Friday, October 2, 2009



The main selling point of Postmodernism is the promise of better relationships through ‘tolerance’ and sensitivity to feelings together with the argument that worldviews based on absolute truth lead to conflict. Biblical Christianity is put in the same box as the Taliban. Postmodern or Emergent Christianity, which downplays doctrine and focuses on feelings and relationships is cool in this new culture. You are welcome to believe whatever you like so long as you don’t insist it is absolutely true and expect others to follow the same belief or practice. This new spirit of ‘tolerance’ it is hoped will stop religious wars internationally and conflict within the church. The promise appeals to a growing generation of broken, angry and hurting youth, whose parents no longer share the same house. Western individualism and mobility between cities and continents has created a crisis of loneliness. The pain enters our churches. While Christianity is maligned in the media for being ‘intolerant’, we can be accepted if we just adapt to the new culture and downplay those parts of the Bible which offend it. Is this the answer? To realise their dream, however, Postmodernists in and outside the church need to silence those nuisance Christians who think truth and righteousness also matter. “We will not tolerate intolerance” they say.

Firstly, is Postmodern teaching on relationships Biblical? Well open the Bible randomly on any page and you will likely find something on relationships. So this must be biblical then? But is what the Bible teaches about relationships the same as what Postmodernism is teaching about relationships? No. While the Bible does teach a lot on relationships, what it says has only a small area of overlap with Postmodernism – mostly the two ideologies contradict each other. The Bible does not hope to resolve relational problems by downplaying truth and righteousness, while emphasising relationship and feelings, but rather by keeping these two sides integrated and in balance.

Secondly, is it working practically? In the past two decades, Postmodernism has become the dominant ideology of the Western world. Are relationships getting better as a result? No. Statistics show increasing family breakdown. Are relationships getting better in those countries which were the first and most radical in adopting Postmodern ideology e.g. the Netherlands and Scandinavia? No. These cutting edge Postmodern countries show the number of people getting married dropping by about 2% per year. They are becoming nations of fragmented individuals in disposable relationships. Homosexuality is increasing. Children born out of wedlock are becoming the norm. Has Postmodern influence in the church helped heal relationships? Sadly, sociological statistical studies by the Barna group show divorce rates in the church higher than those in the world. The statistics are partly skewed because more Christians are getting married. This alone should warn us the ideology is not working. Did the older traditional Biblical Christianity held to for most of the last two thousand years have this problem of mass marriage failure inside the church? No. But Postmodernism’s lie of the promise of better relationships through ‘tolerance’ and blaming of Biblical Christianity as ‘harsh narrow minded insensitive intolerant bigotry’ repeated often enough - eventually gets believed.


How then does Biblical teaching differ from Postmodernism and what is it’s alternative solution? The Bible has so much to say on relationship that one can only touch on a few key points of difference here. We all live in a matrix of multiple issues and multiple relationships – with conflicts between them and we have to make choices on what to do and say. Where there are conflicts for our loyalty and effort, how do we decide what issues and relationships to prioritise? How do we decide what to fight about and what to just tolerate?

Firstly, the Bible, unlike Postmodernism gives a hierarchy of importance for our loyalty and responsibility in relationships. First comes God, then other men (Matthew 22:37-40; Luke 14:24). Out of relationships with other men, first comes our spouse (with whom we are ‘one flesh’) (Ephesians 5:22-33), then our children, then our extended family (1 Timothy 5:4-8), then our church community (1 Timothy 5:16) and then the rest of the world. Postmodernism ignores this hierarchy. Mostly treats God as if he is there for our convenience and prioritises getting along smoothly with everyone rather than this hierarchy of important relationships. Thus if you try to persuade someone not to divorce, Postmodernists would see that as interference and harming relationship. A Postmodernist may rationalise that a married couple may be happier apart. Rather shut up and be tolerant they would say. Our first priority is our relationship with God, even if this might offend some other people. Thus Postmodernism really ends up in more fragmented families and a neglected relationship with God - its promise is false and does not deliver.

