Postmodernism - Part 6: The Ministers Spiritual Life

Introduction

The postmodernists’ position on all truth being relative leads logically to a position of pluralism and inclusivism in religious matters. According to Phillips, “Thus, postmodernism forms of pluralism deny the concept of revelation as given in the Bible; there is no single revealed meta-narrative [worldview, philosophy] which encompasses all religious experience” (Gary Phillips, “Religious Pluralism in a Postmodern World,” The Challenge of Postmodernism, David S. Dockery, ed. [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1995], p. 237). For them all religions are equally valid, if valid at all. To such a position MacArthur responds, “Now is not the time to make friends with the world. It is certainly no time to capitulate to worldly cries for pluralism and inclusivism” (John MacArthur, Why One Way: Defending an Exclusive Claim in an Inclusive World [Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2002], p. ix). Concerning Christianity Carson declares, “It is not reducible to a preferential religious option among many, designed primarily to make me feel good about myself” (p. 398).

Certainly, the man or woman of God cannot dilute the message of the Bible just to win friends among post moderns. Carson warns, “It follows that especially when we are trying hard to connect wisely with some worldview other than our own, we must give no less careful attention to the nonnegotiables of the gospel, lest in our efforts to communicate wisely and with relevance, we unwittingly sacrifice what we mean to communicate (D. A. Carson, “Athens Revisited,” The Telling Truth: Evangelizing Post-moderns, D. A. Carson, ed. [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000], pp. 395, 396). MacArthur says, “The conflict between biblical truth and competing beliefs is not a matter to be settled by dialogue.  This is spiritual warfare, not a tea party. It should be seen as combat, not conversation” (John MacArthur, Why One Way: Defending an Exclusive Claim in an Inclusive World [Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2002], p. 54). Again, he says, “Truth and error cannot be combined to yield something beneficial” (p. 60). Then he concludes, “There is no need to seek middle ground through dialogue with proponents of anti-Christian worldviews, as if truth could be refined by the dialectical method” (p. 62).

Still, by the grace of God and the power of the Spirit the gospel minister may be able to guide postmodernists in their search for reality in the experiential realm. For them truth comes more through experience and intuition than reason and logic. Then the minister of the gospel can inform them of what Grenz says, “Many evangelicals have continually argued that the rational, scientific method is not the sole measure of truth, for aspects of truth lie beyond reason and cannot be fathomed by reason” (Stanley J.Grenz, “Star Trek and the Next Generation: Postmodernism and Future of Evangelical Theology,” The Challenge of Postmodernism, David S. Dockery, ed. [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1995], p. 83). Or, he can declare with Veith, “Human reason is inadequate, as the postmodernists say; but Christians base their beliefs not on reason but revelation” (Gene Edward Veith, Jr., Postmodern Times: A Christian Guide to Cotemporary Thought and Culture [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1994], p. 221).

Probably not at all in the same way, but Scripture speaks with post moderns on the finiteness of man. Indeed sin has distorted man’s view of reality.  It declares that the god of this world has blinded his mind (2 Cor. 4:4). As Paul says, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14).

Regrettably, though, the postmodernists’ view of God differs much from the nature of Jehovah. In fact, Henry writes, “Destructive post moderns endeavor to exegete the implication of the death of God. Instead of replacing the inherited deity by some more congenial divinity, perhaps even by a New Age metaphysical All of which we are parts, it dissolves deity entirely” (Carl F. H. Henry, “Postmodernism: The New Spectre?” The Challenge of Postmodernism, David S. Dockery, ed. [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1995], p. 38). Further, their approach to interpreting all written material, including the Bible, makes it difficult to find common grounds in conversing with them. Their reader-centered approach to hermeneutics includes the process of deconstructionism. Zacharias explains, “The reader is sovereign over the author. As you read anyone else’s story, you deconstruct it and reshape it to your own interpretation” (Ravi Zacharias, “An Ancient Message Through Modern Means, To A Postmodern Mind,” The Telling Truth: Evangelizing Postmoderns, D. A. Carson, ed. [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000] p. 25).

