Postmodernism

Ours is not an easy time in which to witness and minister, but it is an exciting and needy era. Skepticism and relativism mark the prevailing philosophy in society today. On most any state college campus you will find young people who will argue that absolute truth cannot be known, or is not even important. All around us people are mildly amused by anyone who claims there is definite right or wrong. The majority of Americans live by a creed that says, “reality is what I choose nd what works best for me.” The disciple of Christ who seeks to be a faithful and effective witness must be like the “children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do…” (I Chron. 12:32). Knowing the scriptures enables us to know the nature of man, the errors of godless reasoning, and the real answer for sinful man’s needs.

What is Postmodernism?
Postmodernism is not easy to define. The era of modernism is sometimes defined as the period from Enlightenment to the 1960’s. Since then, people around the world have become disenchanted with the philosophy of modernism. In this article, I am not using the word modernism as the theologian would use it for religious modernism, but as the historian would use it to define a period of history. Postmodern disillusionment is the consequence of rejecting God’s revelation while embracing Satan’s lie. It’s effects on culture and churches will be obvious.

A reaction against the failed optimism of modernism.
Many generations embraced the optimism of modernity—a confidence that man is making progress and possesses the ability to solve the problems of society. Educators promised that evolution would bring positive reform. Scientists spoke of coming advancement and Utopian conditions. The emancipation modernism and humanism promised, however, was never realized, nor can be, by scientific achievement or political reform. Atheistic existentialists like Jean Paul Sarte and Friedrich Nietzsche paved the way for anti-humanism. Optimism gave way to pessimism. The world seemed fed up with broken promises. War, disease, economic uncertainty, racial tensions, and crime still exist. Over time, the conclusions, traditions, and beliefs of earlier generations were disregarded as untrustworthy and unprofitable.

Paul, Peter, and the early church had encounters with skeptics who denied the truth and opposed the message. Pluralism prevailed in the ancient Roman culture as well. The view of our postmodern society that authority is irrelevant is not novel. The biblical world view of the Christian is always unpopular among those who don’t want to be reminded about God, their sin, and eternity. Peter reminds us, “Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation” (II Peter 3:3,4). History shows that before long, baseless optimism always mutates into bitter pessimism.

A rejection of the absolute truth of God.
One of George Barna’s surveys revealed that 80% of Americans are basically relativistic and 70% believe there are no absolutes. Christianity used to be attacked in academic circles because it was said to be “unscientific and untrue.” Now it is rejected because it claims to be true. Postmodern thinking equivocates on the issue of truth. For postmodernists, there are an endless number of interpretations. What one feels or wants is held to be of more value than trying to determine what is true or right. Truth, as well as beauty, are only in the eye of the beholder. Moral absolutes are rejected; “right” is relative to the individual and his culture. In fact, “truth” is no loner a positive word; those who claim to know the truth are considered hopelessly arrogant. The individual who at a PTA meeting or on a talk show says homosexuality or abortion is wrong instantly becomes the object of scorn. All around us we see the fruit of people creating their own reality and norms. It is not surprising that, at the same time, they are rejecting God’s revelation and objective truth.

When Pilate asked Jesus “What is truth?” (John 18:38), he was not sincerely seeking answers, but making a cynical response. He had said with sarcasm, “Am I a Jew?”, and in pride, “What is truth?” The capricious relativism in our postmodern society is not altogether new, but a timeless rejection of truth. Adam and Eve’s violation of God’s prohibition was a rejection of God’s authority. The consequence was alienation from God and spiritual death. With innocence lost (Gen. 3) came insolence gained (Rom. 1). Paul wrote the ancient Roman church about sinful man that “when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain [futile] in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools” (Rom. 1:21,22).

The prevailing ideology influences us through news, education, and entertainment. A radio ad for a steakhouse promoted this slogan–“No rules; just right.” American culture promotes extreme individualism that promotes self-reliance and tolerance. Prevailing relativism has spawned a mentality that says truth is always “morphing,” that it is not transcendent, but created by the individual. The music, movies, magazines, art, sitcoms, newscasts and commercials of the day all bear the imprint of the radical move to a godless, postmodern relevancy. Anarchy and apathy are always the result of man doing that which is “right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6).

