The new way of thinking (as opposed to modernism: the old way of thinking).
Postmodernism is the cultural worldview
that now penetrates and owns our society. This worldview deeply values the following: spirituality, pluralism, the experiential, relativity, altruism, community, creativity, the arts, environmentalism, globality, holism, and authenticity. In many ways we are transitioning away from the "modern" values of rationalism, science, dogmatism, individualism, pragmatism, capitalism, nationalism, compartmentalism, and veneered religiosity.
The postmodern cultural context is very similar to that of the New Testament. Therefore we believe that God's message will not only survive, but will thrive in this cultural milieu. Moreover, since many of these values are intrinsic to the Christian worldview, the church can use them as a bridge to our culture and society. We also understand and affirm that some postmodern values and ideas are in dynamic tension with Christianity
, and we seek to gently but firmly challenge these, both in ourselves and in our culture.
We are witnessing a broad based backlash against reason in our culture. This backlash is widely promoted in contemporary higher education. The argument is that every time somebody claims to be in possession of the truth (especially religious truth), it ends up repressing people. So its best to make no claims to truth at all.
Rejecting objective truth is the cornerstone of postmodernism. In essence, postmodern ideology declares an end to all ideology and all claims to truth. How has this seemingly anti intellectual outlook gained such wide acceptance in history's most advanced civilization? That question requires us to understand how postmodernists conceive the past three hundred years of western history.
Postmodernism abandons modernism, the humanist philosophy of the European Enlightenment. Enlightenment thinking is based on the authority of French philosopher Rene Descartes' autonomous man--the one who starts from his own thought ("I think, therefore I am") and builds his world view systematically from reason alone. Naively, postmodernists charge, modernists assumed that the mind was a "mirror of nature," meaning that our perceptions of reality actually correspond to the way the world is. From this presumption, modernists built a culture that exalted technological achievement and mastery over the natural order. Expansion-minded capitalism and liberal democracy, outgrowths of modernist autonomous individualism, subjugated the earth to the eurocentric, male dominated paradigm.
But modernism planted the seeds of its own undoing. As arrogant, autonomous modernists conquered the globe and subjugated nature in the name of progress, oppressed and marginalized people have responded. "Progress toward what?" they cry. Postmodernists say that the idols of autonomous reason and technological proliferation have brought the modern age to the brink of disaster. The "myth of progress" ends up in a nightmare of violence, both for marginalized people and for the earth.
Enter postmodernism. Postmodernism rejects modernism's autonomous individualism and all that follows from it. Rather than seeing humanity as an ocean of individuals, postmodernists think of humans as "social constructs." We do not exist or think independently of the community with which we identify. So we can't have independent or autonomous access to reality. All of our thinking is contextual. Rather than conceiving the mind as a mirror of nature, postmodernists argue that we view reality through the lens of culture. Consequently, postmodernists reject the possibility of objective truth. Reality itself turns out to be a "social construct" or paradigm. In the place of objective truth and what postmodernists call "metanarratives" (comprehensive world views), we find "local narratives," or stories about reality that "work" for particular communities--but have no validity beyond that community. Indeed, postmodernists reject the whole language of truth and reality in favor of literary terms like narrative and story. It's all about interpretation, not about what's real or true.
Postmodernists hold that the pretense of objective truth always does violence by excluding other voices (regarding other world views to be invalid), and marginalizing the vulnerable by scripting them out of the story. Truth claims, we are told, are essentially tools to legitimate power. That's why in postmodern culture, the person to be feared is the one who believes that we can discover ultimate truth. The dogmatist, the totalizer, the absolutist is both naive and dangerous.
A growing number, especially among the emerging generation, believe that reason and truth are inherently political and subversive. That's why they are often so cynical. According to the voices in contemporary culture that shape "Generation X" thinking, claims to truth are clever disguises for the pernicious "will to power." Consequently, rather than dominating others with our "version of reality," we should accept all beliefs as equally valid. Openness without the restraint of reason, and tolerance without moral appraisal are the new postmodern mandates.
