It might surprise many to realize that in the last few years a new way of thinking and analyzing ideas has made its appearance. This new methodology is called Postmodernism, and it has thrust us into a whole new era. Postmodernism is a mindset rapidly replacing the Modernism that has held sway in our world for the last couple of centuries.
This new way of thinking is making its presence known in newspapers, on television, in the movies and in classrooms. We are already hearing its buzz words and catch phrases; words like “tolerance,” “political correctness,” and “multiculturalism.”
Unfortunately, the church usually manages to be a little behind the times in its preparation to resist dangerous philosophical trends. It has only been in recent generations that the church has finally awakened to the centuries-old threat of Modernism. Now that we have finally gotten ourselves awake, this threat has waned and we are already facing the advent of Postmodernism. This adversary seems infinitely more dangerous than Modernism. We can hope that it will not take us another two hundred years to wake up to this new threat.
Before we can understand Postmodernism it is necessary for us to review some of the basic principles of Modernism. We may recall that it was Modernism that virtually brought an end to the theistic Medieval world view that had held sway for centuries. Modernism generally sprang from the Enlightenment, or Age of Rationalism, that began in Europe in the seventeenth century. Of course, the Enlightenment had much deeper roots, going all the way back to the Renaissance.
The Enlightenment was brought on by a number of seventeenth and eighteenth century philosophers and thinkers like Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Voltaire, Denis Diderot, John Jacques Rousseau, and Rene Decartes. The Enlightenment thinking and the subsequent rise of Modernism was greatly enhanced by the scientific discoveries of Galileo and Newton, as well as the later works of
In summarizing Modernism, the researcher, Dennis McCallum,* makes these points: Modernism sees no reality other than what man’s senses can perceive. Belief in the supernatural (called superstition) has no place in this rationalistic world. Modernism sees humans as autonomous material machines. Humanity is able to progress to a bright future by the use of science and reason.
Of course, in this program there is absolutely no room for God or the Bible, and there is also only antagonism for the Christian viewpoint and its morality. This whole system of thinking is sometimes referred to as Secular Humanism. It cannot be doubted that this system has held great sway in our halls of learning and in many of our power centers in the last two hundred years.
BUT WHAT IS POSTMODERNISM?
Hopefully with this brief background we will now be better prepared to understand Postmodernism, which simply means “after Modernism.” It seems that sometime around the mid-twentieth century, certain secular thinkers began to question the assumptions of Modernism. This was no doubt partly due to the disasters to two world wars and the threat of nuclear annihilation from the Cold War. The twentieth-century founders of this post-modernistic thought are generally felt to be Michael Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Jean-Francois Lyotard and Richard Rorty. These philosophers however built largely upon the foundation of Friedrich Nietzsche, who died as the twentieth-century was being birthed. Certainly the evidences of this new philosophy began to be seen on the street by the 1960s.
In referring once more to McCallum’s summary,* we can highlight the basic presuppositions of this new outlook. While Modernism sees man as a material machine, Postmodernism sees man as simply a cog or node in a social machine. Rather than being autonomous, man is a product of his culture and only imagines he is self-governing. While Modernism greatly depended upon “reason” for its progress, Postmodernism now declares that all reason is deeply flawed and affected by bias. Thus all information, even hallowed scientific information, can no longer be trusted. What Modernism termed as “progress,” Postmodernism sees as a code word for domination of less fortunate peoples by European or other superior cultures.
Thus the Postmodern mindset seems to spell the end of science as we have known it. It also spells the end of history, of law, and of countless other fields that we have come to take for granted. Like Modernism, it looks with scorn upon the Bible. To Postmodern thinkers, all these things would fall under the category of “social constructs.” They are merely the vehicles for those in power to further oppress those under their control.
The Postmodernists take it upon themselves to “deconstruct” these various disciplines and bring them into alignment with their own ideas. We observe that Postmodernism is quite anti-western and anti-capitalist. The movement places an undue emphasis upon ethnicity, the disenfranchised, as well as cultural origins.
We can also gather from this that some of the basic presumptions of Postmodernism are derived from Marxism. Today while Marxism has floundered in the political sense, parts of its doctrine have become quite popular in the philosophical arena. It should be noted that the Postmodernists, like the Marxists, have no qualms with using political power to accomplish their goals. Postmodernism is also deeply influenced by the gay, lesbian and feminists movements.
