Monday, June 16, 2014

What In the World Is Going On? Post-modernism: What Is It and Why Should We Be Concerned?

Not many people today are familiar with the term “post-modernism.” Unfortunately, this lack of familiarity has led to the acceptance of its beliefs without questioning whether or not those beliefs are in line with God’s Word. It is not my desire to write an exhaustive examination of post-modernism; that has been done well by many others. Rather, it is my hope that what is written here will spur the readers on to look deeper into the beliefs and tenets of post-modernism and of those who espouse post-modernism in order to make an educated decision as to whether or not those beliefs are compatible with the absolute truth that is found in Scripture (John 17:17, “Sanctify them with truth; Thy Word is truth.”)

Dr. Norman Geisler has done a masterful refutation of the beliefs and tenets of post-modernism and those in the “Emerging Church” movement in his paper: The Emergent Church: Theological Postmodernism (March 2012). Some of what he wrote will be shared here. It would be wise to obtain a copy of his entire paper for your personal library.

When did it start and who started it?
It is believed that the post-modern movement finds its roots in Friedrich Nietzsche and the death of God movement that he started. Nietzsche wrote: “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, the murderers of all murderers, comfort ourselves?” (“The Madman” In Gay Science, p.125).

Once it was pronounced that God is dead, then, over time, the rest of post-modern thoughts began to emerge. Here’s a brief explanation: If God is dead, then, there is no absolute Moral Law-giver. If there is no absolute Moral Law Giver, then, there can be no absolute moral law (the rise of subjectivism). Likewise, if there is no absolute moral Mind, then there can be no absolute meaning (the rise of conventionalism) or absolute truth (the rise of relativism). In the same way, if there is no objective meaning, then there cannot be an objective interpretation of a text. What follows, then, is de-constructionism.

“So, the death of God leads to the death of every other area of thought and life as follows” :
1. “Death of God” – Atheism
2. Death of objective truth – Relativism
3. Death of exclusive truth – Pluralism
4. Death of objective meaning – Conventionalism
5. Death of thinking (logic) – Anti-Foundationalism
6. Death of objective interpretation – Deconstructionism
7. Death of objective values – Subjectivism

As is clearly seen, the tenets of post-modernism run in complete opposition to biblical truth.

Today’s Proponents of Post-modern Theology

It’s important to understand that post-modern beliefs and tenets have made their way into the church. It’s also important to understand the affects that those beliefs are having in terms of
doctrine and hermeneutics. The current proponents of post-modern theology are: Brian McLaren, who wrote The Church on the Other Side; A Generous Orthodoxy; and A New Kind of Christian. Stanley Grenz, the grand-father of the movement wrote, A Primer on Post-Modernism, Beyond Foundationalism, and Revisioning Evangelical Theology. Rob Bell was on the front page of Time magazine not too long ago, in part, because of his denial of Hell in his book, Love Wins. He also wrote Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith. Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones co-authored, An Emergent Manifesto of Hope. Tony Jones also wrote, The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier.

What are the basic tenets of post-modernism? What follows is some of Geisler’s excellent explanations of the beliefs and doctrines of post-modernism and his refutation of those beliefs :

  • Anti-Absolutism. McLaren wrote: “Arguments that pit absolutism verses relativism, and objectivism versus subjectivisim, prove meaningless or absurd to postmodern people” (McClaren, “The Broadened Gospel,” (in “Emergent Evangelism,” Christianity Today [Nov., 2004], p.43).

As Geisler notes, “As we shall see, the root problem with post-modern thought is that it is self-defeating. It cannot even state its view without contradicting itself. For example,--

1. Relativism Stated: “We cannot know absolute truth.”
2. Relativism Self-Refuted: We know that we cannot know absolute truth.

  • Anti-Exclusivism. McClaren wrote: “Missional Christian faith asserts that Jesus did not come to make some people saved and others condemned. Jesus did not come to help some people be right while leaving everyone else to be wrong. Jesus did not come to create another exclusive religion” (A Generous Orthodoxy, 109). “But Christianity’s idea that other religions cannot be God’s carriers of [redemptive] grace and truth casts a large shadow over our Christian experiences (Samir Selmanovic, in Pagitt’s, An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, p.191). “Christianity is a non-god, and every non-god can be and idol” (p.192). “God cannot be hijacked by Christianity” (p.194). “If a relationship with a specific person, namely Christ, is the whole substance of a relationship with the God of the Bible, then the vast majority of people in world history are excluded from the possibility of a relationship with the God of the Bible…” (p.194). “To put it in different terms, there is no salvation outside of Christ, but there is salvation outside of Christianity” (p.195). “Would a God who gives enough revelation for people to be judged but not enough revelation to be saved be a God worthy of worshiping? Never!” (p.195).