Postmodernism is an easy target
, especially if you treat it as just another form of relativism
—the old "what's true for you may not be true for me
But postmodernism is many other things, and many young believers must swim in its currents as they study, work, watch current movies, and relate to friends—especially in university contexts. A growing number of these Christians are embracing some postmodern ideas—not uncritically, but believing they offer an authentic context for Christian living and fresh avenues of evangelism.
This openness to postmodern ideas makes many conservative Christians nervous. Indeed, the postmodern set often criticizes aspects of evangelical culture, and the pomo vocabulary sounds impenetrable to evangelicals' ears.
The Antimoderns: Six postmodern Christians discuss the possibilities and limits of postmodernism
, Christianity Today, Nov. 13, 2000
Generation X: Who, What, Why, And Where To?
Thesis by by Graeme Codrington. Excellent introduction to the subject.
How can we believe in God in a postmodern world?
by Marcus Honeysett
More Doctrine, Not Less
Charles Colson asks "should Christians really be celebrating postmodernism?" Christianity Today, Apr. 22, 2002
Brief notes from books on the topic
Postmodernism and the uniqueness of Christ
by Marcus Honeysett
Postmodernism and You "Postmodernism may have originated in the province of academics and eggheads, but you will encounter it in your daily life, no matter who you are. Pick one of these nine areas to learn how you will see postmodernism affecting you and your children. Read about the postmodern position in their own words."
Covers education, health care, science, psychotherapy, religion, history, literature, bibiblical interpretation, and law and government.
Postmodernism: The Spirit of The Age
by Jim Leffel, co-author of "The Death Of Truth"
Starbucks Spirituality "Postmoderns have three questions for Christians that you'd better be ready for."
, by Brett Lawrence, Leadership Journal, Fall 2002
They Say It's Just a Phase
By Brian McCallen, author of The Church on the Other Side
[I]s postmodernism a negative philosophy? In true postmodern fashion, I guess I'd have to say that depends. If you're a modern, it sure looks negative. But from the other side, I find it opening the door to some very hopeful possibilities.
This book gathers experts from the fields of education, law, health care, sociology, politics, and literature to show how Christians can respond to postmodernism by resisting its undue influence, gleaning its insights, and learning to communicate with the new world all around us. It isn't a book meant only for intellectuals, but for ordinary readers who want to understand how our lives are being impacted daily by the postmodern shift. Highly recommended
, Bethany House Publishers, at Amazon.com
McLaren, pastor and author of The Church on the Other Side, proposes that postmodernism is the road to take in order to move on from the current stalemate between conservative evangelical and liberal Christians. His books are part of his activist work to promote "innovation, entrepreneurial leadership and a desire to be on the leading edge of ministry." Here he has adopted the fictional tale of an earnest, very conservative pastor who has become so burned out in his church life that he is planning to quit the pastorate. Instead, he makes friends with his daughter's science teacher, who leads him to an enthusiastic embracing of postmodernism as applied to the Christian message. In this fictional conversation, McLaren describes this process as a journey of Holy Spirit-guided faith "through the winds and currents of change." His conservative pastor character comes to accept the Bible as a premodern text that presents its message in story and does not have to conform to our modern expectations. The book's attention-grabbing format is an effective mode of presenting McLaren's ideas.
Breaching Cultural Containment "In Acts 8 the first of the barriers to the gospel, that between Jews and Samaritans, was decisively shattered. God used the remarkable evangelist named Philip to reach this previously despised group, and in so doing spoke strongly against racism and prejudice--a message we need to hear today."
. By Dennis McCallum
Cassette Tapes on Postmodernism
Available from Issues, Etc., including messages by Craig Hawkins
, Greg Koukl
, Norm Geisler
Christians in a Pluralistic World "Paul's sermon at Athens is a perfect example of how to relate to people in a pluralistic world like ours. Learn how Paul combined a flair for finding common ground with the courage to contradict error and stand for the truth. "
. By Dennis McCallum.
The Death Of Truth
5 Multimedia presentations from the book
. Also Available on CD-rom.
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