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Discussion with Alan Parker -- 4

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

This will be the final email in our series with Alan Parker. After his last response, I asked him to respond to the comments several of you made challenging his take on Postmodernism. I hope that those of you who challenged him before will read this and comment again based on what he has written. I will also only reply in the comments section and not write a separate post. Here is his response:

Thanks for directing me to the responses others have posted, particularly with regard to my take on postmodernism and evangelism. There are a number of key questions to ask. Firstly, what is postmodernism? Secondly, how does the “missional church” relate to evangelism? Thirdly, how do we reach people under the age of 35?

In response to the first question, I think at its most basic level postmodernism refers to anyone disillusioned with modernism. However, the most critical aspect of postmodernism is often a rejection of foundationalism, truth and authority in favor of community, relativism, and complexity. I find very few people who are truly postmodern. Many people claim to be postmodern who are merely jaded with modernity but who are still “foundational” in their thinking. So, I don’t think the world is as postmodern as we think it is, when we are in universities and surrounded with this kind of terminology. I think the popular success of the General Youth Conference and other like conventions shows that there are many people under the age of 35 (as I am) who are not postmodernist and who are still reached by evangelism that deals with questions of significance more than with debunking authority. In fact, I think there is a fertile field for evangelism with people who are jaded with postmodernity. There are people who have tried the “relativistic” approach, wandered in a maze of complexity and who look for a return to some kind of foundationalism that they can build their faith on. After all, Jesus did declare, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” While we cannot for ourselves know truth with absolute certainty (the fallacy of modernism) we can build on The Truth (Jesus Christ) which enables us to examine all other “truths” in the light of the great Truth. I also believe that the Bible is an authoritative guide to both truth and The Truth.

In terms of the second question, I hold, like many contemporary missiologists, that the church is to be essentially missional (Bosch Transforming Mission 1991:372). This is probably a better technical term for the church than evangelism, although it has more academic than lay usage. Since God is essentially missional, our role in the world is to reflect God’s mission. Evangelism is more than mere proclamation – it is calling people into the missio Dei (God’s mission). “Evangelism, then, means enlisting people for the reign of God, liberating them from themselves, their sins, and their entanglements, so that they will be free for God and neighbour. It calls individuals to a life of openness, vulnerability, wholeness and love. (Bosch 1991:418)

So, how do we reach people under the age of 35? Many of those who are truly postmodern and who try to reach other postmoderns eventually give up on evangelism. How do you possibly challenge another person’s paradigm without seeming arrogant about your own? Since all truth is relative, each person must simply seek out their own journey in a supportive community as they find god for themselves (small g intentional). Our witness becomes tentative, our faith is easily questioned and our evangelism is dwarfed. Maybe this sounds too harsh, but it’s really an appeal as I’ve walked this road already. If we’re going to reach young people we have to stand for something. There has to be a message and a mission. Not in the traditional, arrogant, confrontational way of the past, but we’ve got to know what we believe (and more importantly who we believe in) and be willing to die for it. By all means, let’s add significance and meaning to our doctrines, but let’s not slide down the path of “if it’s good for you then do it.” I was a youth pastor and a chaplain at an Adventist college for four years. I tried to be “postmodern” and to deal with life in all its complexity. I had great dialogs but very little commitment. Then I started talking about mission – about something to die for and about an Adventist message that had significance for their lives. That’s when I got commitment. If we want to reach young people, then they have to get excited, passionate and committed.

