{26}     The future: Postmodern Church

ERA 8 << Postmodern Church: World Evangelism (AD 2000–??) >>

        26.1.1  Challenge from the prevailing culture

·         Different challenges: Today, human rights and freedom are encouraged in most democratic countries. In these countries, violent persecutions still occur but much less common than in past centuries. Christians, however, face different challenges that could endanger their faith and could lead them to live a Christian life that is “neither hot nor cold” (Revelation 3:16). These challenges include those from: [1] the prevailing culture, [2] atheism, [3] secularism and liberalism, [4] cults.

·         Materialism: One of the biggest yet least perceivable challenge is the predominance of materialism. Advancing technology, mass production, globalization, and rising income have made available to everyone more materials and luxuries than before. Pursuit of materials becomes the objective of life for many Christians. The love of the world dilutes the love of a godly life (1 John 2:15-16).

·         Human rights: With the over-emphasis of human rights and freedom in western culture, man is the centre of the universe and the sole arbitrator of conflicts, with no reference to any supernatural God. The emphasis in individualism (partly a result of Protestantism which emphasizes salvation is necessary for each individual) reinforces this trend in secular humanism.

·         Postmodernism: This cultural trend predominant in late 20th-c provides difficult challenges to Christianity in 3 areas: [1] Subjectivism: Subjective feelings are more important than objective reasoning. It encourages one to follow the heart instead of the head, thus making irrational decisions, leading to hedonistic tendencies. It also denies objective truth and objective revelation from God. [2] Relativism: Both truth and morality are relative, and vary for different societies and times, thus leading to the denial of absolute truth and absolute morality. This ethical relativism encourages one to live in sin away from God. [3] Pluralism: All religious are valid; they all lead to the objective of doing good. Thus there is no one true faith. It also leads to the denial of authority.

        26.1.2  Challenge from atheists

·         Darwinism: The push to teach only Darwinism (evolution) in school aims at controlling the education of our next generation and leading them to deny creation by God. This fits well with the agenda of the atheists (or secularists) in expelling God from the society.

·         Scientism: This is the view that science has authority over all other interpretations of life, such as philosophical, religious, mythical, or spiritual explanations. The scientific method implies the testing of all claims and the refusal to accept any absolute authority, including God. Furthermore, modern science has led to the development of technology which has transformed our lives. It has helped to undermine man’s sense of dependence upon God.

·         Secular humanism: Secularism is the belief that social institutions should exist outside religions. In other words, its objective is to exclude and expel God out of human society, restricting religion only to the realm of private belief and thus leaving the society dominated by atheism. Secularism and atheism, therefore, have similar objectives. They work together against religions, though mostly against Christianity. Modern humanism, as distinguished from Reformation humanism, is the philosophy that follows Greek philosopher Protagoras’ (490–420 BC) motto: “Man is the measure of all things.” In other words, modern humanism puts man in place of God.

·         Atheist Counterattack: The acceptance of the existence of God by Antony Flew in 2004 threatens the viability and the every existence of atheism. As a result, numerous theists published popular books rejecting theism. They bring new challenges to Christianity.

o        Antony Flew (1923– ): He is a prominent British philosophy, rightly called the pope of atheism as he wrote over 30 books explaining and defending atheism. He publicly changed his long-held position after seriously considering the evidence of God in the origin of life and the complexity of nature. He explained his conversion to theism in his book There is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind [2007].

o        Atheist works: Recent books defending atheism include:

          Richard Dawkins: The God Delusion [2006],

          Daniel Dennett: Breaking the Spell [2006],

          Lewis Wolpert: Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast [2006],

          Sam Harris: The End of Faith [2004] and Letter to a Christian Nation [2006],

          Victor Stenger: The Comprehensible Cosmos [2006] and God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows that God Does Not Exist [2007].