Secondly, in Biblical Christianity, unlike ‘Postmodern emergent Christianity’, our relationship with God is based on believing truth about God, rather than by inventing a mental image of God the way we would like him to be. God’s glory is revealed in the truth about him in the Bible. We worship him for his glorious attributes. The bestselling Postmodern book, ‘The Shack’ by William Young describes an imaginary encounter by the lead character with the three persons of the Trinity. Problem is that the God portrayed is not the God of scripture and many other misguided Christians seem to be claiming relationship with God, while their personal lives don’t match up to the holiness God requires (Hebrews 12:14) and their ideas about God don’t match scripture. If someone was to start telling lies about your wife or your best friend, would you not immediately want to correct them? How then can a person claim to love God, who will happily tolerate false teaching about God? Truth and love are not separable, but our love for God drives us to learn truth and to defend the truth about him. Postmodernist Christians however would argue that out of love for people, we should tolerate heresy. Speaking strongly against heresy is unloving they would say. But the Bible teaches we should prioritise love for God first. Thus this more relational Christianity tends to result in false relationship with God. It doesn’t deliver.

Thirdly, the Bible gives an absolute and clear standard of right and wrong by which we can judge truth. Thus when there are disagreements, and we both accept the authority of Bible we can try to study it together to try to settle our disagreements. The new Postmodern emergent Christianity argues that the meaning of the Bible is subjective and based on our personal biases and thus it is impossible to settle disputes this way. The result is that we must then just all live independently and ‘tolerate’ eachother (as Postmodernists prefer) or alternatively through organisational process. The problem however is that organisational processes are also impacted by Postmodernist belief. If truth doesn’t really matter, then why should any organisation follow their own constitution or Statement of Faith? And if everything is subjective, then how do we interpret the meaning of these? Every organisation has to have order or it falls apart. But what will that order be based on? Without an objective standard of right and wrong or of agreed procedure, the only way to impose order is through an elite. And that is what happens when the scripture and objective truth is sidelined. Nations and churches become governed by unaccountable elites. It is impossible in a conflict to keep good relations with everyone and so where there is no objective standard for truth and righteousness, elites will dominate and squash opposition. The Bible interpreted as clear and objective truth on the other hand give a basis on which any individual can argue, without leading to social chaos. National policy decisions are increasingly being made by unaccountable Postmodern judicial elites and less by democratic process. Likewise as ‘relational governance’ displaces objective standards in churches, elites take over regardless of the denomination. Such arbitrary elitist governance tends to benefit a few and hurt people. Thus the Postmodern promise of better relationships doesn’t deliver.

God’s moral boundaries are given for our good (Deuteronomy 10:13) and respecting them results in better relationships. His laws are not just there to help us to score religious points – they make practical common sense. Jesus encourages us to set further personal boundaries against things that cause us to sin (Matthew 5:29). Nevertheless, Postmodernists would tend to treat such boundaries as unimportant, with resulting damage to relationships. For example, the young man who exposes himself to sexual images in movies will likely struggle more with temptation to go too far in his dating relationships with the opposite sex. Compromising, however will damage a good relationship and undermine his future marriage relationship.

Fourthly, based on this truth, Biblical Christianity sees some relationships such as sexual relationships outside married as just plain evil. But muddled Postmodern Christians may for example argue that a homosexual couple are just so happy together – so how can we say that it is wrong? Superficially, they may seem happy – but probably over they longer term the result will be pain. And even if they did happen to be more happy, for us the authority is the Bible and not just social peace and happiness.

Fifthly, the Bible gives categories of standards of righteousness, some of which are absolute for all people and all time (.e.g. You shall not murder’); others which have some value but are not absolute (.e.g. observing of special days (Romans 14)). It also, however allows for an intermediate standard where church authorities may agree to make certain temporary rules applicable to that time and situation. For example, in Acts 15:29 the church prohibited eating food sacrificed to idols, while 1 Corinthians 8:1-7, categorises it as a debatable issue. Absolute issues we fight about, (e.g. sexual purity; the sanctity of human life) while debatable issues we need to make decisions depending on the context. Postmodernism would argue nothing is completely absolute and put everything in the category of either individual choice or a group cultural norm. Thus they would frown on Christians trying to stop non-Christians aborting babies or close down escort agencies. Such action is ‘insensitive to their feelings and creates a bad image for Christianity’ they would say. This view may lead to smoother relations between the Christian community and the secular media and institutionalised evil, but it hurts the relationships of parents with the babies they kill and families torn apart by the infidelity of prostitution. Thus the Postmodern promise of better relationships is a lie. It doesn’t deliver.

