The scene: an automobile accident. People are badly injured. Soon, the EMTs-(Emergency Medical Technicians) arrive. But these are postmodern EMTs. Surveying the carnage, the EMTs begin to deconstruct what has happened. They decide that three main possibilities explain the accident scene:
- The injuries are actual and the event is an authentic medical emergency.
- They are seeing a mass suicide attempt. The apparent "victims" are participants and are not seeking medical help.
- They have arrived at what is a staged training event. The injuries are not real but fake. It is important to wait for the evaluators to arrive to rate their performance before they begin triage.
Do you want your first-responders to be postmodern EMTs?
In 2013 I gave camp meeting presentations dealing with Bible interpretation, including "emergent" postmodern hermeneutics. Around this time the NAD came out with its new PBHC (Principle-based, Historical-cultural) hermeneutic, which it uses to assert women's ordination to be biblically valid. At the time I pointed out dangers of the new theological trend, called postmodern hermeneutics.
We might say we don't care about postmodern hermeneutics because Seventh-day Adventists only interpret the Bible based on Scripture interpreting Scripture (the historical-grammatical approach).
But things do not stand still, and a half a decade farther on, postmodern hermeneutics is making inroads inside the church. We want to exalt Christ. But this will be harder to do if we misunderstand and misrepresent the teaching of His Word. We want to worship the God who has revealed Himself to us, the Friend we know, not a bland, anything-goes God as redefined to fit secular culture. Listen:
God desires from all His creatures the service of love--homage that springs from an intelligent appreciation of His character (The Great Controversy, p. 494).
Those who endeavor to obey all the commandments of God will be opposed and derided. They can stand only in God. In order to endure the trial before them, they can honor Him only as they have a right conception of His character, government, and purposes, and act in accordance with them. None but those who have fortified the mind with the truths of the Bible will stand through the last great conflict (ibid., pp. 593-594).
[A]re ministers infallible? How can we trust our souls to their guidance unless we know from God's word that they are lightbearers? (Ibid., p. 597).
[I]t is impossible for us, with the Bible within our reach, to honor God by erroneous opinions. Many claim it matters not what one believes, if his life is only right. But the life is molded by the faith (ibid.).
Thankfully, God has already helped His people. In the Bible and as recently as a century ago, He has given us timely, important warnings. Today we will gather helps for identifying postmodern hermeneutics. We want to learn to honor Jesus as His intelligent worshipers.
Special End-time Warnings
The Bible is clear. Those who live in the last days will face trying times.
The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths (2 Timothy 4:3-4 NASB).
Peter warns that as in ancient time there were false prophets, the last days will be characterized especially by false teachers (2 Peter 2:1). Jude declares they will be arrogant and rebellious, reject authority, and cause divisions (8, 16, 19). Luke foresaw the rise of "savage wolves" within, preying upon the church and developing private followings (Acts 20:29-30).
Truth and error will be presented closely to each other. That is OUR future foretold!
There is a saying, "the right tool for the right job." I like to think of the special guidance God has given to His end-time church as a bag of important tools.
In particular, Great Controversy's "Modern Revivals" chapter has special help. It contrasts true revivals with false. In that chapter a false revival is foretold to come "shortly before the final visitation of God's judgments upon the earth" (p. 464). That is, when Satan thinks the true revival is near, he introduces his false one in a last-ditch effort to deceive as many as he can.
How? He brings whole churches under his power. In congregations where he is able, he will make it appear that "God's special blessing is poured out." Multitudes will be deceived but think God is working for them.
Here is what to expect in these false, end-time revivals:
Popular revivals are too often carried by appeals to the imagination, by exciting the emotions, by gratifying the love for what is new and startling. Converts thus gained have little desire to listen to Bible truth, little interest in the testimony of prophets and apostles. Unless a religious service has something of a sensational character, it has no attractions for them. A message which appeals to unimpassioned reason awakens no response. The plain warnings of God's word, relating directly to their eternal interests, are unheeded (The Great Controversy, p. 463).
In centuries past, the world was networked differently. Towns were islands. A religious campaign would come to town, set up tents, and meetings would last for months. during this period, certain preachers became known for running across the stage, punching in the air, leaping onto the piano, and even hitting devils with chairs.
Ellen White warned against such antics, which took the emphasis off the Bible and its message, and placed it instead upon the visual, sensational, and uncouth. Nor have these tactics disappeared. A few years past I saw a preacher at a camp meeting zooming about the platform with his hands held out as though he were an airplane.
Deeper than the visual bits, however, are the theological ones. Emergent, postmodern messages are often founded on appeals to the imagination, triggering the emotions, and visual stimuli. Movie scenes may be referred to. In a Bible church like ours, such preachers will throw Bible texts to hearers, but some will especially work to persuade the heart without the mind. A authentic Bible sermon will search for mind and heart; a false will appeal almost exclusively to the heart.
This is all to be expected, because postmodernism emphasizes how little we can know and understand. It highlights isolation and disconnection. As Myron Penner writes
[T]he postmodern turn is a condition marked by a set of attitudes, chief of which is a deep-seated suspicion about universal explanations. . . [W]e are sensitive to differences. . . and engaged in a 'war on totality' (Myron Penner, Christianity and the Postmodern Turn, p. 19).
