However you define or describe postmodernism, the reality of its growing impact on our culture and on the work of the church within our culture requires the church reaffirm its mission, re-think its strategy, and re-equip its membership for a new era.
Simply put, postmodernity is the period that follows modernity. Prominent pastor and author Craig Loscalzo describes postmodernism as “a reactive theory against the theories and practices of modern art, literature, philosophy, economics, politics, and theology.” According to Loscalzo, postmodernism is a temporal term used to describe “the death of an aging era” (modernity) and the emergence of a new unidentified era.
Popular theologian Leonard Sweet agrees that postmodernism is a transitional state between an old era and a new one. He argues, “If postmodern means anything, it means a new openness to the past and to the authority of tradition in the future.”
From an academic perspective, Stanley Grenz defines postmodernism as “a rejection of the Enlightenment project and the foundational assumptions on which it was built.” Postmodernism is a quest to move beyond modernism.
Grenz recalls the sequence of recent historical transitions in order to put this current transition in perspective. The Renaissance elevated humankind to the center of reality. The Enlightenment then elevated the individual to the center of the world. The Enlightenment assumes that knowledge is objective, good and accessible to the human mind. A modern scientist, according to Grenz, assumes that knowledge is always good, and this assumption of goodness leads to an optimistic outlook.
Such an optimism leads to “the belief that progress is inevitable, that science, coupled with the power of education, will eventually free us from our vulnerability to nature, as well as from all social bondage.”
Postmodernism rejects both the assumption that knowledge is objective (and that any scientific observer is objective) and the assumption that knowledge is always good.
Loscalzo summarizes his perspectives on postmodernism with these implications:
1. The postmodern world remains open to multi-various understandings of reality highly skeptical of any objectified truth.
2. Postmodernism is characterized by a proliferation of choices.
3. Postmodernism calls for a resurgence of community and a recapturing of communal spirit.
4. Postmodernism approaches life with a “hermeneutic of suspicion,” a kind of paranoia that perceives an ill motive or underlying ploy behind transactions and relationship.
For better or worse, this transitional period we call postmodernism is an era where diversity is cherished, pluralism is real, and the freedom of choice is considered sacred.
Definitions of postmodernism vary both between and within various disciplines. However you define or describe postmodernism, the reality of its growing impact on our culture and on the work of the church within our culture requires the church reaffirm its mission, re-think its strategy, and re-equip its membership for a new era.
Barry Howard is senior minister of First Baptist Church in Corbin, Ky.
Pastor at the Wieuca Road Baptist Church in Atlanta. He also serves as a leadership coach and columnist for the Center for Healthy Churches.