Christianity in the Western world is faced with some intensely difficult challenges in the 21st century. The twentieth century dealt three major blows to Christianity: secularization of society, liberal theology, and the Postmodern worldview.
In a secularized society, Christian theology largely became compartmentalized into a separate sphere outside of the mainstream arts and sciences. On the one hand, new 3opportunities for dialogue within every field and discipline outside the Church have promoted the credibility to speak to the issues along with the experience of the Spirit to stand for Christian truth. On the other hand, many of those involved in dialogue have compromised and accepted aspects of culture and the sciences that contradict Scriptural revelation. In other words, attempts at dialogue with those outside the Church have too often required the loss of those absolute truths that are the foundations of Christianity.
In liberal theology, discussing truth became more important than truth itself, and human reason became the ultimate standard for theological validity so that every aspect of Christian truth was open for reevaluation and reinterpretation; in essence, theologians decided that God must be remade in a more contemporary and suitable image. However, real renewal and revival is inherently a return to a real God who really impacts the real lives of real people. Whereas theology as a discipline has become increasingly separated from those within the churches and on the streets, the Christian gospel returns the spotlight to the masses. The challenge will be for new theologians, scholars, and teachers to come forth who will reject liberal ideologies that elevate reason over experience, that discard the miraculous for the scientific, and that maintain an audience of elite.
In Postmodernism, every approach and every opinion can be considered valid and true. Relativity replaced orthodoxy, and in an attempt to maintain cultural relevance, large parts of Christianity began to trade truth for truthfulness so that anything could be accepted as long as the person proclaiming it had good intentions. In a significant way, the meaning of Scripture is now being decided by the reader instead of the Author. This has created a Church with no credibility because there is no consistent proclamation of truth; there is no “line in the sand” that has not been moved and readjusted. Kindness, empathy, and perception have replaced love. Christianity must address this by its nature to proclaim absolutes—absolute truth, absolute morality, and absolute commitment. At a time when society is dying because a relative worldview has removed all stability and integrity—leaving people devoid of any certainty or truth—Christianity can still provide absolute truth, moral certainties, and new life. The challenge will be for the Church to recognize that incorporating liberal theology and Postmodernism is inherently the death of the very truth that our society desperately needs.
If we were to identify one underlying theme that connects these three positions, it would be a rejection of the concept of absolute truth. Warnings came from many sources in the Church during the last century, but those voices were gradually lost in the increasing din of pastors, teachers, and theologians who embraced the novelty of these relativistic positions—positions which gave human beings almost total power over orthodoxy (what was okay to believe) and orthopraxy (what was okay to do). Reminiscent of the first sin in the Garden of Eden, human beings decided they knew better than simple trust and obedience toward those things spoken by their Creator; they again adopted a better way to know what was good from what was evil.
When the first man and woman made their tragic choice back then, the result was the loss of an environment perfectly suited to their needs. They were cast out into a world of thorns and thistles, trials and tribulations, troubles and travails. By the time they saw the consequences of their decision, it was too late to undo it. Similarly, the Church of this century is facing the dire results of not presenting a unified front against relativism in the last century. The fight now has become exponentially more difficult because entire theologies and denominations have grown up and developed around a confidence in human omniscience. Without a conviction built upon the knowledge of what is true, the Body of Christ has become divided, and those who rejected assimilation have become a minority faced with an entire culture that equates any declaration of absolute reality with barbarism, ignorance, and hate. Common sense is no longer common, and like Lot in the city of Sodom, any attempt to live according to basic holiness is viewed as judgement and met with violence. We are reliving the past instead of learning from it.
The radical secularization of our society has now morphed into a rejection and condemnation of Christian truth. Apart from a supernatural revival upon our land, it may not be possible to undo this change. However, the Church has the opportunity to conquer this darkness the same way it did during the first few centuries. Back then, believers held firmly to their beliefs and proclaimed a truth that was hated and despised by the culture. In so doing, risking martyrdom instead of compromising, the world saw the very thing they needed. Often, the ones who hate the most and scream the loudest are the ones who desperately hope for something different. If those who stand for holiness in the face of public outcry refuse to bow, we will again see the glory of God spread over the earth like the waters cover the seas. Our society may not change, but people will come to the Church for deliverance and healing, and they will find hope.