A strategic opportunity is inherent in the postmodern ethos itself.
By Jenifer A. Daley
“What it means to talk about God is far from indisputable,” even among theistic religions.1 A certain symbiosis seems evident by the inference that ours is an epoch analogous to that of which Dickens wrote. To paraphrase: an age of wisdom and yet foolishness, belief and yet incredulity, light and yet darkness.2 The philosophical fluidity of the times is evidenced in the semantic domain with doublespeak and pliable language being commonplace. Lack of consensus in meaning is pervasive; whether the prevailing philosophical ethos is modernism or postmodernism remains a moot point. The close philosophy-theology relationship invariably transforms philosophical tensions into theological tensions such that traditionally commonplace doctrines are now suspect. Hence, God may be used with a variety of meanings and, consequently, doubt is cast upon once-hallowed Christian beliefs. These nuances of the understanding of God in contemporary society impact theology and, in tandem, the Christian gospel.
The New Testament—for example, Matthew 28:19 and Acts 1:8—refers to the Christian’s missionary mandate to share the gospel of salvation from sin. It was once presumed that all Christians accepted the biblical pronouncement that the human proclivity to sin makes everyone a sinner (Rom. 3:23), its report of Christ’s atoning death as a reflection of God’s love (5:8), and its logical implication that salvation mandates acceptance of Christ’s substitutionary gift (John 5:24; Acts 16:31).
describes the diversity of methodologies utilized by the church as a means of introducing people to God. Throughout the various epochs of history, the Christian Church’s mission strategies have had to be pliable—preemptively or retrospectively. Present peculiarities not only suggest a new approach to missions but also demand firmer philosophical and theological foundations to share that “God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NLT). Stanley Hauerwas summarizes well the challenges posed by the contemporary situation: “The crucial question is how we can make the story we believe to be true not only compelling for us but for the whole world. . . . The challenge is how, as Christians, we can find a way to witness to the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus without that witness becoming an ideology for the powers that would subvert that witness.”3
Furthermore, “How do
we convince postmodernists of the truth of the gospel. . . in a culture where a variety of rationalities coexist?”4
Is the spiritual deficit attributed to this age the cause or the effect of the conflicting profusions regarding the nature, extent, and motivation of God’s activities in the world?
This study, an exploration of divine power as proffered by David Griffin’s “constructive” model compared with a biblical Seventh-day Adventist perspective, implies the importance of a wholistic and systematic biblical perspective of God to the understanding and reception of the gospel and broadly suggests a strategy for missions in contemporary society. Of primary importance is the potential tension as it relates to the issue of the gospel of salvation and an understanding of God’s power. Can a God who is less than omnipotent save? Conversely, does a God who consistently exercises unilateral power actually save? Any misunderstanding of God’s power inevitably stymies the gospel message.
Pertinent considerations include: Does God act in the events of the human existence; and, if so, how? What response does an understanding of God’s power evoke in regard to salvation and therefore the reception of the gospel? How can the Seventh-day Adventist self-identified remnant church of Revelation 14, commissioned with the divine imperative of bringing the gospel to all the world, efficaciously identify, articulate, and communicate good news about a powerful God?
Philosophical and Theological Views of Divine Power
If it is true that “everything in theology and life is affected by just how one understands the nature of God himself and the nature of God’s relationship with the created order,”5
and if it is true that the greatest need in a contemporary society is knowledge: “whether there is a God and whether God matters in [people’s] lives” and gaining an awareness of this supreme Being,6
then both God’s ontology and His concomitant relationship to humans are of primary concern. It is clear that the dissemination of information to a world apparently en route to self-destruction is urgent. The highs and lows of philosophical perspectives of God influencing theological thought throughout history have undoubtedly complicated perspectives regarding the God-world relationship. Here we briefly explore thematic cross-sections.
