Is there a corner of society immune to it? It permeates coffee shops and fills talk radio. On college campuses, it is sacred to professors and students alike. It is often a core belief in human resources departments and at universities in departments of diversity and multiculturalism. To borrow the mantra from Visa® – “it’s everywhere you want to be” (Erickson 11).
Defining postmodernism is no easy task. Under postmodernism, definitions are flexible, tangential, and not firm. Gone are the days when definitions were clear, precision was necessary, distinctions were certain, and categories were clearly earmarked. Consider the threats of postmodernism and what the church can do to guard against it.
THE THREATS OF POSTMODERNISM
Postmodernism is against foundations of truth
In the mid-1900s, truth was viewed as virtuous and a path to progress. Eager bodies went to school to gain a clear understanding, to solidify a foundation, and to get a trade to make a living. Postmodernism intently and carefully disassembles and reconstructs foundations in morality, science, history, and most certainly in religion. Words lose any objective reference and meaning. Meaning becomes what each individual may construct with words. Further, postmodernism attempts to shatter a foundation where knowledge, truth, and reason advance clear conclusions that can be defended. In postmodernism, one can get close to truth (approximate truth), but never really arrive at truth. What determines truth now is “feeling, aesthetics, personal relationships, mysticism, unexplained leaps, coincidences, and a panoply of other subjective perceptions” (Carson 102).
In postmodernism, history loses objectivity
When history is objective, there are reliable facts that are true, independent of one’s perspective. When history is objective, Abraham Lincoln is the 16th president regardless of how anyone views history. The fact of his presidency is certain. Postmodernism denies this possibility. One may get close to truth about the past, but any hope of accurately depicting the past is futile.
Postmodernism alleges that scientific laws and properties are constructed and not found
Under this view, scientific constants like the speed of light and gravity are mere products or constructs of the human mind.
Postmodernism deconstructs any overarching principle or principles
There is no meta-narrative that is an all-encompassing explanation of the world man lives in. Beliefs that God created the world and sent His Son to die for the world are merely notions. People contribute and construct their various contributions in bits and pieces in life, but there is no finality or definitive conclusions about finding meaning in life.
Postmodernism says, “embrace the contradiction”
If truth exists, something false must necessarily exist. Not so, says postmodernism. Instead of working to resolve contradictions and conflicts, people should embrace the conflict, discord, or contradiction. One may attempt to resolve conflict, but finally resolving conflict is not possible. In the past, people attempted to work out religious differences, but now people should revel and embrace the differences without attempting to resolve them.
In postmodernism, disagreements over doctrine are taken as personal attacks
Rather than appealing to facts that are objectively true (the Scriptures)—facts that would settle any matter of Biblical disagreement, it is more important that everyone’s voice is heard. Feelings and the subjective experience of being heard takes precedence over settling doctrinal issues. Truth is viewed as relative, and, if a particular view is judged to be false based upon the Scriptures, the teacher’s judgment is viewed as a personal affront and an offense to the students. He may be viewed as hard-lined, legalistic, narrow-minded, or bigoted. In this scenario, there is a greater loyalty to the comforts of hearing many voices than there is to the conforming to the ultimate voice of the will of God (Erickson 59-60).
Postmodernism creates false dilemmas
Postmodernism portrays Christians as falling into one of two categories: a cerebral Christian or a sensitive, heartfelt, postmodern Christian. The cerebral Christian is doctrine bent, dogmatic, system-oriented, pattern-holding, institutional, pharisaical, argumentative, legalistic, egocentric, and self-assertive. The postmodern Christian is more seeking, experiential, compassionate, tolerant, relational, humbler, and in the end, believed to be more spiritual. Concerning knowledge, postmodernism says that one is either ignorant and humble, or arrogant and certain (cf. Shelly and York 21). Instead of a person loving God with both heart and mind, it is either one or the other.
In postmodernism, truth takes a back seat to personal experience
Instead of the Biblical truth guiding human experience, human experience guides truth. If one is thrilled with a religious experience, it is then trusted to be acceptable to God. One glosses over and dismisses asking the initial question: does this please God according to the Bible?
The church must solidify its foundations against postmodernism (cf. Ps. 11:3). God’s firm foundation stands (2 Tim. 2:19). In guarding against postmodernism, the church must be keenly aware of the philosophical and cultural currents that swirl. The church must understand the times and engage the lost while being wise as serpents and harmless as doves (Mt. 10:16).
If people will not accept the Bible because of postmodernism, reason with them on how bankrupt the philosophy is. The world operates in a realm of objectivity. People aren’t postmodern at traffic lights, constructing what they want green or red to mean. Air traffic controllers and pilots are not postmodern in constructing meaning as planes take off and land. Bridge builders understand the risk of creating their own meaning in constructing bridges. Banks operate on monetary values having real objective meaning that is not constructed by investors or debtors.
Keep teaching people that there is a meta-narrative that makes sense of this world. The church must cry out, like the prophet Zechariah, “return to the stronghold” (Zech. 9:12). Jesus really is the exclusive way, exclusive truth, and exclusive life (Jn. 14:6). God really is near people (Acts 17:27) and His people are people of the way (Acts 9:2). The church must affirm in word and in deed that the gospel will forever remain potent for saving mankind (Rom. 1:16-17).
The church must keep affirming to the world that postmodernism is a fog that has settled in blinding the eyes of people. Uncertainty does not have to dominate one’s life. With Jesus, one really can know if their eye offends them (Mt. 5:29), if the right hand causes one to sin (Mt. 5:30), the clear difference in one’s yes or no (Mt. 5:37), whether one loves God or money (Mt. 6:24), whether one is entering the wide gate or the narrow (Mt. 7:13), and whether against Christ or for him (Mt. 12:30). Jesus spoke with clarity and certainty.
Concerning human experience, let truth guide experience and not vice versa. Jesus said we can know truth and the truth can set us free (Jn. 8:32). Teach people that Christianity is the best life now and always! Moses told Israel to choose life (Dt. 30:19). This is not a life free of suffering or a life of instant wealth or gratification, but a life of balance and the promise of eternal blessings (cf. Heb. 5:8; 1 Tim. 6:10). Christ said that “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
When the world offers so many philosophies, man can take solace and thank God for giving him the glorious gospel that gives clarity, certainty, and stability. Buy the truth and never sell it (Pr. 23:23). In the end, the better way is only in Christ. The life of the light of men is found in Him (John 1:4). May the church be determined to encourage the world, to leave the remnants of postmodernism, and stand fast in Christ.
Carson, D. A. Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church: Understanding a Movement and Its Implications. Zondervan, 2005.
Erickson, Millard J. The Postmodern World: Discerning the Times and the Spirit of Our Age. Crossway Books, 2002.
Shelly, Rubel, and John O. York. The Jesus Proposal: A Theological Framework for Maintaining The Unity of the Body of Christ. Leafwood Publishers, 2003.