Holding spiritual conversations in a post-modern culture can be quite difficult at times, especially for evangelical Christians and those who still approach religion from a “modern” point of view. Yet, there is a great need for pastors, leaders and other individual Christians to learn how to think, listen and talk in post-modern categories, and to upgrade their understanding of God—not to something other than it is, but to use language and ways of thinking that incorporate post-modern insights and values.
For some of us, this means learning to not freak out or dismiss someone who doesn’t believe in absolute truth, or who doesn’t believe the Bible is inerrant, or who thinks there may be multiple ways to God. Instead of reacting, we need to listen for ways God appears to be at work in someone’s life, and not be overly concerned about philosophical or theological “accuracy.”
I don’t pretend to be an expert on post-modern thinking, but I do know that many people today simply assume, as self-evident, that everything is relative—truth is not something that is universal, but varies from person to person: “I have my truth, you have yours.” This is markedly different from the “modernistic” thinking that grew out of the Enlightenment, which consistently looked for laws of the universe, correct theology, and absolute truths in every area possible.
Now, before I get too thick with all this, my main point is this: If you want post-modern oriented people to listen to you, you need to learn how to listen to with an open mind and post-modern ears. Meaningful spiritual conversation with post-modern thinking people will require more humility and flexibility. I’m not talking about relinquishing your own beliefs or renouncing what you believe God has taught you through the Bible and experience. I’m talking about being more willing to admit your limitations as a subjective human being. I mean acknowledging that when you make a statement about God, Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit, you are making “faith statements,” not verifiable statements of fact.
Now, you may be 100% right about this or that, but the post-modern thinker will not be convinced no matter how much the Bible seems to agree with you, or how “certain” you feel. So, if this is what a post-modern environment means for many, traditional evangelicals need to find a way to talk about spirituality, to share their own faith and beliefs about God, to discuss spiritual experiences, and to read the Bible with others that is less dogmatic (that is, less insistent that you know the truth and anyone who disagrees with you must be wrong), and more open to God’s mysterious, loving ways of being at work in individual lives that may transcend our ability to fit into neat theological formulae.
In other words, Christians who want to have a meaningful conversation with someone who thinks “post-modern,” will listen first, and talk second. And when we talk, we will share our own story of real life experience—why we believe in God personally, why we have put our faith in Jesus, why we ask the Holy Spirit to fill us and lead us, and so forth. We may certainly share verses from Scripture, but not to tell others what they must think or believe, but to share wisdom from spiritual heroes and giants, and to explain how these verses have been helpful to us personally.
When talking to post-modern folks about the inspiration of the Bible, remember that they are not simply going to take your word for it, no matter what authority-figure you may appeal to. Instead, they want to know what is your story, how has your faith and your experience with God made a difference in your life, and why do you still believe in the midst of so many troubling questions. They not only want to not hear your word and ideas, they also want to “feel” from you that God is real in your life and in how you treat them. They want to experience “the real thing” in you as they are trying to figure out what the real thing is for themselves.