Geisler again refutes this claim:
  1. “The Anti-exclusivism claim: “It is wrong to make a claim that one view is exclusive truth as opposed to opposing views.”
  2. The Self-refutation: The anti-exclusivist claim is exclusively true as opposed to exclusivism.

  • Anti-exclusivism is just another term for pluralism. The problem is clear: the claim that no view is exclusively true is an exclusivistic truth claim itself.                   
    1. The Claim of Pluralism: “No view is exclusively true.”
    2. The Self-Refutation: It claims that its view (that no view is exclusively true) is exclusively true.”
  • Anti-Objectivism. Grenz wrote: “We ought to commend the postmodern questioning of the Enlightenment assumption that knowledge is objective and hence dispassionate” (Grenz, A Primer on Postmodernism, p.166).

Geisler’s response in simple form:

  1. The Claim of Anti-Objectivism: “There are no objectively true statements.”
  2. The Self-Refutation: It is an objectively true statement that there are no objectively true statements.
  3. In short, their anti-objectivism makes an objective truth claim. Hence, it is hanged on its own epistemological gallows. It self-destructs.
Anti-Rationalism. It is a form of fideism that states that reason has no place in matters of faith. Grenz stated, “Twentieth-century evangelicals have devoted much energy to the task of demonstrating the credibility of the Christian faith…” (Grenz, A Primer on Postmodernism, p.160). He added, “Following the intellect can sometimes lead us away from the truth” (Grenz, A Primer on Postmodernism, p.166). Geisler rightly states, “Of course, he seems blissfully unaware of the fact that not following basic rational thought will lead you there a lot faster!”
  • McLaren, added: “Because knowledge is a luxury beyond our means, faith is the best we can hope for. What an opportunity! Faith hasn’t encountered openness like this in several hundred years,” (McLaren, The Church on the Other Side, p.173). He urged: “Drop any affair you may have with certainty, proof, argument—and replace it with dialogue, conversation, intrigue, and search” (McLaren, Adventures in Missing the Point, p.78). But here again we are faced with a self-defeating claim:
Geisler’s answer: 

  1. The Claim of Fideism: “There are no reasons for what we believe.”
  2. The Self-Refutation: There are good reasons for believing there are no good reasons for what we believe.

To state it another way:
      3. The Claim of Fideism: “Knowledge is a luxury beyond our means.”
      4. The Self-Refutation: We have the luxury of knowing that we can’t have the luxury of knowing.

How has it affected society?

The tenets of post-modern thoughts and beliefs have had a serious impact on our society and culture. It begins with the declaration that “God is dead.” With that single statement we can trace a long list of consequences:

  1. God is dead. Therefore, humanity has no one to whom they will be held accountable.
  2. Objective truth is dead. Therefore, truth is whatever each individual believes it to be.
  3. Exclusive truth is dead. Therefore, just because it’s true for one person doesn’t necessarily make it true for another person.
  4. Objective meaning is dead. Therefore, words can be redefined to fit whatever one’s agenda may be.
  5. Logic (thinking) is dead. Therefore, contradictions can exist without question or correction. The Law of non-contradiction is ignored.
  6. Objective interpretation is dead. Therefore, one interpretation is just as good as any other and to believe otherwise is to be arrogant or intolerant.
  7. Objective values are dead. Therefore, everything is subjective, that is, whatever an individual deems to be proper in his/her own mind is proper regardless of any other logical refutation.
Once there is some understanding of the post-modern mindset, it becomes a little easier to see why decisions and adjudications are made throughout our society that are in direct conflict with God’s absolute truth. In a post-modern culture, there are no absolutes. Therefore, “Every man’s way is right in his own eyes,” (NASB, Proverbs 21:2a).

How has post-modernism affected the Church?
Michael Patton in his paper Understanding the Postmodern Mind and the Emerging Church (Sept. 2005) breaks post-modernism into two groups: hard post-modernists and soft post-modernists. Briefly, here are a few of the distinctions :

