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Pop Everythings

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Post-Everythings

by Timothy Keller

The following article is reprinted from byFaith, the new magazine of the Presbyterian Church in

America.

 

How do we, as a denomination, do renewal and outreach in the emerging post-everything United

States culture? “Post-everything” people are those who are now in their teens and twenties – and

they are our future.

 

These persons are increasingly post-secular. They are much more open to the supernatural, to

spirituality, and to religion but not necessarily to Christianity. They are also post-ideological. On the

one hand, they are perhaps too concerned about issues of social justice to be labeled

“conservative.” On the other hand, they are also post-liberal. Not only is the old Liberalism too

selfrighteous for contemporary tastes, it is also cracking up due to 9/11, the demise of socialism, and

war. The emerging culture is also post-modern. Our society increasingly is opposed to purely

rationalistic explanations for experience, and does not accept the hard-nosed, scientific secularism

of the past.

 

In general the PCA knows how to thrive in the shrinking enclaves of traditional people, but does not

know how to thrive in this increasing post-everything culture. Michael Wolfe, in New York Magazine

said we are fundamentally two nations. “There is the quicker-growing, economically vibrant, morally

relativist, urban-oriented, culturally adventurous, sexually polymorphist and ethnically diverse nation.

 

Then there is also the smaller-town, suburban, nuclear-family, religiously oriented, traditional values,

white-centric other America with its diminished political and economic force.” America still has enough

places dominated by this latter “nation” that the PCA can continue to grow among already-conservative

and people. However, our usual methods of ministry do not work effectively in the parts of the country

and the sectors of society that have the greatest power in our culture. Our ineffectiveness

as a denomination in working with post-everything America is a failure across party lines. Whether

we identify ourselves as “Evangelically Reformed,” “Confessionally Reformed” or “Old-school” we

face similar failures. All our parties tend to limit their evangelism and discipleship to people who are

basically traditional in their mindset.

 

For instance, our typical evangelistic presentations are effective with persons who assume they

should be good. Then the gospel-presenter tries to show them than they are not good enough –

they fall short of God’s perfect standards – and therefore they need Jesus to forgive sin and help

them do the right thing. This presentation was quite appropriate for almost everyone in my parents’

generation. My parents, who are evangelical Christians, and my in-laws, who are not at all, had

basically the same social and moral values. If you asked them the questions such as, “What do you

think about pre-marital sex, or homosexuality, or pornography?” both sets of parents would have

answered the same. They were part of a world in which Christianity was the folk-religion even if it

was not the heart-religion of most people. They believed that the purpose of life was to be a good

person. This world no longer exists everywhere.

 

On the other hand, if you say to those in my kids’ generation, “You know you have to be good,”

they will say, “Who’s to say what good is?” So what are we to do with these post-everything

persons who are increasingly dominating our society? The traditional gospel presentations will not

make much sense to many of them.

 

I think that a) if we have the humility to admit that we are not doing the job, but b) at the same time

(in a non-triumphalistic way) advance the answers Reformed theology especially provides, then

there is great hope for our church. We must first give high priority to finding ways to minister in

three areas: universities, big cities and ethnically diverse situations. University towns are incubators

where we can learn how to address the ideas of the rising culture. The new world usually emerges

in the big cities and if we learn to face it and engage it there, we will be able to do the same in the

rest of the country. In short, we must go to the ‘leading edges’ of our society and learn how to

preach, model, and sing the gospel in ways that both challenge and attract (rather than merely

confusing) people.

 

People may respond, “Well I’m not in a university town or a big city. I’m in a suburban or rural

community, so such persons are not my concern.” The fact is there are already many kinds of post

everythings in your town. Because of technology, mobility, and myriad other influences, posteverything

people are everywhere. We may not see them in our churches because we minister in

ways that exclude post-everythings – they are either offended or confused immediately after

walking in the door.

 

Further, we are not presently forced to think about the post-everythings because there are so many

traditional people that our churches can still grow and, thus, we feel that we are doing a fine job.

