Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

The Gospel and Postmodernity

Dr. Glendon G. Thompson preached a fabulous message in chapel today on dangers of living as a Christian in a postmodern context. Ironically enough, the temptations that he brought out are not really particular to our epistemological or cultural contexts so much as they are simply a plight of humanity in a fallen world. The wonderful thing about the message was it applied these universal temptations to contexts and tendencies particular to a postmodern world.

This all got me thinking some more about postmodernity.

My good friend Rielly loves to point out to me (and I think rightfully so) that modernity was no more friendly to Christianity or to biblical Christian thought than postmodernity is. Both are inherently secular philosophies with positives and negatives which must be sorted through and accordingly either accepted or rejected.

Even with Rielly’s voice floating around in the back of my head, I started thinking… perhaps postmodernity is more inherently opposed to Christianity. Off the top of my head I came up with four reasons to think this is so:

  1. Declaration of ethical absolutes. Scripture declares moral absolutes based on the character and revealed will of God. These are true regardless of time and / or culture. North American postmodernity, based on existentialism, rejects this notion out of hand.
  2. The centrality of metanarrative. Central to Christianity is the God of Christianity. He is one who transcends time and all creation. He has providentially ordered all things according to his good and perfect will. All of history, then, is one story, centred on the revelation of his Son–the image of his glory–who redeems his people for himself. Metanarrative is what holds our whole worldview together.
  3. The necessity of truth and intent contained in words and phrases. If there is no objective meaning contained within a text which can be determined through proper hermeneutical method, then again, our whole worldview crashes. Biblical Christianity cannot be sustained if it is impossible to derive meaning from a text apart from the biases of the reader.
  4. The concept of truth and its ‘knowability.’ This is the element of postmodernity that most Christians love to write about and pick on, so I’ll leave it with only one comment here. The person of Jesus Christ is Truth Incarnate. Truth is knowable, because Truth became man. If we cannot accept that proposition, the whole faith is meaningless.

1 Comment

  1. I get the feeling (as I do quite frequently with Julian), that he is stirring up trouble. You were trying to get my attention weren’t you? Well you have accomplished your mission Julian. At the same time, I don’t want you to assume that I disagree with you. I would actually say that I agree with you about the disadvantages of Postmodernism. These are things we must be weary of buying into within the Church and our daily lives.
    There is another side that needs clarification. It is incredibly important to keep in mind where the onus for the state of our culture is placed. I understand Jules that you see Modernism having it’s presentations of trouble, but to separate the two and consider them different evils is problematic. I believe it to be important to understand that Modernism and Postmodernism are not two isolated and opposite, secular worldviews. Postmodernism is the logical outworking of Modernism. Postmodernism is the consequences Modernism. They are joined at the hip, as they say. You cannot speak of one without the other. So to say that Postmodernism is inherently more opposed to Christianity, implies that Modernism is also more opposed to Christianity because Modernism set the stage for Postmodernism. Even with your four reasons for considering Postmodernism as more opposed to Christianity, I think we can find the roots of these concerns grounded in the Enlightenment, not postmodernism, postmodernism is simply the outworking of what was already in the works. The people to blame are in fact Christians. The scientists and the philosophers of the 15th Century who are credited for bringing about the Enlightenment were people with Judeo-Christian presuppositions. They perceived what they were doing as complimenting God. They were simply understanding God’s handiwork further. Whether intentionally, or unintentionally I do not know, slowly but surely human reason, and the five senses took priority over divine revelation. Man’s mind became God, man was the deciding factor of truth…if I can prove it with my reason or senses, then it is true.
    My point is that as epistemology changed in the Enlightenment away from revelation, the epistemic consequences were far reaching. There is no chair of philosophy in any credible university today that would hold to positivism or foundationalism…bias and presupposition are an immediate debunking to the systems. For example, try to get a scientist to prove the reliability of science without using science to do it. In our day, as we see the failure of our systems, the only option in my mind, is to accept divine revelation. We have proved our minds cannot discover anything in completeness, we realize that our presuppositions taint every thought; therefore, we are in need of standards and truth that are not grounded in human thought and finite reality…it is the only solution. That is why an uncaused cause, that reveals truth into finite reality, from outside finite reality, that is both omniscient, and uncaused (unaffected by bias or presupposition) is the only way to understand truth in it’s essence. In other words, a return to divine revelation. Or as Francis Schaffer would put it, a return to, “True truth”.
    I apologize, that was a little off track, and some verbal diarrhea.

