I have read a number of blog posts and such which are “trashing” postmodernism or postmodern Christianity or postmodern-emergent theology. I have to admit that I cannot describe myself as being postmodern in any sense of the word. However, I feel that some of these posts are really misguided.
1. To say that one disagrees with postmodern thought begs the question of what one agrees with. When one says that postmodern thought or theology is wrong, the impression is that one supports or agrees with modern thought, since postmodern thought came out as a reaction to modernistic thought. Postmodern thought came about as a result of fairly obvious flaws in modern thought. I am going to include a quote that my wife Celia wrote in an article she did on postmodernism in seminary, referring hear to a work by Stanley Grenz:
“The postmodern situation requires that we embody the gospel in a manner that is post-individualistic, post-rationalistic, post dualistic, and post noeticentric.” (Grenz, Stanley, A Primer of Postmodernism, 167) Post-individualistic means that there is a requirement for community. “The community mediates to its members a transcendent story that includes traditions of virtue, common good, and ultimate meaning.” (Grenz, 168) Post-rationalistic is a revolt against many of the beliefs of the Enlightment. A greater emphasis is placed on the transformation of life rather than the cognition of the individual. (Grenz, 171) Post-dualistic means that one no longer thinks of mind and matter as unrelated concepts. Rather, there is a seeking of wholism. The individual, body, mind, soul, spirit, emotions, intuition, and so forth, are interrelated within the person. Post-noeticentric means that faith dominates every dimension of life. Once again, the focus is on renewal and transformation of the believer’s entire life.(Grenz, 173)
(Celia P. Munson, POSTMODERNISM AND ITS IMPLICATION TO THE TASK OF DOING THEOLOGY, Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary, 2006)
To say that there are errors in postmodern thought is essentially a truism. Of course. It could be said of any thought… all human philosophical constructs have flaws. Are the flaws in postmodernism greater than modernism? Probably. After all postmodernism is, for the most part, a construct that is post-WWII. Modernism is a construct of the Enlightenment and had a couple of centuries to deal with its weaknesses. Modernism tended to focus on positivism, naturalism, and individualism. Christians should cheer for its demise (or at least illness). So, if one wants to complain about postmodernism, that is fine, but one better make it clear what one thinks is better (and it is NOT modernism).
2. Often the complaints about postmodern thought focus on an extreme form of postmodern thought. For example, critics often charge postmodernists with rejecting objective truth. While it is true that some hold to that, this is not the normal or common view. More commonly, postmodernists don’t doubt truth, but doubt human certainty regarding truth. Objective truth may well exist, but how do we know it when we see it? As such, postmodernists are more prone to talk about subjective truth or intersubective truth. Since Christians focus more on faith (acting on a personal (subjective) understanding of truth, and allegiance to that truth without certainty), this understanding should not be seen as very problematic. While emphasizing extreme forms may be satisfying, such caricatures are no more useful than attacking modernism based on the ill-thoughtout logical positivism of the 1920’s. It would be similar to attacking Calvinism based on the sermon that Andrew Carnegie heard on “infant damnation” back in Scotland a couple of centuries ago, or attacking Islam based on the words of the most radical Islamicists.
If one is going to critique a system of thought, one really should respect it enough to hear what it says… not quote the extremes that appeal to your prejudices.
3. Like it or not, the people the church is called to reach out to are often postmodernists. If you care about people, you should at least care enough about their thoughts to understand them. This is basic to contextualization. Doing the bumper sticker theology “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” is not very appealing to most non-believers, and many believers as well. One can even argue that the statement is not even Biblical. The Bereans were applauded for testing the message they received, Paul said to test the spirits, and John (repeating the words of Christ) applauded the church of Ephesus for testing prophets/apostles that came their way. If theology is the bridging of God’s unchanging revelation with the changeable nature of human culture and human hearts, we need to do some work on our theology. Such a theology may not have to be “postmodern” but such a theology must address the questions and concerns that postmodernists have. Such a theology must “scratch where it itches.” Quoting from the blog of David Clemente,
In the Western world, most especially in the USA, postmodern thinking is posing great challenges to missiology, church studies, and Christian theology. American church leaders are experiencing a declining growth in their local churches (Gibbs and Bolger 2005:19-21). Pastors are discovering that more and more young Americans are avoiding Christian activities and Sunday morning services. Neil Cole describes the problem as “a lack of life in the core” (2010:113). Every day, we are realizing our “old school theology” from our modernist churches that has worked for many centuries are becoming irrelevant to this new generation. As Grenz has concluded: “The shift from the familiar territory of modernity to the unchartered terrain of postmodernity has grave implications for those who seek to live as Christ’s disciples in the new context” (1996:162). Whether in Asia or in the Western world, the challenges are real. We need to face these challenges that postmodernist people have for Christianity.
If one is seeking to be missional. one needs to understand postmodernity, and adapt one’s message to those who accept it.