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A Postmodern Easter

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I have been preaching Easter sermons for three and a half decades, and most have been evangelistic in nature, or at least strongly slanted toward the C&E (Christmas and Easter) crowd. After all, if people come to church just once or twice a year, the message ought to make the issues crystal clear.

The tactic I used most often was apologetic in the theological sense of the word (that is, a reasoned defense of the faith). I gave the congregation all the facts supporting my belief that Jesus truly rose from the dead, marshaled all of the historic arguments a la Josh McDowell and compelled the listeners by the sheer force of reason to recognize the truth of the central claim of the Christian faith: that Jesus Christ was “crucified, dead and buried . . . and on the third day he rose from the dead . . .” My strategy was to use airtight logic (“Who Moved the Stone?”) and weighty arguments (“Ten Reasons to Believe in the Resurrection”—that was a long sermon!) to present the “evidence that demands a verdict.”

For most of those same decades, I have eschewed an approach that I perceived to be sentimental, subjective and entirely too “existential”—that of pressing the claims of the resurrected Christ on the basis of personal testimony. “You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart” are lyrics from one of my least favorite Easter hymns. I didn’t like that approach because I thought every Mormon, Muslim or Hindu could claim it with equal authority.

But times have changed. In my role as a vice president at the National Office, I probably won’t get to preach an Easter sermon this year. That is just as well because my neighbors probably wouldn’t have gone to church to hear it anyway. And if they did, the historical arguments based on empirical facts and objective truth would not sound very convincing to them. You see, most people no longer believe in objective, one-size-fits-all truth claims. “If it’s true for you,” my neighbors would say, “that’s great! But that doesn’t make it true for me.”

In the postmodern world into which I have been dragged kicking and screaming (to borrow an expression from C. S. Lewis), people no longer wish to know if what you believe is “true.” What they really want to know is “Will it work?,” or more precisely, “Will it work for me?” and that becomes the starting place for evangelism. In the modern era, all we needed to do was to prove that something was logically true. And then, of course, it followed that it would “work.” In the postmodern world, we first have to show that it will “work.” And then, by the grace of God, we will have the opportunity to show that it works only because it is “true.”

But wait! Maybe this is not all that new. After all, the first generation of converts in the Book of Acts believed not because of a logical argument (e.g., Jesus fulfi lled more than 300 Old Testament prophecies), but because He “was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:4)—and they themselves had witnessed the events surrounding that Resurrection. Next, they experienced the presence and power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Then, and only then, did Peter’s argument from fulfilled prophecy make sense to them (Acts 2:14–41).

That was Paul’s story as well. Only after personally experiencing the presence and power of the risen Christ on the road to Damascus did the rational explanations of the disciples have an impact on him. His personal prayer was: “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection . . .” (Phil. 3:10). A good friend reminded me that the life of A. B. Simpson, the founder of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, fi ts this paradigm as well.

I won’t be preaching the morning sermon at my church this Easter. But I am fervently praying Paul’s prayer. More than that, I am praying that His Resurrection power will be so evident in my life that my neighbors will be encouraged to ask, “Will that work for me, too?”

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