Having clarified what a post-truth society looks like and addressed some of the particular challenges inherent therein, we must turn our eyes to practical engagement with it.
Prepare for a long-haul
Stamina, energy, and strength are required for ministry in any environment; this doesn’t change when serving in a post-truth culture. At times, the challenges will be similar, but in many (perhaps most cases) very different. In order for one to prevail and endure the discouragements, depressions, difficulties, and desperate situations the strength required must be other-worldly.
Be strong in the Lord and the strength of his might. (Eph 6:10)
Sometimes you will feel as though you have reached the end of your tether.
Having done all, stand firm. (Eph 6:13b)
Ministry was never meant to be a beach on which to sleepily sun yourself; it’s a battleground on which to sacrificially spend yourself. With that in mind, if in or preparing for ministry in a post-truth society, be prepared for long-term investment. Some principles to have in mind:
- People lack trust, so you must build trust and show yourself trustworthy.
- People lack truth, so you must expose lies and exhibit truth in word and action.
- People lack time (or think they do) so you must be flexible with yours for them.
If you desire to see work accomplished in a post-truth environment you must be prepared for an at times uncomfortable long haul experience. Think ultra-obstacle course run as opposed to 100-meter dash.
You will trust people as you desire to be trusted and will have that trust betrayed and brutalised. You will do all you can to expose lies with love and compassion and live out truth only to be rejected or ignored. Other people’s time is precious (how all that time is spent in any meaningful way is questionable), but your time will always be considered as up for grabs. Though you will set boundaries, there will be occasions that you have to suspend those boundaries. You will be used and abused at times, but at the end it will all be worth it.
If you are church planting in a post-truth environment, do not assume anyone you are reaching initially understands—much less accepts—basic Bible beliefs and behaviours. For some, the Bible hasn’t even appeared on their radar.
Assuming Bible knowledge of even the most basic sort in a post truth environment would be like someone assuming Bhagavad Gita knowledge in rural Arkansas (the place of my childhood). Such assumption would be rather foolish and probably fruitless. Unlike Bhagavad Gita devotees, Bible believers—Christ followers—have the responsibility to make the Bible’s truth claims known while calling people to actively trust the same truth claims with their lives.
By how does one go about this?
Paul reasons in his letter to the Romans:
And how can they believe without hearing about him? And how can they hear without a preacher? (Rom 10:14)
The message of salvation at the heart of preaching must always be the same and consider that which is of primary importance. Paul reminded the Corinth church of this primary message:
For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Cor 15:3–4)
As people come to faith and as they grow in the faith, then other matters can be addressed and more difficult passages and Biblical concepts expounded. This gradual process is at the heart of disciple making—where a person grows from learning the truth to believing the truth to following the truth to teaching the truth themselves (Heb 5:12).
It being clear that preaching is the means and the exclusive Gospel of Christ is the message it should be specified that preaching should not be approached using the same method in every instance. “Cookie-cutter” preaching, wherin you go to post-truth unbelievers in the same way you would cultural Christians or along the lines of giving a conference sermon, can certainly be used by God to show his strength through our weakness, but generally wouldn’t be considered wise or helpful. Make sure the message is simple, clear, and prepared with prayer and people in mind.
Chip away at underlying post-truth presuppositions
Preaching is not always accomplished in the pulpit. Conversations are a particularly effective way of discipleship and gospel communication. They provide a useful outlet to chip away at false ideas and attempt to lead people to see what is good, right, and true.
One feature of post-truth culture is how it champions diversity and inclusivity—often at the cost of moral and intellectual objectivity. With emotions and feelings overriding anything objectively true, religious pluralism—the belief that all religious beliefs and traditions are equally true and valid—is embraced, at least verbally. Any claim to absolute, exclusive truth is seen as bigoted, prejudiced, intolerant. In some cases, attempts will be made to shut down dialogue and discussion.
Doubtless, Jesus’s claim, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” is a claim to absolute, exclusive, objective truth, and does not sit well with a post-truth society. The best response is not to shrink back and offer border-line apologetic qualifiers or to attempt to steam-roll over others with the validity of Christ’s claim but graciously and clearly to attempt to reason and win over the individual or individuals being addressed.
For example, when dealing with the pluralism espoused by post-truth ideology one can highlight that:
- Post-truth pluralism is ideologically inconsistent. Pluralism proclaims tolerance and acceptance but cannot leave those who differ and uphold absolute truth alone, showing intolerance and hate.
- Post-truth pluralism is logically impossible. Truth does exist and must be absolute. It must be or society could not function. It must be or there would be no basis for morality. If truth exists, so does falsehood. There are different stories that claim to be true accounts of man’s creation, presenting different ideas concerning the purpose of mankind, the nature of mankind’s problems, and where to find help and hope. While there may be some common ground between these ideas, logically opposites cannot be considered the same. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all say different things about Jesus. They cannot all be correct.
- Post-truth’s pluralism is theologically incongruent. Hinduism believes in many gods. Buddhism believes there is no personal god and life itself is illusory. Christianity, Islam, and Judaism all believe in one God. Judaism says Jesus is not the Christ. Islam says Jesus was only a prophet and one who certainly did not die on the cross. Christianity says Jesus is God made flesh who had to live and die to be resurrected so that we could be made right with God. These differing views are not equally rooted in historical, credible fact and, as such, cannot be equally true. The differing claims are completely incompatible. Like oil and water, these cannot coexist as one.
Chipping away successfully at these post-truth presuppositions occurs best in the course of organic person-to-person conversation (dialogue, not monologue!). Such conversation will usefully
- Show a healthy toleration of other religions as consisting of adherents made in God’s image, seeking to find their way towards God.
- Acknowledge elements of truth in other religions, while clearly and unequivocally indicating areas of difference.
- Be honest about Christ’s teaching as the one and only way to rightness with God.
- Be unapologetic in showing and proving how Christ and His way is better than anything else this world has to offer.
In the next post in this series, I will offer some practical issues pertaining to church planting in such a context.
Regan King is the pastor of the Angel Church, in the Angel, Islington, area of London, England. He has lived on both sides of the Atlantic, growing up in Tumbling Shoals, AR. He travels regularly to teach, preach, and train others from the Bible and holds a degree in theological studies from Highland Theological College at the University of Highlands and Islands.