Even so, postmodernism’s focus on the immaterial may remain one of the basic areas of discussions with its adherents. Without doubt Grenz goes too far, as Mohler interprets him, when he advises, “Evangelicals should reformulate their doctrines in less propositional and more pietistic constructs, and the authority of Scripture is to be assumed by the Christian community, not asserted and defended before the larger world” (R. Albert Mohler, “The Integrity of the Evangelical Tradition and the Challenge of the postmodern Paradigm,” The Challenge of Postmodernism, David S. Dockery, ed. [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1995], p. 66). Badger, though, is on the right track when he suggests that one do his best to relate to the postmodern in his worldview. He writes, “Whatever is useful about their philosophical position should be used to accomplish Kingdom goals. For example, postmodernists emphasize personal experience, and we invite them to experience the same rebirth that we experienced” (Steve Badger, Witnessing to Our Postmodern World [Springfield, MO: By the author, 2003], p. 20).  Today’s preacher must find ways to present the gospel Christ to this generation without compromising his message.

Biblical Life in the Spirit

That puts the life in the Spirit as made possible by Jesus at the center of talking points with postmodernists. Again, Galatians offers one of the best passages in the Bible on the subject. In his letter to the believers there Paul contrasted the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit. Works involve what results when one chooses to obey fleshly impulses to sin. However, fruit comes spontaneously from an inward life force. One must exert effort in order to engage in work. Fruit results from, is the natural outcome, the product of a living tree. It flows from the live-giving principle within. It is impossible for a dead tree to produce fruit. Zacharias advises, “Yes, we must be a moral people. But morality is a fruit, not a tree. The tree is rooted in Christ’s righteousness from whom the nourishment comes to produce the fruit of moral purity” (Ravi Zacharias, “The Touch of Truth,” The Telling Truth: Evangelizing Post moderns, D. A. Carson, ed. [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000], p. 37). Still, the believer must cooperate with the Spirit in the process. Only God can make a tree. He is the source of life within a tree from which come other trees. However, it requires a carpenter to take a log, a portion of a tree, cut it into lumber, and make a desk from it by what we speak of as work.

One must cultivate plants to harvest fruit. Further, the growing of fruit takes time. One does not plant an apple seed and two months latter harvest apples. He must plant the seed, water, fertilize, cultivate, wait, and then harvest. After planting the seed, first comes the stalk, then the bud, then the flower, and finally the fruit.

Significantly, Paul speaks of the fruit (singular) rather than fruits (plural) of the Spirit. One does not pick from the tree of the Spirit his favorite fruit. Rather, the fruit of the Spirit is like the petals on the rose.  It is like the inseparable colors of the rainbow.

Then, sharing his experiences as well as the truths on the life in the Spirit from Galatians may help the man or woman of God today to find some common ground in seeking to influence postmodernists. That includes both the birth and the baptism in the Holy Spirit. With these experiences and a consequent yielding of one’s life to the Lord, a believer can cooperate with the Spirit as He grows His fruit within. That fruit produces spiritual emotions in his relationship to God, godly actions in his interactions with fellow believers, and healthy attitudes in his opinion of himself.

Spiritual Emotions

In the first place Paul says the Spirit produces spiritual emotions in the baptized believer which stem from a right relationship with God. These include love, joy, and peace.

Love

No doubt the apostle intentionally begins his list of these spiritual emotions with love. Jesus listed love as the first commandment (Matt. 22:37, 38). Elsewhere Paul shows how it is first (Rom. 13:9 10). It encompasses all the other Ten, both positive and negative. Love binds the rest of the fruit together as the sash or belt did the loose fitting clothes of biblical times.

To speak of love here, Paul uses agape, the strongest of four Greeks words for love. They are eros, philia, storge, and agape. Writers sometimes speak of eros as depicting fleshly love, philia as focusing on friendly love, storge as indicating familial love, and agape as describing godly love.

