Postmodern conversion

“This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain — first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come” (Mark 4:26-29).

What is this telling us about the kingdom? Is there something mysterious in Kingdom work? How much can we control? What is beyond our control?

In their book, “I once was lost: What postmodern skeptics taught us about their path to Jesus,” Don Everts and Doug Schaupp summarize results from 2000 interviews with postmodern skeptics who came to faith in Jesus Christ.

There were two primary considerations in post-modern conversions:

1. Mysterious

“As kingdom farmers in postmodern soil, we must welcome this mysterious nature of that path to faith. In fact, there is something spiritually liberating when we admit and declare what is beyond us and where we are powerless. We cannot create life. It is impossible for us to predict why some of our friends will choose Jesus and why other just won’t. We don’t know how to change hearts. We don’t know which seed will take root and which will bounce off the hardened ground.”

“This lesson has freed us from the modern temptation to view conversion as mostly a psychological phenomenon, an inner event that can be controlled and manipulated and triggered if we preach the gospel just right, sing enough worship songs loud enough and dim the lights at just the right time. If conversion were psychological and controllable by humans, we’d be under a lot of pressure to get it done!”

“Our friends have reminded us that conversion is much more soul-deep and mysterious than all that. The path to faith is mysterious. To admit that is liberation. The monkey is off our back and onto God’s back, where it belongs. The Scriptures teach us that God is ultimately in control of salvation. No one, Jesus reminded his followers, can come all the way down the path to Jesus unless God calls them (John 6:44, 65).”

2. Organic

“While the growth of the plant is mysterious, it still follows nature. It is organic, and that means that for the seed to become a ripe plant, it will grow in a certain way. This was the lessons our friends were teaching us.”

From this discovery, the authors share five thresholds of postmodern conversion. Admitting that it may look differently with each person and follow different time tables, they nevertheless noticed clear and similar patterns. The five thresholds are the titles for five of the chapters. They are as follows:

1. From Distrust to trust
2. From Complacent to curious
3. From being closed to change to being open to change in their lives
4. From meandering to seeking
5. Crossing the threshold of the kingdom itself.

The last chapter on servant evangelism highlights a need for evangelism that is focused on where the lost are at in life rather than on evangelistic methods that serve the needs and desires of Christians.

I doubt that many Christians have thought through the implications of how postmodernity has shaped people’s lives in relation to the gospel. Everts and Schaupp believe that, “Postmodern evangelism is a mysterious and organic process that nevertheless goes through discernible phases, as people cross thresholds from distrust to trust, from complacency to curiosity and from meandering to seeking.”

The role of community

Local Churches must remember that, “it is our task not just to tell but to live out the story—the model of God’s self-giving love in Christ must be the basis for our self-understanding, our life, and our vocation.” (N. T. Wright)

We must be humble, loving, truth-telling Christians in community – communities where believers show mutual affection and honor, where we, “Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other” (Romans 12:10, NLT).

When our places of fellowship are filled with people who treat each other with honor, esteem, deference and humble service (foot washing love), we will offer the needed alternative to the uncertainty, anxiety, and angst of postmodern times.

Steve Cornell

Science-Creation Debate

The highly publicized debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye was disappointing to many people on many levels. Both men spoke past each other to push their message instead of truly engaging over the substantive issues regarding faith and science.

When discussing these subjects, we could all benefit from more humility and honesty — on both sides of the debate. Scientists, for example, should be honest enough to acknowledge that he cannot test the philosophy that the physical world is a self-contained system of impersonal natural laws without any outside involvement from a God or a Creator. Honest scientists realize this but often face significant social consequences for admitting it.

Students should not be taught that philosophical naturalism is based on scientific research. When teachers suggest that the science of evolution leads to the philosophy of naturalism, they give students the misleading impression that science offers more than it is capable of telling us.

Church leaders must also be more circumspect when speaking on matters of science. I’ve heard plenty of religious leaders suggest that evolution is an enemy of God that contradicts the account of creation. This is a careless statement because it fails to distinguish the actual science of evolution from the philosophy or worldview of evolution being used to explain ultimate origins.

Church leaders also must be careful not to make the Genesis account say more than it does. The Bible does not require belief in a certain age for the earth and the Church should not make such an issue a test of orthodoxy. We need Church leaders and Science teachers to exemplify mutual respect and serve their students well by distinguishing the fields of faith and science.

