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«_ A Dissertation Presented to the Faculty of the School of Theology Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Fort Worth, Texas _ In Partial ...»

-- [ Page 1 ] --

AN APOSTOLIC APPROACH FOR THE EVANGELIZATION

OF POSTMODERN PEOPLE

_________________________

A Dissertation

Presented to

the Faculty of the School of Theology

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Fort Worth, Texas

_________________________

In Partial Fulfillment

of the Requirements for the Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

_________________________

Department of Evangelism

_________________________

by Eric J. Thomas May 2002 ©Copyright by Eric J. Thomas 2002 All Rights Reserved

INTRODUCTION

Jesus Christ established the mission of the church through His command in Acts 1:8. This command to “testify to what they had seen, heard, and known of Him... is the principal task of every Christian.”1 To face the enormity of the task and the obstacles within the culture, Jesus promised power through the Holy Spirit sufficient for the fulfillment of the mission.2 As it was for the early church, so it is for the contemporary church.

The Rise of Postmodernism Postmodernism represents one of the greatest obstacles to the mission of the contemporary church. Huston Smith describes postmodernism as a view of the world in which reality cannot be accessed.3 The influence of the postmodern perspective is prevalent in the culture today.

Curtis Vaughan, Acts: A Study Guide Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1974), 15.

See, Michael Green, Evangelism in the Early Church (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1970; reprint, Guildford, Surrey: Inter Publishing Service, 1995), 32-42.

Huston Smith, Beyond the Post-Modern Mind, rev. ed.

(Wheaton: Quest Books, 1989), 7.

One can find postmodern thought coursing through the media, academia, and ecclesia.

Postmodernism is a shift from the Enlightenment ideal of modernism.4 Modernism describes the pursuit to establish “all-inclusive” explanations for life.5 The autonomous individual is the highest reality and value.6 Knowledge is attainable and certain through the objective and precise tool of the scientific method.7 Modernism promotes the progress of humanity and society through technological advancements.8 In short, Habermas suggests that modernism preeminently promotes “subjective freedom.”9 C. Norman Kraus, An Intrusive Gospel?: Christian Witness in a Postmodern World (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1998), 17-19.

Jean-François Lyotard, The Inhuman: Reflections on Time, trans. Geoffrey Bennington and Rachel Bowlby (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991), 65-69.

Thomas C. Oden, After Modernity... What? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), 45-48.

Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. John Cumming (New York: Continuum, 1999), 6-9. In fact, according to Horkheimer and Adorno, “that which does not reduce to numbers... becomes illusion.” Craig Van Gelder, “Scholia: Postmodernism as an

Emerging Worldview,” Calvin Theological Journal 26 (1991):

413.

Jürgen Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures, trans. Frederick Lawrence (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1987), 83-84. He proposes that modernism promoted reason as “unifying power of religion.” He writes: “This was realized in society as the space secured by civil law for the rational pursuit of one’s own interests;... in the private sphere, as ethical autonomy and self-realization; finally, in the public sphere related to this private realm, as the formative process that takes place by means of the appropriation of a culture that has become reflective.”10 Beginning with Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900),11 the incipient form of postmodernism found fertile soil in which to flourish by attacking the Enlightenment.12 To understand postmodernism, therefore, it is important to understand the Nietzschean project that has led to its growth. Nietzsche’s critique of modernism promotes a denial of the “myopic view” of truth, morality, and language.13 Ibid.

Ibid., 83-105; Mark Taylor, Altarity (Chicago:

University of Chicago Press, 1987), 238-41. See also, Cornel West, “Nietzsche’s Prefiguration of Postmodern American Philosophy,” in Why Nietzsche Now?, ed. D. T.

O’Hara (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1985), 241-69.

Brian D. Ingraffia, Postmodern Theory and Biblical Theology: Vanquishing God’s Shadow (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).

Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Random House, 1966; reprint, 1989), 101. He writes that the essential fabrication permeating culture is that there should be “obedience... in a single direction” that leads to “unfreedom of the spirit.” Nietzsche dismissed the notion of a single meaning for the

–  –  –

project, Nietzsche sought to dismantle the “pervasive lie” that Plato, Christianity, and the Enlightenment had perpetrated for centuries.

