Postmodern Pluralists: The Intentional & Unintentional

Today, I am writing in response to an important paper submitted by Carver T. Yu for the 3rd Lausanne Congress coming up in just about a month.  Yu's paper is entitled "Truth Matters, Stand Up for Truth" speaks to one of the major issues facing the global Church today -- how do we make a case for the truth of Christ in the pluralistic and globalized world of today? I highly recommend that you go and check out Yu's paper at the Lausanne Global Conversation right now!

Now, as I read the paper myself, two very different kinds of people came to mind. Both of whom may be thought of as devotees of the postmodern, pluralistic worldview that Carver Yu describes in his paper.  A worldview in which truth is proclaimed as "a cultural construction valid only for the culture that constructs it" and having no bearing on anyone else. This view sees all truths as relative to each other and presumes that the individual person is the "ultimate ground of reality. . . the postmodern pluralist believes that each and every individual creates her own logic and makes her own rules in constructing her own world of reality and virtue." Volker Roggenkamp illustrates this worldview as something like a child who first discovers the game of soccer. In the beginning, the child just kicks the ball anywhere and shouts, "Goal!" The door is a goal, the fence, the wall, the tree, the family dog, etc.  As the child matures, he or she realizes that in truth a goal isn't just whatever someone says it is, but that there are universal rules and standards that make the sport meaningful, enjoyable, and sustainable.  The postmodern pluralist wants to engage life in the same way a small child plays soccer.

The two people that come to mind for me as I think about this worldview are two main types of people who make up the global mission field of postmodern pluralists.Thus, those of us who are concerned about world evangelization, must carefully consider who these people are and how we can proclaim Christ to them.
The first is embodied by a sociology professor I once had. Highly educated, militantly atheistic, openly and publicly antagonistic to the Christian faith – a conscious, intentional proponent of this worldview – he publishes books and articles about it, blogs it, tweets it, teaches it, etc. The second however, is embodied in an individual that I know who has recently left his wife for another woman. When confronted as to the moral aberrancy of his conduct, though not consciously a postmodernist, he responded in a way that typifies the worldview. Phrases like, “You’re entitled to your opinion, but it is my business”; “I have to follow my heart”; and “If you don’t like my life then get out of it” are met by platitudes from like-minded peers such as “Don’t worry about what anyone else says”; “Be true to yourself”; and the like. This second individual is unintentional, unversed in postmodern theory, and often unable to articulate the rationale behind his values and beliefs.

I want to state simply that the Church must seek to answer both types of people. From personal experience, I would testify that what we find effective with the first type will not often be so fruitful with the second.  I'll admit, I have more questions than answers on confronting these two types of postmodern pluralists.  But here is where I begin:

First, I’d like to see the Global Church make an effort to identify, affirm, and meaningfully support those among us who are the truly great apologists of our day. Then to call on them to redouble their efforts to (1) give public and compelling defenses of the faith that are of irreproachable soundness and quality and (2) equip the whole Church to effectively join the battle for truth in our day.

Second, we must have a related but nevertheless distinct strategy to win the hearts and minds of the masses of unintentional postmodern pluralists who are especially plentiful in Western society today. Who is good at this? Who has thought through this particular issue that can share with the rest of us? We need to hear from such leaders. If you know someone with a track record of effectively engaging what I'm calling the unintentional postmodern pluralists, please direct them to this post and ask them to leave some feedback.  In response to my question on this issue of the second group, Carver Yu commented: "This is perhaps more urgent. The mass of unintentional or unthinking pluralists are expanding. A new breed of evangelists has to be nurtured to understand the heart and mind of this group. How do we do it? I need help here."

Okay, then. So, my excellent readers. Please do help us out on this issue. I look forward to hearing from you.


  1. DrBryanHagerman7:14 PM

    Corey this was a great article. There is lots being written concerning your topic. The best Apologetic in my view is the one that is lived out in the lives of God's people in the Marketplace/Workplaces of life. N T Wright has written a great book entitled "After You Believe." It is all about character transformation.The greatest witness to faith in the first century was the character transformation of the first disciples/apostles. This is not to say that an evidentiary approach will not work. But think of the impression the church will make in a Post Christian society when it (you and I)becomes the best evidence that demands a verdict?
    September 11, 2010 @ 5:06 AM

  2. Thank you for your comment, Bryan. Practically, what do you mean? The specific unintentional pluralist I was speaking of in this article has been exposed to the lives of authentic Christ-followers for years. Of course, I know that there is something to be said about just being patient and waiting for the Lord to work. However, my question is, how do we give an answer -- what is the apologetic strategy (to go alongside a life of love) for this type of person. Or is there just not one?
    September 11, 2010 @ 8:04 AM

  3. also a vote for character formation, as the first commenter said, and also for a powerful, hospitable, reality in the life of God's community that becomes an apologetic in itself.
    September 12, 2010 @ 11:42 PM

  4. Thanks, Andrew, for your comment. I would love for you to expand on what you mean by "a powerful, hospitable, reality in the life of God's community".