Science is an amazing discipline that has resulted in both blessing and tragedy for humanity. Before the influences that came with postmodernity, science held the seat of authority in academia and much of culture. Postmodernity, however, increased the tensions between the science and the humanities departments in the academy regarding intellectual authority. Unfortunately, efforts to unseat science were not so much about the nature of truth itself as about advancing the modern demand for relativism. This is a subject deserving more attention. 

I think we need more transparency about what science can and cannot do/prove. This will then require more honesty about ways that Theophobia has bound the academy to a philosophy of naturalism. I am troubled by the use of the tag “science” for what is really philosophy or religion.

When scientists claim that the physical world is a self-contained system of impersonal natural laws without any outside involvement from a God or a Creator, they should have enough intellectual integrity to admit that such an opinion is beyond the reach of science and belongs to the discipline of philosophy or even religion. It cannot even be offered as a “theory” because, in terms of science, this word implies a tested and proven postulations (which obviously can’t be done).

When scientists are willing to acknowledge the shift of categories on questions of ultimate origin, then we can have an honest debate about the data used to suggest the plausibility of the philosophy. This would also require more honesty and humility about the validity of discovering truth in disciplines outside of science. A valid epistemology is not bound by one discipline.

Truth about “how it all began” cannot be resolved in scientific labs, but faith offers a different kind of evidence on the subject. A helpful line from Scripture states that, “every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything” (Hebrews 3:4). Whether one visits a construction site or a nature site, the logic consistently demands the same conclusion.

The science of evolution is not meant to offer a “story” that parallels the biblical account of creation. It’s not that scientists cannot postulate on the subject based on assumptions or patterns. They can do this in the same way that the science of intelligent design postulates origins based on design.



When we confuse faith and science, we fail to respect what each one contributes. On the science end of the discussion, perhaps a better question to ask is whether the idea that the material universe is all there is, was, or ever will be is more rational than believing an intelligent being created the world.

Steve Cornell

 

Eight truths for all people

 

  1. We are all sinners who receive the penalty of death (Romans 3:10235:12).
  2. God has demonstrated His love for all (John 3:16;Romans 5:8).
  3. God desires salvation for all (I Timothy 2:3-4;II Peter 3:9).
  4. God has made provision for salvation for all (I Timothy 2:5-6;4:9-10Titus 2:11I John 2:2).
  5. God commands all people to repent (Acts 17:30).
  6. God will hold all accountable for their response to His provision (Romans 2:4-11;14:11;Acts 17:31).
  7. God takes no pleasure in rejection of His provision (Ezekiel 18:23,32).
  8. God will save all who place faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (John 3:16;11:26Romans 10:13).

Steve Cornell

The dignity and worth of human beings

Viktor Frankl endured three years of anguish in the Auschwitz concentration camp. After his rescue, he became a professor of Psychiatry and Neurology in the University of Vienna. Frankl recounted his horrific experiences and some lessons to be learned in his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning.”

Among his observations, he noted that inmates at the concentration camp were most likely to survive if they “knew that there was a task waiting for them to fulfill.” Frankl suggested that, “striving to find a meaning in one’s life is the primary motivational force in man.” Writing in the late 1950’s, he suggested that, “The mass neurosis of the present time is the existential vacuum” (i.e. a loss of meaning in life). 

What Frankl observed almost five decades ago became a widespread philosophy of despair. Some called it nihilism. This label  was popularized by the German Philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche. “Nihilism literally has only one truth to declare, namely, that ultimately nothingness prevails and the world is meaningless” ( Helmut Thielicke, Nihilism: Its Origin and Nature, with a Christian Answer).

“From the nihilist’s perspective, one can conclude that life is completely amoral, a conclusion, Thielicke believes, that motivates such monstrosities as the Nazi reign of terror. Gloomy predictions of nihilism’s impact are also charted in Eugene Rose’s Nihilism: The Root of the Revolution of the Modern Age (1994). If nihilism proves victorious–and it’s well on its way, he argues–our world will become ‘a cold, inhuman world’ where ‘nothingness, incoherence, and absurdity’ will triumph.” (Ibid.).