God and divine power before modernity. Broadly speaking, perspectives about God’s ontology originated in Greek philosophy and were often expressed as poetry. In Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, for example, gods were portrayed as “corrupt, vain and self-serving . . . [seeking] to advance the fortunes of their favorites on earth.”7 Implicit in this is that gods—seen as immortal humans with emotions, vices, and power-games analogous to their human counterparts—were perceived as unlimited in their power to independently bring about desired outcomes (restricted only by sphere—sea, sex, or war). Alister McGrath notes that Homer nevertheless caricatured divine activities as humor and questioned ethics grounded in such “egocentric, jealous and petty tyrants.”8
This general perception of god(s) as all-controlling and all-determining persisted across time and geography and could only have been reinforced by Augustine’s de facto supersession of Pelagius and, later, by the Calvinist-Arminian debate of the 17th century, which climaxed with the Synod of Dort. Despite a brief respite with 18th-century British pietism, eventually the confluence of negative perspectives of God and church as terror and hindrance to intellectual and political progress in Western culture led to quests to depose such oppressive institutions, reject divine authority, and substitute a religion of humanity for one of deity. A new and better future was envisioned that would be grounded in nature and reason.
Modern views of God and divine power. By the early 19th century, conceptions of God had evolved as the product of social and psychological factors. According to McGrath, “one of the most obvious lessons of history is that atheism thrives when the church is seen to be privileged, out of touch with people and powerful.”9 Church and God were seen as inseparable, and the sentiments applied equally to both.
Within the context of this discussion, McGrath’s summary of Feuerbach, Marx and Freud is instructive: “Amidst widespread upheaval and change and intellectual dissatisfaction, the church was used as an avenue to radically undermine and neutralize political structures. Ludwig Feuerbach brought credibility and acclaim to the concept of god as invention although the idea preceded him in some unsubstantiated way. Feuerbach proposed that god was a human invention as a consolation and distraction from worldly sorrow. As ‘a dream of the human soul’—a projection of human longings for itself―god was a human creation under the authority and control of humans, and impotent. ‘God’ thus becomes a redefinable concept, capable of being shaped and reshaped to meet the changing context of human existence.”10
In many ways, the propositions of Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud unfolded as expositions of Feuerbach. For Marx, material needs are pivotal to thought and behavior and determine an individual’s value system. His thesis that religion is purely epiphenomenon—a symptom of the material world— relegates God to a projection of desires or an attempt to cope with the pain from social and economic deprivation (that is, God as opiate). Similarly, Freud’s thesis, anchored in psychoanalysis, presents god as illusion—a projection of intense, unconscious desires linked to repressed, infantile longings for protection and security.
Divine power in contemporary society. Contemporary society boasts a resurgence of religion and god to a place of prominence, and contains a collage of “gods” with varying attributes and potency. At one end of the continuum is the god with power to exercise exhaustive, meticulous, unilateral control over all; at the other end is the god lacking exhaustive knowledge of an unreal future and therefore potentially incapable of unilaterally directing it. Somewhere in between is the god who is in charge but not completely in control. Of course, for the God-of-process theology, omnipotence is explicitly denied.
Perspective. Scripture records God promising knowledge and understanding of Himself: “Thus says the Lord: let those who boast boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord; I act with steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth” (Jer. 9:23, 24, NRSV).
Jeremiah seems to suggest that not only is there a Lord (God), who is knowable and understandable, but also One whose actions are evident in the earth. Nowadays, one is impelled to question exactly how this God relates to a world seemingly out of control. Assuming that God exists, however, to what extent does He really “act with steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth”? How should we understand the relationship between God’s power and the role, if any, of human choice in the unfolding drama of life? Has God, through His almighty power, willed an eternal and immutable plan or, alternatively, is He limited at best or powerless and passive at worst?
If divine activities are understood as being commensurate with divine nature, then it appears, at least phenomenologically, based on the law of non-contradiction, that God is ontologically constrained. Obviously, the humanly devised projections produce gods that are not only human but also, necessarily, supernaturally incompetent. The influences on the cultural viability of the notion of “god” have been pervasive.
Understanding Griffin’s Postmodern God
Certainly, the view embraced regarding the supernatural and its relevance to individual existence influences the reception to the gospel. This study stresses the centrality of God, and proposes that a true understanding of God’s power is necessary to any serious theological or missiological engagement with contemporary society, which must optimally be informed by understanding the postmodern epistemology of God. Consequently, it is instructive to examine the self-perception of contemporary society regarding god.
