Various forms of apostasy continue to erode Christian faith across the United States of America. Because of post-modernism, people now have a worldview that emphasizes feeling more than reason. As a result, religious pluralism has been able to take hold, and syncretism has begun to pervade Christian thought. This ultimately has led to separations within the Christian church. New movements in Christian liberalism, consisting of both young and older Christians, have developed itching ears, and they are no longer adhering to sound doctrine. New Christianity, in an effort to appease what they falsely believe to be correct orthodoxy, has caused many to fall away. The new movement has blindly given culture clearance to war against traditional church doctrine within its own sanctuary. However, the church is not the source of the issue. An imbalance within human beings, derived from the current worldview, is at the root of the issue. Therefore, a balance between emotion and reason must be sought out in order to secure, for Christ, the next generation of Christians.
We are still less than one century removed from the world of modernity. Modernity’s worldview consisted of faith and reason in order to explain matters of religion. It ignored human emotion as a way to seek out salvation found in Christ, and subjects of unity and intimacy were set-aside in order for Christians to reason and rationalize their way to the cross. In the past 150 years, modernity raised an army of scholars who have studied Christian texts and ideas from a purely historical point of view (Charry xix). Modernity’s approach towards religion set aside religious interests for academic tasks, and because of this, scholars struggled with accepting the miracles and other supernatural occurrences written in the bible. The worldview of modernism did not permit them to feel their way to the cross. Paul suggests in Acts 17:27, “That they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him” (English Standard Version). Paul was not exhorting the people of Athens to abandon their ability to reason rather Paul was advising them to adhere to their human senses as well. He was presenting the philosophy of balance.
With the end of World War II in 1945, the climate of modernity began to transition into the post-modern world in which we live today. Culture began to take on more of a humanistic outlook, which emphasized emotion and feeling over reason. Humanism has always been a part of spirituality, and we can find its strongest influence within the Renaissance era of the late middle ages. Humanists believed that emotion and feeling held just as much importance as reason. They argued that by removing emotions from inquiry, the scholastics had reduced human beings to rational machines. While modernity’s mindset was much like the scholastic worldview of the Renaissance, post-modernity is closely related to the Humanists of that era. However there is one characteristic that allows post-modernity to be unique from previous worldviews. The post-modern worldview has successfully married together human emotion and reason, at least for a short period of time.
Christianity has already experienced the result of a cultural mindset based fully on reason alone. History has shown how modernism threatened our relationship with God by replacing theology with science and by approaching the Bible only as a historical book. Modernism threatened the invisible by applying sole reason to the supernatural, thus weakening the Christian faith. Post-modernism has managed to inject modernity with a high dose of emotion and feeling, but the injection does not solve the issue of balance between the two.
The Experience of Extremes
It is easily accepted that in order to find the middle of something, both ends must be known. Therefore, before finding the balance between feeling and reason, we must experience the emphasis of one over the other. If we were to place a ball on one end of a balance beam (a see saw), we could refer to that as one extreme side. In order for the ball to get to the other side, it must be moved by force. Upon pushing or pulling the ball towards the other extreme, to which it has never been, the ball would have to pass through the middle point on its way. However, due to the force of the first initial push or pull towards the other extreme, the ball would pass the middle point because of momentum. Eventually, the ball would rest on the other extreme end. Since the ball now knows both extremes, or the general regions of either extreme, it can begin to know its proper balance. By using the appropriate amount of force, the ball will now be able to find the center region. However, too much force will push the ball back to the opposite extreme, and not enough force will mean the ball remains on one side. The solution lies in proper force.
If we apply the physics of the traveling ball to Christian worldview, we begin to see more clearly the direction we are headed. With Christian worldview as the ball, we can see that modernity, which relied on reason alone, was on one extreme end of the balance beam, and we have not yet reached the other extreme end of post-modernity, which consists of emotion and feeling. However we have passed the center and have tilted the balance beam heavily towards the emotional and feeling side of the two. The center was not realized because Christian worldview has not yet visited the region of the other extreme. We know that we have passed the center because a blending between non-Christian with Christian thought has begun to take hold within the church. Post-modernism has given rise to religious pluralism. Therefore religious pluralism is either close to, or actually is the extreme region of post-modernity.
Dr. Hans M. Weerstra describes religious pluralism as the belief that there are many ways to explain the world and the universe and its purpose including our existence. Religious pluralism also would maintain that there are many roads leading to “heaven” all equally valid, good, and true (6). Religious pluralism professes that “Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life,” but fails to include the word only. In summary, religious pluralism accepts everyone, which makes it very attractive to the emotional feeler who prefers not to think things through. When we say, “think,” what is meant is thorough reasoning; everybody thinks, but thorough reasoning requires work. Religious pluralism most certainly would have been detected through the thinking worldview of modernity; however that was the other extreme in which we have gained a significant amount of distance from. Because the ball is now gaining momentum towards the other extreme of post-modernity, where a majority of people draw their conclusions based on emotion and feeling, many are no longer thinking things through completely. Some have almost completely abandoned thorough reasoning. Religious pluralism makes sense to them because it feels right. After all, religious pluralism provides everyone access to the Kingdom of God. Religious Pluralism cancels out good and evil, so everybody wins!