Then, this love as a fruit of the Spirit is not to be confused with the impulsive sentiment of modern man.  It certainly does not provide a license for the free expression of passion. It is the opposite of lust, Hollywood's definition. Instead, love here is a deep-seated state of being which involves emotion, intellect, attitude, and will. It goes beyond natural love of friends, relatives or one's companion for life. The Song of Solomon says even that is as strong as death (8:6, 7). However, it can fade with a change of circumstances or the passing of time. Note so with agape love. By it Jesus loved Peter after the denial, and He would have forgiven Judas after the betrayal!

Biblical love is demonstrated through giving more than in any other way (John 3:16).  It wants to give to others rather than get for self.  Godly love as a fruit of the Spirit is more important to the pastor than ability to preach, to organize, or to administrate

Joy

As a fruit of the Spirit joy is something far different from the world's “happiness” at a sports event. The joy one experiences at an athletic contest is a human emotion. However, Peter declares that the heavenly joy is unspeakable because it is full of the glory of God (1 Pet. 1:8). It is distinguished from natural pleasure, happiness in that such is based on circumstances (Matt. 5:3-12), short lived (Heb. 11:25), and partial in contrast to the “fullness” of joy which Jesus gives (John 15:11).

As a fruit of the Spirit love is more mature than the joy of the early salvation experience. In fact, the believer should beware of the tendency to recapture the emotional feeling of conversion after walking with the Lord for a time. Mature joy becomes richer in quality rather than larger in amount with the passing of time. Further, joy as a fruit of the Spirit is not to be sought directly and expected instantaneously at a camp meeting altar. Rather, it grows gradually and imperceptibly over a period of time. Joy as a fruit of the Spirit is present in spite of unpleasant outward circumstances. It holds in the loss of one's goods (Heb. 10:34). Jesus said, “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). It does not flee in the face of persecution (1 Thess. 1:6) or imprisonment (Acts 16:25). Joy as a fruit of the Spirit makes the future certain, regardless of unknown circumstances, inflation, depression, or an energy crisis (Heb. 2:2).  Little wonder, then, that Nehemiah declared that the joy of the Lord is our strength (8:10).

Peace

Light is sometimes defined as the absence of darkness and cold as the absence of heat. However, peace as a fruit of the Spirit is not merely the absence of war, anxiety, or worry. Peace as a fruit of the Spirit provides harmony, order, general well-being, wholeness.

Biblical peace must not be confused with the peace of the radical political movements of today. There peace at any price involves compromise with sin and evil. But believers can have peace when waging war on sin, the world, and the devil.

It begins at peace with God (Rom. 5:1), then continues in the life of the Spirit-baptized believer as a fruit of the Spirit. Thus the world knows nothing of it; Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives" (John 14:27). It is a profound serenity which results from being right with God and man.

Godly Actions

Provisions of the Spirit in the form of fruit in the lives of believers make possible godly actions for them while in this world. The Spirit grows fruit in the baptized believer which shows in a right relationship with others.  Included here are longsuffering, gentleness, and goodness.

Longsuffering or Patience

The Greek word translated longsuffering is makrothumia. It is formed be combining makros, long, with thumos, anger; thus the definition is “long fused anger.” It provides tolerance, patience, forbearance in dealing with others. It involves showing such especially toward those who annoy you, oppose you, or who have wronged you.

Longsuffering is an attribute that is greatly needed in this world. Its value is priceless in the family, at the church, and on the job. It involves refusing to avenge yourself when you are in a position to do so, as in the life of Jesus (1 Pet. 2:23). Christian businessmen, politicians, pastors, teachers, and parents need this fruit much. How awful to misuse authority!

We need such fruit of the Spirit in the church. Love is the root of longsuffering (1 Cor. 13:4). We must put on the clothing of longsuffering in forbearing one another (Col. 3:12, 13).