Griffin’s postmodern theology. In his book, God and Religion in the Postmodern World: Essays in Postmodern Theology, David Ray Griffin observes that, for a number of reasons, the modern scientific worldview rendered theology—and god—irrelevant. For Griffin, postmodernity marks a new beginning for theology and is the preferred worldview as it facilitates “renewed interest in religious spirituality as the foundation for both individual and social life.”11
Griffin notes that the postmodern worldview is built on theses that challenge the “mechanistic interpretation of nature and the sensationist epistemology” of modernism, which views experience as sensory only. Postmodernism boasts the “naturalistic theism” of the new paradigm in contrast with the modern assumption of naturalism.12 The postmodern worldview is considered advantageous because of its rejection of modernity’s a priori rejection of religious truth and/or its constriction to the private domain.13
Griffin’s “constructive or revisionary” postmodern worldview attempts to utilize a “creative synthesis” of “positive” modern premises (such as the human self, historical meaning, and truth as correspondence) and traditional premodern concepts (such as divine reality and cosmic meaning).14
In alerting readers to postmodern modifications, Griffin is careful to point out that his treatises are aimed at readers who “have found traditional theology incredible and modern theology irrelevant.”15
Still, an issue of fundamental import is the postmodern epistemology of reality—and therefore of God. According to Griffin, “epistemologically, postmodern theology is based on the affirmation of nonsensory perception. . . as the fundamental mode of relating to [the] environment.”16
Reality is seen as an experiential event: experiential because it has “inner reality” and event because it lasts only momentarily. This “inner reality” as an “embodiment of creative power” carries cogent implications for this exploration of divine power. Griffin names postmodern theology “a Christian philosophical (or natural) theology. . . . It is process theology.”17
Griffin’s postmodern God. Griffin references the generic idea of god in the West as a “personal, purposive being, perfect in goodness and supreme in power, who created the world, acts providentially in it, sometimes experienced by human beings, especially as the source of moral norms and religious experiences, is the ultimate ground of meaning and hope, and is thereby alone worthy of worship.”18
He then highlights the incompatibility between this “traditional” god, with its inherently “fatal problem[s],” and the modern worldview with its own accompanying problems. He notes that “the idea of divine power put belief in god in opposition to the modern commitment to social and intellectual freedom . . . [and that for] theistic postmodernity to be viable [it] must challenge the idea of divine power traditionally associated with the generic idea of God.”19 Ultimately, Griffin’s narrative approach—problem and solution—suggests a necessary worldview change, contingent on the commitment to freedom, experience, and reason.
Griffin’s postmodern god is “similar to the traditional God, except for a modification of . . . the doctrine of divine power.”20 The postmodern god is “the supreme, all-inclusive embodiment of creative power” facilitating appropriation, self-actualization, and efficient causation. Because this god “appropriates elements from [the] environment . . . actualizes [the self] by creatively synthesizing [environmental] influences into an experiential unity . . . [and] exercises a creative influence upon subsequent events . . . god both influences the world and is influenced by it.”21
Notwithstanding the inherent similarities, the postmodern god is distinguished from other “experiential events” by the absence of spatial or temporal limitations and the presence of unlimited knowledge and compassion. While Griffin’s vision is of a postmodern god who possesses “supreme power,” and “exemplifies the idea of the modern God,” divine power is modified, yielding only limited creative and providential power to influence others. His “supreme power” is not equivalent to omnipotence. He attributes this truncation of power to inherent, irrevocable, creative creaturely power for self-actualization and efficient causation. God therefore affects creatures by persuasion from within, not by coercion or determination. The effects of this limitation of divine power are pervasive on traditional Christian thought and belief extending across hermeneutical considerations of creation and miraculous acts and other encounters with the world. Unlike other process thinkers, Griffin commendably concedes that such a god is omnipotent, although modified in semantic postmodern meaning to describe one “having all the power that it is [com]possible for one being to have.”22
Consequently, on Griffin’s view, the postmodern god is impotent to create ex nihilo
, to infallibly inspire a book (such as the Bible) or an institution (such as a church). This conception of God is thought to ratify complete human freedom.
Perspective. Griffin’s thesis reflect one of the many ways in which the Christian doctrine of God has been interpreted. He claims that the god for postmodernism is the god of process theism who “could not and does not have a monopoly on power and therefore cannot unilaterally determine the events in the world.”23 His thesis reflects significant similarities with extant Christian interpretations, for example, in it rejection of determining or coercive divine power and its denial of God’s monopoly of power.
