Sunday, June 19, 2005


Postmodern Myth

The postmodern spirituality, trying to connect with a god you don’t know in order to keep it simple—minus the sin and blood sacrifice—are to be envied for an instant. I’d rather not have to understand the pain, the suffering of Jesus, punishment and Hell. It is gnawingly tempting to skip to the pretty parts, pretending God can surely deal with our failings some other way. Can’t He be like us when our kid comes crawling with the latest blunder? Shocked, stunned, disappointed, angry, maybe we come up with a punishment—but we get over it and we move on. And we love them no matter what. So, what’s the big deal, God?
When it comes down to it, I want to know who I’m talking to. God made a way for us to know Him. We don’t have to pray to a stranger! Francis Schaeffer begins the gospel with Genesis in his book, Genesis in Space and Time, not with Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. We parents did not create our kids, in case some might have thought otherwise. Our children are given their value by their Creator, just as every living person is conceived with this meaning. This is where abortion gets ugly. If all who ever lived had purpose, then so have all who have died. Our Creator God gave us our humanness or “mannishness”, as Dr. Schaeffer wrote. God has a way for us to be human, a little like Him as opposed to animal, beast or machine. If this seems too obvious, think about what happens when Genesis is converted to “story time”. Man does literally become animal, beast or worse, machine. From the start, God had meaning and purpose for humans. The analogy of parent-child relationship won’t stick. Our purpose for our children can be terribly flawed and misguided. The only purpose for us to pass on to our offspring is the very one God gave to Adam and Eve. “Have dominion over the earth, subdue it…make it and keep it beautiful and peaceful and good—as I created it.” (Northern 'Burbs Blog has a series on Christian environmentalism) We were to carry on God’s will, in His image, representing Him! This is why our relationship with God is drastically different…God has Great Expectations. He is holy and perfect. We can’t have the same kinds of demands for our children. (I fear some do.) Our failures torturously rip at our relationship with our Righteous Father. God wants us near—our bad choices pull us away. This is reality—it fits reality. God is finished with choices—He makes none, and maybe He never did. He Is. We are the choice makers.
It’s a nice thought, running to God at our every whim. Truth is, we keep ourselves from Him—He simply laid the ground rules, defined sin. It is because of Who He is that sin and sinners cannot draw near.

I think you've missed the crucial issue of postmodernism. It's not fundamentally about connecting with a god you don't know. The issue is about objectivity. Modernism raised objectivity to divine status - objectivity was the goal, the method and the very nature of truth. For postmodernism, objectivity is a phantom; there might or might not be such a thing, but it is impossible for human beings to know it. We can only know subjectively - all our truth is provisional and tentative.

Thus, the central insight of postmodernism punctures the idolatry that modernism has become. One needn't buy fully into postmodernism to take this truth to heart - that our knowledge is partial and subjective. We cannot completely remove our own bias, we can only become aware of it and attempt to take account of it.

Postmodernism can be poisonous to Christianity, but no more than Modernism. Either, taken to extreme, is idolatry, but each speaks some truth.

pax et bonum
I'm really trying here. "Modernism raised objectivity to divine status." Insert God, Bible, Truth...the word objectivity blurs it. Are you saying God was given objectivity as a character trait in modern times? Or are you talking about us having divine objectivity? This is all new to me.

This inability to know is exactly what i was referring to. People are talking randomly to something they think they cannot know. My friend refuses to read the Bible because she thinks it complicates things. I'm saying the Bible contains revealed objective Truth in a language we can understand. Objective Truth: if this is modernism, then I'm a modernist. I thought it was old as Abraham himself!
By "objectivity", we mean that there is a truth external to us that is the true Truth, and that it is knowable and graspable by human beings. By "subjectivity", we mean the world of internal experience, that which cannot truly be communicated to another without losing something in the transmission.

The notion of objective truth is ancient but Modernism raised that concept to supreme status. If you like, objectivity is the god of modernism (and also, therefore, of many offspring of modernism, such as much philosophy of science).

It's not that God was given objectivity, but that the idea of objectivity itself as humanly attainable and supremely desirable was elevated far beyond anything it had previously been accorded. The contribution of Postmodernism was to expose this overweening pride in objectivity that modernism had produced. Subjectivity, taken to extremes, is poisonous because it removes all objectivity and relegates all talk of truth to mere opinion. However, objectivity is similarly poisonous because it blurs all differences and removes all subjectivity - and it is in our subjective experience that God speaks.