More recently, apologist Ravi Zacharius observed that,

“One by one the generation that refused to be bound by the Pope, and refused to be bound by the Church, decided in an ecstasy of freedom that they would not be bound by anything–not by the Bible, not by conscience, not by God himself. From believing too much that never did have to be believed, they took to believing so little that for countless thousands human existence and the world itself no longer seemed to make any sense. Poets began talking about the ‘wasteland’ with ‘ghostly lives’ as Stephen Spender put it, ‘moving from fragmentary ruins which have lost their significance.’ Nothingness became a subject of conversation, nihilism a motive, frustration and despair a theme for novelists and dramatists…yet all is not lost” (Can Man Live without God)

The full biblical doctrine of humanity

In 1992, John R. W. Stott wrote about the pervasive effects of nihilism that Frankl warned against decades earlier. Stott noted that,

“Millions of people do not know who they are, nor that they have any significance or worth. Hence the urgent challenge to us to tell them who they are, to enlighten them about their identity, that is, to teach without compromise the full biblical doctrine of our human being – its depravity, yes, but also its dignity” (The Contemporary Christian).

The basis for Stott’s urgent challenge is that, “Christians believe in the intrinsic worth of human beings, because of our doctrines of creation and redemption. God made man male and female in his own image and gave them a responsible stewardship of the earth and its creatures. He has endowed us with rational, moral, social, creative and spiritual faculties which make us like him and unlike the animals. Human beings are Godlike beings. As a result of the fall our Godlikeness has indeed been distorted, but it has not been destroyed. Further, ‘God so loved the world’ that he gave his only Son for our redemption. The cross is the chief public evidence of the value which God places on us.”

My journey

I picked up a copy of Stott’s book in 1993. When I read his balanced treatment of human dignity and depravity it helped me tremendously (He also addressed these themes in the early chapters of Decisive Issues Facing Christians Today).

In my background and training in theology, most of the emphasis was placed on human depravity. Although thankful for that training, this was clearly an area lacking in balance. It narrowly focused on certain theological emphases without placing them in a larger biblical framework. No doubt this emphasis was itself forged in reaction to erroneous contemporary thinking.

During my years of training, a surge of contemporary thinkers both secular and religious began promoting views of humanity that downplayed depravity by offering more utopian notions of humanity. Perhaps they were trying to correct the philosophy of despair with a more positive perspective. But, on the popular level, it produced a kind of self-esteem movement with an emphasis on self-love as the greatest human need.

As this “new” emphasis became mainstream, it filtered into seminaries and Churches, ignoring large and important portions of biblical truth about the sinfulness of humanity. “Self-esteem or pride in being human” one minister wrote, “is the single greatest need facing the human race today” (Robert Schuller, Self-Esteem: The New Reformation, p.19). “Once a person believes he is ‘an unworthy sinner’ it is doubtful if he can honestly accept the saving grace God offers in Christ.” (Robert Schuller, Ibid., p. 98).

Lack of success on every level of life (at work, in school, in relationships) as well as almost every form of evil and destructive behavior would soon be traced to low self-esteem. So the agenda in education, counseling and parenting became focused on the goal of encouraging self-esteem and self-love.

This no doubt prompted reactions in the opposite direction from those committed to a biblical worldview. Biblical perspectives on depravity and the sinfulness of humanity were put on the defensive as they were often dismissed as archaic and even dangerous(see Karl Menninger’s Whatever Became of sin?).

Forming beliefs in reaction is never a good idea and I came under the influence of such reaction in some of my earliest ministry education. Gratefully, God used the teaching of the late John R. W. Stott to help me be more faithful to the entire witness of Scripture on these matters (see: Holistic Ministry and Fundamentalism).

Stott suggested that, “Christian teaching on the dignity and worth of human beings is of utmost importance today… for the welfare of society.”

”When human beings are devalued, everything in society turns sour. Women are humiliated and children despised. The sick are regarded as a nuisance and the elderly as a burden. Ethnic minorities as discriminated against. The poor are oppressed and denied social justice. Capitalism displays its ugliest face. Labor is exploited in the mines and factories. Criminals are brutalized in the prisons.”

“But when human beings are valued as persons because of their intrinsic worth, everything changes. Men, women and Children are all honored. The sick are cared for, and the elderly enabled to live and die with dignity. Dissidents are listened to, prisoners rehabilitated, minorities protected, and the oppressed set free. Workers are given fair wages, decent working conditions, and a measure of participation in both the management and the profit of the enterprise. And the gospel is taken to the ends of the earth. Why? Because people matter. Because every man, woman and child has worth and significance as a human being made in God’s image and likeness.” (The Contemporary Christian).

The balance in Stott’s teaching is often missing in local Church ministry. We too easily become one-dimensional. We focus on the spiritual needs and overlook the physical and social. Or, as in the case of many mainline protestant Churches, the spiritual needs of mankind are de-emphasized. 