First, Nietzsche attacked the “mendacious fabrication” of truth and morality. He declared that truth is “a sum of human relations, which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory.”15 Wilcox suggests that for Nietzsche “values are not objective” but are relative. Moral values are “created rather than discovered.”16 As a counterattack against the prevailing views of truth and morality, Nietzsche called for the rise of the übermensch. The übermensch is a “free spirit” who has broken free of the constraints of the external moral law.





Friedrich Nietzsche, Will to Power, trans. Walter Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale (New York: Vintage, 1968), 481.

Friedrich Nietzsche, “On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense,” in The Portable Nietzsche, ed. and trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Penguin Books, 1954), 46John T. Wilcox, Truth and Value in Nietzsche: A

Study of His Metaethics and Epistemology (Ann Arbor:

University of Michigan Press, 1974), 11. For Nietzsche, moral value depends solely upon the individual’s taste.

This person is not chained to the standards of the world.

Rather, he “bears his own standards of morality and reason and attempts to vanquish the hitherto reigning traditions and values.”17 Nietzsche argued that Kant’s belief in an a priori universal moral law must be corrected or “revalued.”18 Indeed, this “revaluation” was paramount to his philosophy.19 In his thought traditional morality was a “dying tree” that cannot be saved.20 Indeed, for Nietzsche, the concept of “right and wrong” was nonsensical.21 Leslie Paul Thiele, Friedrich Nietzsche and the Politics of the Soul: A Study of Heroic Individualism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), 12.

Walter Kaufmann, Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist, 4th ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974), 103-107. See, Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, 21; idem., Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for

Everyone and No One, trans. R. J. Hollingdale (New York:

Penguin Books, 1961), 136. Nietzsche condemned Plato for inverting reality through the creation of an imaginary, true realm. Christianity continued this falsity of the imaginary realm (Beyond Good and Evil, 14-23). The metaphysicians of modernity embraced the similar notion of a metaphysical realm beyond this world (Zarathustra, 136). The notion of an imaginary realm was the origination of the false ideal of universal morality. This is the “mendacious fabrication” that Nietzsche sought to reverse.

Friedrich Nietzsche, “The Twilight of Idols or, How One Philosophizes with a Hammer,” in The Portable Nietzsche, ed. and trans. Walter Kaufman (New York: Penguin Books, 1954), 484-85.

Kaufmann, Nietzsche, 109.

Friedrich Nietzsche, “The Genealogy of Morals: An Attack,” in The Birth of Tragedy and The Genealogy of Morals, trans. F. Golffing (New York: Doubleday, 1956), 208.

Nietzsche believed in a multiplicity of moralities. None of these moralities can be “absolutized” as solely justifiable.22 Values are based upon preference rather than reason or rationality.23 Nietzsche also attacked “mendacious fabrications” in the concepts of language. Nietzsche proposed that reality was a function of grammar -- a linguistic construct of the social context.24 Language itself is the creator of truth.25 Language is a system of interpretation which opens a beautiful vista of “eternal unfolding” for meaning.26 It is the tool which creates the interpretation of reality.

Wilcox, 27-28. See, Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, 135-36.

Nietzsche, Zarathustra, 213, in which the prophet says, “All my progress has been attempting and a questioning –– and truly one has to learn how to answer such questioning! That however –– is to my taste: not good taste, not bad taste, but my taste, which I no longer conceal and of which I am no longer ashamed.” Arthur C. Danto, Connections to the World: The Basic Concepts of Philosophy (New York: Harper and Row, 1989), 52.

Nietzsche, “On Truth and Falsity in an Extra-Moral Sense,” in Early Greek Philosophy and Other Essays, trans.

M. A. Mügge, vol. 2, The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, ed. Oscar Levy (New York: Russell and Russell, 1964), 181-82.

