How to talk with your Postmodern Friends About Christianity (And a … – The Gospel Coalition Africa

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Imagine with me for a moment that you are at work in your break room—or wherever it is that you converse with your work colleagues—and the topic of conversation turns towards the controversial.
You know that these workmates are not Christians and they begin to discuss the merits and demerits of MAID (medical assistance in dying). MAID has been in the news over the past few weeks as free democracies around the world lambast Canada’s disposal of those deemed societal drains. Now these work friends are going back and forth on the topic with a few zealously supporting the liberal status quo while some think it a wrongheaded idea.
Perhaps those who argue in favour of it do so on the basis that free adults should have the right to do what they want with their own bodies. Maybe those who are skeptical are in agreement with the above statement, but have some reservations about the scope of the laws application.
Either way, your work friends are engaging in a serious conversation, about a serious topic, making moral judgments on said topic, and they invite you into the conversation: “So, what do you think ______?” Well, how would you respond? How would you as a Christian begin to discuss this in a meaningful way with your colleagues?
I would like to suggest that a good place to start is by asking them, “By what standard?”
But before I explain what I mean by that, we need to take stock of how the average postmodern person thinks. We must acknowledge that all of us are, at the very least, influenced by postmodernism. It is the water in which we swim so to speak. So what is postmodern man? To put it as simply as possible, postmodernity is marked by the absence of transcendent absolutes placing the creation of meaning within the individual person. This simple definition risks being reductionistic, yet for the purposes of this short article, it will suffice. How did we get here?
The story begins with modernity. Modernity was the attempt to make sense of the world by reason alone. It was a denial of the transcendent, but not a denial of meaning. Meaning, or absolutes, would be revealed as the universe was explained through natural reason alone. If you can remember back to your university philosophy classes this period was marked by thinkers such as René Descartes (1596–1650), Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), and many more. Natural human reason had the power to explain the universe and give adequate ground for human meaning and existence.
It was not long before the sheer bankruptcy of this thinking was revealed. It did not seem to matter how much natural reason one applied, but one could never get to any concept of transcendent absolutes from reason alone. The philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855) famously recognized this problem and offered the solution of a “blind leap of faith”. Yes, natural reason was incapable of providing any sort of real meaning to our existence. It was incapable of providing morality that demanded to be followed by all people at all times.
However, one can take a “blind leap of faith” and believe in something to provide the transcendent base for our desperately needed absolutes. What this did was effectively create two levels of meaning. There is the lower realm of meaning which is provided by natural reason giving us knowledge about the physical universe around us. And there is the higher realm of meaning which provides absolutes like morality and purpose, but there is no solid base for this realm of meaning. We get to it essentially through wishful thinking, a “blind leap of faith.”
Modernity, therefore, removed the transcendent by appealing to natural reason alone which ultimately led to the revelation that its proposals were bankrupt. Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) recognized this bankruptcy and took this system of thought to its logical conclusion. In his work The Gay Science, Nietzsche tells a powerful parable about a madman crying out in the town square. In this parable the logical conclusion of modernity is explicated when the madman says, “’Where has God gone?’ he cried. ‘I shall tell you. We have killed him—you and I. We are his murderers.’” Indeed, modernity killed God by making the transcendent inaccessible.
Meaning, purpose, truth, beauty, goodness, and morality have no basis in anything beyond the physical universe. The only thing that remains is the will’s ability to exert itself on another person by force or manipulation. Absolutes had been reduced to preference in the wake of modernity and, thus, postmodernity was born. God is dead, there is no meaning to the universe, no moral absolutes, besides what we create and impose upon it.
This is why the question “By what standard?” is such a powerful question to ask the non-Christian who is making moral pronouncements. Take our previous example of your colleagues making moral proclamations about MAID. Sure you could argue with them about the value of human life, you could make a compelling case for the totalitarian nature of such a law, you could even tell them of how much God loves people—enough to die for them in fact—and, thus, he desires that no one should die apart from Christ. But none of these things will convince the postmodern person of your position.
Your voice is merely one in a cacophony of voices expressing their preferences as moral pronouncements with no single pronouncement being better than any other. Do not hear me wrongly here, I am not suggesting that it is a bad thing to argue in the ways above with your non-Christian friend. I am merely suggesting that a more effective way is to show them the bankruptcy of their own position and the fullness of ours.
The average person has been shaped by postmodern thought to the extent that they believe in the relativity of moral claims, but they have not been shaped by it to the extent that they believe in the relativity of their own moral pronouncements.
When someone says, “Free adults should have the right to choose what they do with their own bodies” you can respond “ok, but by what standard are you making such a claim?” If God does not exist and all there is is self-imposed meaning then why should your claim have any more authority than the person who is opposed to it? The answer is that it should not have any more authority, full stop. When asking the question, “By what standard?” you get to the root of the problem.
The average person has been shaped by postmodern thought to the extent that they believe in the relativity of moral claims, but they have not been shaped by it to the extent that they believe in the relativity of their own moral pronouncements.
The problem is not so much competing value systems. It is the absence of a value system. Demonstrating to someone that they have no real basis for making a moral claim is a powerful argument for why belief in a transcendent God who provides the basis for moral claims is needed. By tearing down the idol of self-worship—where each individual is a “god” isolated from all others—you can then seek to show how the claims of Christianity provide a much better ground for truth, goodness, and beauty.
For instance, you can argue that God created the universe with order that can be known by us because he has structured it in precisely this way. You can argue that there exists a moral order and that some things always remain wrong precisely because there is a law-giver who has implanted this law in every human heart. You can argue that there is purpose to human existence because God gave humanity that purpose when he created them.
You can argue that evil exists because of humanity’s own sinfulness and that it is not something inherent in the world. You can argue that God has made a way for this sinfulness to be dealt with because he loved humanity so much that he desired to save them. You can argue that this was accomplished in his Son, Jesus Christ on the cross. And you can argue that a day is coming when God will finally set everything right in the universe.
A day when every evil, every sin, every injustice is dealt with and humanity finally dwells in perfect peace. But these arguments are proven all the more powerful when they are first demonstrated to be the only way to make sense of the world.
These arguments are proven more powerful when the postmodern is shown that their own position is inconsistent with how they wish the world to be. These arguments are proven most powerful when the façade of postmodernism is pulled down. It is then that one can construct the beautiful cathedral of Christianity in the empty lot left behind.
Matthew Crocker (MDiv, Regent College) is the author of Foundations: 100 Days of Devotions through Catechism. He lives in Vancouver British Columbia where he works at Christ City Church. You can follow him on Twitter @_MatthewCrocker.
Imagine with me for a moment that you are at work in your break room—or wherever it is that you converse with your work colleagues—and the topic of conversation turns…


Written by: Christianity Today

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