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by Milton Jones
Jesus is the Answer! You could see the sign from nearly anyplace traveling through Tacoma on Interstate 5. The message was a great alternative to the myriads of advertising monoliths looming over the freeway fastlanes. But I can imagine someone catching a fleeting glimpse of the message and asking, If Jesus is the answer, then what is the question?
As we came to the last decade of the twentieth century, it was obvious that the world was changing drastically. The pat answers that had been given for hundreds of years to the big questions of our existence were no longer being heard. Did Christians still really have an answer? And if they did, how did it relate to what was really on everyones mind?
How Can You Be a Christian in a Postmodern World?
How do we fit Christianity into a postmodern world? It seems like a difficult question. And the sad answer to this perplexing question is that Christianity does not fit into the major posts of postmodernism.1 And yet churches everywhere are trying to adapt Christianity to the postmodern world. Many churches are taking more of an Eastern approach to religion by emphasizing an inner subjectivism and allowing for the validity of all religions. Others are changing or softening their core beliefs. Congregations are giving in to the intellectual marketplace where whatever is popular becomes the rule of thumb for the church. Many are proclaiming a message with no universal truths. The new trend is to create a church that is more pleasing to people of the postmodern mind, while avoiding those who do not fit into the postmodern philosophy.
In the postmodern world, Christianity must be seen as distinctive and not something that can be changed to fit an ever-changing mold. Indeed, Christianity and postmodernism, in many of their foundational tenets, are mutually exclusive. We cannot put God into a postmodern box. Already some philosophers are saying that postmodernism is bankrupt. Already they are in search of the next worldview. If this is the case, why would Christians even try to be postmodern?
The pressing question is how to present Christianity as a viable alternative in todays postmodern society. At this juncture, some might advocate a return to modernism. However, that period of history did not suit Christians well either. Modernism itself created many of the problems in churches today. Unable to differentiate properly between what was rooted in Scripture and what was rooted in modernism, churches became frozen by hermeneutical disagreements. Further, modernism created a religion without the mystery of God. In modern churches intellect reigned supreme. But ultimately, though it took a couple of centuries, we found out that a modern church didnt work any better than a modern world.
If this is true, we may find particular help in the Scriptures for the philosophical confusion we are facing today. Perhaps no biblical book addresses cultural chaos better than the book of Colossians, for the Colossian church had been taken over by a group of intellectuals who had decided to rewrite the Gospel to suit their own philosophical ideas.
Colossians Help for a Church in Cultural Chaos
Colossians is difficult to understand because of the particular problems that existed at the time. Some scholars say the problem was a type of gnosticism. However, no known style of gnosticism exactlv fits all the characteristics that were apparent in first-century Colossae at that time. Their problem is usually called the Colossian heresy. Perhaps there was a particular brand of heresy, but lets define the problem exactly the way Paul defined it. He called it a philosophy. It was a pseudo-religious philosophy which had permeated the culture and had also entered the church causing an emphasis on some very questionable doctrine. Paul says, See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ (Col. 2:8).
Isnt this still our problem today? In our analysis of postmodernism thus far, wouldnt a hollow and deceptive philosophy work pretty well as a description of it? Is there any hope for us in a post-modern world? Do hollow and deceptive philosophies always win the day? In his day Paul was very optimistic that, with Gods help, things could change at Colossae. As we continue our critique of postmodernism, we are going to look closely at Pauls advice to the church at Colossae, a church that was also struggling with a philosophy that contradicted much of their faith.
This letter is from Paul, chosen by God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and from our brother Timothy. It is written to Gods holy people in the city of Colosse, who are faithful brothers and sisters in Christ. May God our Father give you grace and peace.
Did you notice Pauls attitude in these verses? He honestly thinks that the negative issues in the Colossian church can be overcome. Wouldnt he also think that the power of the gospel is superior to the Philosophical pull of postmodernism today? How important it is for Christians in our age not to give in to defeat on the front-line of philosophical challenges! The church will find an answer today when we too are given complete understanding of what he wants to do in your lives, and we ask him to make you wise with spiritual wisdom. (Col. 1:9) In a nutshell Paul is praying that the church will know Gods philosophy rather than the philosophy of the times.
C. S. Lewis, in his book Miracles, describes two kinds of truth.2 First, there is the Naturalist who says, This universe is all there is. Only what I can see, touch, taste, hear or smell is real! then there is the Supernaturalist who believes, There is a lot more to it than that... God is really there. He created this universe from the outside and entered it in the person of Jesus Christ! Lewis didnt talk about postmodernism because the term didnt exist then. But the postmodernist would say, You are both correct. Truth can be based on empirical evidence and it can be based on faith. You can all have your own truths. And I can have mine too.
Colossians stands boldly in opposition to such postmodernist statements. Pauls message to Colossae is not Christ and it is Christ only. We cannot have Christ and anything (whether another philosophy or an additional religion). You must have Christ only. He is the one and the only one. As Eugene Peterson renders the last verse of chapter one, "Christ! No more, no less. Thats what Im working so hard at day after day, year after year, doing my best with the energy God so generously gives me.
If Christ is the answer, then what are the questions? Have they really changed that much? Even with a new philosophical environment like postmodernism, the critical and haunting questions of identity are still there. So we continue to ask the questions: Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going? And the Bible says, For in him we live and move and have our being. (Acts 17:28)
What is life all about? Paul reminds us when he says, My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Col. 2:2-3)
Ultimately, the goal of any philosophy is to discover the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Is that possible? Yes but only through Christ. Jesus is still the answer!
Questions For Discussion
1 The Four Posts of Postmodernism are:
2 C.S. Lewis, Miracles (New York: Macmillan, 1947).
Author: Milton Jones
Publication Date: December 22, 2001
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