Irena Makarushka, “Nietzsche’s Critique of Modernity: The Emergence of Hermeneutical Consciousness,” Semeia 51 (1990): 196. Makarushka suggests that Nietzsche presents “an eternal unfolding in history of the inexhaustible surplus of meaning.” “Correctness” of interpretation is not the most important goal of language,27 because language creates its own truth.28 Through the interpretive “will to power,” a new language is introduced, and a new reality which corresponds to the language comes into being.29 Truth is fiction “imaginatively produced” by the “arbitrariness of the elements of language.”30 Nietzsche’s project rejects the idea that language is a fixed representation of a fixed reality.

Nietzsche’s “yes-saying” and “no-saying” produced a clear path for the exaltation of the postmodern mind.

Rather than absolute truth, the postmodern mind reflects the arbitrariness of truth according to social context. Rather than universal morality, the postmodern mind embraces perspectival morality. Rather than language as representative of reality, the postmodern mind finds language as the creator of reality.

Thiele, 103.

Nietzsche, Will to Power, 267. He writes that individuals “set up a word at the point at which our ignorance begins” and the word is “the horizon of our knowledge, but not ‘truths.’” Allan Megill, Prophets of Extremity: Nietzsche, Heidegger, Foucault, Derrida (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), 96-97.

Charles E. Winquist, Desiring Theology (Chicago:

University of Chicago Press, 1995), 31.

–  –  –

Many books, essays, and articles seek to help the church to engage the adherents of postmodernism with the gospel of Christ. These works may be categorized into four basic groups: descriptive, responsive, corrective, and postmodern. The descriptive group details the current situation of the postmodern condition, offering an appropriate Christian response in the concluding chapter or a few paragraphs at the close of each chapter.32 The responsive category focuses upon a Christian response to the postmodern condition, detailing the postmodern tenets in the introduction.33 The corrective category seeks to examine and negate the destructive tendencies of postmodernism.34 The postmodern category embraces much of the tenets of postmodern thought as an appropriate Christian response.35 Definitions are given throughout the dissertation.

See, Stanley Grenz, “The Gospel and the Postmodern Context,” in A Primer on Postmodernism, 161-74; Gene Edward Veith, Jr., “Conclusion: ‘When Foundations Are Destroyed,’” in Postmodern Times: A Christian Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1994), 225-34.

See, Jimmy Long, Generating Hope: A Strategy for

Reaching the Postmodern Generation (Downers Grove, IL:

InterVarsity Press, 1997).

See, Carson, The Gagging of God, chap. 2, passim.

See, Tom Beaudoin, Virtual Faith: The Irreverent Spiritual Quest of Generation X (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1998).

This proposed dissertation falls into the responsive category. More specifically, this dissertation proposes a very specific evangelistic response to the challenges of the postmodern condition from an exegetical analysis of the first-century church as reported in the New Testament.

While some works attempt to demonstrate a biblical response to the postmodern world, they fail to address specifically the issue of evangelism in the ministry of the church to the postmodern person.36 Other works provide a sound evangelistic approach to the postmodern condition, but they fail to offer an in-depth exegetical analysis of Scripture.37 These dissertations offer responses to the postmodern condition, but they lack either the depth of consideration in terms of evangelism or the depth of exegetical analyses.38 Gosnell’s dissertation deals with postmodernism and evangelism. His approach, however, is mostly analytical.

Charles J. Conniry Jr., “Apostolic Christianity in a Postmodern World: A Theological Analysis,” (Ph.D. diss., Fuller Theological Seminary, 1997).

Arne H. Fjeldstad, “Communicating Christ on the Information Superhighway,” (D.Min. diss., Fuller Theological Seminary, 1997).

The suggestion here is that the works have something other than evangelism as their theses, or that they offer philosophical approaches to postmodernism.

He analyzes the rise of postmodernism, postmodernism in contemporary culture, and strategies for evangelistic ministry to postmodern people.39 He focuses upon the contemporary strategies of evangelism in relation to the

–  –  –

provides insight for the church in evangelism. While providing sound, biblical direction, Gosnell does not focus his attention primarily upon an exegetical analysis of the evangelistic approach of the apostolic church in the first century.

–  –  –



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