Postmodernism: the Church Needs to Understand It

by Howard Glass

Most Christians have heard the term "Postmodernism" bandied about in recent years, both in society and in the church. Many don't fully grasp its meaning or consequences but have formed opinions both for and against it as if it was a cultural issue to take sides on. Perhaps it's time to be longer on understanding and shorter on action.

Postmodern thinking is not new, not like someone invented it. It is actually a reaction to the failings of modernist thinking, its predecessor. Modernism assumes that truth can be observed, experienced, and passed on. Tied to that is the modernist belief that mankind can better his condition through reason. 

In contrast, Postmodernism holds that persons' perspective on truth is shaped by the culture they have lived in. Therefore, it questions the existence of objective truth, seeing it as something created by people who have a particular agenda to advance. It is easy to see how this happened.

In recent history the institutions supporting the modern view have been deeply flawed. Government leaders lie, courts hand down dubious verdicts, clergy have been exposed as charlatans and predators, journalists fabricate documents in an effort to sway public perception, and so on.

The cultural battles, pro-life vs. pro-choice, straight vs. gay, traditional vs. progressive, etc., seem stalemated. We reasoned our way forward to find ourselves opposing other lines of reasoning, equally sound in the minds of those who hold them.

Even the idiom "seeing is believing," no longer has weight. As long ago as 1976, Francis Schaeffer, in his book How Should We Then Live, warned that on television, "The viewer does not see the event. He sees of the event."

In response, Postmodernism holds that reason and science-both having gained some place in the Christian faith-have proven inadequate to advance social harmony or serve as a basis for religion.

The initial reaction from the body of Christ to Postmodernism was negative. The new ideal, "tolerance," asserts that no view or lifestyle is inferior. This view took a solid hit on September 11, 2001, when many realized that tolerance goes too far when it condones contempt for innocent life.

More recently some influential writers in the body of Christ are claiming that Postmodernism has helpful aspects. Those of us with confidence in the gospel need to understand Postmodernism, in order to follow Paul's example of being all things to all people so that some may be won to Christ (1 Cor. 9: 21-23). 

Our approach toward the lost may change with the times but the gospel never will. As Michael W. Smith puts it in his song: "Above all wisdom and all the ways of man, You were here before the world began." Amen!                  

Ironically, by lacking trust in objective proof, Postmodernism has opened wider the door to accepting personal testimony and mysticism. Such great Christian thinkers as Augustine, Anselm, Francis of Assisi, and more recently, Soren Kierkegaard and A. W. Tozer, sound more relevant than before. To a postmodernist, the Christian's personal relationship with God makes a stronger argument for truth than apologetics. Knowing this, Christians must be aware that their "walk" must mesh with their "talk," if they are to be effective evangelists.

If postmodernists put more emphasis on relationship, then Jesus' claim not to merely know the truth but to be the truth has a much better context. God came to us in flesh so we could relate to a Person, not just an idea.

The test of Postmodernism may well be how it handles the tough issues the world faces today. Regardless, Truth will never change and it is vital to remember that the Bible is the bedrock of truth. As such, it stands like a high tower above all the "isms." We should model Christ's character and take His command in Matthew 7:12 a step further and not only treat others the way we would be treated, but try to imagine ourselves in the other's shoes while we do it. In short, we must use love, perhaps the only tool the devil cannot use.

Whether or not this new philosophy has lasting value remains to be seen. If any aspects of it endure, they will become mainstream. Christ's return would gloriously render all man's wisdom into rubbish. It may be that Postmodernism will give us the muddiest philosophical waters yet seen by mankind. Or it may help people focus not on facts and historical evidence but on the person and power of He who will one day put all questions to rest.

Godspeed that day!

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