sunday morning attendees to share the Gospel with their friends in a non-pushy way, by simpy relating what God has done for them. It is not a one pitch approach.

    In addition, we work with the pastor and give him a simple follow-up plan to enable him how to “create and maintain a cuture of witnessing and evangelism.” I encourage pastors who read this to come to our Pastor Training Clinic at The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove, Asheville, NC, next August. You can learn more about it, and Every Believer a Witness on our web site, everybelieverawitness.org.

    Dennis, Luke 8:39

  10. says

    I don’t think most believers are spending “much time” with unbelievers. They spend some time with unbelievers, but I don’t think that qualifies as “much”.
    And while at work, I do get a chance to witness occasionally in a direct way for the Gospel, most unbelievers that re not post modernists would rather talk about fantasy football. The ones who might be post modernist are on their cell phones while on break doing whatever they have an interest in.

    My kids are grown. No soccer games . Not until the grandkids are out of diapers.

    Now as to what God has done for them, or for you or for me. I believe. They don’t. I can say God has done what ever for me. but why should they believe it?

    What changes lives? The Gospel. So what has God done for me? He came to earth and suffered and died for the sins of people and rose again from the dead, and is coming back to judge the living and the dead. And though I deserve condemnation, just like they do, for my selfish acts in a self centered life, I seek to live a life of trust in Jesus, forsaking my self centered ways and worshiping Him as Lord and God, loving the church in word and deed even as they love me. Come check it out.

    And if you have time to be friends with a lot of them, more power to you. But its not your lifestyle that changes their heart, its the the Gospel. Give it to them.

  11. Andy says

    Parsons,

    Did you really gather from the post or my comments that I do not believe it is the Gospel that saves? Unfortunately you have missed the entire purpose behind the post. As for spending time with unbelievers, it is a matter of priority. You either choose to engage them or you don’t!

  12. says

    As an evangelist, I feel the urgency to share my faith. That urgency propels me to also train others in sharing their faith conversationally, pray for friends who don’t know Christ and live in such a way that shows I’m a Christ follower.

    The counterbalance to urgency is the persistent observation that people need time to hear and process the gospel.

    They don’t know what Jesus did for them and need to learn.

    They don’t see the need for Jesus in their life.

    They may not even believe that the Bible is a valid truth source.

    They may not even believe in God.

    They may not want to sign up for a lifetime commitment into God’s service, where they may only have weird examples of Christ followers in their mind.

    They may have an understanding of Jesus that is incorrect and need further information.

    They may have had bad experiences in the church, and therefore want nothing to do with church people.

    They may need to see the rational side of the Christian faith – a place for apologetics and personal reflection.

    Part of the goal of evangelistic conversation is persuasion: to participate the process of helping people see their need for Jesus.

    Persuasion cannot happen in a vacuum or in an instantaneous moment.

    It can only happen over the course of time.