It never gives up in bearing with people. It is that attribute of God which causes Him to continue to be patient with sinners to this day. Peter declared, “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). God's longsuffering with unbelievers has the purpose of accomplishing their salvation. The Spirit, then, seeks to produce in the believer one of the most notable attributes of God.

Gentleness or Kindness

Kindness gives one a mildness of temper; an unruffled disposition; a calmness of spirit. It produces a sweetness of manner and speech. It is the opposite of a crabbed, harsh, sour disposition. Such makes one pleasant for company. How wrong are those preachers who take pride in being harsh in the pulpit and otherwise in relating to people! Kindness does not leave one soft on sin, but, strange as it seems, one can be a gentle “sin-fighter.”

Indeed, the biblical word kindness refers especially to showing goodness toward the evil and ungrateful.  It is easy to be kind to nice people. However, kindness as a fruit of the Spirit manifests itself most in the face of unkindness.

Further, kindness demonstrates itself in being sensitive toward the feelings of others, followed by appropriate actions which work toward promoting their welfare. Always courteous and polite, this character trait disposes one to offer words of encouragement. Thus it brings out the best in others.  It never humiliates or embarrasses another with any degree of rudeness.

Kindness also appears in the form of a helping hand. It is often associated with doing little things in this world, such as giving a cup of cold water. To illustrate, on a long stretch of a highway in the wide-open spaces of Wyoming, a farmer stopped to assist a stranded motorist who had run out of gasoline. After handing the grateful stranger a one gallon can full of precious fuel, he quickly returned to his pick-up truck to go on his way. The driver of the stalled vehicle asked if he couldn't pay for the help he had received. The reply was, “No, just fill the can and give to another like yourself. That's all the man who gave it to me asked!”

Kindness is a universal language. The blind can "see" it. The deaf can "hear" it. In missionary work nationals may not understand all of one's theology, but they readily read his kindness.

While some may possess a degree of kindness by natural disposition, what Paul speaks of is a supernaturally produced characteristic in the life of the Spirit-filled believer. In one sense, like the fruit of any tree, it flows naturally from the process of life within rather than resulting from the exertion of conscious, volitional effort. On the other hand, believers must cooperate with the Spirit as He causes His fruit to grow in their lives. This takes cultivation; otherwise, only weeds grow in a garden.

Goodness

Goodness as a fruit of the Spirit refers to both uprightness in conduct and generosity toward others. It goes far beyond the world's goodness. If a man is patriotic, provides for his family, participates in community affairs, and is fairly decent morally, we say he is a good man. However, remove GOD from GOOD, and you have only a cipher; there is nothing left. As to generosity, this is of the open-hearted variety which a person shows when its recipient is totally undeserved. Dorcas was full of good works (Acts 9:36, 39).

Many are too busy for such plain, simple goodness any more. Some are so busy making a living that they have little time for making a life. The preacher can get too professional to have time for goodness, as the Priest and Levite in the Good Samaritan story (Luke 10:25-37). We give many compliments to ministers today, but none is greater than to say as Luke did of Barnabas, “He is a good man” (Acts 11:24).

Healthy Attitudes

The Spirit grows fruit in the baptized believer which shines through in a right opinion of self. These include faith or faithfulness, gentleness or meekness, and temperance or self-control.

Faithfulness

Paul’s Greek word for this fruit of the Spirit is pistis, the ordinary word for faith. Thus it could speak of that confidence, attitude toward God which grows, mellows, ripens (like fruit) through the years in a Spirit-filled life. However, the word also speaks of that which causes faith or trust. In that sense it refers to trustworthiness or faithfulness. It indicates fidelity or dependability. In life and in the service of the Lord no amount of ability can ever compensate for a lack of dependability.

In psychology “predictability,” dependability, faithfulness is the core of personality and the hub of all stable relations socially. In one's attitude toward himself it is important that he care enough for himself to be dependable, true to his word as one who keeps his promises. He must be true to his word so that he can respect himself. He must be trustworthy as a friend as well as dependable as a father, son, employer, employee, and debtor. An associate of mine in business before I entered the ministry once remarked to me, “You have some good people down there at your little church, but James is not one of them. He owes every store in this town and won’t pay anything on any of his bills.” One must even take care to keep appointments that he makes with others, else he is both a liar and a thief. His word is not true and he steals the time of another.