However, the constructive model has sought to explicate the impugned omnipotence of the traditional God by providing a patronizing redefinition of the concept and ultimately promotes an “empowered individual” and a “disempowered god.” In his apparent ratification of human freedom as a way of acquitting God of the problem of evil, among other things, the non-sensory epistemological credentials of Griffin’s theses are brought into question. It seems that God has been reconstructed by humans and no longer reflects an objective reality.
In what sense is Griffin’s experiential-entity god a “being,” and how is this entity capable of fostering a relationship with the world? How has Griffin’s god corrected for the deficiencies he identified in the modern god? Moreover, as he pre-emptively acknowledges, this god appears devoid of the attributes he prescribes as necessary for a public theology: “A public theology must be able to pass public scrutiny . . . is the account self-consistent? Is it adequate to all known facts? Does it tie several known facts together in a new, illuminating way? And (ideally) does it illuminate previously unknown facts?”24
Griffin’s thesis also reflects the troubling manipulation of language that has apparently become characteristic of this epoch. Furthermore, from what source has Griffin been able to identify this god? Undoubtedly, the source(s) from which a knowledge of God is sought is (or are) decisive.
Reconstructing divine power. Perhaps the most significant reasons for diversity in interpretations of conceptions of God lie in epistemology and, secondarily, in hermeneutics. Thomas Morris pointedly states that: “it has been the intent of theologians throughout most of the history of the Christian faith to describe correctly, within our limits, certain important facts about God, human beings, and the rest of creation given in revelation and fundamental to the articulation of any distinctively Christian worldview.”25
Whereas nature in its various forms has been considered as a source for a doctrine of God, the Bible presents itself—as the source of data of God’s self-revelation—as the ultimate source for such doctrine (Heb. l:1–3; Rom. 16:26). Naturalistic theism as proposed by Griffin is human philosophical interpretation of God built on the sole basis of natural data and akin to natural theology, and must be seen as inferior to the true knowledge about God available in biblical revelation. It is to these biblical considerations that we now turn.
Divine power. Although the word omnipotent appears only once in Scripture (Rev. 19:6), the Bible is replete with examples of powerful divine acts occurring independently of, and cooperatively with, creative beings both individually and collectively. The biblical evidence of divine power reflects active involvement by all members of the Godhead and across a spectrum of experiences: control over nature, healing from spiritual and physical maladies, empowerment, and salvation of humans, and even delivery from death.
In contrast with the biblical understanding, Griffin’s god is ontologically limited in power and dependent on inherently empowered humans to create. In the account of Job’s encounter with God (chapters 38–40) when God questions Job regarding “foundations,” “measurements,” and “cornerstone,” among other things, a clear context is provided of a divine “imprint” in creation that is later substantiated by questions relating to humanly impossible tasks associated with nature (e.g., awakening the dawn and commanding clouds and lightning). God clearly and emphatically demonstrates not only the limits of human capability in contradistinction to that of the divine, but also the contingent nature of divine cooperation with human: “‘Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?’” (38:4 NKJV), “‘when I made. . . fixed. . . said. . . stop’” to the sea (vss. 9–11, NKJV). This narrative, among others, reflects the seemingly paradoxical reality of divine power: It has actual and potential unilateral capacity. Any request or accommodation of participation with humans must be understood as voluntary from the One who is the source of power as humans are equipped and enabled to function. The Bible states not only that God is home to all wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:2, 3), but that all Scripture is inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16) to thoroughly equip those who choose to do good. God is the source, and He bids us to ask, seek, and knock. Further, lack of coercion and determination is evident in humans’ liberty to choose the prescriptive norm as is evident from the biblical account of God’s promises to Abram; evidently the actualization of the promise was dependent on Abram’s choices (Genesis 17).
