You can handle the truth about Postmodernism. In simplest terms, this complex and abstract worldview, which dominates increasing segments of our society, holds that people are simply products of of their social setting or culture and ‘truths’ are mental constructs of individuals based upon their own individual cultural setting. Therefore values are individual based upon those same cultural paradigms – the implication being there are no universal values. In essence, the postmodernist creates his or her own sense of reality.
To better understand the concept of post-modernism, it will be helpful to understand how ‘we got here from there,’ so to speak. So let’s go back and briefly unpack the concepts of modernism and pre-modernism in order to better contextualize this newly developed worldview.
Pre-Modernism: Before the 1600s, people in the West generally believed that God (or the transcendent/supernatural realm) furnished the basis for moral absolutes, rationality, human dignity, and truth. This was the lens through which one could properly interpret reality and human experience. By having faith in God, the world could be rightly understood.
In short, pre-modernism held that there is absolute truth and God is the author and revealer of it. This was the predominant view in the world until the Age of Enlightenment.
Modernism (1650’s – 1950’s): Modernism held that morality, human dignity, truth, and reason rest on foundations other than God (reason, science, race, etc.). Philosopher René Descartes (1596-1650), also a Roman Catholic, famously coined the phrase “I think, therefore I am.” His skepticism of Christian dogma (i.e. a pre-modern view of truth) and church authority removed God from center stage, replacing it with human reason as the starting point. His paradigm shift regarding truth reflected the beliefs of many people as the rationalism of the European Enlightenment (c. 1650-1800) came to the fore. Science now became the source for truth and reality, not God. During this period, religion and morality were arbitrarily demoted to the subjective realm.
In simple terms, modernism held that there was absolute truth, but it now could be discovered with certainty through observation and reason.
Post-Modernism (1950’s – present): To review and elaborate, in the postmodern era, there is no single defining source for truth and reality beyond the individual. Postmodernism simply radicalized relativism and individualism, then applied those concepts to all spheres of knowledge — even science. For example, I once read of a college professor militantly maintaining that 2 + 2 does not equal 4! Really? Really!
In a postmodern world, truth and reality are understood to be individually shaped by personal history, social class, gender, culture, and religion. In other words, you have your truth, I have my truth, and Benny has his truth! Are you starting to see the confusion this context for truth creates?
Since truth is relative – tolerance, freedom of expression, inclusion, and refusal to claim to have the answers are the only universal values. To claim any absolutes is in direct conflict with the postmodern paradigm.
Therefore, when no universal foundation for truth, morality, human dignity exists, you get chaos and pandemonium. And that’s exactly what we see happening today around the globe.
Does the bible shed any light on the postmodern worldview? Yes, in that we can identify error only when measured against truth – our objective measure of reality found in God’s Word. For the bible is the blueprint for reality:
- Jesus said, “Thy Word is truth” (John 17:17).
- “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6).
- “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:18).
How does postmodernism answer the four foundational questions whereby we can objectively measure a worldview? In simple terms, this way:
- Where did we come from? No one can say, since there are no absolutes.
- How does Postmodernism provide meaning? As the saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Even so, in postmodernism, the meaning of life or meaning in life is ascribed by the individual – subjective and arbitrary.
- What moral framework does postmodernism provide? Again, any moral framework is arbitrary and subjective.
- What is our ultimate destiny? As with origins, postmodernism says, “Who can know?’” Not too hopeful!
In light of an increasing number of people embracing this worldview, how then shall we engage the postmodernist?
“For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).
Specifically, one weapon we wield is the “Sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17), the Word of God. We need to lovingly confront error with truth, because the truth of God’s word is a most powerful weapon.
Andrei Sakharov was a Russian nuclear physicist, anti-Soviet dissident and human rights activist. He became renowned as the designer of the Soviet Union’s “Third Idea,” a codename for Soviet development of thermonuclear weapons. Sakharov was an advocate of civil liberties and civil reforms in the Soviet Union. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975.
The man who gave the Soviet Union the bomb, stated late in his life, “The most powerful weapon in the world is the truth.”
No doubt, as we share the truth in love, it is good to understand our audience and communicate in a manner they can understand, as Paul did at Mars Hill (Acts 17:22-31).
And if the gospel is rejected by the postmodernist, it’s not because they can say we’re wrong – there is no right or wrong in postmodern thought – but because the message claims to be the truth.
Years ago I was having a conversation with a friend about absolute truth. He made a classic postmodern statement that gave me an opening – He said, “I don’t believe in absolutes. I’m a relativist.” I kindly responded, “Is that an absolute statement?” Silence.
That wasn’t a ‘gotcha’ moment. I simply wanted my friend to see a contradiction in his worldview. Yes, the truth exposes error and it is the truth that sets people free.
For Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).
As we share truth claims of Jesus and His saving work with the postmodernist, pray the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, would do the work of illumination and conviction – to the end that they would be delivered from error and brought to a knowledge of Him who is “the Truth” – the Lord Jesus!
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. – 2 Timothy 2:15