What is Postmodernism anyway?

Since I am not a scholar of the postmodern movement I am linking several articles that I think help explain it

Well, according to Wikipedia “Postmodernism is largely a reaction to scientific or objective efforts to explain reality. There is no consensus among scholars on the precise definition. In essence, postmodernism is based on the position that reality is not mirrored in human understanding of it, but is rather constructed as the mind tries to understand its own personal reality. Postmodernism is therefore skeptical of explanations that claim to be valid for all groups, cultures, traditions, or races, and instead focuses on the relative truths of each person (i.e. postmodernism = relativism). In the postmodern understanding, interpretation is everything; reality only comes into being through our interpretations of what the world means to us individually. Postmodernism relies on concrete experience over abstract principles, arguing that the outcome of one’s own experience will necessarily be fallible and relative, rather than certain or universal.

Postmodernism postulates that many, if not all, apparent realities are only social constructs and are therefore subject to change. It claims that there is no absolute truth and that the way people perceive the world is subjective and emphasises the role of language, power relations, and motivations in the formation of ideas and beliefs. In particular it attacks the use of sharp binary classifications such as male versus female, straight versus gay, white versus black, and imperial versus colonial; it holds realities to be plural and relative, and to be dependent on who the interested parties are and the nature of these interests. Postmodernist approaches therefore often consider the ways in which social dynamics, such as power and hierarchy, affect human conceptualizations of the world to have important effects on the way knowledge is constructed and used. Postmodernist thought often emphasizes constructivism, idealism, pluralism, relativism, and scepticism in its approaches to knowledge and understanding.”

The article from which the excerpt below can be found here

“The postmodern movement is notoriously difficult to define. Much has to do with your personality, generation, and traditions in which you have been educated. One can define postmodernism from a secular standpoint and be much more objective. But in Christian circles, your definition will depend greatly on which side of the fence you tend to be on. I was recently at a local “emerging conversation” in my home city. Christian “emergers” most basically are Church leaders who sympathize with many of the promises that postmodernism presents to the Church as a whole. I go to these meetings to see if I might “emerge” with them. When asked by the group which side that I agree with, I told them with all sincerity, “When I am around postmoderns, I am a modernist; when I am around moderns, I am a postmodernist.” In other words, I tend to root for the underdog and the underdog is relative to the situation. If that is not a postmodern statement, I don’t know what is!

Hard Postmodernism

Unfortunately, the allusiveness of the movement in Christian circles compounds the problem. When dealing with the issues one has to distinguish between what we might call “hard postmodernism” and “soft postmodernism.” Hard postmodernism might be defined as those who have had a philosophical shift with regards to the nature of truth. The key phrase here is “nature of truth.” Hard postmodernists would see truth as being relative to the time, culture, or situation of the individual. In other words, truth does not exist beyond the thoughts of the subject. For example (and let me dive right in!), homosexuality, to the hard postmodernist, is right or wrong depending upon the person’s situation. The “wrongness” of homosexuality presented in both the Old and the New Testaments is only wrong because of the primitive understanding of the time and culture in which the dictates were given. But today it is not wrong since we have a “greater understanding” of the physiology of sexual orientation. Therefore, the morality of a persons sexual orientation is not defined by some so-called “eternal principle” to which all people of all times must adhere, but by the situation in which the person finds themselves. Hard postmodernism, then, is defined by its denial of the concept of the correspondence view of truth—that truth is that which corresponds to objective reality. The reason for this denial is that, to the hard postmodernist, there is not an objective reality. It is an absolute denial of all eternal principles that might come from an eternal Creator. This would include ideas such as who and what God is. Any definition or belief in God, to the hard postmodernist, is purely a subjective endeavor. We can believe in God if it helps us, but that does not mean He actually exists outside of our own relative experience.

Hard postmodernism is a logical outcome of atheism or pantheism. Since both atheism and pantheism deny the existence of an eternal personal God, then there is no reason to believe in eternal truth that is mediated through the dictates of a personal agency. This type of postmodernism is explicitly evidenced in our culture in many higher education institutions, whose philosophy is clearly articulated in such a way. It is also evidenced implicitly in our culture when God is left out of the equation in matters of fact and science. For example, kids are brought up in schools that in their silence and by their silence, implicitly say that God is not part of education, since education deals with reality. When creationism (a belief in intelligent design as opposed to secular evolution) is denied an articulated avenue in the schools, this tells the students that God is not part of objective reality, but what we are teaching is. Therefore students learn that believing in God, while okay if it helps you, is in reality nothing more than a “blind leap into the dark.” And if believing in God is a blind leap into the dark, it does not deserve the time that true “education” warrants. This communicates nothing less than saying that the existence of an eternal God with eternal principles and mandates that are to be followed by all people of all time is fool hearted. The existence of objective truth is therefore impossible to truly believe in beyond blind (ignorant) hope. Sure, they may not explicitly say it as such, but this is the inevitable intellectual result.

