Saturday, July 17, 2010

Personal Experience & Postmodernism

TEXT: Matt 1:20

"20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost."

     Here Joseph has what many in the postmodern world would consider the senna qua non of spiritual experience i.e. personal contact with the divine.  It must be considered, of course, a rare event today in the Church Age for God to provide such a personal experience.  There are reasons for this which are explained in the Bible. Nevertheless, many feel that their spiritual lives are empty unless they can have personal contact with the divine plane.  This has been suggested as a possible reason for the veritable explosive growth in the charismatic church since this, primarily, is what they ostensibly offer.  However, it should be noted that we're not told to seek or overvalue such contact (2 Cor 12:6) & in fact, we're warned against attempting such (Lev 19:31; 20:6, 27; Deut 18:9-12; Isa 8:19-20; 1 Cor 10:14-22).  Even so, you would be surprised how far you can get in witnessing to a postmodernist thinker if you allow yourself to use what they see as personal experience in order to bring to their consideration the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

     We wish to make it abundantly clear that there is but one way to God & that is through His Son Jesus Christ & there is only one way to get access to Jesus Christ & that is through His gospel as revealed in His word.  So, we can only access God through Christ & we can only access Christ through the gospel, but the means & modes to access the gospel are virtually limitless!  Sometimes imagination is required.

     Consider the following situation:  you sit next to a stranger on the train or an airplane & have the opportunity for an extended period of conversation before reaching your destination.  She notes you carry your Bible & asks if you are a believer & you respond by providing her with your testimony.  She responds to that by saying, "Wow, you know, I had a dream just like that just the other night!"  Further, she relates that she called her mother, who is a churchgoing woman, & her mother asked, "What have you done wrong that Satan is doing this to you?" She tells you how immediately she was turned off by that approach

     Now, given the content of the dream, we may or may not agree with the mother as to whether there may be a demon at work.  However, we must note that the postmodern thinker will see the dream as personal experience of the spiritual plane & they may be right.  However, assessing it as demon inspired (even if it is so) is not the route to take in order to open access for this individual to the gospel.  The question instead to be asked is (and this is a very carefully crafted question)  "What do you think God was trying to tell you by allowing you to have that dream?"  This wording is critical to the approach & here's why:

     Firstly, attributing the dream to demons is going to close the person off & shut down the conversation.  No one wants to be told they are cavorting with demons.  You will not be able to relate the gospel if you are not talking &, after all, that is the desired point to be reached for only by accessing the gospel is there access to Christ by which the seeker can genuinely access God, even if they do not accept or acknowledge this fact.  But, if you shut down the conversation prematurely, you preclude the possibility of getting to the step of sharing the gospel.

     Sometimes, the indirect approach ends up being the most direct for the purposes of the gospel.

The question is carefully phrased:

"What..." -- Obviously you are asking for a response;

" you..." -- Remember, we're dealing with personal experience that is the postmodernist's major god, along with his/her feelings, as to the measure of spiritual growth.  You need to tap into that.  So, you want to be asking about what it means to them;

"...think..." -- This is the one thing the postmodernists seem to avoid as much as possible. It must be our goal to get them to engage their minds; to think, not just to feel, about their situation.  Feelings can be very misleading; too many people today follow their feelings in the postmodernist fashion whereas, if they actually thought more, they might grow more spiritually as well as intellectually.  As an example, it is a comfortable, usually unchallenged, postmodern sentiment for one to say,"  Well, you can never really be sure about anything," to which-if only one would think about it -the obvious reply is, "Are you sure about that?"  Many of the quaint, pithy little sayings that are laid out in the postmodern world, fail to pass any sort of scrutiny that sometimes even a kindergartner could provide, but because we are a society that no longer thinks about these things, which thinks about our positions, we get trapped into the comfortable, feel-good euphemisms & philosophies of the age.

"...God meant..." -- This ties the individual to the divine, which is where they want to be in the first place.  Tying them & their experience to the devil or Satan makes for a short conversation.  Eventually though this tie may need to be made, it is better initially to help them see their tie to God first & foremost.  Even if that brush with divinity must eventually convict them of their experience, they are at least initially more comfortable with pursuing the conversation.  You are also indicating that their experience was an intention on the part of God.  This is important for conveying to them that God does indeed care about them personally.  A postmodernist is apt to appreciate this or, alternatively, that God is an impersonal thing.  In case of the latter, using this question, you'll be able to tease such feelings out & address them in due course;

" allowing..." -- to say "by giving" wrongly conveys our conviction that all that happens in our experience is allowed by God, but not necessarily sent or given by God.  As demonstrated by the Book of Job, not all is directly caused by God, but all is allowed by God.  Given the fact that such dreams may be brought about by demons or demon inspiration, we do not want to be in the position of insinuating that God was the cause of their dream.  As notably repeated in the gospels several times (Mark 1: 24-25) Jesus never wanted or accepted the testimony of devils on His behalf, even though they knew who He really was.  We should not be in the position of conveying, even in an indirect way, that He is associated with such activities.  By using the word "allow," we're able to remain flexible in later judging of the dreams content should you be called upon to do so.