  • Hard post-modernism: “Hard postmodernism might be defined as those who have had a philosophical shift with regards to the nature of truth. The key phrase here is “nature of truth.” Hard postmodernists would see truth as being relative to the time, culture, or situation of the individual. In other words, truth does not exist beyond the thoughts of the subject. Hard post-modernism is a logical outcome of atheism or pantheism. Since both atheism and pantheism deny the existence of an eternal personal God, then there is no reason to believe in eternal truth that is mediated through the dictates of a personal agency. This type of post-modernism is explicitly evidenced in our culture in many higher education institutions, whose philosophy is clearly articulated in such a way. It is also evidenced implicitly in our culture when God is left out of the equation in matters of fact and science. It is important to note that this type of belief is decidedly non-Christian. It has no part in a biblical worldview.” 
  • Soft post-modernism: “In general, they are suspicious of all truth claims. Their suspicion, however, is not rooted in a denial of the existence of truth, but a denial of our ability to come to terms with our certainty about the truth. In other words, the soft post-moderns believe in the existence of objective truth, but deny that we can have absolute certainly or assurance that we, in fact, have a corner on this truth. To the soft post-modernist, truth must be held in tension, understanding our limitations. We can seldom, if ever, be sure that we have the right truth. Therefore, there is a tendency to hold all convictions in limbo. Soft post-modernism is not built upon the denial of truth itself (a metaphysical concern), but with our ability to know the truth (an epistemological concern). The emerging Church, for example, would believe in an eternal God who has laid down eternal precepts that time bound man has broken and therefore needs restoration through Christ. But attempting to define exactly who God is, what exactly He requires, how redemption is accomplished and applied is something that must be held in tension considering our own limitations. People are limited in their understanding, being bound by their time, culture, and situation. The result is that, in the emerging Church, because of their soft post-modern tendencies, all distinctions are minimized or ignored. The issues that were the center of the controversy during the Reformation are no longer important—certainly not enough to divide over. In other words, the Roman Catholic - Protestant theological distinctions are irrelevant to the emerging church. Why? Because, while there may be a right answer, who is to say who’s right? More than likely, both are right and both are wrong.”
Closing Thoughts

Post-modern tenets and beliefs should not be minimized or ignored. Post-modernism has affected not only our society’s norms, it has invaded the church to such a degree that the great orthodox truths and Christian doctrines passed down to us (from Genesis to Revelation, from the prophets of God, to Jesus and the apostles), are being challenged and, in some cases, rejected as untrue, or at best, debatable.

The question becomes, what do the post-modern advocates in the church do with the following truths:

  1. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work,” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
  2. “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly [correctly] dividing the word of truth, (2 Tim. 2:15).
  3. Paul’s words to Timothy: “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths,” (2 Tim. 4:1-4).
Those outside of the church (unbelievers) will continue to “go with the flow,” that is, they will adapt and adjust to the culture as it changes based upon secular morals and values. They can do nothing else unless, or until, God graciously saves them by drawing them to Himself. If, and when, that happens, then the Holy Spirit will redirect them to His Word as absolute truth and they will grow in grace and truth.

Those inside the church, true believers in Jesus Christ, must guard the truths found in God’s holy Word with love and strong conviction because the evidence compels us to do so.

If there is one solitary issue with regard to post-modern theology vs. orthodox theology, it comes down to this question: Is God’s Word inerrant and inspired? For those to believe that it is, there can be no wavering or compromise with His absolute truth. For those who do not believe that it is inerrant and inspired, they, unfortunately, will attempt to manipulate God’s Word in such a way that it is more palatable and less offensive to their followers.

In Jesus High Priestly prayer He prays to the Father, “13 But now I come to Thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy made full in themselves. 14 I have given them Thy word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask Thee to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth.” (NASB John 17:13-17).

It would be interesting to hear the post-modern theologian exegete v.17.

[1] Norman L. Geisler, The Emergent Church: Theological Postmodernism (March 2012), p.1.
[2] The disbelief, or lack of belief, in the existence of God or gods.
[3] The doctrine that knowledge, truth and morality exist in relation to culture, society or historical context and are not absolute.
[4] In epistemology, pluralism is the position that there is not one consistent means of approaching truths about the world, but rather many.
[5] Conventionalism is the philosophical attitude that fundamental principles of a certain kind are grounded on (explicit or implicit) agreements in society, rather than on external reality, such as God’s Word.
[6] An anti-foundationalist is one who does not believe that there is some fundamental belief or principle which is the basic ground or foundation of inquiry and knowledge. Anti-foundationalists claim that truth only exists in statements, not in facts. The general populous must be convinced that these statements are true. If they are convinced, then it is true. If they are not convinced, then it’s false.
[7] Deconstruction denies the possibility of a pure presence and of any essential or intrinsic and stable meaning — and thus a relinquishment of the notions of absolute truth.
[8] The doctrine that knowledge is merely subjective and that there is no external or objective truth.
[9] Norman L. Geisler, The Emergent Church: Theological Postmodernism(March 2012), p.3-4.
[10] Michael Patton, Understanding the Postmodern Mind and the Emerging Church, (September 2, 2005), p.1-2.