What is our responsibility before God in a postmodern society?
The Apostle Paul maintained a good testimony, telling the Thessalonian believers, “Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe” (I Thess. 2:10). The Christian who wants to be victorious while living in a spiritually bankrupt society must commit himself to living a life set apart to God. Removing ourselves from the sirens of sin and applying ourselves to Christ-like conduct is critical to being “overcomers” (I John 2:14). Postmodern people don’t need a religious person or a compromising church that waters-down the message of God’s Word. Rather, they need godly believers who “love not the world” (I John 2:15), but love God supremely and the lost compassionately.

Our commitment to God’s truth sets us in opposition to Satan’s lie. The inclusivistic, feel-good spirituality of today is a religious pluralism which seeks to blend together all schools of religion. The people you live among and witness to may be trying to blend eastern mysticism with some Biblical principles. A young lady who visited a church asked, “How do you respond to John 14:6: ‘Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the trught, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.’” She answered, “I believe Christianity is a divinely inspired path, but I do have a problem with the interpretation that says, ‘If you do not worship Christ, the person, you’re not getting to heaven.’ I don’t believe that. I think Jesus is talking about ‘My way, the way I’m trying to show you.’ It’s something that you need to internalize. And I think that’s the way to get to a personal relationship with God.” Her words betray the postmodern mind set of trying to pick and choose one’s own reality. Rebellion and unbelief may take many forms, but the need of a sin-sick soul remains the same. Once we “understand our times” we must be ready to minister the antidote. Commitment to address undiminished error with undiluted truth is critical in this hour.

Define truth clearly.
The postmodern mind set does not object to anyone having religion. What it objects to is the claim that the Bible is God’s final word and our full authority. Many churches have concluded that the only way to reach those in the grips of postmodern thinking is to cater to their demands. They promise acceptance and stress experience, while removing anything that might be offensive. They have left the authority of God’s Word and embraced the view that there are many ways to God and we can’t be dogmatic with the Bible. Postmodernism promotes deconstructionism, which dismisses the truth about most anything. Bruno Latour is a French philosopher who criticizes both modernism and postmodernism. He has been called a vanguard figure in the eclectic field of science studies. While he tries to distance himself from postmodern thought, he still seems to project it. Latour wrote in 1988, in his book, The Pasteurization of France, “There is no final meaning for any particular sign, no notion of unitary sense of text, no interpretation can be regarded as superior to any other.”

More and more men in seminaries and pulpits believe and teach that there must be multiple meanings and no one, true interpretation of a text. Faithful shepherds are needed in every city to preach without apology the clear truth of the whole Bible. Times are changing, but God’s command to “preach the Word” (II Tim. 4:2) has not. More than ever we must be willing to stand and declare, “Thus saith the Lord!” We are not here to pacify or accommodate; we are to be beacons of god’s grace and eternal truth. The brightness of that light is at times arresting. Nothing short of the Spirit’s work through straight preaching will penetrate postmodern darkness!

Disseminate truth widely.
A faithful commitment to local and world missions is critical today. Churches which soft-pedal evangelistic zeal are in disobedience to Christ’s clear command. To stop preaching Jesus Christ as man’s greatest need is to ignore the despondency of unbelief and the urgency of the Great Commission. This is no time to hide the light or conceal our testimony. A candle put under a bushel (Mt. 5:15) is a liability. The apostles confronted error with truth and accepted the persecution which oftentimes followed. Through the ages, men and women who remained true to the faith in hostile cultures “were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword…” (Heb. 11:37a). Faithful living and ministry, and faithfulness even unto death, are honored by God.

Defend truth faithfully.
Fundamentalists should be the best at giving “an answer to every man that asketh you a reason that the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (I Pet. 3:15). Coupled to our separated living and sound hermeneutic, must be a boldness to speak out clearly what god says in His Word. Postmodernism is not altogether new, nor is our call to speak the truth. Early church leaders witnessed that when they preached faithfully, some believed and some rejected the message. Be confident that wherever the Lord has placed you, He has “much people in this city” (Acts 18:10b) and is adding to the “church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:47). The God of Heaven sees what foolish things men believe on earth and has not lost control of the situation. May our Lord Jesus Christ assist us always to “Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time” (Col. 4:5).

October/November 2003

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