Some philosophers believe that humans devise gods to cope because life is meaningless and painful. The biblical God, however, promised Israel meaningful life with plans for prosperity (Jer. 29:11). Although sin has caused pain in life, Jesus constantly assured His hearers that life is pregnant with meaning from beginning to end so they could “‘be of good cheer’” (Matt. 9:2, KJV) and have hope. Jesus declared Himself the recipient of “‘all power’” (28:18, KJV), which He chose to share with the disciples to enable discipleship. Humans are equipped and empowered to voluntarily participate in a plan larger than their individual lives. Similarly, on Mount Olivet, Jesus promised power to the apostles to enable them to witness (Acts 1:8) and, having accepted, they and others converted to Christianity “‘turned the world upside down’” (Acts 17:6, ESV). By no inherent entitlement or qualification, humans are lovingly endowed with power to carry out God’s providential plan. Accordingly, a brief word on providence is in order.
“Providence” is generally conceived as divine care or guidance and closely related to divine power. Fernando Canale notes that although the term is not biblical, “the concept is central to Scripture and refers to the revelation regarding God’s government of the world and the universe” as human realities flow in their complexities.26 He distinguishes indirect and direct divine providential activity; the former includes divine decisions regarding specific historical situations such as allowing sin to follow its natural course (Gen. 3:8–15), limiting sin’s actual reach (Job 1:12), using potentially evil situations to bring about His purpose of salvation (Gen. 50:20) or intervening to prevent a human being from sinning (Jude 24). These patterns of providential activity are known, respectively, as God’s permissive, limitative, directive, and preventive wills.27 The latter is evidenced in God’s choice to dwell among His people and direct them (Ex. 25:8), the incarnation (John 1:14), prophetic revelation, miraculous acts, the mission of the church, and His “alien work” of divine wrath.
Canale suggests that the purpose of providence “is to change the mind of free human beings by allowing them to understand and freely choose God’s revealed will.”28 Human history then develops freely according to God’s plan as transformation of humans progresses. The community of disciples so formed then seeks to perpetuate itself. This, Canale notes, becomes the mission of the church.
Where and how has God revealed Himself? Since God is the Creator and Sustainer of the world, His revealed, inspired thoughts in the Bible are the best standard for faith and practice that is available to everyone. The Bible presents a God who is all powerful, almighty, and capable of what postmodernism denies: creation ex nihilo and inspiration of a book that defines the standard of morality. Indeed, such a powerful God is also, de facto, capable of being a tyrant—by unilaterally exercising power and causing terror. However, this “theoretical” knowledge of God through His word is translated in individual lives by His power and “it is through understanding how God works in our individual lives that we can truly understand how God directs the course of history.”29 In Revelation, “Christ is represented as holding seven stars in His right hand. This assures us that no church faithful to its trust need fear coming to nought, for not a star that has the protection of Omnipotence can be plucked out of the hand of Christ.”30 Herein we see the true character of divine power as also revealed in Revelation 5:5, 6—as “Lion” and “Lamb,” reflecting the “union of omnipotent power and self-sacrificing love.”31
Biblical examples demonstrate that one’s relationship and experiences with God will define a perspective regarding Him and His relationship with the world. This indicates that divine power, even when applied in rebuke, is administered in love. Perceptions of God are heavily influenced by self-perception: A single act that may be interpreted by some as terror and wrath is simultaneously perceived by others as mercy and deliverance. The distinction lies primarily in whether or not one is alienated from divinity by sin. Of course, postmodernism boasts a lack of allegiance to an external authority or standard as presented in Scripture. The widening divide between the church and society highlights an increasing recognition of a need for a model to bridge this gap.
Rethinking the Problem: Responding to Griffin
The polarity of perspectives on God’s nature and, consequently, His relationship with the world has been noted; apprehending the “correct” claims even within Christianity has, apparently, had the unfortunate effect of fragmentation of options rather than unification of beliefs. Undoubtedly, this has contributed to one of the greatest challenges facing the Christian Church today: that of finding an intelligible means of communicating the gospel in this epoch. Yet, despite the nature and/or extent of the challenges, the church is constrained by its God-given mandate—indeed, its raison d’être
—to “‘make disciples of all nations’” (Matt. 28:19, NIV). Therefore, if the church is to be faithful in this age characterized by radical pluralism and increasing humanism, relativism, and postmodernism, it must make its way “‘into all the world and preach the good news to everyone’” (Mark 16:15, NLT).
Arguing for its propositions strictly in terms of scientific and philosophical criteria—self-consistency, adequacy to the relevant facts, and illuminating power—Griffin presents postmodern theology as an oxymoron: relatively closer to truth than extant theological positions. Though it appeals to fundamental issues in religious experience, it is a philosophy. Yet, firm in its commitment to freedom and reason, this proposed model of God is specific to a desired postmodern worldview with a mutually supportive world comprised of postmodern persons, spirituality, and society, eventually leading to a global order.