Now, having explained hard postmodernism, it is important to note that this type of belief is decidedly non-Christian. It has no part in a biblical worldview. It cannot be advocated by a Christian, since to be a Christian necessitates advocating of its antithesis. Christianity has as its foundation the atoning work of Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection that was brought about by the eternal counsel of an eternal triune God. This atonement was necessary because man had broken God’s eternal law. Now, if Christianity’s confession is that an eternal God has eternal precepts that time bound man has broken, then Christianity is about a belief in an eternal objective truth, not a “truth” based on your own subjective experience, and is decidedly not on the side of a hard postmodernist. In other words, to be Christian is to deny hard postmodernism and to be an advocate of hard postmodernism is to deny Christianity. There is no way around it: hard postmodernism cannot be advocated by a Christian. If one claims to be a Christian, yet advocates hard postmodernism, he or she does not comprehend either what it means to be a Christian, or what it means to be a hard postmodernist—it is that simple.

Soft Postmodernism and the Emerging Church

But how many in the “emerging church” claim to adhere to a philosophy of hard postmodernism? Not many, if any at all. Then are they postmodern in the proper since? This is a difficult question and the answer is “yes and no” (there I go again evidencing the conflicting influence of the postmodern mind!). It is safe to say that emerging churches have been influenced by the postmodern culture (as we all are) and sympathized with some of its concerns (as we all do). Well then, what makes this group different? If they are not hard postmoderns what are they? Good question. Let’s call this group of “emergers” “soft postmoderns.” Soft postmoderns are different than hard postmoderns. In general they are suspicious of all truth claims. Their suspicion, however, is not rooted in a denial of the existence of truth, but a denial of our ability to come to terms with our certainty about the truth. In other words, the soft postmoderns believe in the existence of objective truth, but deny that we can have absolute certainly or assurance that we, in fact, have a corner on this truth. To the soft postmodernist, truth must be held in tension, understanding our limitations. We can seldom, if ever, be sure that we have the right truth. Therefore, there is a tendency to hold all convictions in limbo. “This is what we believe, but who is to say that we are right” is the common confession of the soft postmodern. Again, it must be stressed—for this is where great misunderstanding exists—soft postmodernism is not built upon the denial of truth itself (a metaphysical concern), but with our ability to know the truth (an epistemological concern). The emerging Church, for example, would believe in an eternal God who has laid down eternal precepts that time bound man has broken and therefore needs restoration through Christ. But attempting to define exactly who God is, what exactly He requires, how redemption is accomplished and applied is something that must be held in tension considering our own limitations. Interestingly, these limitations are the same limitations that the hard postmodern has lain down. People are limited in their understanding, being bound by their time, culture, and situation. The result is that, in the emerging Church, because of their soft postmodern tendencies, all distinctions are minimized or ignored. The issues that were the center of the controversy during the Reformation are no longer important—certainly not enough to divide over. In other words, the Roman Catholic-Protestant theological distinctions are irrelevant to the emerging church. Why? Because, while there may be a right answer, who is to say who’s right? More than likely, both are right and both are wrong. As well, the Arminian-Calvinist divide is no longer significant. In fact, to the soft postmodernist, both sides arrogantly act as if they have the right answer, when the right answer is not available with any certainty.

The emphasis in the emerging church is not on what divides, but what unites. “Can’t we all just get along” is the motto. Christianity’s uniting factor is limited “mere” Christianity. Now, mere Christianity cannot be articulated in too much detail or the cycle of division starts all over. Beliefs about non-essentials issues should either not be held or, at the very least, not spoken about with too much conviction. “Christ the Lord died, was buried, and rose again for mankind. That is it. Now let’s just love each other.”

Christianity, in both the Modern era and the Postmodern era, has faced an onslaught of doubt and unbelief that I see as having started during the Enlightenment period when Science and Rational Thought ruling the era.

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