Ecclesiasticus Rex

The local minister’s group of which I was a member asked me not to return. They said that since I had been attending, the meetings had become unpleasant. I was concerned about issues they believed were not important. After all, who cares if the Bible really has no errors? And why should creation versus evolution ever become an issue? It certainly wasn’t before Ganz arrived. And this stuff about only men being ordained to the eldership . . . (I think that was the final straw.) At any rate, each of the churches that had trouble with my views (which I prefer to call biblical Christianity) came out of the historic Reformed faith. Each, a generation ago, would have heartily agreed with me. What has happened in this last generation that leaves me looking, as one of my pastor friends has called me, like a dinosaur (read that “extinct”)?

The issue is the philosophical shift in the church, specifically, the shift in the church to postmodernism. As a pastor and former (recovering) clinical psychologist, this shift is easy for me to see because postmodernism has chosen psychology as the vessel for its nihilistic epiphany, to which the masses have willingly bowed the knee. To understand this, we don’t have to go any further back than to the “good ole days” of modernism. The problem in the modernist world was that truth was thought to be discovered only through the methodologies of rationalism or empiricism. Revelation was denied. Discovery did not help. Man became more distant from God and His Word. A reasonable date for the end (or the beginning of the end) of modernism is 1914. WWI blew up the face of Europe, and man learned that he was impotent to solve these enormously difficult problems. The final nail in the coffin of modernism might be 1986, as the fawning world watched the explosive end of America’s space shuttle Challenger, seconds after lift off. We then said, “There is no truth possible, but you can construct your own truth (especially if it makes you feel better).”

The connection to the church comes by way of pragmatism, a child of modernism. Along with modernism, we have what I’ll call “old-pragmatism,” which also allowed for truth. In fact, the Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church says that pragmatism is a “system of beliefs based on the principle that every truth has practical consequences and that these are a test of its truthfulness.” The church quite easily bought into modernist pragmatism when it bought into the so-called Christian counseling movement because this movement spearheaded the idea that the church should use “whatever works.” It made a fatal (but inevitable) leap, though, when it took its paradigm and moved it from counseling to theology, so that the church began to teach that “Christianity is true because it works.” The big evangelistic plea of the late 60’s and 70’s reveals this philosophical mind-set: “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,” that is, “Christianity will work for you, too!” Biblical Christianity is somewhat less appealing (at least on the surface) because it says that Christianity “works because it’s true,” and then we go on to add “and it’s true even it if doesn’t work for you.”

In the era of postmodernism, the old pragmatism is replaced with a new, more anemic pragmatism. Its credo has no place for truth. It says, “Whatever works, maybe does work for you here and now, but don’t count on it working tomorrow, and it probably didn’t work yesterday.” There is no place in this scheme of things for anything transcendent. David Wells puts it this way, “In a climate of relativism, it becomes quite difficult to insist on the universal viability of one’s findings.”

The church, ever agreeable to the shrinking role of revelation (except the subjective, non-biblical kind), goes along waltzing to its intellectual and philosophical slaughter. The result is seen in Christian bookstores. There are rows and rows of self-help books (“this will work for you,” etc.) and, in some bookstores, not a single theology text. Even the psychological integration movement of the seventies is outmoded. Try to find any decent theology in these recent integrationist books. They are more “new-age” psychology than Christian. As Francis Schaffer warned about “nature swallowing up grace,” here we see psychology swallowing up theology, while the publishers and Christian congregations love it. By this approach, shallow and insipid Christianity is promoted.

The basic problem is no different from the one in Jesus’ day. It is not even a problem of competing psychologies or competing philosophies. These are but symptoms of the root issue which Jesus stated best when he condemned the Pharisees, saying, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Matt. 22:29). This is the problem. Perhaps this is what has brought us to the individualism, pragmatism, secularism and materialism of postmodernism. The church is ignorant of the Scriptures and of the power of God. Our seminaries have produced a generation of social workers, not preachers, and social clubs for pastors, not armies of warriors for truth. Congregations are interested in fellowship and the satisfaction of spiritual needs (personally defined, that is). Education in the Word of God and conviction of sin under the preaching of the Word of God have quietly passed from the scene. The answer to the increasing assault of postmodernism in the church is an army of preachers committed to the clear exposition of the Word of God. Whether or not people will listen is not the issue. As God said to Ezekiel, “They will know that a prophet has been among them” (Ezek. 2:5).

Copyright © 1998 Ligonier Ministries-Tabletalk Magazine