We need to keep both truths together - that there is an objective reality, an objective truth, but that we can never know it objectively. However, we *can* become acquainted with it and learn about it; it's just that our understanding will always be subjective, limited and biased.

pax et bonum
Thank you so much! That is much clearer to me. Sigh. First thing that comes to mind is degrees. It is a matter of how dimly we see in the mirror, as we perceive it. Certainly, we cannot have full knowledge like God but God gives us understanding. 1 Cor. 12:8; Psalm 119:66. I have confidence in the knowledge God has given. This is why I see much more of a threat in the postmodern movement because it denies me that confidence. Apart from God, we can know nothing of worth. To think that we could was perhaps the downfall of modernism. Prior to this, science, education, arts, religion...was, for the most part, reliant on God in the predominantly Christian West.
Part of the good aspect of postmodernism is that it liberates us from having to measure our own experience and understanding against those of other people - we can trust our subjective knowledge once more. So, we will obviously want to reassure ourselves as far as possible, but we needn't feel the need for our experience to duplicate anyone else's - our portion of truth is as valid and as partial as anyone else's. Even Christians need not assert that there is no truth outside Christianity - only that the fullest measure of truth is only to be discovered in Christ. Indeed, we must allow that there is truth outside our faith because there are so many shadows of that faith in the world; God has given evidence of Godself to everyone - but only in Christ is God truly to be seen.

pax et bonum
John, I think you're right that the key is to avoid the extremes. As with pretty much anything, it is a matter of finding the right balance. We don't need to demonize postmodernism. But we do need to recognize that it can lead to radical subjectivism and relativism, while modernism can lead to radical idolatry. I suspect we want to avoid them both.
Doc? Wayne? Are you there? (little laugh) Maybe it is condemnation you are asking us to avoid? I wholeheartedly agree with that! While I am leaving the shadows behind, the smatterings of truth that are so broken up and irrelevant that I don't regard them, I do not have the judgment seat. I listen to my non-Christian friends and hope someday, they will listen to me. Listening is not the same as accepting their truth. That is relativism. Are you saying I need to recognize the bits of truth? Why?
Why can't postmodernists just simply give up their many idolatries and believe in Jesus Christ in a way that is agaist postmodernism? Because men are sinners. I donlt like to make things complicated. Just acknowledge our sins and trust in Jesus Christ to save us. But many people won't. Why shouldn't we condemn postmodernists? Because God will judge.
Modernism vs. postmodernism..objective truth vs. subjective all seems much too involved with semantic hair-splitting. "I am the way and THE TRUTH..." Not the objective truth, not the subjective truth, just THE truth. No, we can't assume to know what that truth could be exactly because we are not Him. That does not mean, however, that we muddy the waters by ascribing to humanistic, relativistic philosophies in a futile attempt to glean some supposed value just because we don't have the divine insight to fully understand His intent. Casting about for alternate points of view, no matter how well intended, will only dilute the message of the Bible as the revealed word of God.
Postmodernists can't "simply give up their many idolatries and believe in Jesus Christ in a way that is agaist postmodernism" because they (correctly) see that postmodernism is not an idolatry - it's a way of looking at the world. Postmodernist Christians know and believe in Jesus Christ as their saviour - it's just that the way the think about that is different.

As I've already said above, Modernism (which is what is believed by almost anyone who isn't Postmodern in our society) is that at least as idolatrous as Postmodernism. There's no possibility of escaping to a "real" worldview. Any human understanding is limited and the virtue of Postmodernism is that it takes this fact seriously. Modernism tends to make us too certain of our own correctness and virtue; that is the idol that we must avoid if we are not to sacrifice the central Christian virtue of humility.

It's not possible to have no philosophy or worldview. Believing that we achieve this means only that we have accepted a philosophy without realising it or thinking about it. Being aware that we have a bias means that we can try and deal with that bias and see beyond it; believing ourselves to be free of bias means only that our bias colours everything that we see and that we are unaware that things are not truly the way we see them.

