Now that I am in college ministry, I found it interesting to be sitting beside a legend in college outreach. I was at a table with Josh and five other people, eating turkey sandwiches and discussing college outreach ministry for about twenty minutes. This is the first time I met the man, and I was wondering what to expect. Being from the Emerging Church persuasion, I had some preconceptions of what he would say and what take he’d have on postmodernism.
After we ate together, he spoke to the larger group gathered for this luncheon. I was suspicious at first that he’d take the normal older-generation approach to “Truth” (as modeled by John MacArthur in my current series of posts on MacArthur’s book, The Truth War.)
McDowell started out calling for a belief in “Absolute Truth,” which he said he’d rather call “Universal Truth,” which he defines as “a truth that exists outside ourselves, one that is true for all people, for all times, for all places.”
I thought, “Oh boy, here we go again…He’s going to go on a tirade about how we have to fight for ‘Absolute Truth’.” He cited statistics where an astonishing 91% of “Born Again” Christians say that there is “no such thing as absolute truth.” This frightening statistic got the group of about 80 pastors and Christian leaders harrumphing in disgust. At this point of his presentation, I was skeptical of McDowell’s grasp of what the real issues are in the postmodern turn. But I held on, seeing how he will develop this and what solutions he would seek to offer.
McDowell then explained “how we got here,” with a quick review of history, from the Enlightenment to the Industrial Revolution to Darwinism, explaining that instead of God being the source of truth, nature and science had taken God’s place as that source. “Hmm,” I thought, “He’s pretty tough on Modernism. That’s good.”
He never said the word “Post-modernism,” preferring instead the phrase, “The Cosmic Shift.” He explained that we have experienced a shift in our epistemology. This shift is characterized by how the new generation processes truth. The older generation saw truth as something to discover, but the younger generation sees truth as something to create. The older generation said, “If it is true, it will work”; the younger generation says, “If it works, it is true.” In other words, the younger generation bases their idea of the true based on experience; they don't believe in things that have, in their minds, proven not to produce good results.
He then shot with two barrels at the pastors in the room. He said that the number one reason young people are leaving the church is because of the hypocrisy they see in the church. “It doesn’t matter how good your preaching is,” he said (I’m paraphrasing), “It matters more how that Dad you’re preaching to loves his kid at home. The kids need to have people in their lives that are actually living their faith.”
He said that Behavior comes from Values and that Values come from Beliefs. But at the base of all this is Relationships. So his first mandate to today’s ministries is “loving, intimate connections with our kids.” He said that the Bible says that we must have both “truth” and “love,” or we are not being Christian, citing these verses:
“For I am constantly aware of your unfailing love, and I have lived according to your truth.” (Ps. 26:2, NLT)
“Teach me your ways, O LORD, that I may live according to your truth…for your love for me is very great.” (Ps. 86:11, 13)
“…speaking the truth in love…” (Eph 4:15, NAS)
“Unfailing love and truth have met together.” (Ps. 85:10)
McDowell pleaded with these Christian leaders that ministry to the young generation needs to bring together “unfailing love” and “truth.” He insisted that it’s not just about being sure of the truth, it’s also about lovingly showing it to people.
And then he said, “I’m sick of McLaren and Bell putting me in the modernist camp. I am anything but a modernist.”
He proclaimed that he was advocating a “Relational Apologetics” and that “all truth is through relationships.”
I was amazed. At first I thought McDowell would advocate a mere reasoned apologetics and a fight for the concept of propositional truth. While he certainly insisted on the concept of "Absolute Truth" and believed that the younger generation's rejection of this concept was a deeply troubling thing, he was not arguing for churches to fight the battle to make this generation believe in this concept. Instead, he was arguing for churches to create opportunities for young people to have genuine relationships with Christians so that they can experience what its like to live out their Christian convictions in real-life situations.
He was arguing for incarnational apologetics (what I’ve called “Emmanuel Apologetics”)!
To my surprise, I have more in common with Josh McDowell than I thought!
technorati: apologetics, emerging church, missional, missional community, Emmanuel Apologetics, evangelism