The Bible provides a more consistent and adequate system than any philosophy anchored in the flux of human hubris. The glance at Job’s narrative above reveals a glimpse of God and divine power, and Job acknowledges the futility of attempts to know God apart from His self-revelation (11:7–9). Limited by finitude and tainted by sin, humans are incapable of understanding fully the very nature of a God whose “greatness is unsearchable” (Ps. 145:3, ESV). So how does the church fulfil her responsibility?
Redefining divine power? There has been an apparent misinterpretation of divine power posited on misguided historical ecclesiastical events purportedly in the name of God. Apparently, these historical events have conspired against a biblical understanding of divine power such that earthly power has become the standard for understanding divine power. Accordingly, in any consideration of power, coercion has replaced capability and ennobling, terror has replaced strength and might, fear has replaced favor, adversary/competitor has replaced companion in tribulation and strength in weakness, and instrument of destruction has replaced shield of protection and source of all strength, wisdom, and knowledge. Unsurprisingly, the perspectives of God noted above have reflected this misunderstanding.
Postmodernity’s primary dissatisfaction with, and attempt to redefine, divine power further misinterprets omnipotence as determinism―especially regarding the persistence of egregious evil in the world. Griffin accuses modernism of redefining God beyond recognition in its efforts at compatibility to the extent that God became impersonal, and opting to “preserve” God by redefining divine power instead. While this redefinition preserves “the idea of God,” it is essentially semantic and likewise leads to the “death of God.” According to Griffin’s hypothesis, an omnipotent God does not fit naturally into a context of predetermined—and therefore powerless—humans. What Griffin fails to acknowledge is that a powerful God does not mandate, nor produce, nor is automatically equivalent to, predetermined humans. Humans are not automatically powerless—devoid of choice—if God is omnipotent. Moreover, any divine knowledge of the future does not diminish their freedom.
Griffin’s attempt at redefinition is commendable and correct but epistemologically flawed. Finite philosophical thought cannot replace Infinite self-revelation. A correct understanding of God must come from the source God attests—the Bible (2 Tim. 3:16)—which portrays God’s power in history. The Bible portrays an all-powerful God who empowers and lovingly endows freedom to humans. Many will agree that in the midst of pain, suffering, and the complexities of life, they invoke God’s omnipotence and God’s providence to secure hope and strength to persevere. Such appeals are not mere projections, inventions, illusions, opiate, or events, but rather reflect rational proofs of God’s power in their lives that corroborate biblical data. God does not manipulate the evidence to acquit Himself. Neither should we. An intellectually and philosophically sound explanation for the problem of evil is possible based on biblical data. God remains omnipotent nevertheless.
Ultimately, is the postmodern god of limited power relevant? Is this god a being capable of relationship? Can the postmodern god save—if indeed there is a need for salvation? How does the postmodern god influence the flow of life, and to what end?
A correct biblical perspective of divine power will lead to changed views on God, humanity, and the world, and the response to the gospel. Theology constructed to accommodate dynamic philosophy is unreliable. A correct perspective on divine power mandates, primarily, “thinking in the light of Scripture [which] requires replacing philosophical and scientific views on reality with biblical views on ultimate reality, beginning with the reality of God.”32 Certainly, divine power must be redefined, but not the way Griffin proposes. Divine power must be redefined to show its ultimate source in the Creator God and to change its connotations from coercion and subjugation to capability and empowerment. Griffin is right: It is a question of worldviews, addressing issues in origins and telos, and how the journey advances from beginning to end. Thinking in the light of Scripture requires a transformation of worldviews. The persistent challenge is how to effect worldview transformation in the postmodern mind.
Transforming worldviews. A sound, biblical conception of God is intuitively fundamental to the understanding and reception of the gospel. Advancing from the premise that the biblical worldview is the correct one, how do we facilitate a transformation of worldviews, particularly in this postmodern epoch? The philosophical foundation of Griffin’s postmodern theology renders it vaguely Christian in the sense of being naturalistic yet more specifically Christian in being theistic, though the concept of god is intellectually contrived. Pluralistic postmodern theology relies on no single all-inclusive perspective of the divine center of reality. How then do we know the God referenced in Jeremiah 9?