        26.1.3  Challenge from secularists & liberals on moral issues

·         Moral issues: Secularists and liberals have challenged the absolutely morality of the Scripture. While they concentrate their attack on traditional morality in the issues of abortion, homosexuality, and euthanasia, their ultimate objective is to attack the truth of the Bible.

·         Marginalization: In the US, atheists and secularists tried to marginalize Christianity. Liberal judges helped them by handing down decisions excluding religion from the public square. Religious instruction in public school was outlawed [1948]. State-approved public prayers were banned [1962]. Voluntary state-approved Bible reading was disapproved [1963].

·         Invisible persecutions: Besides pushing for the legalization of abortion, same sex marriage, and euthanasia, secularists also try to limit the free speech of Christians. At the present, the hottest contested issue is homosexuality. Secularists have try to use lawsuits to silence Christian objection of homosexuality as immoral. Many Christians have been penalized by liberal judges and other Christians are restrained because of the threat.

        26.1.4  Challenge from cults

·         Cause: Today, because many churches do not preach the true gospel and salvation of Jesus Christ, the spiritual needs of those people were not satisfied. Many of them try to find answers from cults.

·         Characteristics: Many of the cults are characterized by the denial of the essential deity of Christ and by their antinomian moral teaching.

·         Unification Church [1954], under Korean Sun Myung Moon (1920–  ), employs many Christian concepts though in an unorthodox way. They also believe in spiritualism, communicating with spirits of deceased persons. Sun proclaimed himself “Saviour, Messiah, Returning Lord”.

·         Church of Scientology [1953], under the leadership of L. Ron Hubbard, emphasizes the importance of spirit in man, employing techniques in enhancing the spirit and accepting past lives.

·         The Way International [1942], led by Paul V. Wierwelle, is reputed to practice mind control of their followers. The new convert is surrounded by loving concern; given much work, little sleep, and a low protein diet; and urged to listen to repetitious tapes and speeches by the leader.

·         New Age movement, whose ideas began in late 19th-c, is a mixture of humanism, eastern mysticism, and ideas from modern science, with emphasis in Gaia Theory, astrology, occultism, parapsychology, and environmentalism.

·         Others: Satan worship, Hare Krishna, Transcendental Meditation.


        26.2.1  Decreasing church attendance in the West

·         Trend: With the acceleration of secularization, there has been a large decline in church attendance and participation in traditional Protestants areas such as Scandinavia (2% attending church), Germany (5%), and Great Britain (10%). On the other hand, many nominal Christians participated in social issues, such as stopping the arms race, helping those disenfranchised or uprooted by industrial development, fighting for international human rights.

·         Government control: In Germany, Scandinavia (Lutheran Church), and England (Anglican Church), the state church are still controlled by the government—the appointment of church leaders and change in standards of faith must be approved by the government.

·         De-Christianization of Europe: The North is becoming increasingly de-Christianized, while the greatest numeric gains are taking place in the South. In 1900, about 50% all Christians lived in Europe; in 1985, an estimated 27% lived in Europe. In 1900, 81% of all Christians were white; in 2000, an estimated 40% were whites. It seems likely that 21st-c will be marked by a vast missionary effort from the South to the North.

·         North America: While church attendance continues to decline in the US (40% attending church) and Canada (18%), the situation is slightly less dismal than in Europe. The US still has the largest Christian community in the world (120 million, counting only those attending church). Attendance is higher in ethnic churches, including blacks, Latinos, and Asians.

·         Optimistic trend: Despite the grave news about the decline in the proportion of Christians in the West, there is still a bright spot. The dramatic decreases are almost exclusively found in liberal denominations. Those denominations that still faithfully profess the authentic gospel and proclaim the Word of God continue to grow or at worst remain stable. These include evangelical denominations and the Pentecostal churches.


        26.3.1  Contemporary persecutions

·         Severity: Persecutions of Christians have been severe and widespread in 20th-c. They resemble the Roman persecutions in the first 3 centuries of the early church.

