A couple of months ago, I was approached by a leader of a campus Christian fellowship at the University of Maryland asking for some help. He said that more and more times students are encountering a changing landscape of our culture in their evangelistic and Bible study efforts. To use the parable of the soils as an analogy: There is a new soil out there. The soil has a different depth; the soil has a different color; the soil has a different texture; it’s the soil of rejection that truth is obtainable; it’s the soil of rejection of authority; it’s the soil of indifference; it’s the soil of meaninglessness; it’s the soil of whatever. In short, as he described it, it is the soil of postmodernism.
Postmodernism, as I have been discovering, is something that is nebulous; it is hard to get a handle on it, what it is and how it is affecting our culture. It is there in sometimes subtle and often not so subtle ways. Instead of explaining a lot of background, I have placed a lot more information in the study guide (see attached appendix) for you to look at, but let me give you my short definition. Postmodernism is a spiritual and philosophical condition of our culture which rejects all concepts of truth, structures of authority and meaning to life.
Some prominent symbols of postmodernism in our culture are: 1) America’s longest running cartoon: The Simpsons, and 2) recently exploding onto the scene is the murder mystery religious novel The Da Vinci Code. The 2003 best-selling book by Dan Brown has sparked the interest of millions of average people worldwide. According to the most recent figures, the book has sold more than 43 million copies, has been translated into dozens of languages,2 and is now coming out in a movie.
Among other things, the book falsely explicitly and implicitly promotes the idea that all history is made up; the Bible is merely from man not God; faith is only fiction; Jesus was merely a man whom the church embellished to be a god; He was actually married and had a child, which was covered up by the church; free sex without the boundaries of marriage is good.
Does all this tell us something about the culture we live in? I think it does, and it points out that what we as Christians believe and do are in fundamental conflict with much of our culture. In fact, we are in clash with it. Whether we like it or not, our culture is colliding with us, and we dare not harmonize with it.
How are we doing? Do we feel the impact of the collision between God’s truth and our culture? Do we sense the conflict? Or are we inappropriately adapting our beliefs and behaviors to what is going in the non-Christian culture around us? Are we maintaining and enhancing our fellowship with God as all of this goes on around us? Are we, according to the biblical metaphor, “walking with Him”? Noah was a man in clash with his culture, yet the Bible says that He walked with God.
Consider Genesis 6:5-13:
Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. 7 So the LORD said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD. 9 This is the genealogy of Noah. Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations. Noah walked with God. 10 And Noah begot three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. 11 The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. 12 So God looked upon the earth, and indeed it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. 13 And God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with violence through them; and behold, I will destroy them with the earth” (NKJV, emphasis mine).
In verse 9, the Hebrew rendering is Eth Ha Elohim hith halek Noah (translated, “with God Noah walked”) The phrase “with God” is placed first in the clause for emphasis, which most English translations do not pick up. This is okay to smooth the translation to English word order, but it does miss some of the stress of the sentence. With God Noah fellowshipped; with God Noah lived and conducted his life. It is emphasized because of the contrast of all the evil around Noah and how other people were living. It is emphasized because of the clash that Noah had with his culture.
In the midst of the violence, there was a man who was just.
In the midst of the corruption, there was a man who was blameless.
In the midst of the wickedness, there was a man who walked with God.
As God looked over the whole earth, there was one guy who was not conforming to the culture. There was one guy who walked with God. Second Chronicles 16:9 says, “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth to show himself strong to those whose heart is loyal to him.” And He spotted him. He took notice. It was Noah.
1. What was it that enabled Moses under the inspiration of the Spirit of God to look back on Noah’s life and say “that man Noah. He walked with God”?
2. What will enable God to look back on our lives and say that we walked with God? As His eyes run to and fro throughout the earth, will He spot us as a man or woman who walks with him like Noah?
3. As I look at Noah’s life, three qualities, three values, three character traits stand out to me as to the reason the Bible is able to say what is said about Noah: his Faith, his Obedience and his Inner Character.
The encouragement I have for us is this: God will walk with those of Noah-like Faith, and God will walk with those of Noah-like Obedience, and God will walk with those of Noah-like Character. We can still walk with God no matter what is going on in the culture around us.