The priority should be placed on the gospel and the human need to be reconciled to God in the context of a holistic view of humanity. Stott widened this concern when he suggested that,

“There is a cluster of popular attitudes which are fundamentally incompatible with Christian faith: e.g. the concept of blind evolutionary development, the assertion of human autonomy in art, science and education, and the declarations that history is random, life is absurd and everything is meaningless. The Christian mind comes into direct collision with these notions precisely because they are “secular”—that is, because they leave no room for God.  It insists that human beings can be defined only in relation to God, that without God they have ceased to be truly human.  For we are creatures who depend on our Creator, sinners who are accountable to him and under his judgment, people who are lost apart from his redemption. This God-centredness is basic to the Christian mind” (Your Mind Matters: The Place of the Mind in the Christian Life).

In Auschwitz, Victor Frankl painfully experienced the darkest side of human depravity. Yet he also observed the deepest reserves of human dignity. We live in a world where both sides to humanity will be experienced. As we seek the peace and prosperity of the city of our exile, let us not reduce or minimize the sweep of the gospel as God’s power to address the whole reality of human need.

Without faithfulness to the gospel, one cannot claim to respect human dignity. 

Steve Cornell
Senior pastor
Millersville Bible Church
58 West Frederick Street
Millersville, PA 17551

They still want to know what it means

I was a bit surprised that a post I wrote in 2007 (one of my first for the blog) has become one of the top five visits. More than 25,000 people viewed it since being posted (half of them in the last two years).

I realize this might not be much compared with more influential blogs, but I remain curious. Let me explain.

A recent blogger suggested that postmodernism is dead but not gone. He wrote:

“No obituary appeared in The New York Times. Television newscasts offered no tribute. But make no mistake: postmodernism is dead. Even those who could foresee this end could do nothing to prevent its suicide. Demise was built into its very DNA” (Colin Hansen).

To be fair, Hansen qualified this introduction a bit (thus the title, “dead, but not gone”). Yet he’s not alone in the assertion that postmodernity has had its day in the sun. This is what makes it curious to me that people still want to know how to think about the term postmodern (at least the ones who come to my post on it). 

On one level, I have no doubt that the internet has produced a shorter shelf life for most information. A writer recently wrote about the dismal shelf life of a blog post and it wasn’t too encouraging for the blogosphere! Philosophies come and go but it is premature to dismiss the realities of postmodernity.

I decided to repost (below) my earlier blog piece on the meaning of the term postmodern (unchanged). Based on earlier assessments, I believe it is obvious that we still live in a postmodern era.

Do you agree?

_______________________________________________________

What does “postmodern” mean? (February 22, 2007)

We live in a postmodern world. Or, so we’re told. But what does this mean? Postmodern is a word used to describe changes in ways people think — especially the way they view truth and reality.

Understanding post-modernity requires a review of modernity. But before the modern era, the world was considered pre-modern. What are the main differences in these three eras?

Pre-modern, modern, post-modern

The pre-modern era was one in which religion was the primary source for truth and reality. God’s existence and revelation were widely accepted in pre-modern culture.

In the modern era, science became the predominate source for truth and reality. Religion and the morality based on it were arbitrarily demoted to a subjective realm.

In the postmodern era, there is no single defining source for truth and reality beyond individual preference.

Post-modern:

In postmodernism, relativism and individualism are radicalized and applied to all spheres of knowledge — even science. Truth and reality are individually shaped by personal history, social class, gender, culture, and religion. These factors, according to postmodern thinking, combine to shape the narratives and meanings of our lives as culturally embedded, localized social constructions without any universal application.

Postmoderns are suspicious of those who make universal truth claims. All claims of universal meaning are viewed as imperialistic efforts to marginalize and oppress the rights of others. The most important value of postmodernity is the inadmissibility of all totalizing ways of viewing any dimension of life.

Postmodernity, as a worldview, refuses to allow any single defining source for truth and reality. The new emphasis is on difference, plurality and selective forms of tolerance. Postmodern thinking is full of absurdities and inconsistencies. It is, for example, the worldview that says no worldview exists. It is an anti-theory that uses theoretical tools to neutralize all theories. It demands an imposed uniformity in an effort to resist uniformity. It employs propositional statements to negate truth based on propositional statements.