·         Baptism of fire: Persecutions that God allowed have a useful function of purifying the church in a baptism of fire. Church history now has come to a full cycle. These contemporary persecutions may well indicate the last era of the City of God (Augustine’s term) on earth.

·         Modes: Persecutions range from discrimination from jobs, shunning by family members and friends, forced exile, confiscation and destruction of homes and properties, physical assault, imprisonment, torture, and death.

·         Political persecutions: They have been perpetrated by totalitarian states from both left and right—communist governments like China, authoritarian governments like Burma. These states are controlled by one party or one person with unlimited power, coupled with mass control by propaganda and secret police. Because the RCC demands all its followers allegiance to the pope before any other allegiance, there is clear conflict with totalitarian states.

·         Religious persecutions of Christians: They have been perpetrated mainly by Muslims in Islamic countries. In the last few years, religious persecutions have increased in India by Hindus.

        26.3.2  Persecutions from dictatorships

·         Compromise by popes: In general, the RCC is not hostile to totalitarianism. (In fact, it operates in a totalitarian mode of authority.) When a totalitarian state will recognize the rights of the papacy, the papacy will cooperate with that state. When the dictator Mussolini signed the Lateran Accord [1929], the papacy relaxed its hostility since 1870. The papacy also supported the dictatorships of Franco in Spain and Salazar in Portugal. In Germany, the pope signed a concordat in 1933 and did not protest the German attempts to exterminate the Jews (murdering 6 million).

·         Against Protestants: While the 1933 Concordat guaranteed the independence and freedom of the RCC, Hitler was not so generous with the Protestants. He forced the union of Protestants with the creation of the German Evangelical Church [1933]. In response, the opponents (led by Karl Barth, Martin Niemöller, Dietrich Bonhoeffer) joined together in the German Confessional Church [1934] and issued the Barmen Declaration. It reasserted the authority of Christ in the church, and the Scripture as the rule of faith and life, and refused to accept the claims of the state to supremacy in religious life.

·         Third Word: In Japan, the Protestant churches were forced into union in the Kyodan (Japanese for religious group) [1941] by the military government. In Uganda, dictator Idi Amin’s men killed the Anglican archbishop.

·         Today: In Burma, the military junta committed ethnic cleansing of Christian minority groups, the destruction of villages, forced conversions, and even rape and murder. All these are an attempt to create a uniform society in which the race and language is Burmese and the only accepted religion is Buddhism.

        26.3.3  Persecutions from communists

·         Conflict with Christianity: Communism is essentially a faith or a materialistic religion with an international scope. Communism is hostile to Christianity because of the materialistic atheism that underlies its philosophy. To a Marxist, religion is an opiate that makes the exploited people content with their present hard life because they have the hope of a brighter future life.

·         Russia: The Russian Orthodox Church was linked with the oppressive regimes of the czars so the communists tried to destroy the church because it was part of the system that they hated. However, after the fall of the communist Soviet Union in 1990, the increase in influence of the Orthodox Church among Russians have led to the endorsement of the church by political leaders. There were even government restrictions initiated by the Orthodox Church to limit the evangelistic efforts of Protestants.

·         Catholic accommodation: After the WWII, eastern European states became communist under the domination of the Soviet Union. The church had been persecuted in all of them. While the RCC criticized communism, they have accommodated to the communist regimes. Vatican II documents have no condemnation of communism.

·         Against Protestants: Protestants again have fared worse. In China, the government forced the Protestants to join into the “Three-Self Movement” [1950s]. They took over church property, banned all Bibles and religious education. They expelled all foreign missionaries. But communism with all its repression has not been able to destroy Christianity.

·         Church policy: Communism flourishes best where there is poverty and suffering. The church must support measures to end the evils that help to create communism.

·         Today: Fortunately, the downfall of communist governments in eastern Europe [1990] and the rise of capitalism in other communist countries have contributed to a reduction or at least a restraint of violent persecutions. The largest communist parties in western democracies are in Italy and France.

        26.3.4  Religious persecutions

·         Increasing: Religious persecutions against Christians have increased in scope and in intensity.

