Postmodernism Lecture #1 CHED6520: Postmodern Ministries Tim Milburn
Postmodernism is a comparative term that literally refers to the age following modernity. The three central features of modern thought are: individualism – which asserts the ultimate autonomy of each person. rationalism – which is characterized by a strong confidence in the power of the mind to investigate and understand reality. factualism – which insists that the individual, through the use of reason, can arrive at objective truth.
The birth of the modern age can be traced to the Renaissance and its elevation of the individual self as the center of reality. Rene Descartes (1596-1650) was considered the father of the modern emphasis on reason. His famous dictum, “I think, therefore I am.” His empirical method of scientific observation and rational deduction permeated every discipline, including biblical studies and theology. A critical methodology was developed that affirmed the ability of the mind to understand truth through science and reason.
Modern scientific advances ushered in the Enlightenment age through it's passion of unlocking the secrets of nature. This new paradigm produced three convictions: Foundationalism – there are beliefs or experiences that are in themselves beyond doubt and upon which systems of belief and understanding can therefore be constructed with certainty. Structuralism – societies construct texts to make meaning out of life and that the meaning which is in the text can be commonly agreed upon by its interpreters through the use of reason. Metanarrative – the overarching stories of the text that make sense out of life and provide an interpretation of the world from its beginning to end.
For many recent generations, we have lived in a modern world that believes all of life can be rationally managed because knowledge is certain and objective. Yet in recent decades, a growing number of social observers agree that we are in the midst of a transition that may well rival the cultural shift from medieval to modern thought. History shows, however, that it is incredibly difficult to assess a transition while it is occurring.
According to postmodern philosophy, modern attempts to discover objective reality were in fact mythical illusions created for social control. Postmodern thinkers assert that these legitimizing myths, or metanarrativesno longer have the power over us they once did. Jean-Francois Lyotard (1924-1998), a primary postmodern philosopher, put it this way: "Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodern as incredulity toward metanarratives." (The Postmodern Condition xxiii-iv)
What we now call Evangelicalism, came of age in the modern era. One of the primary problems that postmodern thought addresses is the emphasis on the foundational nature of Scripture. The Church, with its emphasis on systematic theologies, apologetics, and propositional content, successfully demonstrated the credibility of the Christian faith to moderns. But in many ways, the postmodern ethos challenges Christianity by simply ignoring it or setting it aside as irrelevant.
Postmoderns reject Christian truth claims, not on the basis of the claims themselves but on the assumption that absolutes can ever be found. Postmodern philosophy has shifted away from the subject/object distinction that stands behind the modern search for propositions of truth. The issue in the postmodern world is not to prove the Bible, but to restore the message of the Bible, a message which, when proclaimed by the power of the Spirit, takes up residence within those who know how to hear.
"…tracts all begin with a personal God; today's world doubts that such a being exists. They appeal to spiritual "laws," but the world has rejected the idea that there is such a thing as an absolute. And they use the Bible as an authoritative source in a world that dismisses it as irrelevant." (David Henderson, Culture Shift 223)
For two thousand years, the Church has confronted culture and existed in tension with the world. We cannot afford to ignore the culture and risk irrelevance; nor can we uncritically accept culture without risking syncretism and heresy. How can twenty-first century Christians address faith in this new postmodern matrix?
Each paradigm of history is characterized by one or more central ideas through which the Christian faith is interpreted. Transitions from one paradigm to another are complex and include the breakdown of the old and the development of new ideas that eventually culminate in a new paradigm. + Paradigms of Church History
"…I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized -- whoever. I didn't take on their way of life. I kept my bearings on Christ - but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I've become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life." - 1 Corinthians 9:19-22, The Message
Questions: Is it possible to be critical of postmodernism and yet find promise in being postmodern? Do you believe David Henderson is correct? If so, how many Christians address the issue of faith in this emerging postmodern culture? If not, where is he wrong? From your observation, what is most authoritative for postmodernstoday? BlaisePascal once wrote, "Seeing too much to deny, and too little to be sure, I am in a state to be pitied." How does his observation describe… - you? - the Church today? - our postmodern world? 5. What can we learn from the Apostle Paul's model in 1 Corinthians 9 about connecting with our cultures?
Additional texts for overachievers Grenz, Stanley J. A Primer On Postmodernism. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996. Henderson, David W. Culture Shift. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998. Jenkins, Philip. The Next Christendom. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2002. Taylor, Daniel. The Myth Of Certainty. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992. Veith, Gene Edward Jr. Postmodern Times. Wheaton: Crossway, 1994. Webber, Robert. Ancient-Future Faith. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999.