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Conservative Christianity sometimes looks at cultural change somewhat tentatively and even defensively. Cultural change brings challenges and opportunities. Culture is not under our control, but it is under God’s control. God allows cultural changes.
Q. What challenges and opportunities are facing Pentecostals with regard to postmodernism?

Satyavrata: This is perhaps the most critical question we should be asking. The postmodern culture, as it has emerged in the West, is really not new. Many believe that India and [much of the rest of Asia] are a postmodern culture.

Postmodernism rejects metanarrative—one unifying story that binds all of life and connects history together. Our Eastern world had never looked at history as metanarrative. Instead, the Eastern world believes reality is not monolithic. It believes that reality consists of an inevitable ultimate that no one can see, no one can experience, and no one can really know. We have different perspectives on ultimate reality—that reality is fragmented and there cannot be one unifying theory of reality. In other words, I have one corner of reality; you have another. By implication, then, I don’t impose my perspective on you and vice versa. This same idea is at the heart of the postmodern.

This presents serious concerns because it erodes the evangelical-Pentecostal belief in absolute truth—the basis on which we communicate Christ as the only way, truth, and life.

Once you do away with the possibility of absolute truth—when you talk about Christ as the only way to God and, as God’s final absolute solution to the predicament of man—you are talking to someone who is on a different plane. As you talk to him, he is thinking, That’s your perspective. The dilution of absolute truth represents a real challenge to Pentecostals.

Though this is a very real danger, it also presents a tremendous opportunity. Conservative Christianity sometimes looks at cultural change somewhat tentatively and even defensively. Cultural change brings challenges and opportunities. Culture is not under our control, but it is under God’s control. God allows cultural changes.

Years ago Christianity reacted negatively to modernity. The Pentecostal revival of the 20th century took place somewhat in opposition to the prevailing view of modernity. Modernity emphasized rationalism and positivism. Pentecostalism reacted to that. Later, though, Christianity reacted positively to modernity. I think we’re going to experience the same thing with postmodernism.

The postmodernist’s emphasis on experience represents the greatest opportunity for Pentecostals to communicate the truth of the gospel—perhaps since the New Testament—but certainly since John Wesley and the Methodist revival. In the 21st century we are witnessing a legitimization of what Pentecostals already believe in terms of the plausibility structure of what people are willing to believe. This is one of the reasons the church is exploding in Africa, Latin America and Asia, where, under the influence of Pentecostal missionaries, there is an openness to and affirmation of experience that more rationalistic Western cultures are reluctant to open themselves to.

If you look at 20th-century missions, white Pentecostals have been active. In places like India, traditional evangelicalism, with its emphasis on reason, met with limited success. In fact, in the 19th century, the education-missions movement in India was based on the belief that if rationalism is injected into the culture, it will cause Hinduism to crumble and Christianity to be accepted. What happened, though, was the reverse. Rationalism didn’t cause intellectuals to question only Hinduism; they questioned Christianity as well.

In contrast to this approach to missions, at the end of the 20th century and early in the 21st century, Pentecostals are affirming the validity of experience by offering people an encounter with God. As a result we are witnessing the greatest revival we have ever seen in our history. When we examine the recent history of Pentecostal missions in Africa, Latin America, and Asia, we see strongholds—which for centuries were impregnable—crumble. I believe this is the result of the postmodern emphasis on experience.

What poses a threat to Pentecostalism also presents a tremendous opportunity. We know that for biblical experience to be true it must be balanced with the Word. But very rarely do people come to understand the Word and then look for an experience based on the their understanding. The non-Christian usually experiences God when he comes into a vibrant church or encounters a Christian who communicates that experience to him. After he has an experience with God, then his experience can be explained and rooted in the written word. That’s the attraction of Pentecost; we offer and present an experience, and we should do so unapologetically.

Postmodernists want an experience with God. This desire is within the heart of every man. For almost half a century, people in Eastern Europe were brainwashed concerning the ideology of atheism. But as soon as the Iron Curtain came down, there was a huge search for God. People wanted to experience God. We call this experience certified theology or theology that is found through experience. For Pentecostals, experience comes first chronologically, and then theology gives experience its rooting and grounding.

I pray that the church in America will realize this. Perhaps the tendency of the postmodern worldview in the West is making young people more open to the religious experience Pentecost offers than their more rationalist parents.
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DR. IVAN M. SATYAVRATA, Ph.D., Oxford Centre for Mission Studies (U.K.); Th.M., Regent College (Vancouver, B.C. Canada); B.D., Union Biblical Seminary (Pune, India); B.Th., Southern Asia Bible College (Bangalore, India). Dr. Satyavratra leads the Assemblies of God church and its network of ministries in Kolkata, India, founded by the late Mark Buntain.
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