It is safe to assume whether you sit in a pew or stand in a pulpit, philosophical trends are trickling into minds all around you.
They drip, drip, drip into the intellectual habits of those you worship with, those who teach your children, and those who will eat turkey with you in November.
No one needs to read bad philosophy to be influenced by it. To borrow a phrase from Peter Berger, “cognitive contamination” happens every day in our ordinary work-a-day lives.
One philosophical trend trickling into western culture, first embraced by leftist academics 50 years ago, is postmodernism.
In his little 1979 book, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard gave this definition of postmodernism: “Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodern as incredulity toward metanarratives.”
Metanarratives are grand structural stories that govern and explain all other stories. Postmodernists cynically teach that metanarratives are tall “tales” we have been told all our lives about existence yet these tales have not kept their promises. Instead, the postmodernist argues, these grand stories have been told so those telling them could gain power over the people.
This is why extreme postmodernists wish to dismantle all metanarratives. Abolish overarching stories such as Christianity, science, capitalism, Marxism, democracy so people can live their own stories without judgment and coercion. Your truth will be yours and mine will be mine.
The challenge of a growing suspicion toward metanarratives is that Christianity is unavoidably a metanarrative. Christianity is the one story that rules them all. It is the one narrative that explains mankind’s origins, miseries, death and ultimate destiny. Our faith testifies to an ontological and metaphysical reality that applies to all men - past, present and future.
Since Christianity is a metanarrative, it is targeted for contempt in cultures being saturated by the postmodern drip. People no longer find the miracles of our faith so far-fetched (that is the old modernist reaction), now they find our call to be reconciled to one grand story as vile power-mongering.
Though a growing suspicion of metanarratives creates a challenge in calling people to Christ, we should understand that proclaiming God’s glorious and gracious metanarrative is still the only way to face the challenge.
Consider Paul’s ministry among the idolatrous people of Athens.
In Acts 17:16 we find Paul is walking about this great Greek city. He can not help notice the many altars to false gods. The text says, “His spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.”
Being provoked by Satan’s achievements, Paul begins to speak to Jews in the synagogue and Greeks in the marketplace (v. 17). Eventually he is brought to the Areopagus where he publicly challenges the idolatry of Athens before its top philosophers. Here he gives one of the greatest speeches of the ancient world (vv. 22-31).
The content of Paul’s speech is God’s glorious and gracious metanarrative. He begins with, “The God who made the world and everything in it” (v. 24). He goes on to tell how God cannot be contained by man-made temples (v. 24) - a direct critique of Athens' pagan altars. Paul then tells how God has ordered the time of each man’s birth and the place of each man’s dwelling.
As his speech crescendos Paul makes undiluted metanarrative claims: “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (30-31).
Notice what Paul did in this message.
First, he critiqued the idolatrous stories the Athenians were telling themselves through their pagan altars.
We see in this that critiquing metanarratives is also the task of the Christian. In our time and place men’s idols are embedded in metanarratives rather than stone. Things that were to be kept under God have been raised up by sinners to become gods. Sex. Science. The state. Particular economic systems. These are the uncarved idolatries of our age. Men hope and seek deliverance in these instead of in Christ. This should provoke our spirit. To do something about it, however, will require that we critique the very metanarratives in which these idols have been embedded.
Second, Paul told the one story to rule them all.
He proclaims the God who made everything; the God who commands all people; the God who will judge all the world. He preached metanarrative without embarrassment.
But do not overlook that Paul also proclaimed Christ! There is “one man” appointed to judge. Is not this what those suspicious of metanarratives most wish to avoid, the consolidation of power into the hands of a few, into the hands of one?! Yes, but who is this one man who has been raised from the dead? He is the Lord Jesus Christ, the one also crucified for our sins. What mercy! His power and authority are real, but his is a power and authority that does not lie to you. His power and authority dies for you.
Christian gospel is a metanarrative unlike any the world has heard. It is not a metanarrative of corrupt power-grabbing or earthly idolatry, it is a metanarrative of holy grace. Proclaim it. Proclaim Him.