·         Modes: Various methods have been used to suppress Christianity. They can range from family and social pressure against conversion to Christianity, forced conversion of Christians to Islam or Hinduism, confiscation and destruction of church properties, restrictions or prohibition of church construction, prohibition of Christian evangelism (up to capital punishment), vandalism and destruction of personal properties and homes, physical violence against persons, forced exiles, kidnapping, murder.

·         Islam: In the past decade, the most brutal persecutions are found in Islamic countries. The efforts by Muslims to suppress the Christian faith has led to mass killings of Christians in many countries, including Sudan, Ethiopia, northern Nigeria, and Indonesia.

·         Hinduism: In addition, religious persecutions of Christians have recently increased drastically in parts of India where radical Hindus are the majority.


26.4  Rise of Third World Christianity

        26.4.1  Overview

·         In the West: As the second millennium came to a close, there were hopeful evidence of the spread of Christianity to most of the world. In the West, Christianity has been weakened by cultural accommodation and materialism. The majority of the population still profess as Christians but are in name only, not living a Christian life and not participating in a church.

·         In the Second World (former communist eastern Europe): Since 1990, the dismantling of communism in the former Soviet Union and in eastern Europe, while politically and economically destabilizing, has resulted in a renewal of Christian evangelism and rapid growth in churches—mostly Orthodox and Catholic churches. Protestant evangelism in the region is growing.

·         In the Third World: In contrast, a disciplined spirituality, prayer life, and passionate evangelism have brought explosive growth to the Third World. African, Asian, and Latin American nations witness unprecedented increases in Christian conversions. The fastest growth has been reported in China where persecutions by the communist government have been ongoing and intense. The number of Christians has been estimated at 80 to 100 million. Moreover, these new Christian communities in the Third World have begun to send out missionaries, including many cross-cultural missionaries, some of these to the West.

        26.4.2  Africa

·         Needs: There are 200 million Christians. The greatest need is for trained leaders and the development of viable indigenous churches.

·         Challenges: [1] Battle with Islam: Since mid-20th-c, Christianity has been growing rapidly in the central and southern parts of Africa. Now, with the southward expansion of Islam from northern Africa, there have been increasing conflicts between Christianity and Islam. The violent internal conflicts in Nigeria is a clear illustration. [2] Indigenization: In order to reach non-believers more easily, some churches have adopted the traditional cultural practices which may be contrary to the Bible.

·         Characteristics: Many blacks in Africa have rebelled against what they feel is white missionary paternalism and have created independent black churches. They are often eschatologically oriented, charismatic, and under native leadership.

        26.4.3  Latin America

·         Trend: The intellectuals deserted the church and became indifferent to religion. The labourers are stirring in revolt against social, political, and economic exploitation. Because the RCC is associated with the rulers and appears to side with the exploiters, some people turn against it as they become educated.

·         Catholics: The RCC seems to be losing its historic religious monopoly. On the other hand, many priests have begun to advocate and even support violent, usually leftist, revolutionary social and economic changes to redress grievances.

·         Rivalry: In the 1940s, an attempt was made to have the US State Department refuse passports to Protestant missionaries seeking to enter South America based on the ground that they were endangering the Good Neighbour Policy. The move was defeated by aggressive action by Protestants.

·         Growth: Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism have grown rapidly, particularly in Chile and Brazil, cutting into Catholicism whose adherents are mostly nominal Christians.

        26.4.4  Asia

·         Growth: Despite intense persecutions by governments in China and southeast Asia, there has been rapid growth of Christianity. The intense persecution (baptism of fire) by the communist government in China did not destroy the church. The number of Christians actually has increased from 3 million in 1949 to 80-100 million today.

·         Middle East: There have been reports on the large number of conversions of Muslims who will face violent persecutions.

