WHAT IS POST MODERNISM?

A new kind of language stalks the land, based on a widespread contemporary ideology called postmodernism, the chief characteristic of which is the rejection of absolute objective truth. “What‟s true for you may not be true for me,” encapsulates the postmodern idiom fairly well. Despite its recent origin, postmodernism already dominates the media, academia, politics and much of „the church‟. Statistics reveal that a majority of young people in the West hold to the following „truth‟; “There is no such thing as truth.” A thing may be cool, OK or workable, but to say it is „true‟ implies something else is „false‟, a judgment call that assumes a hierarchy of correctness - perish the thought. How did we get here? With almost no exceptions, up until the 19th century everyone held to the „correspondence theory‟ of truth. That is, when a thought or statement properly represents reality (what is real) it is true. Truth may be discovered by mankind, but is never „created‟. Nor is anything „made true‟ by its acceptance. Some things are always true, for all people, in all places, whether anyone cares to believe or not. So, how was this ancient axiom overthrown? The history of the last 2,000 years can be divided into three periods. The pre-modern world (up to the 17th century), the modern world (17th to late 20th century) and the postmodern world (late 20th century onwards). What distinguishes these periods? With notable exceptions, those living in the premodern world (whether „Christian‟ or „pagan‟) generally accepted the mythological and the supernatural. Pre-modern society acknowledged a spiritual hierarchy. It was a „given‟ that God (or the gods) ruled over creation, and from the King down, authority was to be obeyed without question. Status was defined by position (ruler, head of family etc.). Traditions reigned supreme. People did as they were told, just as their parents had before them. No one felt they were autonomous, all were „dependent on God‟. Things were „true‟ because tradition, holy books and those in authority said so. The Renaissance (14th-17th C.) and the Enlightenment or „Age of Reason‟ (17th-19th C.) changed all that. The humanistic philosophy that flourished during these periods changed the reigning paradigm from a world perceived to „centre around God‟ to one centred around man. Reason replaced dogma and tradition. „Human values‟ replaced religious values. Individualism and free-thinking were encouraged. Status was defined by achievement (property owned, money gained etc.). Mythological paganism and supernatural Christianity were alike dismissed as relics of the past. God was dead - or, at least, if He existed at all, He was redundant. With superstition, miracles and a supernatural God removed from the public mind, all the world‟s problems began to seem explainable and solvable (by reason and science). After all, humanity was not sinful; just ignorant. Optimism filled the air. „Moderns‟ rejected disciplines such as theology, metaphysics, morality and aesthetics. 19th century materialism believed only the observable and empirically verifiable were real. „God‟, „love‟ and „justice‟ could not be tested in a laboratory and were therefore meaningless. (Of course, this idea, called „logical positivism‟, was itself a metaphysical „theory‟ and was therefore by its own definition meaningless). Cracks began to appear in modernism with the dawning of the Romantic era (1775-1850) which encouraged subjectivity and personal experience. Building on David Hume‟s ideas about the limitations of observation by sense alone, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) popularized the belief that knowledge is ultimately a matter of interpretation. After all, he reasoned, we cannot with any certainty know that our minds are correctly mirroring reality. Kant said, “You kant know.” Agnosticism became fashionable. The ship of reason was holed below the waterline. This laid the foundation for existentialism. If reality was a matter of subjective interpretation, truth and morality were relative not absolute. Existentialists choose their own way - life has no objective meaning. Existential philosophers like Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) and others, proposed that the most important questions in life were not explainable by science. Science, contrary to public perception, is not a pure discipline where scientists with pure motives search for pure truth. These writers exposed what they felt were the false assumptions and presuppositions behind modernism. Karl Marx (1818-1883) claimed a person‟s thinking was influenced and shaped by economic structures; Friedrich Nietzsche by the desire to wield power (truth claims are mere power plays); Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) by unconscious sexuallyoriented drives. With all of this psychological baggage in the mind, how could a person ever state with any certainty what „reality‟ really is? Facts are „theory-laden‟ and true objectivity is impossible. “There are no facts, only interpretations,” said Nietzsche. (He thereby assumed his own perspective was neutral!). The door to postmodernism had been opened. The Cause of Postmodernism By the 1960‟s a whole generation of young people had begun to question the results of reason and science, with their cold technology, pollution, weapons of mass destruction and socially intrusive „control‟. The optimism of the modernistic worldview had been shattered by two World Wars, the Holocaust and Vietnam. Despite all the material gains there was still a hunger for the spiritual. A desire to be free from any kind of intellectual demand or moral restraint led to experimentation with drugs, mysticism and the occult. Two centuries of „reason‟ had blown away any persuasive foundation for „morals‟. When Nietzsche pronounced the death of God in Thus Spake Zarathustra the inevitable happened. Society‟s taboos simply gave way. All that remained taboo was taboo itself. In came the sexual revolution aided by medical „advances‟. Homosexuality and abortion were legalized.