A strategic opportunity is inherent to the postmodern ethos itself. If indeed, to be postmodern is to cherish an impulse “to do things differently,” if it is best construed as an “exodus” from constraints rather than the necessity of conforming to structures and strictures of any universal system, then Christians ought to be understood as postmodern, for Scripture repeatedly teaches precisely about “change,” “difference” and “exodus.” Christians are admonished “throw off your . . . former way of life” (Eph. 4:22, ESV) and “not [to] conform to the pattern of this world” (Rom. 12:2, NIV) but to “come out of [Babylon]” (Rev. 18:4, NIV). Moreover, the concept of faith
must be “postmodern” because it is evidence
of “things not seen” (Heb. 11:1, ESV) and not just a basis for examining or for believing the evidence. Certainly, belief in the undiluted power of God is “postmodern” because it does not mandate scientific or philosophical logic to believe that God can create ex nihilo
, inspire all Scripture, and manage the world providentially. These examples of Christian norms and beliefs depict postmodern characteristics. Like Paul on Mars’ Hill (Acts 17:22–24), Christians have sufficient common ground to engage the intellectual/postmodern as an initial step in worldview transformation.
While spiritual transformation is the outworking of the power of the Holy Spirit, Christians can facilitate worldview transformation by incarnating the gospel message in everyday life as they preach the good news, heal the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to captives, restore sight to the blind, and set the oppressed free (Luke 4:18, NIV).
Yet Christians must remain “sober and vigilant” as they declare the undiluted Word of God. Phillips and Okholm caution that “the postmodernist use of language is not a morally neutral tool that Christians can employ for their own ends, for it focuses on psychological effectiveness over against the truth. The goals of manipulating the environment and making the process itself as pleasurable as possible trivialize Christian concepts of sin, forgiveness, guilt, grace, death and resurrection.”33
Nash reiterates that in the world of ideas, intellect is far from sufficient, and there is a continued need for fitting the full armor of salvation. It is God through His Holy Spirit who will provide the power, wisdom, and knowledge for the Word to be shared with those in need. Christians must constantly rely on God, for it is not by might or power that lives will be changed but by the Spirit of God.
Perspective. Worldviews determine perspectives of the god-world relationship. Accordingly, the church must incorporate into its missionary modality the knowledge that each person has a worldview. Obviously, the question of worldviews prejudices whether God is even a factor in the conception of history and the affairs of humankind and, further, if indeed God exists and plays a role, precisely what God’s role is and how it is actualized.
The real issue underlying the postmodern ethos is a fluid neutrality that appears to be attempted universal compatibility. The apparent attempt to accommodate every ideology creates tension because of the incompatibility inherent in such an endeavor. This fundamental flaw suggests that Christianity and other ideologies are essentially mutually exclusive. Yet, humans seem intent on absolving themselves of all responsibility, and the postmodern god facilitates the maintenance of a form of godliness while denying its power. Unsurprisingly, Scripture foretold these last-day eventualities and exhorted Christians to be wise. They are “always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:7, NIV), for they “resist the truth” (vs. 8, NIV). Those who know the truth are encouraged to continue in the truth, which they learned from the best source—the Holy Scriptures—and which is able to make them wise unto salvation through faith in Christ. Contrary to Griffin’s postulate, Scripture affirms that all Scripture was inspired by God so that truly godly persons may be empowered to good deeds. Philip Kenneson observes another advantage and opportunity for the church in this era: “Eliminating the idea of objective truth will force the church to take responsibility for the way it sees and understands the world. In the end, by listening to postmodernism’s critique of modernism, the church may learn that it is not ‘objective truth’ which gives its testimony, authority and intelligibility, but the fact that the church lives its life in a way incomprehensible apart from the God to whom it witnesses.”34
Clearly, our lives should reflect the imbued power of the omnipotent God as we abide in Him.
When an omnipotent Creator is rejected in favor of “natural” independent processes, individualism and humanism are promoted. When natural overshadows supernatural processes, the power of God is eclipsed and the result is invariably the death of God. Ultimately, any philosophical or theological system thus founded promotes an evolutionary worldview that is obviously incompatible with biblical supernatural creative power ex nihilo
. Griffin (and others) who attempt to be all things to all people are desperately seeking to mix iron and clay.