Religious pluralism not only accepts everyone, but it also accepts all religions. It allows religious practices such as Islam to mix with Christianity, and vice versa. This is known as syncretism. Because religious pluralism is so tolerable, it also has the ability to reject certain beliefs. It allows the believer to treat the Holy Scriptures as a menu system on what to believe and what not to believe. If someone chooses not to believe in Christ alone, it’s completely ok. If someone wants to believe that Christ or Gandhi can forgive sins, that’s ok too. This makes religious pluralism the cradle of all falsities, and because it is based on unity and emotion derived from post-modernity, it has caused schisms between traditional Christian belief and the new Christian liberal belief. Rather than balancing out their differences, Christians are now, more than ever, dividing over issues based purely upon emotion.
The Church “Experience”
Professing Christians are leaving churches because they are not feeling the experience, and likewise, people are staying in churches because it feels right to them (Rainer). They desire an experience more so than understanding. They want sermons that move them rather than sermons that challenge their minds. The moment they don’t understand equates to feelings of confusion and anxiety; thus they are not feeling it anymore. This has largely led to the church “experience” of extreme post-modernity. In a recent article posted by the St. Luke Lutheran Church in Whitmore, Michigan, they stated the following: Postmodernist ideals include self-exploration and self-discovery, and a willingness to ignore rationality when emotion is powerful enough to trump it. Within the same article they also stated, “Postmodernism can allow itself to support a proposition without much evidence or argumentation: “I just really feel that it must be this way” (Andrew 1). This is the pervading worldview of extreme postmodernism within the church, which explains some of the division.
In 2014, the country’s largest evangelical denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, reported that their membership fell for the eighth straight year in a row. The report does not reflect a decline in American Christianity rather it shows a falling away from evangelical denominations. Nondenominational churches have been on the rise for quite some time now. Ed Stetzer, executive director of an evangelical research organization known as LifeWay Research, reported in a general social survey that over the last four decades, there has been a 400% increase in Protestants who identify as nondenominational. A majority of the increase occurs from 2012 to present, with no signs of slowing down. This statistical evidence sides with the physics of the traveling ball scenario, that is, the momentum signifies the furthest extreme of post-modernism because it shows the biggest tilt on the balance beam. This could be what the apostle Paul warned us about, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (English Standard Version, 2 Tim. 4:2-4). On the other hand, one could also argue that we are merely experiencing a surge in the Christian faith. If that is true, then through the decline of major denominations and the rise of nondenominational churches Christianity has just recently discovered a new formula for growing the Christian church, and it is not through Paul’s advice to preach the word; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching, rather it is to ignore his advice in order to seek out teachers to suit our own passions. Hence, the significant rise in nondenominational churches.
Nondenominational evangelical churches create their own doctrine, which is the main reason they are nondenominational. Nondenominational churches do not agree with the traditional church doctrine of the existing denominations. Therefore, we can safely presume that a drift towards nondenominational evangelicalism signifies a pulling away from traditional doctrine that has lasted for centuries. The sound teaching that Paul was referring to, which has been considered correct doctrine for many centuries, is now undeniably in the process of being reformed through the extreme region of post-modernism.
Not all nondenominational churches teach incorrect doctrine. In fact, most put forth good fruit for the Kingdom of God, but it is also important to realize that not all nondenominational churches are actually preaching the Gospel of Christ. A good example is the Universal Gnostic Christian Church, which is also nondenominational. Notice the Gnostic’s use of the word Christian? Gnosticism, although not new, relies heavily on religious syncretism between Christianity, Mysticism, and Pantheism. It has some doctrinal Christian teachings, but only the ones that it agrees with. Gnosticism makes use of the Holy Scriptures, but denounces Christ as divine. Modernity’s worldview widely rejected Gnosticism because of its inability to be explained by science and reason. However, Gnosticism has managed to fit quite well within the extreme region of post-modernity where reason is often times overridden by feeling and emotion. To summarize, nondenominational churches require more spiritual discernment than denominational churches. One is not better than the other; one just requires closer inspection on the meaning of correct doctrine.
The independent nondenominational evangelical church is not to blame, nor are we to point the finger at the traditional denominations. The issue still resides in an imbalance due to an extreme emphasis of emotion over reason caused by post-modernism. The applied philosophy of balance between emotion and reason would have caused reformative conditions within the church body rather than separation. After all, separation usually occurs under the tension of extreme circumstances and not under normal circumstances. Christianity eventually separated from Judaism due to extreme circumstances. Likewise, the Reformation, which occurred during the Renaissance period, was due to extreme circumstances. The same holds true for every major church separation within the traditional denominations since then. Recent history has revealed that modernity caused separations based on extreme reason while post-modernity has caused separations based on extreme emotion. The question now should be: What kind of force is necessary to move Christianity out of the extremes and into the center region of proper balance? Is it even possible?