the tolerance of homosexuality. leading to an explosion in pornography.Michel Foucault. Even in the today‟s church. especially Politics. The Contradictions of Postmodernism If postmodernism boasts a mantra. Computer games) blurs the distinction between truth and entertainment. right and wrong and good and bad.” However. Instead of building on a foundation of God. If he seeks therapy he must not be condemned but made to feel good about himself. But since it has a theory about life‟s meaning. rather than what is right and scriptural. “There is no such thing as absolute truth. Divorce became easier. He was a lover of Nietzsche‟s writings. postmodernism simply says there is no foundation. „Worship services‟ are being revised to make them more emotional and entertaining. The gods of sex. are not omnipresent realities but social constructs that may change from culture to culture. is pluralism correct? Again.the minimization of absolutes. Evangelistic courses that „discuss Christianity‟ in groups ably suit the postmodernist mindset. and certainly cannot be imposed on people of other cultures. Even in „the church‟. films. it rejected human values (humanism). „Language‟ creates reality. True Biblical evangelicalism is all but dead in the water. It says that no one view is uniquely correct. The Consequences of Postmodernism In a perceptive internet article. that is the same as saying. The following trends are widespread . Image takes precedent over substance in many areas of life. The historically accepted dichotomies between what is true and false. „Truth‟ itself is only a „story‟. Art. Salvation by „making a decision‟ also corresponds well to postmodernism‟s „choose your own destiny‟ mentality. the belief that the unevangelized can be saved without the gospel. is something constructed or made-up by society. Status for postmodern man is now defined by style (the right clothes. carries the day. Postmodern culture is omni-tolerant and anti-judgmental. But if no single view is correct. A one way conversation from a pulpit is far too hierarchical. what works. Wall to wall 24/7 exposure to the visual media (TV. rationalism or will-power. Postmodern churchgoers want to „experience the supernatural‟ and „feel the music‟ . but since language changes and word meanings vary. while condemning all other views as biased constructs. Both brilliant yet tragic figures.hell. Postmodernism not only dethroned human reason. However.. preachers rarely say anything negative or critical. Michel Foucault (t986-1984). “it is an objective truth that there is no objective truth. drugs and rock-n-roll rushed in to fill the vacuum and the rest is history. Indeed it has no fixed meaning. If true. accept his lifestyle and join a support group. While existentialism left one free to choose one‟s own meaning.. postmodernism is pluralistic. non-contradiction and the excluded middle) are „Western constructs‟ which must not be taken as universally valid. Jacques Derrida (1930. all in an attempt to boost numbers. According to postmodernism there is no such thing as absolute truth. If a person says he is „gay‟. Again. put as succinctly as possible. the right music etc. that‟s considered a put-down. who ironically had died at 54. in the wake of his pitiful bout with venereal disease and insanity. the rejection of didactic preaching.” If false. relativism is either true or false. that „sin‟ is merely a loss of self-esteem etc.was a leading French intellectual who by virtue of a very promiscuous life. while all the time deceiving them into what they were never warned about . the teaching that God loves us because we are worth it. that‟s his right. what is righteousness? He has no „sins‟. „Reality‟. Preaching that involves linear thinking. Satan facilitates their depraved desires by serving up a diet of „spirituality‟ and pop psychology. truth and morals. what is „real‟ for one group of people may be „unreal‟ for another. As the apostasy in Christendom grows ever wider. Again. In Schools. Every man did that which was right in his own eyes (Judg 21:25).). postmodernism is a reinterpretation of what knowledge is and what counts as knowledge. teachers are not to mark wrong answers with a cross. that statement collapses under its own selfcontradictory weight. internet. Congregations don‟t want to hear about anything they can‟t enjoy. 16:8).not learn and study truth. postmodernism does not believe in worldviews (what it calls meta-narratives). 21st century evangelical Christianity increasingly resonates with postmodern concepts. Martin Heidegger (1889-1976). music and architecture. died of AIDS at the age of 58. the meaning of the Gospel of John is not determined by John. it . without creating any logical contradiction or conflict. after all. plays. The reader may choose what meaning to put on it (as the Serpent did to God‟s instructions regarding the tree in the garden of Eden). it is impossible to adequately give expression to the diverse and detailed characteristics of postmodernism as taught by Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951).. postmodernism says no one is free (all are imprisoned by society‟s language) and there is no meaning. but even the very „laws of logic‟ (identity. it would have to be. Not only is all thought merely „socially and historically conditioned‟. The fact that true salvation is dependent on God supernaturally drawing a sinner to Christ by conviction of sin and repentance is foreign to the new thinking (John 6:44. For example. Human beings are no longer to be thought of as the „centre of everything‟. cerebral arguments and theological terminology is „boring‟. The Concept of Postmodernism In a short article like this. the game is up. no longer feel the need to exhibit objective meaning corresponding to reality. He simply lives his life the way that „works for him‟..). perfectly reflecting the „style over substance‟ postmodern paradigm. Again. Postmodernism also rejects the idea of an „authorial text‟. influenced or driven by postmodernism. rather than being something that exists independent of the language or theories anyone may use to describe it.The Press was uncensored. Christian philosopher Ravi Zacharias explains: “Friedrich Nietzsche and Michel Foucault may well be the definitive bookends of this twentieth century. There is no centre. postmodernists claim to have a neutral perspective and be able to take a detached bird‟s eye view of all other views. “There is no absolute truth” is a statement of absolute truth.” In postmodernism man senses no personal need to live a righteous life.) and Thomas Kuhn (1922.

