In the next four weeks or more I will be preoccupied with apologetics and evangelism in a postmodern setting. But by way of introduction I will try to investigate the nature of postmodernism so that we can find out how the gospel of Christ can reach the postmodern mindset. This exercise is going to be a tedious one yet with lasting substance for Real Clear Apologetics to the modern culture which is now controlled by and understood through Aristotelian categories and Kantian enlightenment.
The term “post-modernism” is an “anti-worldview” which rejects the existence of any overarching objective meaning. It is an umbrella concept which covers generally equivalent movements in art, architecture, history, philosophy, and theology. The different arenas of life to which the term “postmodern” is applied make it more difficult to define the “mood” precisely. There is a question whether postmodernism is a distinct “ism” (i.e., a worldview, an interpretive grid, a pervasive outlook) unto itself or merely the end result of spent modernism–i.e., the logical result of modernism’s naturalism. Is it a break from modernism or merely illustrative of the bifurcation inherent in modernism itself? Maybe the following observations will help elucidate responses to this question.
Let us position postmodernism in philosophical chronology. First, in the pre-modern period, there was a belief in the supernatural; it was believed that life in this world owes its existence to the spiritual realm. In the Medieval period there was sacramentalism, hierarchicalism, asceticism, and Scholasticism. There were also errors in Platonism which led to Gnosticism and mysticism and errors of Aristotelianism which led to scholasticism, humanism and moral liberalism.
Additionally, in the modern period there was the belief that human beings can apply reason and the scientific method to the natural realm and discover most, if not all, of the revelation of God. It is in this framework that some denied the supernatural altogether. Others allowed for the supernatural but to some degree filled in where the “God-of-the-gaps” receded. Truth became a phenomenon to be discovered by reason not (special) revelation and not authoritative pronouncement. Reason was argued for as enlightening humanity so that progress is inevitable. Thus objectivity was endorsed and truth was considered unified and accessible. This was believed on the basis that God has revealed himself in nature; elements of the modern view are not antithetical to a Christian view. Reason is a God-given faculty which plays an indispensable role in knowing God and anything else.
Looking at anti-modern reactions from within modernism, there were “post” modern approaches to truth which were proposed during the ascendancy of modernism. However, these later overturned modernism as the prevailing worldview and have permeated popular culture. The first phenomenon in the precursors of postmodernism is romanticism which emerged as a reaction to rationalism and empiricism. The proponents of romanticism taught that God (truth) is immanent, not transcendent as the Deists had taught. Adding that emotion, not reason, is the faculty of human understanding, they were seen as reductionist with respect to “feelings” as modernism with respect to reason. The romanticists also sought meaning through introspection, subjectivity, personal experience, and even irrationalism. They defied moral absolutes and argued that morality is the fulfillment of the individual self.
The second counterpart to romanticism was existentialism which was a reaction to materialism and optimistic romanticism. Existentialism thought that the organism of life is not as friendly as the romantic assumed. They held that human beings created meaning for themselves, a meaning which is private, personal, and unconnected, contending that the objective world is absurd. Thus, arguing that what matters is not evidence, but the authentic personal choice that a person makes for his life here and the now.
The third counterpart to romanticism was nihilism, the phenomenon of thinking that constituted a rejection of metanarrative and meaning, whose great prophet was Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900). According to this mindset everything is illusion, including modernistic rationalist, romantic aestheticism, and the hope of progress. This is the context in which some supposedly Christian postmodernists deny that we can escape from our own perceptions in order to engage meaningfully with others or reality. In the next posting we will look at some basic features of postmodernism. In the mean time let it be that Jesus Christ eternally stands opposed to truths, except that Truth which is in alignment with the locus of general and special revelations.