Still, we must go to the university towns, big cities, and the ethnically diverse places because there

we will learn to understand and reach America’s future. The next thing we must do is use the

Reformed resources that God has especially granted this church to minister to the emerging culture

in the following ways:

 

First, remember that post-everything people like narrative and story. They tend not to like the older

kind of preaching that simply enunciated doctrinal principles. Neither are they excited about the

newer user-friendly sermons of seeker-churches on “How to Handle Fear,” “How to Balance Your

Life,” etc. So, do we throw overboard everything we have done? Absolutely not. We turn to

Geerhardus Vos who says that every single part of the Bible is really about Jesus. If you know how

to do Christ-centered preaching, then you turn every single sermon into a kind of story. The plot of

the human dilemma thickens, and the hero that comes to the rescue is Jesus. Christ-centered

preaching converts doctrinal lectures or little how-to talks into true sermons. Post-everythings who

are interested in narrative are reached by such preaching that is deeply Reformed.

 

Second, remember that post-everythings are experientially oriented. They do not just want

intellectual propositions. For them life’s meaning is grounded in what they experience. Of course,

as Reformed Christians we are very word-centered, and we know that eternal truth is not based on

our subjective experience of it. But Reformed preachers have a tremendous resource for an

experience-oriented generation in Jonathan Edwards. Edwards taught that a sermon should not

only make truth clear, but also should make truth real. In Edwards we find ways to preach that are

Reformed, committed to objective truth and, at the same time, deeply experiential.

 

Third, remember that post-everythings are very much against moralism and self-righteousness. But

Reformed preachers have Martin Luther to help with this concern. Traditional gospel presentations

assume that the people want to be “good.” But our kids’ generation wants to be “free.” Luther said,

“Look, you want to be free? Good. It’s good to be free. But you’re not. You are living for something

and, whatever that something is, it enslaves you.” If a person lives for reputation, then he is a slave

to what people think. If a person lives for achievement, then he will be a workaholic. As did Luther,

we should tell such people, “You want to be free? Fine. But you’re not going to be free unless

Jesus is your salvation.” When post-everythings rejected Christianity they thought moralism and

Christianity were the same thing. But we can show post-everythings that the two are not the same,

and that freedom really is in Jesus.

 

Fourth, take note of post-everythings’ concern for social justice. They innately sense that the

church is not credible without care for mercy and justice. We can address these concerns with the

wisdom of Hermann Ridderbos and other Reformed theologians who stress the coming of and the

presence of the Kingdom. The Reformed understanding of salvation is not simply that God is

rescuing individual souls out of the material world, but rather he is also redeeming all of creation.

God is going to bring complete healing and shalom to the material world eventually. This makes

Christianity (as C.S. Lewis says) “a fighting religion” against poverty, hunger, and illiteracy. We

must bring this Kingdom message of Reformed theology to post-everythings.

 

Fifth, recognize that post-everythings love art because they love the material world. Abraham

Kuyper’s understanding of Reformed theology enables us to say to post-everythings, “Christianity is

not just a way for you as an individual to get peace, love and groovy vibes in Heaven. Christianity is

a comprehensive worldview. You can be a Christian artist, dancer, manager, or minister and these

are all ways of living out the gospel.” When post-everythings hear that, they get extremely excited.

They have never considered that Christianity embraces the whole of life.

 

Finally, remember that post-everythings are not strongly swayed by evidences and proofs. If you

start to present evidence for the deity of Christ or the proofs of God, post-everything eyes will glaze

over. But the presuppositional apologetics of Cornelius Van Til can work with post-everythings.

I think Reformed theology provides us with tools for our culture that Josh McDowell’s kind of

evidential apologetics does not.

 

I see people who are desperately trying to reach the post-everythings who in their desperation are

trying to throw out essential elements such as the substitutionary atonement, forensic justification,

imputed righteousness, the Sovereignty of God, or the inerrancy of Scripture. Many of them are

probably over-adapting to the post-everything situation. But while they do not have our theological

resources, often we do not have their level of engagement with the people of the emerging society.

To correct this, let us confess that we really have failure across all our parties to reach the coming

society, and let us resolve to use the premier resources of Reformed theology. If we can make

these changes, then we may really start to see renewal and outreach, and we might actually be a

resource for the broader body of Christ in this culture.

 

The Reverend Dr. Timothy Keller is adjunct professor of practical theology at Westminster and

pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in New York City.

 

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 26 April 2011 15:28  

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