The Meltdown Series:
This article is the second in a series about ongoing sea changes in Evangelicalism today. The series utilizes Scripture and church history in an attempt to clarify those issues that are tending to weaken, break down, and misdirect Evangelicalism. Even though the effects are obvious, the forces behind these changes are not.
"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. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments." Colossians 2:2–4
Nowadays the concept of “postmodernism” is in the air. It’s become almost a mantra to say something like “We’re entering a new period of culture surpassingly different from anything that came before.” Everyone talks about it, but any attempt to define it is an exercise in futility because postmodernism as a movement actually opposes definition. It’s like trying to define the indefinable (or trying to describe a doughnut hole)—yet ironically scholars use the term all the time.
Many intellectuals and some church leaders are saying that a word like “truth” that is supposed to apply in all times and in all ways is basically a way of thinking that is a product of the Enlightenment.(i) I intend to show that this is a distortion of the Bible and of history.
In actual fact, the concept of postmodernism is a faddish way of thinking and a kind of cartoon picture of history—a Marxist cartoon.
First of all, the hidden heart of the concept of postmodernism is Marxism, which has always had a materialistic-historical focus that evaluates history on the basis of economics, technology, and class struggle. This will become clear as I explain the idea and influence of deconstructionism a little later.
Second, postmoderns say that all learning and knowledge are culture-bound. They describe the Enlightenment period as focused upon Rationalism,(ii) where abstract universal terms like “mankind,” “freedom,” etc. were used to explain reality. Postmoderns assume that these terms have a built-in limitation because they supposedly refer to everyone rather than to specific cultures, classes, groups, etc. Thus they think there could be no such thing as a universal guilt or salvation because that doesn’t take into account the individual or separate groups. But these abstract terms were not just products of the Enlightenment for the Bible used such terms over seventeen hundred years before the Enlightenment: “God is love.” “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” “The fool says in his heart there is no God.”
Third, postmodernists believe that twentieth century churches, and especially Protestant churches, adopted the Enlightenment emphasis upon technical and linear thinking. One of the ways postmodernists say that this occurred was through a focus upon systematic theology and the idea of the inerrancy of Scripture. But, again, this is a distortion of history, first of all, because the emphasis on systematic theology among Protestants started in the sixteenth century and not in the twentieth. And, second, because the belief in the inerrancy of Scripture goes all the way back to Christ.
Fourth, postmoderns claim that this Enlightenment (or modernist) worldview began breaking down in the twentieth century. According to postmoderns, the breakdown of modernism came from many places: Einstein’s theories of relativity; the vast increase in the knowledge of and contact with other cultures; the worldwide Web; the growing revulsion of younger people for the consumer society; the rebellion of the Sixties and the rise of the counterculture, and so on. Young people became more “hip,” rejecting modernism while their parents continued to accept it. They focused instead on the organic v. the mechanical; they yearned for communities and turned away from the mega-churches to smaller, highly relational church communities. They turned away from evangelism and missionary work to the false “missional” idea of finding Christ in all cultures. Postmodern Christian thinking generally dismisses the doctrines of Heaven and Hell and focuses instead upon living life here and now as the most important aspect of Christianity.
Just to clarify, I’m not saying that all this is true; I’m just saying this is how postmoderns analyze the historical situation. Bear with me as I explain how this postmodern view of reality is really inaccurate and acts to deceive people into viewing the struggles of modern Christians in a worldly and unhistorical light rather than in a biblical light. Today we are seeing the results of this worldly thinking that the Church is accepting, but many Christian scholars and church leaders do not see the underlying deception and worldly assumptions that are, as the Bible says, trying to squeeze them into their shape. Working on these assumptions, people like Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, and others are saying that the Church must become postmodern to appeal to these new postmodern, mainly young, Christians.
The following two sections on political correctness and deconstructionism show in some detail the Marxist character of these false teachings.
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).
Political correctness is a major factor in our society today that reveals the tyrannical influence of postmodernism with its underlying Marxist philosophy. If you work, for instance, in social services, in government, in education, or in any number of fields, you will undoubtedly find that you must speak a certain way or you will be attacked—you might even lose your job. For example, it is politically incorrect to view homosexual relationships negatively. Example from life: An office worker brings in a shirt proclaiming the joys of the homosexual lifestyle. A Christian in the office objects and is called on the carpet for her protest even though she wouldn’t be allowed to wear a tee shirt proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord. She might even have to take “sensitivity training.” This extends even to the kindergarten level where children have been forced not to share Jesus in their drawings or even allowed to use words like “mother” and “father.” This is especially rampant in California. Thousands of similar examples exist today.