Jesus stressed the need for faithfulness in the lives of His followers. He taught that one must first be faithful in small assignments before he will be trusted with larger ones (Luke 16:10). In the end He will reward for faithfulness more than anything else. At the last day He will say to the trustworthy, “’Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matt. 25:21).

Gentleness or Meekness

The Greek word for gentleness or meekness, prautes, was used of an animal which had been broken to wear the yoke. Such an attitude is not natural to the human heart; it must be produced within as a fruit of the Spirit. Thus meekness includes humility toward self, resulting from an honest appraisal of one's own heart. Such a trait certainly avoids all outbursts of anger and violence.

The word also speaks of courtesy, consideration for others. It is the opposite of the self-assertion, self-reliance, headstrong arrogance which demands one's rights that modern psychology says is necessary for good mental health. While psychology may advocate self-assertion, Scripture teaches self-control.

This gentleness, meekness is not weakness; the weak don't have the strength to be meek. Meekness is power under perfect control. Moses was meek in his attitude toward himself (Num. 12:3); he refused to defend his own honor. Yet he was strong and courageous in defending the honor of God (Exod. 32:19, 20). He had a commendable zeal for God that was coupled with a healthy meekness toward self.

Temperance or Self-control

Some define temperance in terms of moderation in all things. However, Scripture teaches self-control rather than moderation. The Bible does not advocate moderation in lying, stealing and murder; it teaches self control which means total abstinence.

Temperance as a fruit of the Spirit is that self-control of the man who walks by the window of a jewelry store and steals nothing, rather than stealing moderately. He steals nothing because he knows it is wrong, rather than out of fear of getting caught and being sent to prison. Society does not have to keep him behind bars to prevent him from stealing. As someone has said, “Jesus doesn't lock a man up; He cleans him up.”

Temperance as a fruit of the Spirit goes far beyond the natural discipline of the athlete in refusing to smoke, drink, or dissipate his strength in immorality. It makes possible self-control in the physical, mental, and spiritual realms of human activity.

Conclusion

Then, sharing his experiences as well as the truths on the life in the Spirit from Galatians may help the man or woman of God today to find some common ground in seeking to influence postmodernists. That includes both the birth and the baptism in the Holy Spirit. With these experiences and a consequent yielding of one’s life to the Lord a believer can cooperate with the Spirit as He grows His fruit within. That fruit produces spiritual emotions in his relationship to God, godly actions in his interactions with fellow believers, and healthy attitudes in his opinion of himself.

REFERENCES

Badger, Steve. Witnessing to Our Postmodern World. Springfield, MO: By the author, 2003.

Carson, D. A. “Athens Revisited.” The Telling Truth: Evamgelizing Postmoderns. D. A. Carson, ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000.

Grenz, Stanley J. “Star Trek and the Next Generation: Postmodernism and Future of Evangelical Theology.” The Challenge of Postmodernism. David S. Dockery, ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1995.

Henry, Carl F. H. “Postmodernism: The New Spectre?” The Challenge of Postmodernism. David S. Dockery, ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1995.

MacArthur, John. Why One Way: Defending an Exclusive Claim in an Inclusive World. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2002.

Mohler, R. Albert. “The Integrity of the Evangelical Tradition and the Challenge of the Postmodern Paradigm.” The Challenge of Postmodernism. David S. Dockery, ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1995.

Phillips, Gary. “Religious Pluralism in a Postmodern World.” The Challenge of Postmodernism. David S. Dockery, ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1995.

Veith, Gene Edward Jr. Postmodern Times: A Christian Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1994.

Zarharias, Ravi. “The Touch of Truth.” The Telling Truth: Evangelizing Post moderns, D. A. Carson, ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000.