·         Outlook: With increasingly violent persecutions by Muslims and Hindus, many Christians are forced to emigrate or to abandon their faith, it is still difficult to predict what would happen to those churches. Will they be like the ancient north African churches that disappeared, or will they be like the modern Chinese church that prospers?


        26.5.1  Rebirth of orthodoxy [2003]

·         Back to orthodoxy: This is a book written by the liberal-turned-conservative theologian Thomas Oden. He presents many convincing evidences to his thesis that the church as a whole is turning back to orthodox belief. The universal church has come full cycle from emphasizing orthodoxy in the early church to again emphasizing orthodoxy in the postmodern church.

·         Evidences: Oden presented evidences for his thesis in 6 areas:

o        [1] Personal: transformation of individuals—lives are being changed. In many narratives, regenerated people talk about coming forth as traditional believers out of the ruins of modern life.

o        [2] Academic: faithful scriptural interpretation—ancient Christian writers are being reexamined. Classic texts are being rediscovered not only by the orthodox but by chastened liberals and awakening Pentecostals.

o        [3] Cross-cultural: ancient ecumenical multiculturalism—historical cultures worldwide are interpenetrating and cross-fertilizing. Orthodoxy connects with and contributes to the call for fairness and diversity by strengthening and deepening multicultural consensus.

o        [4] Critical: boundary-definition that draws clear lines between orthodoxy and heresy—religious communities are rediscovering classic doctrinal and moral boundaries. After many decades of uncritical permissiveness, the faithful are relearning how to say no together on behalf of a greater yes, and how to mark boundaries established for centuries.

o        [5] Institutional: spiritual renewals within drifting religious institutions—lapsed religious institutions are being reclaimed. Local congregations and whole denominations are currently under change by confessing and renewing movements, even in mainline denominations.

o        [6] Ecumenical: the redefinition of ecumenical thinking through consensual ecumenical discernment—classic ecumenism is being rediscovered. Instead of the undisciplined ecumenical movement of the 20th-c characterized by the WCC, the new emphasis is on spiritual unity through formal and informal cooperations, based on a consensual doctrinal integrity.

·         Postmodern vs early church: If Oden’s thesis is correct, then today’s postmodern church resembles the early church in 2 important characteristics: holding orthodox faith and enduring intense persecutions.

·         World evangelism: The goal for all Christians is the proclamation of the gospel to all nations as Christ said: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14, ESV) There are more cross-cultural missionaries today than anytime in the history of the church. It is hoped that the goal of world evangelism will be reached in too distant future.






Early (1) Persecutions



Early (2) Stability



Medieval (1) Expansion & Conflicts



Medieval (2) Growth & Decline of the Papacy



Modern (1) Reformation & Struggles



Modern (2) Revival & Missions



Modern (3) Ecumenism & Adaptations




·         Christianity has been the dominating force in shaping the western culture which in turn influences the whole world in the areas of democracy, and human dignity.



[1] treasure our heritage

God’s church is still alive and well through challenges and persecutions. The baton is now in our hands.

[2] appreciate God’s providence

God has been shepherding his church for 2000 years.

[3] avoid past errors

When the gospel is diluted, decreasing membership and commitment are inevitable.

[4] apply our knowledge

The focus of today’s Christianity is still the same—to extend the kingdom of God through evangelism and discipleship (keeping an orthodox faith)—the Great Commission.

[5] follow past saints

We should keep the example of modern-day Christian martyrs and confessors across the world in remembrance.



        What is our proper attitude toward those who persecute Christians, such as secularists and Muslims?

o        We need to stand up against their hostilities. Like the early Church Fathers, we can challenge their persecution by explaining our faith and by showing the injustice of their action.

o        They deserve our pity as they will be harshly judged by God. We need to pray for them. Some of them are simply ignorant of truth. We need to bring the gospel of truth to them if there is a chance.

        What lessons do we learn from the course?

o        Put what we learn into practical actions: [1] treasure our heritage, [2] appreciate God’s providence, [3] avoid past errors, [4] apply our knowledge, [5] follow past saints.