" to have that dream?" -- this validates the individual's personal experience.  We should have no doubt that anyone's given experience, be it a dream or near death experience (NDE) or other such phenomenon, has spiritual implications.  It certainly has significance to the individual & while we may not want to validate or endorse the content of that experience, we can feel free to validate the fact of the experience as being genuine & of significance to the individual.

     Though this example has been provided & broken down, it is important to recognize that it is just that -- an example.  There are innumerable approaches to postmodernist seekers; flexibility must be maintained in terms of approach. This is usually more important than anything else.  The postmodern seeker will want to know that you are listening to them; seeing their specific circumstance; hearing their specific story. Postmodernism & postmodernist thinking can not be distinguished by age group, by mode of dress, or by any other physical characteristic.  A postmodernist is one who has accepted uncritically the time dime store philosophy that has pervaded society beginning in the early to mid -80's, at least in the popular culture; some philosophers think that it traces its roots as far back as the opening of the Bastille in the time of the French revolution, when Europe entered the Enlightenment.  Popular postmodern thinking seems to have come into vogue about the time of the end of the cold war.  We had all been told by Star Trek & 2001 a space odyssey that if only we could overcome our differences with the Soviets either through accommodation or by overcoming the Soviets themselves (though most seemed to think accommodation would be the eventual policy we would have to take) that we would soon find ourselves wearing bright silver clothing, living in the brightly lit white world of sleep spaceships zipping from galaxy to galaxy without care in peace & harmony.  Unfortunately, we seem to be living in the same forlorn world as before only now it's terrorists with planes instead of commies with nukes that hold us hostage. People have become disillusioned with the modernists dream and have seen them as having fallen short on their promises.  Likewise, just as they were wrong about having to accommodate the Soviets someday, they seem to have been wrong about just about everything.  Some have gone as far as to claim that bringing down the Soviet empire was the wrong thing to do!  They insist that if we have accommodated them as the modernists had suggested, we would be living in the world of clean white space ships.  This, on the face of it, is, of course, silly since continuing the Soviet empire simply meant the extension of the suffering of the millions of people that lived under its yoke.  They're certainly no worse off today than they were & one might say they're a whole lot better off in many ways than they were before.

     Some have said that postmodernism isn't as much a philosophy as it is a mood.  People have become disillusioned, disappointed & are simply disgusted at finding Christ's observation as true i.e. "Know ye not that the poor will always be with you?"  So many, though they may seem bright & cheerful on the outside, they're living that life of quiet desperation, so tired of having to think for themselves that they have surrendered, allowing others to think for them, finding comfort in poorly thought out, feel-good cliches.  Postmodernism may be viewed as a great depression of the spirit.  To this, Christ is the answer, the only answer.  We must be flexible enough to introduce Him to the members of this wide, disparate group, being firm in our message, yet gentle in spirit.  Note the variety, however, in the ways in which Jesus in presented by Jesus & his followers: eg to Nicodemus, Jesus said, "You must be born again; to the woman of the well, He said nothing of being born again but He told her He was the water of life; when Phillip saw the Ethiopian in his chariot perplexed by the words of Isaiah, he didn't speak of the water of life nor did he speak of being born again, rather the Ethiopian was perplexed and so Philip offered to explain.  Example after example, time & time again, Christ & his apostles are providing us with a pattern of flexibility.  Each delivered the message of the Gospel, but in a way that met each spiritual seeker where he or she was at on their spiritual journey.  They delivered it in the close, personal circumstance of their own lives & on a level that each was able to understand.

     Some have said that Christianity must change or die. Christianity does not need to "change" but it does need to remember & rediscover the flexibility that made it spread across the world so successfully in the first place.  Christianity was never intended to be a cookie cutter religion; this is not a do progressive concept.  This is good, old fashioned, Biblical Christianity available to anyone who is willing to rediscover it.

     We must remember, our primary goal is to open up access to the gospel for these individuals.  The postmodern thinker (a term which is actually an oxymoron since they worship feeling & eschew thinking!) is lost in a morass of conflicting feelings seeking experience, the majority of which will turn out to be fraudulent & hollow.  It is the Christian's duty to demonstrate that there is a better way; to show that spirituality is not merely a matter of "feeling one's way."  God calls us to love Him with all our hearts, with all our souls, all our strength & with all our mind (Luke 10:27).  Yes, we must feel; Yes, our souls, our being, must be engaged; but, we must also think.  Of the all creatures in creation, God gave us the ability to reason.  He gave us the faculty of mind.  We must open the postmodernist up to the idea that had God not wished us to use this faculty, why would He give it to us in the first place!?  Postmodern relativists tell us there is no such thing as "truth" & yet they wish us to believe that their assertion is true!  They tell us that words have no meaning & yet they write tomes hundreds of pages long using thousands of words to convince us of this truth in a world where they say there is no truth!  Postmodernism is incoherent; at the very least inconsistent.  It is our job to lay this false philosophy bare but, of prime importance, to use whatever means we can to open access to the Gospel & allow the Holy Spirit to do His work.

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