Postmodern concern for plurality, diversity and tolerance have not led to a more stable and secure society. Instead, the postmodern era exchanged one misguided mood for another. Postmodernity was fueled by a shift from the human optimism of modernity (based on scientific certainty and technological progress), to a pessimistic mood of skepticism and uncertainty.

One observer noted that,  “Modernity was confident; postmodernity is anxious. Modernity had all the answers; postmodernity is full of questions. Modernity reveled in reason, science and human ability; postmodernity wallows (with apparent contentment or nihilistic angst) in mysticism, relativism, and the incapacity to know anything with certainty.”

This mood change was fueled by the devastation and disappointments of two world wars. Philosophies of despair and nihilistic existentialism became popular fare throughout Europe. These philosophies would later provide the ideological framework for the rejection of authority and institutionalism in America.

During the 1960’s and 70’s, the prevailing attitudes against authority, institution and establishment produced overwhelmingly negative effects on our nation. During this same period, we experienced a massive societal shift away from the institution of marriage and family with exponential increases in divorce rates and widespread acceptance of non-marital co-habitation.

As a result of these changes, pastors, counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists and therapists are stretched to the limit as they try to help overwhelming numbers of people pick up the broken pieces of their lives and become whole again. Yet many of these helpers are equally lost because they accept the postmodern lie.

What is the lie? It is the wholesale rejection of universal reason and absolute truth. It is the delusional mindset that there is no objective goodness and rightness. These prevailing opinions have led to the dismissal of an absolute deity. Don’t misunderstand; God is warmly welcomed in the postmodern world as long as he doesn’t try to play God.

“Postmodernity returns value to faith and affirms the nurturing of our spiritual being as vital to humankind. Unfortunately, with the loss of truth, people will now seek faith without boundaries, categories, or definition. The old parameters of belief do not exist. As a result, people will be increasingly open to knowing God, but on their own terms.” (Graham Johnston).

Yet the true and living God will not be defined by finite creatures. While postmodern guru-philosophers like Richard Rorty have tried to write the obituary of the “God’s eye view of the world,” the Creator of the universe still determines the standard of truth, goodness and beauty.

Steve Cornell

Subversive Gospel-centered Communities

If we hope to compel others with a gospel that is “the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16), we must display this power in humble, loving, truth-telling communities of mutual affection and honor:

“Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other” (Romans 12:10, NLT).  

When our Churches are filled with people who treat each other with honor, deference and humble service (foot-washing love), we will be the needed (and desired) alternative to the uncertainty, anxiety, and angst of postmodern times.

If the Biblical story is told truly, it will subvert the alternative stories. But to tell it truly, you have to be living it(N. T. Wright, emphasis mine). 

When Churches are living out the gospel narrative, they offer tangible plausibility for the authenticity of the gospel. (I suggest that most of the letters of the New Testament are aimed at this concern, see: Purpose of the book of Romans).

 In the words of Jesus

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).

We must not overlook the narrative Jesus provided for these words. His example of foot-washing love (John 13:1-5 and 12-17) modeled the kind of community one should find in gospel-centered fellowships. We are called (and profoundly privileged) to be communities of humble service where mutual affection and honor are deeply experienced.

Legalistic churches will destroy this kind of community because of their addiction to externalism, manipulation and control. These kinds of Churches watch each other instead of watching out for each other (see: Hebrews 3:12-14). The first contradicts and defies the gospel; the second is at the heart of the gospel.

I am not suggesting it’s easy to be these loving, truth-telling communities. But there is something intentional about this difficulty that is essential to living it. God chose to put His treasure (the gospel) in vessels of clay so that the greatness of the power would be from God and not from us (II Corinthians 4:7). The very essence of the gospel narrative is grounded in this reality (see: Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:3-6). As we live in shared dependence on the power of God in Christ, we can experience the radical transformation of true gospel-centered community. 

Telling the story by living it:

The Christian worldview is based on one overarching story for all people.  And on this, N. T. Wright noted:

“Postmodernity is bound to object: metanarratives are controlling, dominating, and we all know the ways in which this story too has been used politically, socially and personally to bolster this or that power-trip. But the Biblical metanarrative itself resists being abused in this fashion, because it is the story of love.”  

“The Biblical metanarrative offers itself as the one story which cannot be deconstructed, to which the criticisms of Marx, Nietzsche and Freud are not relevant.  (Look at Jesus on the cross – was he doing that for money? Was he doing that for power? Was he doing it for sex? It was an act of love.) The story speaks from first to last of a God who did not need to create, but who did so out of overflowing and generous love. It speaks of a God who did not need to redeem and recreate, but did so as the greatest possible act of self-giving love.”