This practice derives from totalitarian countries where the government seeks control not only of the way people act, but of the way they talk and think. It is a tool of totalitarianism (think the book 1984), and, sad to say, our government is tending to support this practice under the guise of being fair and tolerant. It often requires using words as euphemisms to diminish the power of the word, for example, “terminating a fetus” instead of killing a baby.
“Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” Galatians 1:7–8
Probably most people wouldn’t be interested in learning about postmodernism. And even less about a word like deconstructionism. (No, it doesn’t have anything to do with the building industry.) The reason that understanding these terms is important for the Christian in the pew is that this is what seminaries and graduate schools are teaching your church leaders. And it is affecting your life in ways you can’t imagine.
One example is the role of niche music in the church, such as hip-hop. Rick Warren boldly declared how he went around their neighborhood and asked people what kind of music they liked and then he had that in his new church. In other words, the congregation and their felt needs created the teaching and worship strategies.
Some churches de-emphasize preaching because, they say, although it would be fine for people during the 1850s to the 1950s, it “doesn’t work” for “postmoderns” because it’s built on “another culture.” Another example is the way Brian McLaren talks about the blood atonement. He says it only makes sense in the context of Roman-occupied Judea. The acceptance of homosexuality by many churches is yet another example. A teaching exists that in Bible times people needed big families so they condemned homosexuals who didn’t have children. Thus, in that cultural context homosexuality was bad. But in this age, the Church has to drop its biblical attitude because we’re in a “new cultural context” of population overgrowth that makes homosexuality “acceptable.”
Deconstructionism involves a philosophy and techniques borrowed to a great extent from Marxist thinking.
The term deconstruction was coined in the late 19th century, and it really means to dismantle or to destroy a structure. As applied to a literary work, the process is fiercely critical, intent upon destroying the author’s meaning and replacing it with something entirely different.(iii) In academia it means to take apart a work of literature or a history or some kind of academic work to find out what it’s supposedly “really” saying. And what it’s really saying usually turns out to be something to do with Marxism. This process is not new. It began in the 1700s with the attack on the Bible as the Word of God.
Many scholars in the 18th century, especially in Germany and France, used this acidic process of analysis to supposedly discover the “original intent” of manuscripts, but it really was a method of trying to destroy belief in the Bible as truth. This led to the rise of liberal Biblical scholarship in the form of a method called “Higher Criticism”(iv)—a process clearly seen today in the “Jesus Seminar,” which totally misuses and ignores the Bible. Proponents of this “Higher Criticism” came up with the following “assured results”: Four different people wrote the book of Isaiah, and four or five different people—and certainly not Moses—wrote the first five books of the Bible. Daniel could not have written the book of Daniel, and Paul could not have written First and Second Timothy.(v)
The end result of this method is a famine of the Word and chaos.
My article, “Recovering the Scandal of Liberalism: Disdaining the Cross,” shows deconstructionism in action as “Evangelical” scholars launched a full-scale attack on the Gospel and the Bible at a popular pastors conference at Fuller Seminary in 2004, using a technique of devaluing Scripture that theological liberalism borrowed from Marxism. Writing in accordance with liberal political correctness (including the viewpoint of “Christian” feminism), they claimed that the doctrine of the substitutionary atonement gives people the impression that Jesus’ death on the Cross was some kind of “divine child abuse” by God the Father. They made sociology the touchstone of truth instead of the Word of God. They approached Scripture as if it is just historical writing full of errors and prejudice and not divinely inspired.
Unfortunately, most mainline seminaries today have adopted these methods.
This same process of deconstructionism—or destruction—is happening right now not only in our society but particularly among what used to be Bible-believing churches. Brian McLaren provides one of the most vivid examples. His stated goal is to “change everything.” And he uses this same kind of destructive analysis that developed in Germany to undermine the Bible in order to claim that Jesus didn’t come to give personal salvation, that He was a social revolutionary, and that somehow this is much closer to the truth than orthodox theology. This may not be terribly surprising in the worldly culture, but it’s tragic to see its growing influence among Christians and especially among those who call themselves Evangelical Christians.
Keep in mind that postmodernism is really just a philosophy. It’s not an objective analysis of history; it’s a philosophy of history seen through a particular lens. It’s a spin on history whose driving purpose is the acceptance of the Marxist worldview. For instance, it is fairly clear that the Civil War had to do with the problem of slavery. A Marxist would say though that it was really a class struggle where the Northern capitalists tried to eliminate the competition of the Southern system of slavery so they could further exploit the workers in the North, and that it had nothing to do with freeing the slaves or treating them like human beings. In the same way, the original postmodernists reduced everything to economic motives.
