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MBTS: ‘Confronting Postmodernism’

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–“Truth isn’t a matter of taste, value or style,” Steve Lemke noted at a “Confronting Postmodernism” workshop at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo.

“It’s not a matter of one’s comfort with the truth,” said Lemke, provost and professor of philosophy and ethics at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

“When a postmodernist says truth is relative, he or she is still admitting a truth that they hold,” Lemke said.

Lemke, Ted Cabal of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Tom Johnston of MBTS were among the keynote speakers at what Midwestern described as a focus on interfaith evangelism.

Lemke, the opening speaker for the two-day workshop, acknowledged that “a clear-cut definition of postmodern thought is challenging” because it can mean “different things to each individual you encounter. Its structure isn’t monolithic; it’s greatly varied.”

There are, however, traits common to people who embrace postmodernism, Lemke said.

“Truth is relative to many of these people,” he said. “There are no absolutes, and truth is created or made by each individual.”

In the postmodern theory, there is no essential human nature, Lemke said. People are viewed as products of time and chance. “If you believe there’s a human nature, it goes back to the belief in a creator,” he said, noting, “This isn’t an option to a postmodernist. They don’t believe in the deepest level of the self.”

Postmodern thought, as summarized by Lemke, also entails the denial of authorial intent and authority — rather, the reader gives the text its meaning; ignoring the mainstream of Western thought in favor of that which is on the margin of Western culture; an emphasis on freedom and contingency, not objective morality and truth.

“Postmodern thought is opposed to traditional Christianity, although in some cases it’s open to other forms of spirituality,” Lemke said. “The objective is to get to a point where there is no longer anything to worship. If they take out the divine, then they have no use for defining the meaning of lives with a higher God.

“They further discount the divine inspiration of Scripture and emphasize modern reinterpretations over the original intent of the author,” he added.

“The issue here isn’t that truth can’t be found,” Lemke said. “It’s that postmodernists can’t handle the truth that’s presented to them.”

Truth and reality are revealed by God through Scripture and nature, not created as a product of human thought, Lemke said.

In addition to being objective and absolute, not subjective or relative, truth is knowable, not totally unknowable or merely of one’s perspective, Lemke said. “A postmodern thinker says … everything is derived from perspective and opinion,” he said. “This would mean that a fortune teller’s opinion of a subject is just as accurate as a rocket scientist physicist’s opinion….

“There is no other foundation that can be laid than the one laid by the solid rock, Jesus Christ,” Lemke said. “All other expressions of how reality is made known are based on shifting sand. The foundations we trust in, whether through evidence or faith, are where we ultimately place our trust.”

Cabal, professor of Christian philosophy and applied apologetics at Southern Seminary in Louisville, Ky., outlined various considerations in sharing Christ with postmodernists, noting that it is important to understand others’ belief systems. People are powerfully moved by stories, he pointed out, and when these stories are believed to be true, they affect peoples’ lives in answering such questions as “Where did I come from?” “What’s wrong with life or the world I live in?” “What’s the solution?” and “Where am I going?”

“The focus needs to be on the unsaved soul, not the presenter,” Cabal counseled during the Oct. 16-17 sessions. “… [N]ever be ashamed of the Gospel of Christ and that the Gospel alone is God’s saving power. All of your discussions should attempt to present, clarify and keep the focus on the Gospel. Be sure to recognize the power of false gospels or worldviews. Finally, practice dialogues, not monologues. You must attempt to define the unbeliever’s beliefs by asking questions and making them defend why they think the way they do. This will open the door to them questioning their beliefs and giving you a greater opportunity to win them to Christ.”

Johnston, associate professor of evangelism at Midwestern, said, “The Gospel of Christ is not another story, paradigm or worldview. It is God’s living and active message with power to penetrate and transform the corrupt and depraved hearts and minds of men. [The Apostle] Paul gives us excellent examples of boldly proclaiming the Gospel, and his message produced results that will last for eternity.

“I encourage you that as you minister to the needs of postmodern thinkers to learn all you can, but preach Christ alone, as He’s your only power,” Johnston said. “Always be respectful of those you’re witnessing to, and don’t fear calling for an immediate decision. We’re not promised our next breath, so it is imperative for a decision to be made.”
T. Patrick Hudson is director of communications at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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