Postmodernism is the currently reigning world view of the so-called progressive/intellectual movement. Its impact on society is hugely significant. The church has not escaped its invasive influence. Pastors, Biblical counselors, and other church leaders can expect to confront the destructive consequences of postmodern attitudes for decades to come.
What exactly are the basic tenants of postmodernism?
That question is impossible to answer precisely, since one of the core notions of postmodernism is a dislike for definitions, especially of itself. Nevertheless, if accepted as generalities, at lease five points of postmodernism can be identified. These are:
- There can be no universal absolutes.
- Community is important, but never static, it must always evolve.
- Reality is perception, and perception is personal not corporate.
- Love is acceptance, never judgment.
- Belief in anything ultimate (especially an ultimate being) is repressive and dangerous (untrue certainty must give way to true uncertainty).
A New Philosophical Counterculture
Each generation seems to extrude a tribe of so-called intellectuals who nominate what they believe to be a new philosophical counterculture. Mostly due to humanity’s carnal predispositions, if the supposed new idea is adopted by a statistically significant number of others, it may qualify it as an ism. Those who are first to publish become the guiding lights.
Recent generations have given obeisance to such luminaries of secular intellectualism as Bultman, Darwin, Dewey, Freud, Hegel, Hume, Huxley, Kant, Marx, Nietzsche, Rousseau and Russell, approving also a multitude of lesser lights. What is so strikingly inane about the ideas trumpeted by such men is that they are not revolutionary, not unique, and certainly not original. In fact, one might argue that their ideas are but echoes of sophistry from the past.
Postmodern purists would argue that their ism is not a “counter-culture” idea, but a “contra-culture” philosophy. Rather than supposing to offer up another cultural alternative, postmodernism considers itself a reflex against the culture. It does not so much support the idea of “another” culture, but the idea of no defined culture. It’s a kind of do as I please, and don’t you dare object mentality.
Philosophical and theological thinkers are currently publishing a spate of articles and books on subjects related to postmodernism, and how postmodern values have and will continue to change world culture. Ministry related magazines and journals have taken up the challenge to help prepare the church to reach the largely narcissistic postmodern mind. The purpose of this article is to review the idea that somehow postmodernism is novel (or postmodern).
If we can prove that a particular ism is merely the resurrection of a previously developed form of thought, the value of the secondary form is diminished. If a particular philosophy assumes itself to be novel, only to be antedated by a substantially similar theme, it may claim an improvement or expansion on the idea, but it cannot claim to be novel; attempts to do so in common writing is known as plagiarism.
Concerning the opinions of humankind, the writer of Ecclesiastes soberly noted, “There is no new thing under the sun. Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See this is new? It hath been already of old time, which was before us” (1:9b, 10 KJV). That statement, whether one believes it to be canonical or merely literary, can be confirmed to have been written nearly 3,000 years ago.
No Universal Absolutes
Of the five general tenants of postmodernism, the first is that there can be no universal absolutes. What is held to be sacrosanct by one may be rejected or ridiculed by another, since to accept or expect some philosophical, sociological or theological absolute is irrational. Has that notion been suggested and tested by a previous generation?
Yes, in fact, we can go back as far as the very first generation. In Genesis 2:17 God said to the man and woman, “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (KJV). Notice, “thou shalt not” and “thou shalt surely”. Here were two clear absolutes…no compromise, no equivocation, no second option, just two patent absolutes.
So, not long after the creation, the first postmodern tenant surfaced. If the present is the modern (and that is its definition), then Genesis chapter three was postmodern in its time. Postmodernism comes early with its attack upon irrational absolutist thinking flatly declaring it wrong. “And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die” (vs. 4 KJV). But die they did. There was an absolute after all.
One might object on the ground that the Genesis account is only metaphor, but even if it were purely a metaphor, it is one antedating postmodernism by at least the latest supposed date of its historically verifiable emergence in literature making it not less than 3,500 years an earlier copyright holder on the notion of no absolutes. Furthermore, as early as 3,000 years ago, the preacher of Ecclesiastes (as noted above) predicted that copyright claim jumpers would eventually discover that someone had been there before them.
In no way do we intend to suggest that Genesis chapters one and two are the only verifiable examples of the no absolutes idea being antedated. We only have noted it to have been the earliest.
Furthermore, it is a bit amusing to hear postmodern proponents suggest that there are no absolutes since the very statement is a pronouncement of an absolute! Can there be only one absolute? Absolutely not! General tenant number one seems to be nothing new, but only a sophist echo from the past, and a very tired echo at that.
Dennis D. Frey, M.Div., Th.D., President
Master’s International University of Divinity