    (1. Declaration of ethical absolutes) First, you talk about Postmodernity rejecting ethical absolutes. You are right it does; however, I would say that modernity also rejects ethical absolutes as we understand it as Christians, in the context of divine revelation. You said, “Scripture declares moral absolutes based on the character and revealed will of God.” So very true…but modernism roots the belief in knowing complete truth within the human mind, not in the revealed will of God. It is almost as though there are two different approaches to ethical absolutes…it is not absolutes vs. relativism….it is revelatory absolutes vs. finite absolutes. The consequences of finite absolutes is relativism. If truth is decided by the human mind, we have to then ask ourselves, “which mind?” Whose mind decides? In turn we are left with the system of relativism that inherently contradicts itself. In other words, not only is modernism’s approach to absolutes equally problematic, it is altogether responsible for relativism.

    (2. The centrality of meta-narrative) I believe this point to be true, and only with the failure of Modernism has the idea of a meta-narrative been rejected. This is what the Enlightenment philosophers were attempting to compliment, the grand picture. I believe that we can appeal to the average postmodernist with a meta-narrative as long as we show how their micro-narratives fit into that meta-narrative…in other words, show them that their lives have meaning, beyond their sole existence…God is writing a story that weaves all our individual stories into one great Epic.

    (3. The necessity of truth and intent contained in words and phrases) This probably more then any other is grounded in Modernism. Deconstructionism was created by modernism, and postmodernism just said, “hey, if we are to be honest with ourselves, let us just commit intellectual suicide.” And so we have existentialist writers like Samuel Beckett, who write a book such as Waiting For Godot, whereas nothing really happens, and everything seems quite absurdist.

    Deconstructionism came about as a result of the study of various fields of criticism, and of course, centering it all on human reason. We must be careful of this in hermeneutics. We are using the same fields of criticism that led to the intellectual insanity of Postmodernism.

    It is truly ironic that you said, “through proper hermeneutical methods” we find the meaning of a text. Yet deconstructionism and the conclusion of, being no meaning outside of what the reader ascribes to it, is all done through “proper hermeneutical methods” The same fields are used: historical analysis, original languages, context, structural study, socio-rhetorical studies, and so on. Once again, I believe the solution to be an appeal to divine revelation. I do not mean to throw out these studies, but bring them understand the lordship of the Holy Spirit; that our final authority would not be grounded in ourselves.

    (4. The concept of truth and its ‘knowability’.) I asked Alister McGrath how it is possible that anyone can use their reason to deduce truth, if truth by its very definition encompasses a fullness, or completeness; and humans by nature are finite and uncomplete? He responded very simply, but profoundly. He said, “Truth transcends our reason…it does not deny it, nor does it find its completeness in it…it transcends it.” I believe you hit the nail on the head there Julian…Truth is personified in Jesus. We can know truth, because truth is a person. God knew that we could not get to him by our human attempts over the ages. These attempts have also been made in the realm of human reasoning. We speak of believing in a gospel that is not by works…yet Christians have allowed a gospel of intellectual works to creep into their epistemology. By the truth being incarnated in a person; because truth is God and God is truth, it is only by his grace that we can know anything. Most of all, it by his grace that we even know Him.

    I have really had a major case of verbal diarrhea this time around. I imagine I just needed to vent. Maybe I should do it on my blog, which has no content as of yet.

    I believe the root meaning as to why I wanted to respond, is in the fact that almost every lecture, sermon or devotional I’ve heard concerning Postmodernism has portrayed it as biblical Christianity’s greatest enemy. Though I appreciate the critiques of Postmodernism, it seems that Christians want to get back “to the way things were” before Postmodernism. I believe Postmodernism is actually the consequences of neglectful Christians that failed to be balanced in the approach to revelation and reason, going all the way back to the Enlightenment, and onward from there.

    I am interested in critiquing worldviews, and defending doctrine. I believe there is also a mandate to learn how to be effective communicators of the gospel in whatever age we are placed…so this necessitates solutions, not just (pardon the pun) a deconstructing of these various worldviews…a “so what?” question if you will.

    1. Relative Truth can be directed toward Internalizing Truth
    Relative truth is internally inconsistent. However, there is a gold nugget of truth within relativism which says we must internalize truth, make it personal, real, incorporated into our lives. This is something Christians can use and explain. There is a difference between defining the nature of truth as relative and defining the outworking of truth as relative.
    2. The arts and interest in narrative can be directed towards renewing a sense of meta-narrative.
    Instead of writing the 30 reasons why the DaVinci Code is inaccurate, why don’t Christians start writing novels and short stories expressing the true story? After all, the average person who reads the Davinci Code reads it because they like the story…the ideologies just get melted into the brain in the process.
    Christians CANNOT shy away from using the arts in our culture. It is the language of our generation…if we can’t speak the language, we cannot express the gospel. This is how we will restore the grand narrative.

    I could go on but I won’t. I’ll actually be surprised if anyone reads this. Sometimes thoughts are written down for the sake of the writer alone.

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