Seventh-day Adventists hold the Bible as final authority. God revealed truth to us through the prophets. He is God. He knows the whole story. He can tell the whole story. He equipped the human race with what we need to understand and respond to the big picture. Even fallen people have enough equipment to receive and understand His truth, and to respond to it.
But to the postmodern, at best the Bible has glimmers of truth in it--maybe. It gives fragments of a pathway for humans, a general direction, or a trajectory. But in this approach Scripture is not definitive; it does not give a last word, it cannot speak with a final authority. It only points us in a direction but then leaves us to pick our way across active mine-fields.
The postmodern mindset emphasizes raw human experience. And so, it leads with audio, visual, excitement, emotion, stimulation, and it does it every time.
Appeals to the Imagination
Three points particularly stood out in our paragraph from "Modern Revivals." Whereas the Bible is grounded in revealed fact, facts about God's character, His work of creation, re-creation, Jesus' death for us on the cross, the prophesied and fulfilled rise and fall of kingdoms--a characteristic of the false revival and of the emergent postmodern approach is its appeals to the imagination (ATTI).
The imagination is a gift, and it is not wrong for a preacher to appeal to the imagination. But it is dangerous when appeals to the imagination are primary.
If you should find yourself in an emergent-style church service or event, appeals to the imagination will be prominent. There is new phrasing, new labels, a different way of thinking about things. Example: a book widely promoted a few years ago preferred to refer to Ellen White, not as a prophet or messenger, but a mystic! She never referred to herself as a mystic. No Bible prophet or leader ever referred to themselves as a mystic. But "mystics" are popular in emergent postmodernism, so Ellen White had to be recharacterized as a mystic.
And, sometimes the imagination needs help. So, at an emergent church service, participants first stop at a coffee bar. Stimulants are received before making way to the worship hall. You wouldn't normally hear the worship hall referred to as a sanctuary by them. It really doesn't function as any kind of refuge from the world or place where sin is addressed. Once in the worship hall, there will be a band with drums and electric guitars. It is important to get everyone in the right mood for the "worship" event.
The contrast between this and Bible examples of worship is instructive. In the Bible, the congregation is never warmed up by jokes, drugs, funny stories, or videos.
Exciting the Emotions
Let's talk about exciting the emotions (ETE). Emerging church services tend to feature screens on both sides in the worship area on which videos and video clips are projected.
God gave us emotions, but also a rational aspect. We are humans fallen; things do not work right. The relation of emotional to rational thinking in us is disordered. Satan seeks to take advantage of weakness at every turn. So he works through exciting the emotions. Recall John's warning:
Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever (1 John 2:15-17).
Be careful what you train yourself to love, because you can be trained. And if you indulge wrong desire you will train yourself to live in the wrong desire. Christianity is a training to live in right desire. If we love the world, we train ourselves to love the things we already loved. We strengthen mistaken desires. If we in our pre-Christian life have filled our mind with entertainment, television and movies, then when we come to Jesus I hope we will expect Him to train us to other things! Rather than being fascinated by cinema and its scenes of violence, gross flesh, and crime, He will train us to live differently.
The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life--that is the essence of most films, and certainly of those commercials which vie for our eyeballs by entertaining us for a few seconds. We look, then, we want. The eye is ready to rule us like a dog's nose rules it. But we are not designed to be this way.
Jesus calls us to change the diet we offer our desires, our eyes, and our ears. Be wary of attempts to excite the emotions. Again, emotions are valid. We should think and feel. But that is the order: think, then feel. Whenever we get the order mixed up, feel, then think, part two doesn't happen. Then we just "feel." In the garden of Eden, Satan used this mode with Eve. He was not trying to engage her critical thinking faculties. He wanted her to feel. He was successful. Recall:
When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate... (Genesis 3:6).
Gratifying the Love for what is New and Startling
The third part of Ellen White's warning was about "gratifying the love for what is new and startling" (GTL-FWI-NAS) When we see a surprising image, or scene designed to draw us in, we are playing into the hands of the film-maker. He wants to trigger our sensors; he wants our attention. He wants to startle. He is not trying to bring us to rational thought, but emotional. But there is no such thing as a continuous diet of new and startling. Continual stimulation soon leads to disinterest. Jesus did His miracles sparingly. Do you know why?
Because conscience is not an emotion thing; it is a rational thing. The conviction of the Holy Spirit involves our reason. Listen to this description of worship in the Roman Catholic setting. Tell me: is the appeal to reason or to the senses?
Many Protestants suppose that the Catholic religion is unattractive and that its worship is a dull, meaningless round of ceremony. Here they mistake. While Romanism is based upon deception, it is not a coarse and clumsy imposture. The religious service of the Roman Church is a most impressive ceremonial. Its gorgeous display and solemn rites fascinate the senses of the people and silence the voice of reason and of conscience. The eye is charmed. Magnificent churches, imposing processions, golden altars, jeweled shrines, choice paintings, and exquisite sculpture appeal to the love of beauty. The ear is also captivated. The music is unsurpassed. The rich notes of the deep-toned organ, blending with the melody of many voices as it swells through the lofty domes and pillored aisles of her grand cathedrals, cannot fail to impress the mind with awe and reverence (The Great Controversy, p. 566).
