Menu

The Ark

How do we understand Post-Modernism and how does it affect us?

Wed November 22nd, 2017

Some of these philosophical terms seem very far-fetched and irrelevant if you are sat in the church praying for your neighbours and friends. They are relevant to us though if we want to understand how people think and how we are affected by them ourselves, so tonight we are going to discuss post-modernism. To discuss this we probably need first to look at ‘modernism’.

Modernism

Modernism is a philosophical movement that, along with cultural trends and changes, arose from wide-scale and far-reaching transformations in the West during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This in its turn replaced enlightenment thinking which was based on the authority of French philosopher Rene Descartes' autonomous man--the one who starts from his own thought ("I think, therefore I am") and builds his world view systematically from reason alone  Among the factors that shaped modernism were the development of industrial societies and the rapid growth of urbanization, followed then by reactions of horror to World War I. Modernism also rejected the certainty of Enlightenment thinking, and many modernists rejected religious belief.

Modernism, includes the activities and creations of those who felt the traditional forms of art, architecture, literature, religious faith, philosophy, social organization, activities of daily life, and even the sciences, were becoming ill-fitted to their tasks and outdated in the new economic, social, and political environment of an emerging fully industrialized world. The movement saw the culture of the past as now obsolete.

Many see Modernism as a socially progressive trend of thought that affirms the power of human beings to create, improve and reshape their environment with the aid of practical experimentation, scientific knowledge, or technology. From this perspective, modernism encouraged the re-examination of every aspect of existence, from commerce to philosophy, with the goal of finding that which was 'holding back' progress, and replacing it with new ways of reaching the same end. You will have heard of philosopher Nietzsche, well he was a example philosopher of the age of modernism.

Post-Modernism

Post-modernism, is a late 20th-century movement characterized by broad scepticism, objectivism, relativism; a general suspicion of reason; and an acute sensitivity to the role of ideology in asserting and maintaining political and economic power.

So, post-modernism rejects the claims of groups to have truth, and so rejects the church’s claims to having unique truth. It rejects absolutes, so there is no black and white but only 50 shades of grey.  Along with relativism, it sees your truth as being true to you but not to me or anyone else, and is skeptical about everything. It has a general disrespect for reason, so even scientists struggle to express their scientific truths by using reason in our post-modern world.

Rather than seeing humanity as an ocean of individuals, postmodernists think of humans as "social constructs." We do not exist or think independently of the community with which we identify. So, all of our thinking is contextual. Rather than conceiving the mind as a mirror of nature, postmodernists argue that we view reality through the lens of culture. Consequently, postmodernists reject the possibility of objective truth. Reality itself turns out to be a "social construct" or paradigm. In the place of objective truth and what postmodernists call "metanarratives" (comprehensive world views), we find "local narratives," or stories about reality that "work" for particular communities--but have no validity beyond that community. Indeed, postmodernists reject the whole language of truth and reality in favour of literary terms like narrative and story. It's all about interpretation, not about what's real or true.

The Problem

This is a problem for the church, because we talk about Jesus being the truth, the way and the life. We talk about God’s word being final and a comprehensive guide to how we should live, but the post-modernist asks how can that be? In the minds of society, there has been a dissolution of "cold, hard fact" in favour of "warm, fuzzy subjectivity."

For example, because experience is valued more highly than reason, truth becomes relative. This opens up all kinds of problems, as this lessens the standard that the Bible contains absolute truth, and even disqualifies biblical truth as being absolute in many cases. If the Bible is not our source for absolute truth, and personal experience is allowed to define and interpret what truth actually is, a saving faith in Jesus Christ is rendered meaningless.

At the same time we in the church are always affected by the spirit of the age and often adopt these ideas ourselves, so that we will find some Christians now talking about their experience rather than the Word of God. We value our experience, but we must also value God’s Word and recognise its absolutes. If we believe that truth is relative then we will struggle to accept the Bible’s guidelines for behaviour (particularly for human sexuality) and you will hear people talking about it being outdated.

Change

This is why we value experience, what the Spirit is saying to the churches, a written theology and clear guidance from scripture. We should not withdraw from society and be unreachable, but we should understand where people are at and try and communicate the gospel to them, in a way they can hear and accept.

Twenty years ago, Christianity was under fire at most universities because it was thought to be unscientific, and consequently, untrue. Today, Christianity is widely rejected merely because it claims to be true! Increasingly, academics regard anyone claiming to know any objective or universal truth as intolerant and arrogant.

Why do so many today consider it arrogant to suggest that someone’s religious beliefs might be wrong? By arrogant, most people mean intolerant — a term that has come to have a whole new meaning in recent years. Intolerance used to refer to bigotry or prejudice — that is, attacking people or excluding them because of who they are or what they think. In that sense, intolerance is offensive. But now, intolerance often means simply asserting some beliefs are true and others are false.

Post-modernists would assume that Christians, Jews, and Muslims all pray to the same God, but just use different names and that they all pretty much believe the same things – have you come across people thinking that? I thought so!

Today evangelical Christians feel at a greater distance from the general public than we did just 20 years ago. At that time, even those who rejected Christianity were prepared to discuss whether the evidence for Christianity’s truth was adequate. Today, this is much less frequently the case. Before we can broach the question of whether the Christian gospel is true, we have to establish that such a thing as truth exists.

Communication

Communicating with postmodern culture is not impossible; it’s just more difficult.

Francis Schaeffer observed two decades ago: “If there is no absolute by which to judge the state then the state is absolute. The same could be said by replacing the word state with ‘culture’. Absolutes must exist or we get ruled by absolute dictators.

It is perhaps a way forward to discuss real scenarios with people to help them see that absolutes can exist. E.g. a discussion of FGM in, say, Guyana – something which may be culturally acceptable and expected to them, but we see it as being fundamentally wrong and happening because men are forcing their views on women and trying to subjugate them. In this example where is the ‘truth’? Is it that we are against FGM only if it happens in our country?

There are many other example we could use but in all of these things we must realise that connecting with people and building relationships is a way forward in getting them to hear the truth, whether or not they believe it is only our truth or not. Only when they meet the person who is himself the truth will they know the truth and be set free by the truth!

We shouldn’t take this all negatively, but we should use this opportunity to rethink how we connect with people (especially the young) and thank God that the gospel is relevant to every generation because God is love.