Noah was a man of great faith. He believed God. He was persuaded that what God said was true. What did God say? Verse 13 states, “The end of all flesh has come before Me . . . I will destroy them with the earth.” Verse 17 reads, “I will bring flood waters on the earth . . . everything that is on the earth will die.”
Noah is listed in what is sometimes referred to as God’s hall of faith. Hebrews 11:7 says,
“By faith Noah being divinely warned of things not yet seen moved with godly fear prepared an ark for the saving of his household” (Hebrews 11:7, emphasis mine).
I learn three things about Noah’s faith from this verse.
First, Noah’s faith was based on the Word of God. He was divinely warned. Faith, to be properly placed, must be based on what God says. Some people have faith in faith. If they have enough faith or believe hard enough, God is obligated to make about anything happen. But the problem with some people’s faith is that it is not based on what God has said: the Bible.
The second thing about Noah’s faith was that it involved things not yet seen. Noah had never seen a worldwide judgment. He had never seen a worldwide flood. He had never seen an ark like God wanted him to build. All the animals would come on their own two by two? It didn’t seem possible. Imagine God asking you to take decades out of your life and build a wooden ark of mammoth size over in East Texas. People would think you were crazy. If you started, you might think you were crazy as well.
The third thing about Noah’s faith is that it moved him to action. It was not a passive faith; it was an active one. Moved with godly fear, He prepared the ark. His faith led to his obedience.
The modernist view of faith can be reflected in the sayings, “I won’t believe it until I see it,” or I’ll believe it when I see it (reason).” Our postmodern culture’s view on faith is embodied in The Da Vinci Code where Robert Langdon, hero of the book, states, “Every faith in the world is based on a fabrication. That is the definition of faith—acceptance of that which we imagine to be true, that which we cannot prove.”3
These concepts are the exact opposite of biblical faith. Faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen!” (Hebrews 11:1, emphasis mine). Faith is based on reality even though it is not yet seen. When it comes to faith, we are in direct conflict with our culture, but God will walk with those of Noah-like faith.
Not only was Noah a man of faith, he was also a man of great obedience.
Consider Genesis 6:14-22:
“Make yourself an ark of gopherwood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and outside with pitch. 15 “And this is how you shall make it: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. 16 “You shall make a window for the ark, and you shall finish it to a cubit from above; and set the door of the ark in its side. You shall make it with lower, second, and third decks. 17 “And behold, I Myself am bringing floodwaters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die. 18 “But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall go into the ark – you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. 19 “And of every living thing of all flesh you shall bring two of every sort into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. 20 “Of the birds after their kind, of animals after their kind, and of every creeping thing of the earth after its kind, two of every kind will come to you to keep them alive. 21 “And you shall take for yourself of all food that is eaten, and you shall gather it to yourself; and it shall be food for you and for them.” 22 Thus Noah did; according to all that God commanded him, so he did (NKJV).
Noah’s obedience was complete. Verse 22 reads “all that God commanded so he did.” God said, “Build an ark.” Noah built an ark. God said, “Make it 300 cubits long.” Noah said, “Yes, Lord, 300 cubits long.” God said, “Make it 50 cubits wide.” Noah said, “Yes, Lord, 50 cubits wide;” 30 cubits high, “30 cubits high;” 3 decks, “3 decks;” window around the top, “window around the top;” door on the side, “door on the side.”
This was an incredibly demanding project: 18 inches per cubit, 150 yards long, 3 stories high, and 15 yards wide. It took years and decades to build, and this is before chain saws and nail guns! What would you have done? I would have bargained with God; how about a smaller ark? I can do that in five years. Just save me and the family. Forget the animals. No creeping things and no termites.
Noah did not do that. He did all that God commanded him. Day after day, Noah obeyed. Week after week, Noah obeyed. Month after month, Noah obeyed, slowly but surely building the ark. Year after year, Noah obeyed, seeming to others to waste his life.
Decade after decade, he persisted in obedience until it was finally finished. The statement is repeated in Genesis 7:5, “And Noah did according to all that the Lord commanded him.” From start to finish, Noah obeyed.
The postmodernist is suspicious and skeptical of all types of authority: God, family, government, church, and the Bible. Reflecting this suspicion at one point in The Da Vinci Code, a supposed expert tells us “almost everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false.”4 So what is there to obey if no authority is to be trusted? Nothing, except one’s own dictates of a fallen conscience and how it might affect you or those in your close circle of friends.
