It’s the thought we don’t want to consider – it’s the idea that perhaps we have failed and fallen into the very trap which we wage war against.  We see ‘x’ as something which opposes the Christian faith yet, in one way or another we end up adopting some component of ‘x’ and so become, in some fashion ‘x’ Christians.

That ‘x’ is postmodernism.  And it concerns most all of us.  Some see the term as a badge of dishonor.  “That preacher is ‘postmodern’ so we won’t listen to him or support him or even recommend him.”  And so it goes.  Some will read magazine articles or theological essays which hint of a ‘postmodern’ influence.  So we write off that author, magazine, or journal.  It is our goal to set aside anything and everything ‘postmodern.’ Whatever it is we reject it.

The first question is:  What does the term ‘postmodern’ mean.  In one sense we can boil it down to a rough equivalent of ‘relativism’ and the loss of absolute values.  PBS describes it this way

A general and wide-ranging term which is applied to literature, art, philosophy, architecture, fiction, and cultural and literary criticism, among others. Postmodernism is largely a reaction to the assumed certainty of scientific, or objective, efforts to explain reality. In essence, it stems from a recognition that reality is not simply mirrored in human understanding of it, but rather, is constructed as the mind tries to understand its own particular and personal reality. For this reason, postmodernism is highly skeptical of explanations which claim to be valid for all groups, cultures, traditions, or races, and instead focuses on the relative truths of each person. In the postmodern understanding, interpretation is everything; reality only comes into being through our interpretations of what the world means to us individually. Postmodernism relies on concrete experience over abstract principles, knowing always that the outcome of one’s own experience will necessarily be fallible and relative, rather than certain and universal.

Postmodernism is “post” because it is denies the existence of any ultimate principles, and it lacks the optimism of there being a scientific, philosophical, or religious truth which will explain everything for everybody – a characteristic of the so-called “modern” mind. The paradox of the postmodern position is that, in placing all principles under the scrutiny of its skepticism, it must realize that even its own principles are not beyond questioning. As the philosopher Richard Tarnas states, postmodernism “cannot on its own principles ultimately justify itself any more than can the various metaphysical overviews against which the postmodern mind has defined itself.”[1]

In this sense relativism ranks as a high principle.  But so does uncertainty about everything around us.  And it’s not just uncertainty about morality and values and even about God.  It is uncertainty about all knowledge.

‘Postmodern’ came after ‘modern.’  It is the modern world, starting about 500 years ago, that sought to calculate everything.  Knowledge was on the rise after the Renaissance and the idea came about that we could understand the world around us, we could prove the existence of God to the skeptics, we could measure and calculate anything and everything.  We could know everything about everything.  But it didn’t take too long for that idea to collapse.  By the late 1700s these thinkers became skeptical even about their own knowledge.  Today it seems that we cannot know anything.

But what in the world does this have to do with church life?  I’m going to raise a question about how we do our local church activities.  Why have we (so many) dropped Sunday evening teaching?  Why is Wednesday (mid-week) prayer gone?  Why are we more concerned about getting people in for that one specific hour or two and less concerned about the depth of commitment in the whole fellowship?

Now I am going to suggest a horrible idea:  We lost.  Commitment to serving the Lord has lost significance.  It now takes second place to family activities.  It takes second place to work and building a retirement.  And of course it takes second place to football.  In other words, service to the Lord, even in church leadership, takes second place to self – the me and mine who are close to me.  (I suspect that it’s not too uncommon for many pastors to spend Sunday afternoon watching football.)

It appears we are now less certain about the efficacy of evangelism and prayer than ever.  So I will propose that this lack of certainty, since it is so broad-based in our culture, can be shown to have its home in the general uncertainty and insecurity of our culture.  In the function and practice of our daily lives we have lost the battle.

So how do we win?  The work must begin in your local church.  Train those who are committed and don’t spend quite so much time on those who lack this commitment.  Instead nurture and challenge them to commitment.  Challenge them to raise their children to be committed to service, prayer, and evangelism.  You do the same.  A battle may have been lost, but not the war.  The Hope that we have in Christ is the resolution of the insecurity of the postmodern.


[1] http://www.pbs.org/faithandreason/gengloss/postm-body.html

3 comments
  1. Another example: Many ‘Creation Science’ and ‘Intelligent Design’ leaders have adopted post-modernist arguments over the past few decades, in claiming that scientific observations fit into ‘other frameworks’ or interpretations. They claim it’s not the data that is in dispute but the ‘worldviews’ of the scientists which colors the data analyses.

    As Collin notes, what’s interesting is that philosophy does to some extent support the spirit, if not the ultimate end-point of post-modernism*.That is, philosophy is ideally a critical, dispassionate pursuit wherein one tries to understand how well we actually can claim knowledge about something. Philosophy rarely leads to definitive answers, but mostly better, more insightful questions and better methods of evaluating arguments.

    *(Then again, there’s some debate as to whether post-modernism is ultimately self-defeating. I haven’t followed those deeply.).

    1. Thank you, but I must correct you one important matter. Those
      scientific arguments to which you refer are not post-modern but instead
      confront the false sense of certainty that comes from empiricism. This goes back to Hume’s trust of only his senses and ends with Richenbach/Carnap/Ayer and those who sought to dismiss anything non-quantifiable. This is at the core of what we call “presuppositional” (or as K. Scott Oliphint calls it, “covenantal”) apologetics.

      1. Thank you for your response, Collin.

        I’d like to ask you about these arguments. I feel that those in the ID and Creationist movement have made arguments along several different lines. Certainly some would align with presuppositional apologetics but I’ve seen additional diversity displayed.

        There are those who would claim that the observational evidence actually runs counter to current understanding that the Earth and the Universe are old or that modern humans date back beyond the 100K year range. They would say the evidence best fits a young-earth and special creation model. This is pretty simple denial or self delusion. It certainly isn’t ‘modern’.

        Others attempt to make the case that we don’t know everything or everything isn’t completely explained and therefore claim it’s reasonable to suppose that other ideas, even of potentially lower probability, are possible. These are ‘Gap’ arguments.

        Then, there are others who state that the evidence and scientific work can be made compatible with YEC or special creation if one adopts a different worldview. This is the ‘they’re equally valid theories’ train of thought. In the recent decade, this have been associated with the ‘teach all origins models’ attempts at equivalence in order to bring what is effectively creationism into science classes. They claim they are agnostic with respect to the nature and identity of the designer. These are the people I would classify as making post-modern arguments. (I’ll grant that at least some people who promote this adhere to Biblical presupposition, but in public they’ve downplayed their sentiments). There are those at the Discovery Institute in Seattle who have been actively calling for creating a framework for Intelligent Design science as something distinct from ‘materialistic’ science, as Philip Johnson was found of labeling current scientific processes. He also described evolution at the ‘creation myth’ of the modern era. Again, there is a fuzzy border, I think, between the desired of advocates on one hand wanting to demonstrate ID as ‘straight up science’ and gaining the imprimatur of scientific recognition (i.e. basic modernism), but on the other using the different worldview argument for why others don’t see it that way (post-modernistic).

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