Unlike the Modernists, the Postmodernists accept religion; any and all religion, except of course, that religion making a claim for universal truth. Thus we see that both Christianity and Judaism are neatly and quickly excluded from the much talked-about Postmodern “toleration.” Charles Colson quips here: “Tolerance has become so important that no exception is tolerated.”** On the other hand, it is important to note that Postmodernism and The New Age Movement have become very closely allied, with much in common. Several other hallmarks of Postmodernism emerge. Because of its anti-scientific stance, the movement is eager to introduce alternative medicines into the healing professions. In fact, it is presently making great strides in accomplishing this in universities, nursing schools and hospitals. Because of its anti-scientific and anti-rational approach it places great emphasis upon feelings rather than upon facts.
Since those in the movement do not believe in the Bible or even in “truth,” there is ultimately manifested a deep skepticism, cynicism, determinism and pessimism. Postmodernism seems to picture for us the utter failure and ruin of worldly philosophy.
POSTMODERNISM AND THE BIBLICAL HERITAGE
Postmodern ideas first made their appearance in the field of literary analysis. In this field, the movement abandoned the grammatical-historical method of understanding texts. The feeling is that all texts, including the Bible, simply represent a certain cultural outlook. Both texts and authors therefore are considered only as “social constructs.” The texts or “metanarratives” as they are called often go on to become the instruments of delusion and oppression, according to their line of thinking.
With this viewpoint, neither the text nor its author has any real significance. In fact, the interpreter or reader is just as important and authoritative as the author. It falls upon the reader to provide the proper meaning. This Postmodern method of dealing with all texts is known as “deconstruction,” as we have stated.
We can see immediately that such an approach to historical documents ultimately brings about a complete distortion and fabrication of history. This has become evident in the US lately as the Postmodernists have deconstructed and utterly denied the original Christian foundations of early America, replacing these accounts with their own made up versions. These new histories now fill the schoolbooks for young American children.
The same system is also at work in deconstructing the history of Israel. For instance, many writers, thinkers and “new historians” today deny Israel’s chosen status as well as its claim to the biblical land. They see all of Israel’s unique history and its divine land claims merely as “social constructs.” Thus, the Palestinian claims to Bible lands are considered just as important and valid as Israel’s claims. Often they are given even more significance since the Palestinians are considered as an “oppressed people.”
With such a view of historical texts we can understand how Postmodernism is a serious threat to the educational process, and particularly to Christian education. In our Christian world, in time, we do tend to mimic what the world is thinking and doing.
For the Postmoderns, as we have said, all knowledge is constructed and is of equal worth. The student’s interpretation is therefore just as important as the work itself, or its author. The student’s interpretation is also just as important as that of the teacher, for all readers are their own authorities. The implications of this approach for future Bible interpretation are frightful indeed.
Postmodernists therefore display an extreme reluctance to correct, judge, test or evaluate students. When their group controls the educational system, few standards are applied and students may actually set their own standards. All education is viewed as a sort of therapy. A student’s self esteem is considered far more important than the acquiring of any particular body of knowledge. Obviously with such an approach, students may feel great about themselves, even in spite of their gross ignorance.
The Postmodern movement displays a tolerance gone to the extreme. Because all knowledge, all religion and all religious experiences are social constructs, it is improper to question what another person believes or does. So far as Postmodernists are concerned this is about the only real sin. Such a viewpoint immediately has application to Christian witness and to missionary work. For the Postmodernists, missionaries are considered as the true “destroyers of culture.”
Of course, this type of thinking can be carried on into many areas. Male and female are now considered as socially created categories. Alternative lifestyles are supported and encouraged under “diversity appreciation.” Spiritism and the occult are
POSTMODERNISM AND THE LAST DAYS
In short, Postmodernism spells the end of truth. It is the denial of all objective truth, since “truth” for this movement is ever-changing and relative. Therefore, the pagan’s truth is just as valid as the Christian’s truth. Truth must always be based upon the person’s social and cultural background. What is true for one person or group may not be true
It seems that the doctrine of Postmodernism is uniquely designed for the people of the last day. Paul says of them: “They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved” (2 Thess. 2:10).
Its denial of law, particularly biblical law, and its affinity toward political power, may enable this mind-set to become the primary tool and accomplice of the Antichrist himself, whose name in the original Greek language means “The Lawless One.”
*Dennis McCallum, ed.,The Death of Truth, (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1996), pp. 19-44.
Stanley Grenz, A Primer on Postmodernism, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing, 1996).
**Charles Colson & Nancy Pearcey, How Now Shall We Live? (Grand Rapids, MI: Tyndale, 1999), p23.
Publication date, June 2003