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The Younger Evangelicals: Facing the Challenges of the New World

by Robert E. Webber

Buy the book: Robert E. Webber. The Younger Evangelicals: Facing the Challenges of the New World

Release Date: October, 2002

Edition: Paperback


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Buy the book: Robert E. Webber. The Younger Evangelicals: Facing the Challenges of the New World

Post-modern thought is not a "philosophy"

My reading of Foucault, Derrida, and especially Lyotard is that their thinking rejects "...isms" or ",,,ities" as in existentialISM or modernITY. Thought systems that offer a comprehensive or totalising world view are philosophies. Postmodern thought does not offer an alternative philosophy, rather it is a critique of such ways of thinking. It regects the assertion of a metanarrative, or big story.

In Sullivan's excellent review of The Younger Evangelicals, he generally use the phrases "postmodern thought" or "postmodern thinking," but then in one instance use the phrase "postmodernism" (second to last paragraph). In that context, Sullivan and the other reviewers have done an excellent job of equipping the readers of The Younger Evangealicals with tools of discernment. The book has captured how the Younger Evangelicals have regected post modern thought by believing the metanarrative (big story) of God's Good News and at the same time understood the effects of modernity on the church, effects which could only have been grasped because post modern thought has provided some excellent tools for discerning where and how modernity can lead Christians slightly or way off course. If asserting the value of post modern thinking is troubling to some, then I would remind them that truth is God's truth because it is true regardless of who articulated it.

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Almost a postmodern solution

This book is a great resource and is loaded with a ton of valuable food for thought, but I cannot quite recommend it wholeheartedly without a few minor reservations.
I found many of the ideas expressed by the author and those he has interviewed and learned from to be not only refreshing but at times very moving. Most notable would be the notion that the church is supposed to be "incarnational", that is, the church is Body of Christ, the presence of Christ in the world - therefore the best apologetic is seeing people living truly and honestly under the rule of God in this life, in true community and service.
The author's main premise is that Evangelicalism has moved through three phases in the last few generations. The traditionalist phase exalted reason and doctrinal correctness above all else. The Pragmatic Phase emphasized felt needs and marketing strategies to make faith relevant and accessible to seekers. But the Younger evangelicals have turned toward "authenticity" and away from rationalistic or pragmatic approaches, seeking a God who is beyond rational definitions. They wish to communicate the faith by embodying the teaching of Christ, rather than articulating principles or programs.
The way many young evangelicals (as well as many in mainline protestant denominations and Catholic and Orthodox believers) have adapted to Postmodern thought can be both heartening and frightening. On the one hand, the recognition that rationalism has infiltrated the church is undeniable and worth correcting. Not only have liberal theologians applied naturalism to scripture in a way that removed the supernatural from faith, but conservatives have applied the scientific method to biblical interpretation to the point where individual interpretation reigns. The Holy Spirit and the consensual interpretation of the rest of the church have been ignored or rejected altogether. Rationalism has also led many in the church growth movement to embrace marketing strategies at the expense of authenticity and perhaps biblical fidelity, a plastic notion postmodern evangelicals are rejecting.
The answer many from various denominational backgrounds are embracing is one that says that the Holy Spirit grants truth to the community of the faithful, so that there is solid footing in finding the common shared beliefs of Christians in various cultures and various time periods. Younger Evangelicals look particularly to the early church prior to Constantine. They are more open to embracing the historic creeds, communication of faith through symbols and sacraments and are less arrogant about finer points of non-essential doctrines. Thus they are quicker to strike alliances across denominational lines and more open to dialog with Catholic and Orthodox believers. And they are willing to use radical hi-tech methods to communicate timeless truths.
The one cause for pause is that many in the postmodern Christian movement (some of whom are quoted in this volume) seem to embrace a bit too uncritically many of the dangerous assumptions of the postmodern fringe. They are quick to assert that "foundationalism" is inadequate in and of itself, and to point out that the church has been unduly influenced by modernism, but fail to see that in many ways they are failing to judge postmodern thinking in light of a Biblical worldview and are quickly allowing postmodern thought to unduly influence their own view of church. They are in the prison house of their own words. So they criticize the previous generation for conforming to the spirit of the rationalistic age, but freely embrace the spirit of the mystical age in which they live. They insist that truth is not "propositional" but must use propositions to make that very case.
In rejecting rationalism, many seem to throw out rationality as well. For example, Webber documents the shift from evidential apologetics to incarnational apologetics, which is a shift that has some merit. But is it necessarily true that all evidential apologetics is hopelessly enmeshed in "modernism"? Because modernism failed to find answers to metaphysical questions, does that mean that satellites will all fall from the sky and the laws of physics and engineering no longer have value? Is the resurrection not historically defensible? If "evidential" apologetics is really passe' and naive, shall we reject Paul and Luke as modernists because Paul argued from evidence and Luke cited eyewitness accounts and "many infallible proofs"? Are all of evangelical scholarship and apologetics of the last 100 years worthless?
The problem with much of the church's response to postmodern thinking is that many of the analysts of this thought wrongly assume that the only alternative to fading modernism is wholeheartedly embracing emerging postmodernism. The truth is, a Biblical worldview preceded both, and allowed for genuine rationality and appeal to evidence, tempered with the truth that humans are finite, fallen and need the grace of the Holy Spirit to ultimately make sense of it all. There are hints of such a third alternative in Webbers book particularly in the later chapters.
The chapters on youth ministry and worship are excellent and provocative. The many charts that end each chapter of this book are worth the price themselves. If Younger Evangelicals can speak to the anti-Modern generation in new ways, re-establish the church as a true reflection of Christ on Earth without succumbing to total mysticism and irrationality, then the future could look very bright. I loved almost everything about this book - almost.

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