Author: Rev. Richard Gibbons
Category: Proclamation Evangelism
“You are Here”
After reading it on Facebook, I had to read it again, ‘Nothing rhymes with orange. False. Nothing and orange do not rhyme.’ The more I read it, the more I realized how clever it was. One of the joys of Facebook is, of course, its immediacy, not to mention its ‘ambient warmth,’ which beguiles you into believing that you can have an intimate virtual relationship with 317 of your closest friends.
Today the digital convenience of a global village enables interaction with a ubiquitous digital playground where meaning and purpose are determined by e-mail, iPads, smart phones, Facebook, and YouTube. The connectedness and intimacy of social media’s community of choice is for many a search for relational identity.
Yet for all the anonymity that is sought through a digital existence, virtual relationships are paradoxically both anonymous and intimate, yet those involved are seeking to belong. The ‘now’ is lived out through a variety of transient experiences while living in a very material world. This world, however, is to be treated with caution, as history is considered meaningless and the future too difficult and unpredictable to contemplate. This creates a generation full of questions, anxious in outlook who view the world as relative and subjective and abandons ideology and so-called truth, while being suspicious of those who claim, ‘I know the answer.’
How then does an institutional group like the Church, which a postmodern generation perceives as arrogantly claiming to have a monopoly on timeless truths, begin to impact a generation with the transforming power of the Gospel? A plethora of books, blogs and scholarly articles have been written to encourage the contemporary evangelist to wrestle with an understanding of structuralism, semiotics, hermeneutical pluralism, deconstructionism, radical perspectivalism, adherence to a diluted modernity, an ‘ahistorical’ universality, and socially constructed arbitrary values in the hope that understanding the culture will enable the proclamation of the Gospel to engage a mindset which absorbs information through a mosaic mindset, rather than a linear or sequential manner.
Graham Johnston’s pragmatic reminder is helpful, ‘the voice and body language of the communicator is important. Getting as close to the audience as is physically possible is essential. A conversational tone in your language with gracious gentle words will help a great deal, especially with student audiences. If you generate a relaxed informal feel to your communicating style audiences will be drawn to you.’ There is however, considerably more to proclaiming the Gospel than body language and adopting conversational tones.
The Road to Discovery
On the back cover of Darrell Bock’s excellent commentary entitled Luke, he reminds us of the impact of the Gospel as Jesus comes into Galilee ‘proclaiming good news to the poor... freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind. Luke also shows Jesus’ concern for the downtrodden and oppressed – those marginalized by society – including women and children and his concern for those outside the house of Israel. Luke’s Gospel seems ‘tailor-made’ for the multicultural world we live in, filled with misunderstandings and sometimes bitter ethnic divisions. It is a story which explains how different ethnic origins can be transformed into a unified community and share together in the blessing of salvation.’
For all these reasons Luke’s Gospel is attractive to a postmodern mindset which is resistant to authority but open to story, agnostic toward propositional truth, yet seeking personal experience, reluctant to commit while longing to embark on a journey of discovery. Luke’s weaving of petite histoire throughout the Gospel narrative may well resonate with those who, like Douglas Coupland, are courageous enough to confess ‘my secret is that I need God.’
In considering the many themes in Luke’s Gospel, the narrative which lends itself most readily to postmodern engagement is Luke 24:13-35. The two disciples on the Road to Emmaus provide for us an ideal opportunity to consider, how in our proclamation of the gospel, we bridge the gap between a biblical narrative and a postmodern world view. In reading contemporary Christian writers who response to the challenges of postmodernity, it is not long before the language of “disciple-making as conversation, as friendship, as influence, as invitation, as companionship, as challenge, as opportunity,” begins to emerge.
Arriving At Your Destination
There is no question that within the Emmaus narrative, conversation, friendship, companionship, and invitation are to be found. Yet what lies at the heart of the passage is much more than this; it is resurrection. In reading the passage the reader knows what the disciples do not; the resurrection has occurred and the fulfilment of the redemptive purposes and plans of God has taken place. Redemption and renewal are now available and it is clear that Jesus is not content to leave the disciples as agnostics. As he interacts with them, enabling genuine inquiry, he focuses the conversation on, ‘beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself’ (Luke 24:26-27).
Explanation, revelation, transformation, and propositional truth takes place in addition to conversation, companionship, and invitation. Life-altering story and personal experience is of considerable value to the postmodern mind. Exposing this mindset to the disciples’ response, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the scriptures to us?’ is a very helpful pattern that both seeks to be faithful to the text of Scripture and appealing to a postmodern mind. Please do not miss the significance of this dual approach.
An apologetic approach to proclamation that asks pointed questions and challenges preconceived ideas brings with it definite advantages, ‘by being apologetic I mean unpack ideas and expose the framework of people’s thinking’. Craig Loscalso, in recognizing the advantages of such an approach writes, ‘apologetic preaching should broaden homiletical forms to include both deductive and inductive approaches, narrative as well as propositional styles, both didache and kerygmatic goals. For the apostle Paul no one method of proclamation held sacred status; the particular preaching situation dictated his homiletic form without any compromise of the essence of the gospel. Apologetic preaching unashamedly takes on rival meaning systems and helps directly address obstacles to faith.’
Today, for all of the complex challenges and varied opportunities presented by an image rich, digitally hungry, pluralistic age, the prayerful, enabling, mentoring, investing, teaching and training of the culturally savvy evangelist is essential. Yet that training must contain the reminder that when a sophisticated media saturated culture seeks to beguile you into believing that “Nothing Rhymes with Orange”, we must remind ourselves that a profound dependency upon the eternal purposes of God and the transforming power of the Gospel is where our confidence lies.
Several Christian leaders have been asked to continue the conversation by responding to this lead article.
Rev. Richard Gibbons, Senior Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Greenville, SC
. Graham Johnston, Preaching to a Postmodern World, 122
. Douglas Coupland, Life After God (London: Scribner, 2002), 289.
. Brian McLaren, More Ready Than You Realize (Grand Rapids Michigan: Zondervan, 2002), Back Cover.
. Johnston, Preaching in a Postmodern World, 83.
. Craig Loscalzo, Apologetic Preaching (Downers Grove Illinoois: IVP, 2000), 27.