Grace Emerges

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Postmodern Right and Wrong

by Brad Duncan

In my previous three posts about postmodern Christian faith, I described a God that is more personal, and who values people over structure and systems of laws. Instead of pleasing God, we should know God in a healthy relationship in which we enjoy God's acceptance and love for us. Most Christians would agree. After all God is love, and the greatest commandment of Jesus is to "Love God. Love People". God is more pleased with us than we think. God brings freedom and acceptance to us, as the model of the perfect parents loving their children. The challenge for modern Christianity is to leave behind the structured approach to righteousness which places too high value on systems of laws to follow and organized institutions - which we are taught help us to please God. We need to approach our faith with an open mind, seeing ourselves, others, and the world as God sees us. We need to open our eyes to see the kingdom of good that God is building on Earth, and then to participate in this kingdom.

In this post I want to address the #1 concern of modern Christians who may consider a more open-minded approach to their faith. The issue is holiness. Does postmodernization of our faith abandon truth and our quest for living a pure, good, holy life in service to our God? Does it water down God's character into something easy and flexible, so that just anything goes? Does it make Christians just the same as everyone else in the world, not set apart as God's children? This question is about the fundamental definitions of right and wrong. Since postmodern philosophy is famous for making truth relative or asserting that it is unknowable, this is a valid concern. Let me briefly try to address this question here. 

What is Good?

Those of us that love God and the Bible are called to a high ethical standard of behavior and treating others, which we call Good. Even our thoughts, beliefs and feelings are subject to scrutiny, because we recognize that what is in our heart will manifest itself in our outward words and behavior. Holiness is a word that describes our goal of having a pure heart that is fully committed to God so that we belong to God. Since God is described as Holy and representing all things Good and Pure, then Holiness also means that we emulate God's character. Without splitting hairs on definitions, we can see that broadly speaking all of these words are the same thing: holy, pure, good, and right. So, holiness is about the very notion of right and wrong, and our notions of right and wrong exactly correspond to our concept of God. We should emulate God's character order to live a pure life and have a pure heart.

But what is the character of God? What is right and wrong? This is the problem. Knowing "Good" depends on understanding the character of God, which means that understanding what is "Good" depends on our THEOLOGY! Unfortunately. Whatever we understand as God's character, defines the character we should live up to. As an extreme example, if we think God is mean and judgmental, then we will feel justified, even called, to live that example in our own lives. If we think God is harsh and authoritative, then we will be dogmatic and picky. If we think that God offers love conditionally, then we will systematically exclude others that fail those conditions. So, theology cannot be ignored. We must explore the character of God so we have a roadmap to follow. This is why postmodern theology is so important.

Just Follow

On the other hand since knowledge of God in heaven is necessarily abstract, and theology is difficult to agree on, we need another way! We can look to Jesus. Jesus was the only real way to understand God in concrete terms. If we can just follow Jesus, then we can be smarter about our theology, finding a more clear source and pattern of truth. As Jesus taught us, we can abandon religious baggage and requirements and just focus on character -- increasing the goodness and kindness in our lives, and undoing the corruption that comes from seeking personal gain. 

This is where there is common ground. Postmodern Christianity calls us to "just follow Jesus". Modern Christianity says the same thing!

Progressive postmodern faith in Christ is actually a call to a more authentic life of kindness and compassion, following the character and example of Christ, and leaving behind the baggage of extra requirements that have accumulated in time, culminating in the modern Church and modern understanding of the Bible. It calls us to acknowledge many of our collective actions which led to violence, discrimination, and elitism. We repent for giving power to the few and oppressing the weak. We often use the voice of Christ when we talk about peace, acceptance and kindness. Truth is relative only in the sense that applying the words and example of Christ in our daily lives is a challenging task and requires thinking and adjusting, knowing that our hearts are naturally inclined toward selfishness and may not readily see the way toward unselfishness and love. Like in the example of the good Samaritan, we often find ourselves inadvertently to be more like the morally deficient (but religiously correct) characters in the story, rather than the compassionate Samaritan. We want to be the Samaritan. The one who understands that "everyone is my neighbor". 

When it comes to following Christ, we are all on common ground. Following Christ is the point of the Bible and of Christianity. It defines right and wrong for us. It defines goodness in opposition to sin. It defines holiness.

In summary,
  • Following Jesus defines universal good. Behavior counter to this universal good is defined as "sin". 
  • Living a lifestyle dedicated to this universal good, so that we are set apart as Christ followers and children of God, is defined as "holiness" and should lead us, with God's help, to have a pure heart instead of a corrupt one. 
  • Goodness is selfless and kind, whereas sin is epitomized by seeking selfish gain and hurting others. 
  • Goodness also stands up for what is right: defending others against injustice, taking action, showing concern, embracing the wounded and healing the hurting. 

The community of faith is also about following Christ. When we come together as a community, one of our main goals is to encourage, teach, support and equip each other as we all follow Christ, so that our shared life experience will make it easier to do what's right when much of the world around us points us toward selfish gain.

How do we correctly "Love God. Love People"? We follow Jesus.

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