Pastoral Perspectives

Guardian of the Faith – in a Postmodern Culture

Many including the leadership have asked why we adopt “Apologetics” as this year’s church retreat’s theme. The concern is whether Truewayans would take leave to come to a retreat to listen to topics that are better dealt with in bible school. The fact is that Christianity is under attack in the world and we need to fight the good fight of the faith without shrinking back. The recurring questions from every corner, whether we like it or not, is this, “Are we able to defend our faith?” Throughout the history of the church, Christians have been called upon to explain why we believe what we believe. The apostle Paul spoke of his ministry as “the defense and confirmation of the gospel.” Peter said we need to “be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you.” (1 Peter 3:15) This activity of the church came to be known as apologetics, which means, “defense.” But if it is important that we defend the faith, how do we do it?

            In general, Christian apologetics deals with answering critics who oppose or question the revelation of God in Christ and the Bible. That can include studying specific subjects such as biblical manuscript transmission, philosophy, biology, mathematics, evolution, and logic so that you can discuss with experts who influence the way society thinks about these issues today. But more commonly it simply means giving an answer to a question about Jesus, about a Bible passage, or about a specific situation where faith makes a difference. You don’t have to read a ton of books to be able to do that, nor do you need to have extraordinary intelligence. But you do have to know the Word of God – and this not just superficially. Everyone is able to make a defense of the Christian faith (just consider what kind of people Jesus chose as His disciples) and everyone is called to do so.

            You can and should defend your reasons for believing. But you should also “attack”’ opinions that oppose Christianity. Of course, you need to do this with gentleness (never attack the person, only reproach what has been said) and should be well prepared beforehand. After all, you want to convince people to change their views and beliefs and if they are not Christians yet, bring them to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Roughly there are two major ways of dealing with opposition. You can provide evidence for Christianity, i.e. for Jesus’ resurrection, the biblical manuscripts, fulfilled prophecy, miracles, etc. Or you can deal with the presuppositions of those who oppose Christianity, because presuppositions effect how a person views evidence and reason.

            Modernity has given way to postmodernity. Claiming that all notions of truth are socially constructed, the postmodernists are committed to total war on truth itself and bent on casting down all religions, philosophical, political, and cultural authorities. The postmodern mind-set offers a unique challenge to the Christian witness. The issue is no longer whether or not we should demonstrate the truth of the Christian message against the threat of science and the doubts of the enlightened rationalist. Postmodernists will not challenge the message. For the postmodernist, the battle is no longer truth versus untruth, or right versus wrong, as was the case in the modern age. The concept of error or wrong has been removed from the postmodern vocabulary with one exception — it is wrong to say that someone’s worldview, religion, culture, philosophy or experience is wrong. The only absolute truth that exists in the postmodern mentality is that there is no such thing as absolute truth.

            Postmodern spirituality does include Jesus, but he is not the Jesus of Scripture. He is another Jesus who is appreciated by postmodern people. This Jesus was a great teacher, an enlightened spiritual master, but not the Son of God, Savior of the world, and only way to the Father. This presents a unique challenge. We have to overcome again a former way of thinking. In the past, if people claimed to believe in Jesus, we usually embraced them as Christians because the only people who really believed in Jesus were Christians. There are some who would suggest that the demise of the age of reason and the beginning of postmodernity present a wonderful opportunity for proclaiming the Gospel. But is this true? While the age of reason and enlightenment questioned the truth-claims of Christianity, the postmodernist merely ignores Christian truth by identifying it as the truth of a specific community of people—of which they are not a part, a rather closed-minded community at that. Perhaps this age is best described in the sentiments of Charles Dickens, who began “A Tale of Two Cities“, with “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.”

            Today, in a postmodern age, the pendulum has swung to the other side. Reason, science, data are no longer the issue. Truth is relative, and spirituality and religious expression, often irrational if not insane, are rampant. Rather than accepting a religion based on any evidence for the truth of the claims, the appeal is to feelings and experience. “If you like what I am saying, come and join my group.” Visualize Jesus, ask him questions, you’ll discover that it works. What attract people today are the stories of Near Death Experiences (NDE). People claims they died on the operating table or in an accident. There is or no evidence in the form of hospital records to support the claim. Yet, it makes no difference. Because such book makes people feel good and provides a false hope and millions of copies have been sold.

            Apologetics is desperately needed today. For the sake of the next generation, and an unbelieving culture, let’s guard our faith with humility and love. Imagine the impact if the church really took apologetics to heart.The Christian, in confronting this culture, must not allow his message to be lumped with every other religious and spiritual expression by giving the impression that Christianity is “my truth,” which “works for me” and is based on “my experience”. There is a case for Christianity! Present the case! Give the evidence! While presenting evidence for the historic truth of the Christian message will not bring a person to faith in Jesus Christ, it will at least cause that person to take another look at Christianity. He cannot be permitted to lump the Christian message into the same category with the strange and irrational religious claims made by those who offer alleged competing truths. Not to present evidence for the truth of Christianity is to do a gross injustice to the evangelists, apostles and prophets who handed down to us an accurate record of how God entered into history in the person of Jesus Christ. The time has come to take a new look for us to be guardians of the faith as we combat this age of relativism. Sign up now for the retreat at Pulai Desaru (14 to 17 June) and dialogue with our expert in matters of faith and learn to be guardians of the faith.

Pastor Cheng Huat

March 3, 2013