In our family with seven kids, the word “obey” is a very important word in our household. It’s important for the proper functioning of the family. Ephesians 6:1 is one of the first verses our children learn, “Children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right.” As parents, we love and are thrilled and expect to hear the words, “Yes, I will obey,” and see the actions consistent with such a statement.
Several years ago, quite a few now, I asked my oldest son (then about three or four) to go into his room and pick up his toys. And you know what? He wouldn’t do it. Then I tried to say it again, and I asked the question very directly, “Son, will you obey daddy?” The answer came back: “No obey.” When I heard it, I was kind of taken back, stunned, then hurt. Then I got the rod out, and my son was hurting. He quickly learned that he could not say those words, and I do not believe I heard them again. But disobedience, I learned, could take more subtle forms. I would say, “Pick up your toys.” His reply, “Okay,” but in reality only one-half were picked up: partial obedience. Again I might say, “Pick up your toys.” “Okay,” but he is thinking he will do it later: delayed obedience.
And for me, when I disobey, I am not usually shaking my fist at God saying, “No obey,” but it takes the subtler forms of partial or delayed obedience. I don’t know what issues of obedience you are facing right now. I know areas I need to address in my own life. But we need to have our hearts open to our heavenly father with the simple thought, “Yes, I will obey,” for our sakes and for the sakes of others.
When it comes to obedience, we are in direct conflict with our culture, BUT God will walk with those of Noah-like obedience. Noah was not only a man of faith and obedience, but also a man of godly character.
Genesis 7:1 reads,
Then the LORD said to Noah, “Come into the ark, you and all your household, because I have seen that you are righteous before Me in this generation” (NKJV).
God saw that Noah was righteous. In Hebrew, the word is singular. So it could be understood in this context: “as you alone are righteous.” The rest are evil. Genesis 6:9 describes Noah as a just man, blameless in his generations. In New Testament terminology, Noah was above reproach.
Noah was not perfect. He had failures, as we see him getting drunk after the flood and exposing his nakedness in an improper fashion. But his character was solid as far as God’s description of him is concerned. He was not only righteous in character, but according to 2 Peter 3:8, he was a preacher of righteousness. Noah, even just by building the ark, preached that God’s judgment was coming.
For the postmodernist, there is no morality, only expediency. If it works, do it. Don’t feel restricted by someone else’s boundaries of conduct. Explore your full potential in any area. Again in The Da Vinci Code, Professor Langdon states, “It was man not God, who created the concept of original sin, whereby Eve tasted of the apple and caused the downfall of the human race.”5 When it comes to standards of righteousness, are not we in clash with our culture?
Like Noah, could God write of us that we were blameless, righteous in our conduct? Am I blameless in my relationships? Am I blameless at work? Do I have the character that I stand up and do the right thing when all those around me are doing the wrong thing? This is not about reputation, but character. Reputation is what people think about us; character is what God knows about us. Some might say, “That’s too high of a standard for me.” But God is interested in progress and spiritual growth. Are we at least trying to go in the right direction?
Noah walked with God with righteous character.
Someone might think the days of Noah are long past. It’s not that relevant to me. Jesus stated in regard to His second coming,
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. 36 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. 37 “But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. 38 "For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, 39 "and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:35-39 NKJV, emphasis mine).
Eating, drinking, marrying; everything is normal; everything is always going to continue as it was. It’s so easy to get lulled into the same attitudes. Yes, we need to live our lives, but I want to suggest that we live them as Noah did – not conformed to the culture around us but conformed to what God says and what God wants us to do.
Paul writes in Romans 12:2: “And do not be conformed to this world.” Don’t be conformed to postmodernism; don’t be conformed to modernism. In fact, don’t be conformed to any worldly “ism,” but rather, “be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (NKJV).
D.L. Moody, the great American evangelist of the 19th century, is estimated to have personally led 1 million people to faith in Jesus Christ. What’s even more amazing about this estimate is that his ministry occurred before radio or TV broadcasts. Also, he had very little educational background and never went to high school. One biographer put it this way: “Moody reduced the population of hell by 1 million souls.”6 How did Moody get to that point of having such a ministry? God’s grace certainly, but early in Moody’s career someone challenged him to excel in his walk with God. He said, “D.L., the world has yet to see what God can do with a man whose heart is completely devoted to him.” Moody thought about it a moment and responded, “By God’s grace, I’ll be that man.”
“Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 6:8). It was God’s grace with Moody and Noah, and it will be with us as well. When we are resting under our gravestone, what would it take for the spirit of God to look back on our lives during our times and say, “That man walked with Me,” or “That woman walked with Me”? It’s going to take faith, it’s going to take obedience, and it’s going to take character.
The following is some general background on a cultural trend in America known as postmodernism:7
A. The Three Major Periods Related to Modernity (general trends only). Pilate’s question lives on: “What is truth?” For the postmodernist, truth is not obtainable.
1. Pre-Modern: New Testament up to Enlightenment. Questions concerning the truth were addressed directly to Bible and/or Church. An atmosphere of confidence governed the expectation that agreement in understanding could be reached. There was a general belief in the supernatural and that God was acting in history.
2. Modernity: Enlightenment through most of 20th Century. Most begin it in 1641 A.D. by French Philosopher Rene Descartes’ famous statement, “cogito ergo sum = I think, therefore I am.” An atmosphere of trust remained in the individual’s rational capacity, but everything else was submitted to doubt, especially matters related to church and church belief. Truth and the greater good were to be pursued and obtained intellectually through human reason and science. The stories of the supernatural (Bible) were relegated to purely naturalistic explanations. Since God did not act in history, man was responsible for his own fate.
1. Post-Modern: 1980s to Present: There is a suspicion that any understanding is achievable through rational methods. Questions the objectivity of the modern method and assumes biases in any modern method. It is a rejection and reaction against modernism. Ideas were around after WWII, but the theory gained some of its strongest ground early on in French academia. In 1979, Jean-François Lyotard wrote a short but influential work The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Jean Baudrillard, Michel Foucault, and Roland Barthes are also strongly influential in postmodern theory.
Wikipedia9 formal definition: the condition of Western society after modernity. . . . in the era of postmodern culture, people have rejected the grand, supposedly universal stories and paradigms such as religion, conventional philosophy, capitalism and gender that have defined culture and behavior in the past, and have instead begun to organize their cultural life around a variety of more local and subcultural ideologies, myths and stories. Furthermore, it promotes the idea that all . . . paradigms are stable only while they fit the available evidence and can potentially be overturned when phenomena occur that the paradigm cannot account for, and a better explanatory model (itself subject to the same fate) is found.
B. Modern and Postmodern Approaches to the Bible. Things One Sometimes Hears
C. Preaching to Our Postmodern Culture: How can I effectively communicate the gospel in a post-modern environment?
1. General Thoughts:
Different starting points [See Paul’s example in Thessalonica (Old Testament Scriptures) and in Athens (Altar to the Unknown God) but same ending point (Gospel of Jesus’ resurrection)(Acts 17)]. Start in their world at a place they can accept and bring spiritual principles of truth to bear on the situations they are experiencing. Share after establishing a personal relationship with them.
2. Johnston’s Suggestions:
1 Copyright © 2006 by Community Bible Chapel, 418 E. Main Street, Richardson, TX 75081. This is the edited manuscript of a lesson prepared by guest speaker Dr. James F. Davis on March 26, 2006. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit. The Chapel believes the material presented herein to be true to the teaching of Scripture, and desires to further, not restrict, its potential use as an aid in the study of God’s Word. The publication of this material is a grace ministry of Community Bible Chapel.
3 Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code, (New York: Doubleday, 2003), pp. 341-42.
4 Ibid, p. 235.
5 Ibid., p. 238.
6 Lyle W. Dorsett, A Passion for Souls: The Life of D. L. Moody, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1997) p. 21.
7 Much of the following material was adapted from class notes developed at Capital Bible Seminary’s class on Hermeneutics by Dr. Ken Quick and Dr. James Davis. The following source was also used: Graham Johnston, Preaching to a Post-Modern World (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001).
8 Ibid., pp. 25-26.
9 A free encyclopedia built collaboratively using Wiki software. (GNU Free Documentation License).
10 Johnston, op. cit., p. 26.
11 Ibid., pp. 149-172.