Some people denounce postmodernism as an enemy of Christianity. Others disagree with that assessment. Still others wonder what postmodernism actually is.
Adrian Rogers, chair of the SBC’s Baptist Faith and Message Study Committee, said, “Our generation faces the reality of a postmodern culture, complete with rampant relativism and the denial of absolute truth.”
Hayes Wicker, chair of the SBC’s Resolutions Committee, referred to the postmodern worldview as one in which “nothing matters.”
Darren Mitchell, of the Society for the Integration of Faith and Thought (SIFT), wrote, “We have to accept I believe, that truth, as we know it, is a tired concept because of its alliance with modernism and the totalising experience neither of which is I believe essential for the Christian who wants to uphold the central claims of evangelical Christianity.”
And then there’s The X-Files, arguably the most postmodern show on television. Its tagline is, “The truth is out there.”
At BCE’s workshop at the CBF General Assembly in Orlando, a number of people expressed interest in, and frustration with, postmodernism.
Questions came from various corners: “What is it?” “Where did it come from?” “Why is it here?” “Where is it going?”
These are good and difficult questions. Postmodernism is elusive by nature. Nevertheless, here is a general framework of postmodernism. For a reference point, it is compared to modernism–a prominent worldview among most people born before 1960.
In broad terms, postmodernism represents change, whereas modernism represents stability. Postmodernism prefers a circle, while modernism prefers a line. Some have even suggested postmodernism reflects the Holy Spirit, and modernism reflects God.
Modernists tend to see the world as black and white, whereas postmodernists generally see shades of gray.
The fact that I cannot–or will not–offer a strict definition of the term is itself evidence of a postmodern environment. Some would say it indicates how institutions of higher education have “infected” my mind with a postmodern virus.
Many despise the current state of cultural affairs, and they blame the condition on postmodernism.
They see postmodernism as a “relativistic” force which promotes lawlessness, an absence of morals, a rejection of truth, a questioning of knowledge and subjugation of the individual to the group.
Sometimes it seems postmodernism has filled the “whipping boy” void that communism has left.
Many Christian groups are not shy in speaking out against postmodernism.
The mission of the PoMo Group is as follows: “People will understand the basic tenets of postmodernism, its corrosive impact on Western civilization, and conclude there is an alternative. They will replace postmodernism’s hopelessness with hope in Jesus Christ.”
The PoMo Group offers a candid, and militaristic, appraisal of “America’s Cultural Battlefield.” Their Web site states: “As in any war there are two sides and neutrals.”
It describes modernists as those who believe in absolutes, and postmodernists as people who value “emotions and relativism. Holding tolerance a cardinal virtue, they are non-judgmental on moral issues. ‘Moderates’ are noncommittal or vacillating neutrals. Their unwillingness to make judgments effectively makes them Postmodernist-allies.”
Some Christians dislike postmodernism because they perceive it at odds with Christianity. They feel postmodernism hacks away at “truth” and therefore constitutes an unacceptable worldview.
True, a postmodern outlook is generally suspicious of dogma. It questions. It listens. It values, though it doesn’t have to agree with, multiple perspectives.
“With the maturing understanding of the insights of postmodernism, we should recognise postmodern uncertainty as a humbling reminder of our finite, fallen struggle to make sense of God’s world,” SIFT’s Mitchell wrote.
On a variety of counts I must take issue with those who paint postmodernism as an evil to be stamped from the earth.
First, the cultural juggernaut of postmodernism cannot be stamped out. It will morph (a fine postmodern word) out of existence just as it did into existence.
Second, postmodernism is not the evil some would have us believe. While some self-proclaimed postmodernists may defend extremes, what worldview has adherents that don’t? If the “radical behavior” of a few invalidates the worldview of many, then we Christians left the party a long time ago.
Third, postmodernism enriches lives through its value of diversity–in people, in thought, in experience. While those who fear postmodernism shout “diversity,” like “fire” in a crowded theater, my understanding of the Bible suggests God created variety.
Fourth, postmodernism values the seeker, and American society just might be a society of seekers right now. I submit Jesus took a postmodern turn when he said, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you” (Mt 7:7).
But if the postmodern in me readily sees “ask,” “search” and “knock,” the modern in me sees “given,” “find” and “opened.”
Cliff Vaughn is BCE’s associate director.
Visit SIFT at http://www.sift.org.au/
Visit Gospelcom.net’s “Research Resources on Postmodernism” at http://www.gospelcom.net/apologeticsindex/p02.html
Visit the PoMo Group online at http://www.halcyon.com/postmod/