Eyes charmed, ears captivated, the worshiper feels an awe and reverence. And yet, Ellen White states just one page on that this is a religion of externals. She describes it as seductive and bewitching. In the same passage, just a few pages later, she says that Satan's very character,
is embodied in systems of religion and expressed in modes of worship (Ibid., p. 569).
I say to you, systems of worship which focus their power to seduce our emotional aspect, while deemphasizing the place of reason and conscience, are dangerous.
And not all of them Catholic.
Emerging church focuses on feeling. Modernism trusted reason. Modern thinkers tend to think that, given enough resources, humans can figure virtually everything out. Postmodernism is exactly opposite; it does not trust human reason. And that leaves us with only one resource: raw, bare-metal, human experience. The postmodern does not "know" by rational thinking. He knows by sheer experience. He does not trust authorities like the Bible or the preacher or the prophet. He trusts what he feels. And that is why emerging worship is all about seeing, hearing, touching, feeling, experiencing.
And so, a worship service that has nothing of a sensational character in it is boring. So they pull out cell phones and check for messages to break the monotony. People have trained themselves to be bored. If they are not sending or receiving a text, they are impatient.
Is it all they? Or is it us? How are we training ourselves?
We ourselves are becoming postmodern. Stanley Grenz discusses philosophers whose work contributed to the postmodern shift:
The work of Derrida, Foucault, and Rorty reflects what seems to have become the central dictum of postmodern philosophy: 'All is difference.' This view sweeps away the 'uni' of the 'universe' sought by the Enlightenment project. It abandons the quest for a unified grasp of objective reality. It asserts that the world has no center, only differing viewpoints and perspectives. In fact, even the concept of 'world' presupposes an objective unity or a coherent whole that does not exist 'out there.' In the end, the postmodern world is merely an arena of 'dueling' texts. . . . the postmodern worldview affirms that this relativity extends beyond our Perceptions of truth to its essence: there is no absolute truth; rather, truth is relative to the community in which we participate (Stanley J. Grenz, A Primer on Postmodernism, pp. 7, 8, emphasis in original).
And, adds Grenz,
[P]ostmoderns are no longer convinced that their world has a center or that human reason can perceive any logical structure in the external universe. They live in a world in which the distinction between truth and fiction has evaporated. Consequently, they become collectors of experiences, repositories of transitory, fleeting images produced and fostered by the diversity of media forms endemic in postmodern society (Grenz, p. 38).
If we are honest with ourselves, we are becoming collectors of experiences, our lives filled with momentary images from the screens we own. In spite of ourselves, we are imbibing the postmodern ethos.
Return to Jesus
The dangers are great. But let us turn again to Jesus.
Jesus gives us light. He commmunicates correct information to us. He lights every person who comes into the world (John 1:9). You aren't born with light in you, but He comes to you to give you light.
Jesus' teaching is usually straightforward, simple. The Bible is not too hard to understand, but too readily understood. People try to hide from what God has revealed His will to be.
Jesus holds us accountable. He told those who heard Him,
If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, 'we see,' your sin remains (John 9:41).
When He gives us understanding, we are accountable. Postmodernism is a cheat. It argues that we cannot know. It tries to open a space for us to think or feel or do whatever we want. There is no ultimate truth, there is no overarching story. But like our postmodern EMTs who had the real picture right before their eyes yet wanted to see other unlikely possibilities, in the Bible Jesus gives us truth to our face.
Then He convicts us. He appeals to our mind. Bible facts are set in front of us and we are called to say yes to God, yes to Jesus. We are Christians. We are not allergic to God's big truthful story. We say yes to Jesus and we take God's challenge: "O Taste and see that the Lord is good" (Psalm 34:8). And that is an interesting challenge, for it is perfectly suited to the postmodern. Test me, says God, try out the Christian experience, give it a fair hearing, and more, give it a fair doing.
We live at the end of the age. There will be strange developments. There are signs that Emergent postmodernism is gathering some traction even in this Bible-based, Bible-rooted church.
God has warned us through Ellen White that in the last stretch of the conflict between good and evil, Satan will come to us cleverly. He will employ appeals to the imagination, he will excite the emotions, and he will attempt to gratify our love for what is new and startling. Postmodern thinking has urgent flaws, but it is coming toward us ever so subtly.
Jesus is Lord. the Bible is our guide. We live our Christian life based upon Bible facts, not subjective feelings. And now we are better prepared to keep our focus on Jesus. Be alert. There are good people out there who don't realize where the culture is going, and God has provided them a safeguard if they will embrace it: the Scriptures. Jesus will lead us if we will be attentive and permit Him to lead us. And the best news is, that if the false revivals are being unleashed, Satan must in his very intelligent mind, be of the opinion that the true revival is imminent. That is very good news. Even so, come Lord Jesus.
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