By now it should be clear that the word “postmodern” does not effectively describe what is going on. It’s rather like a mirage. It gives one impression, but when you get close to it, you can see there are many different things happening than what the label actually describes. It’s important to understand this because false teachers like Brian McLaren are using this label and approach to truth to say that this is why the Church must change in response to the changes in our culture; it must be relevant.
That word relevant was also extremely important in justifying unbiblical changes to the Church during the First Great Evangelical Meltdown. At that time, critics said the Church had to change because of the development of science and developing criticism of the Bible. In our time, critics say that the Church must change because the culture has changed—culture meaning the way people view art, life, politics, marriage, etc.
Actually, what people are calling postmodernism today is really a resurgence of a historical movement called Romanticism with a different label. (Elsewhere I’ve written extensively on the rising tide of Romanticism in our time. See the list in the footnote.(vi)
What is Romanticism?
During the late 18th and early 19th centuries there was an upheaval of Romantic fervor combined with a revolutionary spirit, a love of art and poetry, and a love of rebellion, which flaunted the established morals and elevated the artists, writers, and poets as the true revolutionaries and the leading edge of a movement toward liberation. People felt like they needed liberation from both aristocratic society and church authority, which often supported the aristocrats. It was also a rebellion against moral restraint and indulgence in unmarried pagan sexuality, much as the Sixties was in our time. The Romantic Movement developed in opposition to the Rationalism of the Enlightenment by focusing on dreams, intuition, visions, fantasy, nature, mythology, fairy tales, the elevation of folk culture, and a love of paganism.
Thus, Romanticism sounds exactly like what postmodernist thinkers are calling postmodernism today. Understanding Romanticism is difficult, and it’s hard to find another term to substitute for it. A good description is “an exaltation of imagination and feeling as vehicles, or even the greatest vehicles, of truth.” Future articles in this series will provide many examples in our times of the resurgence of Romantic thought and life and show how greatly it is affecting modern society and the modern Evangelical Church.
This article emphasized that, in spite of much contemporary Christian activity and commitment of resources, the Church’s response to postmodernism is flaccid and ineffective. Why? Because the Church was already compromised.
The next article in the Meltdown Series will discuss the reasons involved.
(i) “The Age of Enlightenment (or simply the Enlightenment) is the era in Western philosophy and intellectual, scientific and cultural life, centered upon the eighteenth century, in which reason was advocated as the primary source for legitimacy and authority…. The ‘Enlightenment’ was not a single movement or school of thought, for these philosophies were often mutually contradictory or divergent. The Enlightenment was less a set of ideas than it was a set of values. At its core was a critical questioning of traditional institutions, customs, and morals, and a strong belief in rationality and science." It was also a period of the strong rejection of the authority of the Bible.
(ii) Rationalism is the view that reason is the controlling factor in knowing truth. In other words, human thinking is more important than Scriptural revelation.
(iii) Go here for details. Go here for a list of sites that define deconstructionism.
(iv) Jan Markell’s Olive Tree Ministries website has a 10/5/09 article called “Red Letter Christians: Neo-Marxism in the Church.” Vee, commenting about this article in his blog entry by the same name dated 10/9/09, says, “And don’t think that this is not a political Christianity…During the latter part of the nineteenth century virtually all cardinal doctrines of the faith were challenged or denied by the growing liberalism (derived mostly from German Rationalism and Higher Criticism) which was threatening the Evangelical church. From the Godhead to the necessity for salvation to the existence of hell to the atonement to the inspiration of Scripture to the meaning of the gospel, every doctrine held precious by the Evangelical community was gutted of biblical meaning and infused with ideas fitting the times.”
(v) A few references: Daniel in the Critics' Den: Historical Evidence for the Authenticity of the Book of Daniel by Josh McDowell (1979, Campus Crusade for Christ). Also see The Battle for the Bible by Dr. Harold Lindsell (1978, Zondervan). Gerhard Maier wrote extensively on the Historical-Critical method.
(vi) We could fill this article with citations, but we are only trying to paint the big picture here. Because we have written extensively on Romanticism already, we refer you to the following:
“’Christian’ Romanticism, the Inklings, and the Elevation of Mythology”
“Children of the Inklings: Emergent ‘Christian’ Fiction”
“Wonderments—Strange Situations in the Modern Church”
“Mythology and the Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism”
“Tares in Protestantism: Rosicrucianism and Evangelicalism”
“The Hidden Triumph of Imaginative or Romantic Religion”
“Emerging from the Emerging Church”
“Getting an Inkling About Romantic Christianity”
"Romantic 'Christianity', the Inklings, and the Elevation of Myth"