Communicating Sin in a Postmodern World
I am currently reading a collection of articles on evangelizing postmoderns called “Telling The Truth“, edited by D.A. Carson. In a section called ‘critical topics’ Mark Dever writes a chapter called ‘Communicating Sin in a Postmodern World’. He starts by making some clear observations of our current social situation.
In our day it is quite evident that there is an overall spirit of evasion when it comes to responsibility, an academic atmosphere of relativism, and with science holding the monopoly on ‘truth’ there is much supernatural skepticism. John Milton painted a wonderful picture of the ‘postmodern mantra’ in Paradise Lost;
“The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a heaven hell, a hell of heaven”
This is what Dever called ‘refined relativism’ at its finest, the idea that “offhand affirmations of self expression” have been set “over and against a standard outside ourselves”. (140) We live in a world where taste triumphs over truth. In postmodernity there is no ‘metanarrative’ (overall meaning), moreover the postmodern mentality asserts that there is not a ‘metanarrator’- or God (141-142). After establishing a context for our current barriers to the Gospel, Dever offers four basic ideas as a solution of communicating the vanishing idea of sin to a postmodern generation. Here are some thoughts and notes on what Dever had to say;
1. Communicate God’s Truth Carefully
In our culture it would be advantageous to assume that everyone means something different when using the term ‘God’. “This is a time of special opportunity for Christians to lean more about being careful with the gospel, to weed out some of the cultural assumptions that have wedded themselves in our minds to the gospel, and learn to listen more carefully to those who talk with us. (143)
Therefore, we need to communicate the truth about God that has been revealed. As Calvin wrote, “nearly all wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But, while joined by many bonds, which one precedes and brings forth the other is not easy to discern.” (1.1.1)
2. Pure Christian Community should be Guarded with Accountability
The Christian life is to be lived, in part, by folding yourself into a series of committed relationships united around faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In the local church and the nexus of committed relationships there, the boundaries of our identity are set by the interactions with others. (146-147)
In recovery of the importance of community, don’t ever think that it replaces the vertical relationship with God. The role of community is to supplement and reflect this relationship. (148)
3. Show that Our Conscience Exposes Sin
“We think of community as providing the external boundaries of the self, as that which helps to make ourselves obvious to ourselves. The community is the circumference of the self” but we also must consider the ‘center’. (148)
People not only need to grasp the “theoretical concept of evil and wrong, but the fact that they are evil and wrong.” People need to consider their own consciences, this is difficult since postmodernism encourages “the evacuation of the responsible self”. More than that, it is not in their self interest to do so. People do not like to hear that they are accountable to their actions. Often people will dismiss us as Christians because they equate our beliefs with our biases.
4. Point to God as the Active Agent in Conversion
More than anything, the truths explained above illustrate that man cannot ‘save’ himself. Therefore, all conversation should “highlight the truth that conversion is only by God’s Spirit.” (149) We cannot bring that which is dead to life, it must be God who brings forth salvation.
Concerning our role, “we simply need to be faithful messengers. We don’t have to understand everything.” (150) While the Bible does not explain things exhaustively, it is sufficient for saving faith through Christ Jesus.