I’m not talking about a return to Wittgenstein fideism. I think “absolute truth” (small t) works for some people and that’s where they are – it’s probably not where you and I are at. But I also don’t think that Christians can become truly non-foundational. Christ must be our foundation. The Bible must be our guide. If we let go of this, we are in serious trouble and I think we ultimately kill the mission of the church. Of course there are complex issues and truth (small t) is not as obvious or as absolute as we once thought it was. But I’m out there mixing with people and seeing lives changed and young people coming to faith in God and it happens when they have something to believe in and be passionate about. It happens when they see the Bible as a way to The Truth. Let’s have a little Luthur in us and start a reformation worth starting. Let’s point to the Bible and shout, “Here I stand...” In our postmodern quest, let’s not give up on that rallying cry!


trevan said…
I agree with much of your assessment about postmodernism. I think the whole foundationalism issue is more debated in academia than actually lived out by most people. Of course, we are just beginning to see the effects of postmodernism and it easily could lead to a large-scale rejection of foundationalism. Like you, I have a hard time trying to think of a Christian faith that rejects foundationalism. But, maybe that is because I haven't rejected it. But, does anyone have ideas what it could look like or is it antithetical to faith?

I certainly don't consider myself to be truly modern or postmodern but a crazy hybrid of the two that likely only makes sense to me. I think you’re right about the fact that most people are not 100% postmodern. However, I think we need to be more intentional about the future because it seems as though we are heading in that direction. How will people reason 30-40 years down the road? Are we preparing for drastic changes or just hoping postmodernism never fully takes hold? We need to think and prepare for anything.

I love the quote from Bosch and the idea of being missional. I just finished reading “The Missional Leader” and think every pastor should read it.

I think much of the disillusionment with “truth” is the result of Christians abusing it. We use truth to beat people up and tell them they are wrong instead of showing how it is a beautiful thing. Certainly, our focus needs to be on THE TRUTH which is Jesus. We have to stand for something/someone but I would argue that we have overblown some truth claims that have thrown everything into question. We need to navigate it very carefully.

In regards to General Youth Conference: I’m glad for their success. However, I think its relevance is limited to conservative, committed Adventist young people. I don’t think much of what they teach and preach is embraced by young people who aren’t in that category.
Anonymous said…
It was about eight years ago when I began to notice something was wrong with our evangelistic endeavors, particularly those sponsored by AF. One series I attended had a large picture of Jesus in the background, which was a good thing, because the series was much like the one you participated in and blogged about--totally devoid of any peace, hope or love. Than I encountered another AF series when I relocated and the speaker this time was, if anything, worse. All the AF speakers I've heard all have the tendency to talk rapidly, which like the rest of the presentation, I think is a form of manipulation, hitting you with words, names and verses and not taking the time to carefully examine the texts and counter-arguments.

Over the years I've since come to believe, though, that in a way, the problem really isn't the messenger, or just the messenger. Rather I've come to believe the problem is the message itself, dependent as it is on assumptions about biblical inspiration and alternative universes of angels writing down our thoughts and actions and of a god in the "heavens" waiting for us to get our act together so he can take us home to heaven where we can inhabit our gold mansions and eat from the tree of life.

I'm still attending church but I don't know for how much longer. I go largely for the social aspect. I don't find the idea of a monarchical god in the heavens who supposedly has to be appeased through our worship, very realistic or appealing.

The proof-texting method you complained out is a big part of the problem. A few years ago, in yet another attempt to recommit myself to god, I tried reading the bible again and when I got to Leviticus I just got flabbergasted at the prohibitions and commands. Most of this gets omitted in our evangelistic series and sabbath school quarterlies. There's no real intent to seriously examine the text itself, since there's already an assumption of inspiration and infallibility built into our understanding of it. This is a major obstacle to secular, unchurched people and anyone who wants to remain a Christian and still keep his or her brain.

Anyway, I'm ranting here, but I appreciate your comments and honesty.
Thank you Trevan and Dr. Parker for your discussion on evangelism in this funky new era we live in. I have learned much about Amazing Facts that I would have never figured was a part of their mindset. Thank you.

I agree with you Trevan, that we need to be more forward thinking about what ministry will look like in a postmodern world - whatever that may be. It is true that many people will and do become disillusioned with the radical relativism that is found in some emerging cultures. I certainly do. But it still seems like Dr. Parker's answer to the questions and dilemmas of postmodernism is another healthy dose of modernism. Can the mission of the church afford to not chart a new path for a new world? Must we point back to modern approaches and arguments?