must be exposed as a fraud and resisted at every level of entry. while denying the authorial validity of other texts. while denying the very concept of absolute truth. Christianity must be expounded as a worldview that is true for everyone. while simultaneously denying that language has universal weight. like Paul. Back in the „modern‟ era (17th-20th C. Its proponents expect us to listen to what they say as if it were absolutely true. 1 Tim 2:5). whether they believe it or not. Persecution followed and may yet manifest itself on a wide scale in our own Western society. expecting us to catch the essence of what they are saying. The changeable ideas of men cut no ice with the enduring and eternal word of God (Isa 40:68. Christians must realise that society has rejected the notion of truth. in the postmodern era (post-1990) the secular world objects to Christianity not because it is wrong. The Christian must continue to press the exclusive claim of the gospel which has been revealed in the Bible in precise. let us pray that God will bring conviction and repentance to those hopelessly lost in postmodernism and every other false philosophy of man. They use language carefully. Status. C.1 Pet 1:24-25). Christians became public enemy number one. They outline the dichotomy between modernism and postmodernism. meaningful language (John 14:6.qualifies as a worldview itself. However. Paul tells Christians to destroy arguments that rise up against the knowledge of God. As we witness to the uniqueness of Christ and the Bible. exposing him to the righteous law of a sin-hating God is still the God-ordained way. Worth and acceptance is „in Him‟ alone (Eph 1:6). Postmodernism tolerates everything but intolerance.) the secular world argued that Christianity was not true. . This will be impossible unless. That makes it a worldview that challenges the validity of worldviews! The contradictions are endless. As a theory postmodernism was a provocative idea: as a workable model for life it is useless. Since they would not worship the Emperor as well as Christ and because they claimed to possess unique truth. but because it dares to claim it is the only truth. filled as it is with dozens of ludicrous contradictions and fatal flaws.S. claiming that the latter is superior. Acts 4:12. Gospel preaching aimed at the conscience of guilty 21st century man. exists in being „in Christ‟. they understand at least a little of „where the world is at‟ and begin to interact with unbelievers in ways they can understand (Acts 17:22-31). except to Christians. They expect us to take their authorial intent to heart. Let us also learn the lesson of history. objective. Biblical truth is absolute. for a Christian. knowable and eternal. Ancient Roman Society was supremely tolerant culturally and scrupulously fair legally. Lewis once pointed out that folk who deny the existence of an absolute moral law still become upset when you take their seat on a bus. They denied Christianity. Postmodernism. while rejecting any such hierarchy of ideas exists. The Cure for Postmodernism In 2 Cor 10:5. Its objections to the gospel have done a complete somersault in the last 20 years.

fundamental laws do not exist. Words do not describe reality (anticorrespondence and coherence theory*) “there are no absolute truths except that there are no absolute truths” Philosophy Science Scientific observations are biased by the community that interprets them. Law is whatever a societies most powerful group makes it. There is no such thing as objective science. 3:5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. so that people are without excuse. Personhood is defined by culture. 16:27 For the Son of Man is . These laws are cultural by nature. but not that “why” -S. and he will make your paths straight People are cogs in the economic machine. part of the economic system. and thus the ultimate nature of things is unknowable. Hawking Postmodern View Objective reason is a myth. in all your ways submit to him. Science can give us the “what” of reality. let us reason together. 1:20 For since the creation of the world God‟s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen. John 14:6 Jesus answered. It is a social construct. arbitrary constructions of society that are ultimately rooted in language Knowledge of truth or reality is grounded in society. the laws of human thought are not independent of society. No one comes to the Father except through me. there is a sociology of knowledge.POSTMODERNISM IN A NUTSHELL Discipline Logic Biblical View Isaiah 1:18 “Come now. being understood from what has been made. Law Prov. it is determined by cultural paradigms. Ethics Prov.” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done? Matt. Morals are subjective and personal. Societies construct reality and power determines truth. “I am the way and the truth and the life. Objective. 24:12 If you say. there is no objective right and wrong. There is no trancendant ethical standard. “But we knew nothing about this. Rom.” says the LORD.

Postmodernist: How I behave determines who I am. Rom.When all of the facts concerning a thing are pieced together. they will create a coherent. .” *Corrospondance theory. Christian: Who I am determines how I behave. and then he will reward everyone according to what they have done. non contradictory whole.going to come in his Father‟s glory with his angels.Particular Statements asserting themselves to be facts will be measured by their corrospondance of external reality *Coherence theory. 2:6 God “will repay everyone according to what they have done.

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