Sixthly, the Bible gives a description of due process to deal with and settle disputes for example in Matthew 18; Matthew 5 and 1 Timothy 5. Organisations also have their own procedures to settle disputes. But when ‘relationships and feelings’ are prioritised out of balance with truth, then procedure is only applied when it is convenient for those in power. Insisting on doing so is seen as legalistic. The result is that disputes are settled in an ad-hoc manner which usually gets very messy and painful. Not obeying scriptural procedure thus results in more relational pain. The Postmodern promise doesn’t deliver.

Seventh, the Bible gives us the expectation that if we are godly, we will suffer persecution including social ostracism and abuse (1 Peter 4:4; 2 Timothy 3:12). Nevertheless, Postmodern Christians want to be accepted by the world and the result is to avoid doing whatever the world disapproves of. So for example they avoid confronting people with the need to repent of their sins and receive Christ and speaking up against social sin in society – rather simply trying to ‘build relationships’ in the hope that someone somehow will decide that Christians are nice and they want to join them. Maybe this will lead to some superficial peace between the church and the world, but such an approach leads to very few if any conversions – and thus the masses live in unreconciled relationship with God – not knowing what to do to reconcile with God. Furthermore, sin in society, when not confronted grows and spreads, wreaking relational damage in the individuals and families it affects.

Eighth, we as Christians have a corporate as well as an individual relationship with God. In other words, God deals with us not just as individuals, but also judges and blesses us as nations (Romans 11) and churches (Revelation 2-3). As individuals we are affected by God’s corporate judgments and sin in our church and society will indirectly affect how God treats us. Thus we need to use our influence to persuade the group of which we are a part to obey God and live according to his standards. We have a corporate responsibility to ensure correct church discipline especially where there is scandalous leadership behaviour. We must speak up for righteousness lest we be judged ourselves as part of the group. Postmodernists, however baulk at the whole idea of God judging groups for their sins. How politically incorrect can you get? But it is Biblical. Where a group rebels against God, one of the common judgements is that God causes conflict within that group (Zechariah 8:10). Thus while Postmodernism may deliver temporary smooth relationships, God’s judgment on the sin of the group will ultimately do more harm to relationships.


Thus the Postmodern promise of better relationships is false and a lie. Hopefully, eventually society will wake up and realise this, just as after the Cold War they woke up to realise that the Communist promise of helping the poor was a lie. But until they do that, we as Christians need to confront and change this muddled thinking in the church and recover Biblical Christian thinking on relationships. We need to prioritise our relationships according to the Bible; base or relationship with God on the truth of the scriptures; use the absolute standards of right and wrong in the scriptures to settle disputes; reject evil unbiblical relationships; distinguish between categories of standards of right and wrong so we don’t fight about the wrong things; follow biblical due process to settle disputes; be prepared to suffer persecution for righteousness to help reconcile others with God and do our part to encourage holiness and corporate relationship with God. All of this is contrary to Postmodernist ethics. But it is the Biblical way of better relationships – and unlike Postmodernism it does deliver better relationships.

Yes, postmodern ‘tolerance’ and ‘sensitivity to feelings’ may result in temporary superficial smooth relationships, but overall it does more harm than good.

Since the promise better relationships is the main argument being used to push Postmodernism in the church and attack Biblical Christianity – we need to not just respond to the need for truth, but also warn other Christians how Postmodern thinking actually hurts rather than helps relationships.



The way we evangelicals present the gospel has shifted radically in the last 30 years. Before the gospel presentation always included judicial/legal language such as: judgment, law, covenant, truth, justification, vindication, truth, evidence, forgiveness, redemption, confession, punishment, witnesses and testimony. Today, the language tends to be exclusively relational for example: love, reconciliation and becoming part of God’s family. One could summarise the shift from a ‘court room model’ to a ‘family living room model’. Is this good or bad? Well, surely, given the choice, most of use would prefer a ‘family living room’ to a ‘court room’. Why does this matter to the average Christian? Firstly, because it is affecting the way we present the message of salvation and secondly the way we engage with worldly society.

