Evangelism in a Postmodern Context: Challenges and Opportunities

by Miroslav Pujic

Challenges for Mission in the Postmodern Era

"Before us lies a new world—a world nearly empty spiritually, which makes it hungry and thirsty for good spiritual bread and wine. It is a world hostile to dogmatism but ready to be sown with good seeds of vibrant, living faith. If we as Christians do not fill the need, someone else will."
Despite its many positive qualities, postmodernism and secularism pose a significant threat to organized Christianity. Since Christianity is a metanarrative in every sense of the word, it naturally stands in opposition to secular or postmodern systems of belief. Unfortunately, some see this threat as a call to drastic revision of the Christian message. In one swift move Don Cupitt has dubiously reinterpreted Christianity as "poetical theology." He says, "The function of poetical theology is not to give us any esoteric information or to save us from anything, but simply to ennoble our life. We may therefore reinterpret Christian doctrine as being a sacred poetry of divine love, love that takes human form in Christ, love that is entirely content to burn, burn out and pass away." 

Herein lies the most significant challenge to Christian evangelism in the postmodern age: how do you represent Christianity as relevant while upholding its most fundamental tenets?
Granted, the gospel is relevant to postmodern humanity and must be presented as such. But it is very possible that attempts at contextualization and relevance can make the Scriptures' message absolutely absurd. For if "God, like a cosmic Mr. Rogers, 'loves you just the way you are,' demanding neither faith nor obedience, then why bother with Christianity? There is no point to the gospel if there are no sins to forgive. If all religions and no religion lead to God, one might just as well watch television."

Opportunities for Mission in Postmodern Era

With the demise of absolute human reason and science, the supernatural is once again open to consideration. Since postmodernists see spirituality as closely connected to supernatural experience, Christians who have experienced the Holy Spirit possess a great opportunity to make friends among postmoderns and share the story of a personal God who does miracles in our lives.
Intuition and emotions are another pathway where postmodernists can discover the truth. As they experience various spiritual encounters, postmoderns will integrate into a new lifestyle when they find somewhere that they belong. A personal invitation to "try it" is our message from the gospel.

People long to belong. Modernism created lonely people seeking for honest friendships. The postmodern western European traditions of pubbing (on Friday nights) and clubbing (on Saturday nights) suggest that people still need people. Christian community offers a supportive environment that can help them discover a deeper, more fulfilling meaning of life as a disciple of Jesus.
Given today's research on the emerging culture, we can conclude that as our world shifts toward postmodernism, the church must adopt methods that will attract the postmodern mind – if we are to fulfill our purpose to bring the gospel to all the world. Years ago Dr. Richard Halverson said, "Dogmatism and faith are not identical! Dogmatism is like stone. Faith is like soil. Dogmatism refuses to admit doubts. Faith often struggles with doubt. . . . Dogmatism is a tunnel. Faith is a mountain peak. . . . Dogmatism insists on proposition. Faith knows Christ. Dogmatism generates bigotry. Faith stimulates understanding." This does not mean we should dilute the message of Scripture in an attempt to entertain, but that we should refocus our witnessing strategy on the example of Jesus Christ.
Since Christianity makes claims for absolute truth it is bound to be rather unpopular in the postmodern setting. So while relational evangelism is best, our "techniques" cannot be dishonest. The gospel applies to all ages in all countries and cultures. We face a very real danger as we seek to increase church membership and "make the gospel relevant" – that we may overlook the fact that it already is. The gospel will never become irrelevant as long as there are hurting people who need to find peace in the divine gift of salvation. Ancient scripture must not be compromised or obscured by any evangelistic methodology preoccupied with church growth or obsessed with mere number of baptisms. Instead we must remain focused on the individuals and their needs for relationship, for support, for nurture.
To effectively reach the emerging postmodern generation, we must return to the basics: living out biblical principles before the unchurched, developing authentic friendships, caring for practical needs, and giving new disciples an opportunity to believe through belonging. We must live out our faith in walking shoes. "It is this kind of faith that postmoderns can accept—no, are attracted to—no, are dying for." 

Golden Opportunity

The Christian community have unique resources that can be drawn upon in order to respond to the new cultural situation. Postmodernists are providing a more hospitable platform for spiritual and theological possibilities. It is not enough for us to understand our world from a distance. It is not enough to have a strategy of how to evangelize. We need to wade in and rub shoulders with those we desire to reach for Christ. We need to be willing to live life with unchurched postmodernists on their terms, not ours. This will lay the foundation for real communication to take place. This will provide us with exciting opportunities to deepen our own faith and to allow the Holy Spirit to work through us.