“Somehow if we are to address contemporary culture with the message of the Bible we must get used to combining two things which are normally at opposite poles—humility and truth-telling.”

“Somehow we have to tell the truth but to tell it as the liberating story, the healing story, the true story. And of course… the best way we can do this is by telling, again and again, in story and symbol and acted drama, the biblical story, focused on the story of Jesus himself, the true story of the Word made flesh. (That is why the great symbol at the heart of Christianity is the symbol of the eucharist; it is the symbol of that story.

But, “it is our task not just to tell but to live out the story—the model of God’s self-giving love in Christ must be the basis for our self-understanding, our life, and our vocation” (N. T. Wright).

Steve Cornell

* Please share this message with others.

See also: Understanding Legalism (parts 1,2,3,4)  and Watching out for one another

See: Experiencing community

How people experience guilt and shame

Have you ever heard of the term elentics

Don’t bother with google because you won’t find much about it. Elentics comes from a Greek word translated into the english word “convict” ( ἐλέγχω / elencho). It means to expose, convict or reprove. Jesus used this word in relation to ministry of the Holy Spirit:

“…when he (the Holy Spirit) comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment concerning sin, because they do not believe in me” (John 16:8-9).

I was first introduced to elentics when asked to review a paper titled: The Application of Missionary Elentics to Preaching to Postmoderns by David A. Ridder. Elentics is concerned with how people experience guilt and shame. It’s especially important in relation to evangelism (particularly in a  cross-cultural context) because the gospel is experienced from conviction to conversion. Confession of sin leading to salvation must involve sincere acknowledgement of sin in contrition and conviction.

Elentics (in a theological context) is concerned with how people experience conviction about sin. All who care about reaching others with the goodnews of salvation must care about elentics. Taking this subject seriously will help us avoid the risk of offering a solution to people who do not understand the problem. The good news of salvation is only good because the bad news about our sin is very bad.

Salvation unfolds experientially through a series of experiences which find a connecting point in guilt, shame and conscience. It includes four elements: conviction, confession, contrition and conversion.

All people experience guilt and shame. All people feel conviction based on a moral conscience. This is related to the fact that God made humans in his own image. Although that image has been profoundly marred by sin, it remains an important part of what it means to be human (Genesis 9:6; James 3:9). Even those who do not know God and His revealed will experience guilt associated with divine standards of right and wrong.

An example of the universal experience of guilt: Romans 2:14-15

“(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.)”

Conscience always involves a degree of cultural conditioning but it provides connecting points for God’s truth.

“In initial evangelism the missionary should stress sin, guilt, and repentance principally with reference to native conscience – particularly that aspect of their conscience which is in agreement with Scripture…We must preach in such a way that native conscience functions as an independent inner witness to the truth of what is being proclaimed about sinful selves. In this fashion conscience works with the missionary message.”  (Robert J. Priest, 1994. Missionary Elentics: Conscience and Culture. Missiology: An International Review  XXII (3): pp. 309-310)   

Application to Postmodernity

In Toward a Cross-Cultural Definition of Sin, Wayne T. Dye noted that,

“In order to speak to the postmodern conscience effectively, we must do what any good missionary does when initially engaging a new host culture. We must learn how sin is defined for the particular culture (Dye, p.29). This is the fundamental starting point for missionary elentics. As applied to postmoderns, we may safely assume that even those who reject the notion of moral absolutes, especially as revealed in Scripture, still have consciences, experience guilt, and are aware that they don’t measure up to their own sense of right and wrong.  We may safely assume on the basis of Scripture that the Spirit of God is still convicting postmoderns.”

“The missionary should systematically note when and why people feel offended, unfairly treated, or exploited.  What makes them seek revenge? What do they think is fair? What sorts of offenses do they think cause illness or crop failure? From such clues he can learn the ethical system and thus better understand the consciences of those he is trying to reach.”  (Dye, T. Wayne. 1976. Toward a Cross-Cultural Definition of Sin, Missiology: An International Review  IV (1): p.38).

Based on careful research, Ridder’s paper offers insightful contributions about how postmoderns experience guilt and shame. As one who has ministered in a University town for 30 years, I found his conclusions perceptive and helpful. 

Steve Cornell

See also: “Exploring Unbelief: Why do people refuse to believe?”