Which of the two models is Biblical? There is plenty of evidence for both in the Bible. The problem is the shift in emphasis – and in many cases the shift is so big that judicial language, which was formerly the main way of explaining the gospel is avoided as ‘politically incorrect’. What is unbiblical is the neglect of the court room model. Why am I, a Christian social activist writing on this subject? Because a new generation is growing up which has not grasped many of the basic building blocks of truth, essential to engage with sin in society. Such people have a hard time understanding why we should do anything that may offend non-Christians, such as picketing abortion clinics or sex shops.

Abandonment or neglect of the court room model is a feature of Postmodern/Emergent reinterpretation of Christianity, but the shift was underway long before Postmodernism became popular. The problem thus cannot be solved just by attacking Postmodernism. The court room model is also unpopular with many of those who focus on self-image & psychology, health and wealth, political correctness – some who believe the ‘court room model’ is not ‘seeker sensitive’. Our culture hates the judicial model. To get a hearing, we need to a certain extent to adapt our message to the culture of our times, but some things we cannot give up. Why?

Because the central message of the cross cannot be properly explained without the model of a court room. Without it, Jesus death and resurrection are a bit meaningless. We, the human race sinned and broke God’s law and deserved everlasting punishment in hell. Jesus, God’s perfect substitute, died in our place, which is why we qualify for God’s grace and mercy. On another level, both the Jewish and Gentile human government authorities condemned Jesus to death for his claim to be King/Messiah, but God’s higher court over-ruled this wrong judgement and vindicated Jesus by raising him from the dead – thus proving his innocence. We who tell this truth that Jesus is alive and Lord are called ‘witnesses’ who ‘testify’ – both terms borrowed from the court room. So many people have died telling this truth that our English word ‘martyr’ is derived from the Greek word for ‘witness’. The way every human being on earth will be judged in eternity is all tied up with what they believe and confess in this one massive cosmic court case.

Apart from court room language, one can maybe talk about aspects of the cross such as Jesus reconciliation with us or Jesus good example of love for his enemies demonstrated from the cross for us to follow. Most preachers who neglect court room language do understand these truths. But will the next generation understand? And will they understand well enough to be willing to be ‘witnesses’ who will die for the truth? On a smaller scale to risk unpopularity and share the shame and disgrace of being a witness for Jesus in a generation that hates the truth? Will they have the courage to accuse our government and society of murder in their slaughter of the unborn innocents, as did the apostles when they accused the Roman and Jewish authorities of murdering Jesus (Acts 3:15; 5:28)? Are we going to preach God’s wrath against sin to a Postmodern generation that doesn’t understand the concept of sin? Will we pursue holiness as we treasure the price paid for us by Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19), or will we view grace instead as meaning that God doesn’t think sin is a big deal. Neglecting judicial language is going to affect our holiness, our courage, our view of Christ and God, our understanding of grace, our gospel presentation to unbelievers, our worldview, our social activism and our motivation to reach the lost. Please lets help restore judicial language to our teaching and gospel presentation.

The new mega-shifted evangelical gospel, hopes that its ‘kinder, gentler, more loving’ view of God will be more attractive and thus win more to Christ. It will improve the bad image that the worldly media has given Christianity. But will it really do so? Didn’t Jesus say the world would hate us (John 15:19) and praise false prophets (Luke 6:26). Such people struggle with a ‘self-image problem’ about Christianity. They have a ‘court room model’, but in their view, the world (or the secular media) or public opinion is the judge instead of God the ultimate judge. Which ‘court room’ will we worry about? Will we fear God and his judgement against unrepentant individuals in eternity in hell or on this earth against a society that rebels against God, by for example murdering unborn babies – or will we worry about trying to help Christianity win the media contest to become the most popular religion?

Is a ‘kinder, gentler’ mega-shifted gospel more compassionate to help hurting people? In some senses, maybe. Maybe in the short term some people will avoid getting annoyed by the truth. But sin still brings God’s judgement, whether hell for eternity or in society now. Fewer people may be offended by the message, but those same people will still be hurt by consequences of sin. And in any case, regardless of the results of each, the gospel is not meant to be pragmatic – we are called to proclaim truth (Ezekiel 3:17). In Old Testament times, the false prophets were also preaching ‘peace’ and neglecting the message of judgment on sin (Jeremiah 6:14).

