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Vol 4 No 32 December 5, 1999

Understanding The Times

Ed Barnes

Jesus points out in Luke 14:28 that a wise king will ascertain the strength of his enemy before going to war. Someone once wisely stated "a problem well defined is half solved." Thus, we need to have an understanding of the sins of our culture in order to fight successfully against their ungodly message and influence. We need to be like the men described in 1 Chronicles 12:32. The general context describes the throngs of warriors that joined King David's army following the death of Saul. Among them was a group of men from the tribe of Issachar. The Bible says that these men "understood the times and knew what Israel should do." We need to understand the times, the cultural atmosphere in which we live - in order to respond effectively .

Ethical Theism

Bible believers accept what is philosophically known as ethical theism, a belief that truth has been revealed to men and women by God. We accept bible teaching concerning the identity of humans, that we are both spiritual and material beings, created in God's image, but fallen because of our personal sin. We believe that God is the creator, preserver and governor of his earth and has instructed humans to subdue it and care for it. We believe that reason is an integral part of our human make up and that the use of reason is necessary , but that the revelation of God's will and our faith in that revelation are also necessary.

To a great extent our nation was founded upon these principles and until the mid-twentieth century the moral standards of the Bible were held in the highest esteem. God's people today recognized the necessity of holding on to the values of ethical theism.


The next philosophical wave hit our nation and the world around the end of the second world war. It is referred to as modernism. Modernism holds that truth can be discerned through reason and logic rather than revelation. It sees humans as rational, not spiritual, beings who can define their existence according to what their senses perceive. Rather than God being in control of the earth by virtue of creation, and mankind as stewards of that creation, modernists believe that humans can and should conquer the earth and do so without regard to a higher power. For answers and understanding about life and the world around us, people should rely only on rational discovery through the scientific method and reject belief in the supernatural.

Obviously, these beliefs constitute a shift away from the Bible based philosophy of previous generations. God, His revealed Word, and respect for that Word all of a sudden became irrelevant. The influence of modernism affected, not only the way people thought, but also the way they lived. With God out of the picture man was free to choose his own standard of morality.


"Between 1960 and 1990," writes Stanley J. Grenz, in his book A Primer to Postmodernism, postmodernism emerged as a cultural phenomenon," spurred on in many respects by the advent of the information age. Grenz suggests that if the factory is the symbol of the industrial age, which produced modernism, the computer is the symbol of the information age, which parallels the spread of postmodernism.

Postmodernism is complex and its individual tenants sometimes contradictory. Still, it can be summarized as follows:

"Truth does not exist in any objective sense. Instead of 'discovering' truth in a narrative, such as the Bible, that presents a unified way of looking at philosophy, religion, art, and science -- postmodernism rejects the idea that there exists any "grand story" that explains an individual fact or life in general. There is no universal truth into which we can fit individual facts. Truth, whether in science, education, or religion is created by a specific culture or community and is "true" only in and for that culture. Individual persons are the product of their culture; individuality is an illusion; identity is constructed from cultural sources. All thinking is illusory. What you and I regard as truths are simply arbitrary beliefs we have been conditioned to accept by our society, just as others have been conditioned to accept a completely different set of beliefs. Since human beings must use language in order to think or communicate, and words are arbitrary labels for things and ideas, there is no way to evaluate or criticize the ideas, facts, or truths that language conveys. Any system or statement that claims to be objectively true or unfavorably judges the values, beliefs, lifestyle, and truth claims of another culture is a power play, an effort by one culture to dominate other cultures."

The last sentence in the preceding paragraph explains the "clash" that exists between the postmodernist and the Christian. Christianity is as a way of life that presents an objective standard, declaring some things right and other things wrong. Such a standard not compatible with postmodern thought. In a postmodern society -- a society that regards all values, beliefs, lifestyles, and truth claims as equally valid -- there can be only one universal virtue: tolerance. And, if tolerance is the cardinal virtue, the sole absolute, then there can be only one evil: intolerance. Since Christianity is intolerant toward what the God calls sin then the great enemy of postmodernism is the Bible and any one who accepts it as God's will and takes its condemnations seriously. This explains why a so called artist can take a crucifix, an obvious symbol of Christianity, suspend it in his own urine, and receive accolades for his artistry, yet to similarly display a homosexual symbol would be considered intolerant and decried as a hate crime.

Such antagonism toward Christianity is befuddling, particularly within the context of postmodernism and its god "tolerance." But now that we know the basic tenants of the new tolerance, we can begin to understand why Christianity and Christians will be - in fact, must be --the target of the new tolerance. Christians simply cannot tolerate and accept doctrines and/or lifestyles that run contrary to God's Word.

Having an understanding of these issues will not make the monster of postmodernism go away, but at least we will know what we are up against. Having a knowledge of Satan's latest scheme to destroy man's faith in God will give us a fighting chance to save our own souls and possibly the souls of others. A better understanding of our times will help us identify what our nation needs and hopefully motivate each of us to provide for that need through our personal support of the truth as we preach it and live it each day of our lives

(Sources: Josh McDowell and Bob Hostetler, The New Tolerance. Stanley J. Grenz, A Primer To Postmodernism)

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