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Ezekiel and our postmodern generation

A book written some 550–600 years before Christ has much to say to the postmodern, post-truth times we live in today, writes Baptist minister Andy Oliver  


Opening up Ezekiel'Truth has gone the way of the toaster review.’ This was the title in the comment section of The Times newspaper in which journalist Hugo Rifkind addressed what he termed ‘the growth in alternative facts.’ The article drew attention to the preposterous extreme to which postmodernism has taken us in its refutation of truth claims. To quote Rifkind once more, ‘For the populist, there can always be alternative facts, because there are no facts. Not anymore. There are only reviews.’
He relates all of this to the process of buying a toaster from a popular internet site. The best toaster is very quickly assumed to be the one with the 738 five-star reviews. Little thought is given to the possibility that there might actually be an even better toaster for sale at a similar or better price, but which simply is not as popular or, for whatever reason, has fewer reviews.
The point of all this talk about toasters and populism and alternative facts is simple really. Often the ‘truth’ of a matter is determined by its popularity! In our day, if enough people say it then it must be right, it must be true. And the church is not unaffected by this.
In 2016 the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year was post-truth. They defined it as an adjective ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.
But what has all of this got to do with Ezekiel? What can a book that was written some 550–600 years before Christ have to say to the postmodern, post-truth times we live in today? Well, when you consider the Oxford Dictionaries definition of post-truth and compare that with what was going on in Ezekiel’s day, it is hard to see what has changed! Though he was living in very different times, many of the issues people were facing were not much different.

The Israelites had in many ways turned their backs on God, and public opinion seems to have been shaped more by appeals to emotion and personal belief than by God’s revealed truth. If truth was not being challenged by ‘alternative truth’ it was certainly being ignored in favour of the popular view. The way in which Ezekiel addresses this speaks clearly to his contemporaries in Babylon and reaches down through the corridors of time into our day.
We are told that our post-truth society is non-authoritarian and therefore does not respond well to authoritarian preaching. Ezekiel shows us how to preach with authority without being authoritarian. His faithfulness to what God calls him to do illustrates that the word of God has an authority all of its own.
It has been remarked that postmodern people respond well to storytelling. The book of Ezekiel deals with narrative history, offering theological perspective on historical events. It recounts in detail the historical and practical reasons for God’s judgement against Judah. But more than that, it tells of the wonderful future God has for his people despite their failings.
Authenticity is another one of those words that keeps popping up in discussions about postmodernism. If we expect people to listen to what we have to say then they must be able to see the difference God’s Word is making in our own lives. Ezekiel could certainly not be charged with being inauthentic. His whole life of obedience to God, including dealing with the traumatic death of his young wife, is played out in the public gaze.
We live in what has been described as a global village and postmodern people are passionate about international issues. Ezekiel’s message is not only for his own people but reaches out across borders. His message emphasizes the concern of God, reiterated in the New Testament, to make his name known among the nations. Christians of all people should be those living in authentic community, that is, communities in which the unsaved can see God’s word being authentically lived out.
But perhaps the greatest message that Ezekiel has to offer this postmodern generation is his message of redemption. If postmodern people do not respond well to moralistic preaching then Ezekiel has the answer. God’s message through Ezekiel addresses not simply moral decline but their acute spiritual need and how to redress that. His message is one of redemption and hope. It is not simply about changing behaviour but of trusting in God who alone can change their hearts. Ezekiel’s message points forward to the life and ministry of Jesus, the one who encompasses the entire grand narrative of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and the one in whom authentic redemption is found.

Andy Oliver is a Baptist minister from Northern Ireland. From 1999–2008 he was pastor of the Way of Peace Church in Tirana, Albania. Since 2009 he has served in the Royal Army Chaplains Department.

Andy is the author of Opening up Ezekiel, published earlier this year by Day One Publications

‘The prophet’s authority speaks still and all who study him in Andy’s company will not fail to be changed by the experience.’
Mark Meynell, Associate Director (Europe & Caribbean) of Langham Preaching.
‘It is simply and clearly written, explains difficult passages without getting bogged down, and regularly comes back from Ezekiel’s day to our own, to suggest ways in which the text can challenge or comfort us in the church today.’
Chris Wright, Langham Partnership, author of The Message of Ezekiel in The Bible Speaks Today series.



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