We need a balance of gentleness and toughness and wisdom to know what is appropriate in what situation. God’s self revelation to Moses on Mount Sinai included his compassion and his judgment of sin (Exodus 34:6-7). His revelation on the cross included his wrath against sin by the punishment of crucifixion and his mercy to us in substituting Jesus in our place. The judicial court room model perfectly explains this paradox.


A popular example of this mega-shifted unbalanced gospel presentation is found in the poem ‘The father’s Love Letter’. . It seems orthodox, because it is made up almost entirely of paraphrased Bible verses and full of references. It sounds beautiful. What is wrong? Firstly, if you look up the scripture quotations and read them in context, you will see the paraphrases are often inaccurate and the context doesn’t match the message of the poem. If you read on in the references, you will also see references to God’s judgment – but not in the poem. The second problem is that the statements paraphrased in the poem are made in the Bible to believers, who have already received Christ and become children of God (and thus part of God’s family). But the poem blurs the distinction between believers and unbelievers, giving the impression the same statement apply to both. Most of the promises quoted from the Bible are conditional on receiving Jesus on the basis of his dying in our place as a substitute (the courtroom model). While the poem may give some comfort to believers, it may also give false comfort to those who have not repented of their sins.


For those who want to study the history of the intellectual debate in more detail, the following links may be helpful:

In 1990, theologian Robert Brow published an article in Christianity Today, describing the Mega-Shift away from the ‘Court Room/judicial’ model towards the ‘family/relational model’. The article was phrased to sound a neutral description of a trend, but Brow showed by his other publications that he strongly supported this new trend. Soon other scholars responded for and against the new trend. Donald Carson, Michael Horton and David Wells strongly opposed it, and defended the historic court room model. John McArthur responded to the undermining of the atonement at A surprise for many was when Clark Pinnock, a previous champion of conservative orthodoxy against liberalism came to Brow’s support. Robert Brow and Clark Pinnock worked together to develop their new theories further. Eventually, their theorizing led them to the conclusion that God doesn’t exhaustively know the future, but rather can only take a good guess at what is going to happen on the basis of the balance of probabilities. They called their new theory ‘Open theism’ and together they published a book ‘Unbounded Love’ available online at . Pinnock was interviewed by Michael Horton about his shift in views in an opposing publication at
Later writer, Philip Yancey promoted a similar view in a less intellectual, but more popular style.

The most heavyweight intellectuals in Evangelicalism have historically been Reformed/Calvinists, since this tradition tends to emphasise truth. These men focused their counter-attack on this undermining of the Sovereignty of God. Together they replied with a book ‘Beyond the bounds’ with John Piper as the main editor, and a list of respected other authors each contributing a chapter, which is also available online at
Piper et al, argued that Open Theism was heresy and that the boundaries of evangelicalism needed to be redrawn to exclude it. There was an attempt to remove Open Theists from the Evangelical Theological Society, but this failed. Piper, Carson and similar reformed thinkers later formed the ‘Gospel Coalition’, whose Statement of Faith specifically excluded Open Theism. In the book, Wayne Grudem argues that Open Theism is pastorally dangerous because a weak view of God undermines people’s faith.

A bunch of world-class Bible scholars have written a 400 page book – for sale in many Christian bookshops and available for free download. Robert Brow has died. So is the debate closed? Not at all. I argue the primary debate has been side-tracked. The trend away from ‘Courtroom language’ that Robert Brow was the first to spot and write about has become mainstream and now dominates most of Evangelicalism. Brow, Pinnock and their followers took their vision of a ‘kinder, gentler’ gospel to an extreme that ended up with a denial of God’s sovereign control and foreknowledge of the future. But millions of evangelicals have not gone to that extreme, but they do squirm and evade the Courtroom model and terminology in presenting the gospel – the place where Brow and Pinnock started. And so what is considered normal evangelicalism is very different to what it was 50 years ago.

I argue that the original debate of whether the gospel should be presented using the ‘Court room/judicial’ model needs to come back to the centre. It is an issue that faces every church. I argue both Court Room language and Family language are biblical, but that the Court Room/judicial model should be central because without it we cannot properly understand why Christ died for us on the cross. This understanding then impacts how we view just about everything else. The neglect of the Court Room model I believe explains much of the weakness and confusion in contemporary evangelicalism.