A proper understanding of the biblical God would mitigate barriers to the acceptance of a biblical worldview resulting from the postmodern rejection of the metanarrative. If postmodernists are able to understand, acknowledge, and accept the God of everyday life, then, presumably, there will be greater openness to the story of the divine Person (as recorded in the Bible).
There is an urgency for a well-defined and articulated biblical doctrine of God as a necessary foundation and anchor for the gospel message. As the Seventh-day Adventist Church contemplates these critical times, love for the lost must add impetus to the obedience to the commission to “‘make disciples of all nations’” (Matt. 28:19, NIV) and drive action that cooperates with divine power for transforming worldviews and lives. As potential avenues are prayerfully considered, constant attention must be given to the importance of sound theological underpinnings to the gospel effort. Canale’s thoughts are instructive: “Seventh-day Adventists have limited themselves to dogmatic and theological statements, staying away from a systematic development of the Doctrine of God and the Trinity. Most theological statements have been produced within the context of studies about Christology, atonement, and redemption.”35 He says that contemporary Adventists, generally speaking, “have continued to center their theological interests in soteriological and eschatological matters. For this reason the technical discussion of the doctrine of God has not become an issue.”36
A well-articulated doctrine of God is a necessary element of an equally well-articulated gospel message—particularly in a pluralistic and relativistic society that is often unaware of its desperate need for the life-giving love of, and relationship with, this amazingly gracious and ever omni-benevolent God.
Jenifer A. Daley, Ph.D. (Economics), is completing her Ph.D. in Religion (Systematic Theology and New Testament Studies) at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, U.S.A.
NOTES AND REFERENCES
1. Armin Kreiner, “What Do We Mean by ‘God’?”, New Blackfriars 87:7 (January 2006): 26.
2. Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (New York: Dutton, 1970), 1.
3. Stanley Hauerwas, After Christendom (Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 1991), 148; in Timothy R. Phillips and Dennis L. Okholm, “Introduction.” In Christian Apologetics in the Postmodern World (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 1995), 11.
4. Timothy R. Phillips and Dennis L. Okholm, eds., “Introduction,” in Christian Apologetics in the Postmodern World (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1995), 11. Italics in the original.
5. Bruce A. Ware, “Introduction,” in Perspectives on the Doctrine of God: 4 Views (Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Academic, 2008), 1.
6. Jon Paulien, Present Truth in the Real World: The Adventist Struggle to Keep and Share Faith in a Secular Society (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press, 1993), 205.
7. Alister McGrath, The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World (New York: Galilee Doubleday, 2006), 5, 6.
8. Ibid., 7.
9. Ibid., 55.
10. Ibid., 58.
11. David Ray Griffin, God and Religion in the Postmodern World: Essays in Postmodern Theology (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1989), 3.
12. Ibid., 63.
13. Ibid., xiii.
14. Ibid., x, xi.
15. Ibid., xiii.
16. Ibid., 4.
17. Ibid., 9, 10.
18. Ibid., 52
19. Ibid., 62.
20. Ibid., 67.
21. Ibid., 64.
22 Ibid., 65.
24. Ibid., xiv.
25. Thomas V. Morris, ed., Divine and Human Action: Essays in the Metaphysics of Theism (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1988), 3. Italics supplied.
26. Fernano L. Canale, “Doctrine of God,” in Raoul Dederen, ed., Handbook of Seventh-Day Adventist Theology, Commentary Reference Series (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald, 2000), 12:118.
28. Ibid., 120.
29. David A. Noebel, The Battle for Truth (Eugene, Ore.: Harvest House Publishers, 2001), 326.
30. The Acts of the Apostles, 586.
31. Ibid., 589.
32. Fernando Canale, Basic Elements of Christian Theology (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Andrews University Lithotech, 2005), 43.
33. Phillips and Okholm, Christian Apologetics in the Postmodern World, 15.
34. Philip D. Kenneson, “There’s No Such Thing as Objective Truth, and It’s a Good Thing, Too.” In ibid., 20.
35. Canale, “Doctrine of God,” 148.
36. Ibid., 150, 151.