Quest for the Center
Assuming that we have reached the extreme end of post-modernity, we now have the ability to realize where the center may lie. Acceptance of diversity, both in thought and expression are necessary in order to begin the transition towards the center region of balance. N.T. Wright published the following suggestion in his article, The Resurrection and the Postmodern Dilemma; “My proposal to you is that we should not be frightened of the postmodern critique. It had to come. It is, I believe, a necessary judgment on the arrogance of modernity, and it is essentially a judgment from within. Our task is to reflect on this moment of despair within our culture and, reflecting biblically and Christianly, to see our way through the moment of despair and out the other side.” Where Wright states, “biblically,” he means reason, and where he states, “Christianly,” he means feeling. N.T. Wright’s statement parallels Paul’s statement to the people in Athens, but this time in reverse. Rather than feel our way, we must now think our way. Both the Apostle Paul and Wright are promoting the philosophy of balance. Applying too much reason will force us closer to the other extreme and not enough applied reason will keep us within the present extreme. This still does not answer the question of how, and if this is even possible in our current extreme state.
David Mathis, coeditor of the book Thinking Loving Doing, wrote the following on balance within Christianity, “Those of us with an acute bent for purity need to hear often from the unifiers, and those of us typically leaning toward unity need the regular perspective of the purifiers” (Piper 14). The purifiers are the ones who employ reason, and the unifiers are the feelers. The proposal is not in tolerating diversity, as religious pluralism would suggest, rather it is in accepting and learning each other’s diversities. The apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:22, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” Paul wasn’t saying that he tolerated people in order to save them, he was accepting people for who they were in order to save them.”
Moving forward, the feelers must begin to employ the process of reason, and vice versa. Unfortunately, this is where the challenge to transition may possibly fail. Remember, Post-modernity has put forth a large population of people who lead heavily with their emotions. This means that the ones who emphasize reason over emotion are part of the minority. The larger population would have to first realize their need for the minority group, which involves the issue of pride. At the same time the minority group would have to humble themselves as well in order to begin the learning process of feeling; also an issue of pride. 1 Corinthians 8:1 reminds us that knowledge puffs up, but then again it also tells us that love builds up. Therefore, love may be the one thing that makes proper balance obtainable.
Luke 10:27: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Modernity and Post-modernity has divided this verse in half. Some love with all their heart and soul, and some with all their strength and with all their minds, which causes us to love our neighbors with either of the two sides. This has been the problem all along. The answer is not in understanding more for some and loving more for others. The answer exists at the beginning of Luke 10:27. “You shall love the Lord your God,” is the solution we’ve been looking for. God is the center region, reason and emotion are the extremes, and loving thy neighbor (diversity) is the result of loving God with all of our being. Therefore, with God in focus, the ball that traveled along the balance beam in order to get from one side to the other, does not have to travel anymore. The ball, which represents Christianity, has been lifted up off the track of extremes and placed at the central point of balance, which is Christ seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. The lifting occurred on the third day in Christ’s resurrection, and the central point was realized after Christ ascended on top of the Mount of Olives. Therefore, balance is fully obtainable, even in our extremely imbalanced state.
Ever since the Fall of humanity, we have been in the process of passing from one extreme to the other. Because of sin, human beings remain in an imbalanced state of constantly searching for the center. Jesus Christ, in his sacrificial death on the cross, has become the center point for all mankind. Balance is most certainly fully obtainable. First in the acceptance of Christ as our savior from sin, and second, our physical death is the transition in which to achieve it. This means that until we step into eternity, we will remain in a state of imbalance. Our current placement on the balance beam may be extreme post-modernity, but this shouldn’t prohibit us from seeking out regions of balance in order to love our God. In reference to Luke 10:27, a balance between emotion and reason must be sought out in order to secure, for Christ, the next generation of Christians, and we can achieve this by loving God with all of our being.
Charry, T. Ellen. “Introduction.” Inquiring After God: Classic and Contemporary Reading. Oxford: Blackwell, 2000 xix. Print
Piper, John. “Introduction.” Thinking, Loving, Doing.” Wheaton, ILL.: Crossway, 2011. Print
Rainer, S. Thom. “The Main Reason People Leave a Church.” 2013. Web. 5 Oct. 2015. http://thomrainer.com/2013/01/the-main-reason-people-leave-a-church/
Smith, Andrew. “Postmodernism Ain’t So Bad.” St. Luke Lutheran Church. 2013. Web. 5 Oct. 2015. http://stlukeaa.org/postmodernism-aint-so-bad/
Stetzer, Ed. “Special to CNN.” Rapid Rise of Nondenominational Christianity. 2015. Web. 6 Oct. 2015. http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2015/june/rapid-rise-of-non-denominational-christianity-my-most-recen.html
Stetzer, Ed. “Special to CNN.” The Rise of Evangelical Nones. 2015. Web. 6 Oct. 2015. http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/12/living/stetzer-christian-nones/
Weerstra, M. Hans, “Christian Worldview Development 14.1 (1997): 11. International Journal of Frontier Missions. Web. 6 Oct. 2015. http://www.ijfm.org/PDFs_IJFM/14_1_PDFs/01_Weerstra.pdf
Wright, N.T., “The Resurrection and the Postmodern Dilemma.” Sewanee Theological Review 41.2, 1998. Web. 6 Oct. 2015. http://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Resurrection_Postmodern.htm