    September 14, 2010 @ 8:46 AM

  5. "Excellent analysis Cody, as I fully expected. You have defined very well what in post-modern philosophical culture needs to be opposed with clear polemics. Pluralism is poison, and must be dealt with harshly in our discipleship of new Jesus-followers. I wonder, however, what you would say are the elements of post-modern culture that can be apostolically embraced... indeed those would be the hooks for the gospel necessary for the "new evangelists" to bridge the gap to the truth. I have found things like sincerity in relationships, a desire for authenticity, and a love for aesthetics to all be great starting points.

    Also, perhaps we as western Christians need to rethink a bit what we mean by the term "truth." Usually when we are referring to truth we are thinking of things in a quasi-scientific, propositional sort of way. The Scriptures do have some of that thinking, however, John 14:6 always comes to my mind in discussions like this. Would not post-modern exclusivism be better founded upon loyalty (almost a fealty) to the person of Jesus rather than attempting to move people back along more modernist lines of thought? Is not truth a person? Peter actually argues for the truth of Jesus INDUCTIVELY and almost existentially rather than deductively: "neither is there salvation in any other" and "who else has the words of life."
    September 17, 2010 @ 11:59 PM

  6. The article is very eloguently put. I see two issues to be dealt with.
    1. Professing Christians are not convinced of the truth of Jesus, Heaven, Hell, Satan, demons, etc. They are stories told to be used as fear based guidance.
    2. Selfishness wins. Humanity and western culture in particular tends to be amazingly selfish.

    I always stand on Hosea 4:6. Satan is the author of confusion and when the majority of modern denominations can't agree on what is correct to do or say, then atheism and pluralism wins. Atheists have such a strong argument when it comes to apparent errancy of the Bible simply because of this fact. I have heard hundreds of times, "If God is omnipotent, wants what is best for us and is GOOD, then you would think that He would communicate that to us".

    I have learned from industrial/commercial environments that simplicity is best. A simple "elevator speach" or "5 minute drill" about the gospel that all denominations could agree on and focus on would be the best option. This coupled with emphasis on the "reality" of God and the supernatural instead of the rules and regulations would be my approach. Unified effort, consolidated and abreviated theology, education.
    September 22, 2010 @ 3:58 PM

  7. Thank you, Joe, for your thoughtful response. I think the idea of developing a core of gospel truth that we could all agree on is interesting and appealing. I’m personally less concerned about the denominational differences as the cultural ones on this point. Since different cultures tend to understand the "bad news" in very different ways (fear, shame, guilt, etc.), our particular emphases in sharing the good news must be contextualized in order to speak most directly to the heart of our hearers.

    Having said that, I think that a major work of the Congress this year is to seek to move towards a more corporate agreement on what exactly is the gospel. This should be a very awesome process.

    But let me also follow up by asking you if you feel there is some inconsistency in your position on simplicity in sharing the gospel on one hand and developing an "overwhelming" apologetic on the other. In evangelism, you say that we should move towards abbreviated and consolidated theology. In apologetics we are to move away from narrowness. Wouldn’t you say that what is virtuous about moving away from narrowness in apologetics would also be virtuous in evangelism?

    Just pickin’ your brain - so to speak.
    September 22, 2010 @ 9:47 PM

  8. Anonymous3:43 AM

    Hi Cody
    You say there are 2 types of postmodern - the evangelical anti-christian and the unreflective relativist, to perhaps reframe your categories.

    But what about the conscious postmodern who is actively seeking the truth of the biblical narrative?

    It's this third category that most interests me, and indeed the very possibility of a postmodern worldview being an active agent of fundamental spiritual transformation.

    Do you see this as valid?

  9. @soundandsilence

    Thanks for reading and your comment! Certainly I do find your category of "conscious postmodern seeker" as valid. And, by the way, I don't intend here to say that my 2 categories of postmodern pluralists are the only ones. No, rather, these are two important (perhaps major) categories that come to mind for me.