I also may have completely missed Dr. Parker's point, but he seemed to equate finding significance, meaning and commitment with modernism. It seemed like he was arguing for the belief that all forms of postmodernism are devoid of any significance for the individual or community. I would argue that it is the search for significance and meaning that fuels much of the postmodern critique of the modern agenda. We want to lose ourselves in a passionate pursuit of life and that seems difficult to find in a list of propositions (hence the anti-foundationalism of popular postmodernism).

I know that none of us have the answers to a culture that has yet to fully rear its head. But I can't help but think that the answer is on the horizon, something we haven't seen before or maybe even imagined. And the pursuit of those answers is significant, meaningful and worth tension we all now feel.
Selin Mariadhas said…
In response to Glenn's comment, I too find it very hard to be a Christian and have faith sometimes, especially lately, when one of my livejournal friends decided he is going to be an evangelical atheist (his words, not mine) and has been citing some very good arguments against the existence of God. I think the only thing that has kept me going is continuing the personal relationship I have with God and continually reminding myself of all the things God has done for me and my family in the past (journaling helps with this for me) and recommitting myself to God by studying and sharing with friends.

It definitely is hard to study the Bible without understanding the fabric of time and place in which the various parts were written. I agree with you that perhaps our evangelical series should stop being so focused on the "pot of gold at the end of the rainbow" (aka heaven) and focus on the Bible in a more holistic sense. Although I enjoy some of our Sabbath school lessons, I agree that there should perhaps be a separate series for skeptics. Maybe they can address arguments made by Richard Dawkins against God's existence. I'm frustrated with the lack of resources (hopefully they exist and I just haven't found them?) in our church to address all the questions against Christianity/God.
Anonymous said…
"I think the only thing that has kept me going is continuing the personal relationship I have with God..."

Thanks Selin for your post. But how can someone have a personal relationship with an invisible, mute being?

I'm not to the point of believing that God doesn't exist. I don't think that's a question human beings can answer. But the God I read about in the Bible strikes me as unlikely, a tribal God created by human minds in reaction to the world they faced, a God who the ancients believed controlled the elements and sent lightening, plagues, famines, earthquakes and wars and withheld rain and caused a woman to be either fertile or infertile (a lack of children in the Bible is never the result of the man).
Anonymous said…
Hi All,

Sorry for your patience in waiting for my reply as I've been on the road. I think a number of good comments are being made, although Glenn is clearly dealing with the broader issue of relating to the God portrayed in the Bible.

Firstly, Trevan, I think you're right that we have tend to overstate truth claims from a parochial point of view. I hear a lot of arrogance that tends to come through in our evangelism and I've cringed as I wonder how visitors relate to some of the "bashing" that we engage in. I'm all for curbing that kind of bombastic narrow mindedness. I have tried to model evangelism that is winsome and inclusive, but I know that's not true of all evangelists. There are times when the "cross" can be offensive, but I hope that we can learn to share our message without unnecessary offence.

Jonathan correctly raised the point that the quest of postmodernism is for significance and meaning resulting in a frustration with prositional truth. I would argue that we should bring these questions to the fore without necessarily becoming non-foundational or anti-authority. We do want to be passionate, but passion requires purpose and purpose requires something that you believe in (truth). Or am I missing something? Truth creates meaning. Perhaps the problem is that we've tried to create too many propositions instead of only one: Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. We need to find ways to express that basic truth in contextually sensitive ways that answer the postmodern quest for meaning.

In terms of Selin's and Glenn's comments, I think that the issues go much deeper. What do we do when we're turned off by religion and we've become skeptical? Any belief in God (or god) still requires faith. And faith should be reasonable but is ultimately a step into the unknown (beyond reason). Perhaps Glenn, you can tell us what you think the alternatives are. If a real God does exist, wouldn't he reveal himself to us? Perhaps, our access to the ultimate truth (God) is always going to be through the distorted lens of our biases. But does that mean that God doesn't exist or that the Bible doesn't point to Christ as the truth?

Thanks for your responses.

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