As you say, Jesus is the Truth. So, our task is to become familiar with that Truth. The way to understand is to try and see past our own limitations and biases to comprehend what that eternal Truth really is. We can never accomplish this goal, but hopefully through prayer, meditation and careful thought we can approach it ever more closely.

pax et bonum
FYI - If anyone is interested in delving further into the discussion on the postmodernism theme, there is some interesting back-and-forth going on here as well.
I'm still thinking it is a question of much can we know. In all humility, Christians have the edge. A huge edge. The inspired Word and Savior, God in the flesh, God in the Spirit. Humility is not admitting to how little we can know; it is admitting we can know nothing without God! Total reliance on God. Our confidence and knowledge are in HIM. To commit to postmodern questioning is to deny His power to get His message across clearly, in a language we can hear, with the Holy Spirit residing in us. That's not's God's honest Truth.

I hear you John. As humans, we are limited. But the degree of limitation is where we disagree. God gives us superhuman ability. It is a gift from God, so that no one can boast!
I agree - it is only through God that we can be sure of what we believe. But, even here, we are simply not capable of grasping all that God is (nothing postmodern about this - it goes right back to the roots of Christianity). God is infinitely more than we can imagine or grasp, so we can never fully know what God is about or what God is like. We can become familiar, even intimate, with God, but we do not know God in the absolute sense. Which means that we must always be humble in presenting our understanding of God to our brothers and sisters, whose understanding (while no less partial than ours) might be clearer on the issues that we discuss at any given time.

pax et bonum
Aah...this would be a consensus! The discussion is with our brothers and sisters, meaning fellow Christians. I was getting caught up in the 'truths' of nonbelievers which I feel no need to recognize. An interesting article in World mag, June 25th by Gene Edward Veith. It's at "A nation of deists" proclaims the drift from true Christianity among churches and Christians. Not an eye opener, really, but an affirmation of what i see happening to the Body of Christ.
Well, certainly when discussing with Christians (whether we believe them to err or not - and perhaps especially when we believe them to err!) we must not shut out the possibility of being wrong ourselves. However, the same applies to everyone, Christian or not. Those outside the church are not shut off from all knowledge of the truth - it's just that the full measure of truth is to be found only in Christ.

This is the thing with the "Modern-Postmodern" debate, though. Because each has part of the truth, we can't simply disregard their insights, however distasteful their extremes are.

pax et bonum
I get to stir the pot a little again but I only do it to see if a little more light can be brought to the conversation. I am going to go off topic just a little bit to see if it pertains to this conversation. I know so far we have been discussing modernism and post-modernism but can we focus for just a moment on truth in general?

I have been having long discussions with friends in both the evangelical world and Catholic world about salvation. Within the evangelical world you have the Calvinist and Arminian debate. In the Catholic world you have more of the works based or Semi-Pelagian view. While I come from a Catholic background and now life and worship much more in the evangelical world, I find my view of salvation lines up pretty much towards the Calvinist view (No wacky Calvinism mind you). But and I study and read about the topic more and more I find that it is such a mystery as to what is really happening and how it happens. Our minds are way to tiny to really understand. So, am I willing to kill or maim anyone (hyperbole purposefully used here) to support my view of salvation? NO. I am finding as I mature, my view and my style of standing for the truth is getting much gracious.

So, Is there absolute objective truth? Yes, I believe there is. I think the better question may be, can our puny little minds really grasp it? I am finding in my case, probably not, or at least not all of it.

But, does that keep me from turning my eyes upon Jesus? No, just the opposite is true.
Thank you for the thoughts. Tried to learn a little about Arminian since you were so kind to put a link, Wayne, but wow, my head hurts. (Not literally) I can't tell if we are making things too complex or too simple even. NO, Christians as a rule won't be maiming anyone for their beliefs. Please, no crusades/inquisition comments. My concern is, even if we may faulter on gritty details, there are Truths we can boldly fight for with our witness, words, and lives. As the post originally intended, God is a specific, revealed personality...not a vague notion we cannot know. Call me me a modernist...Calvinist...I'm tough!
Maybe you and I, John, aren't so very different. You said the full knowledge of God can only be found in Christ. We are in Christ, praise God! I don't hear you denying the Knowledge we have found and I agree that the clarity we long for isn't to be in this world.
I make no claim to having studied postmodernism, the emerging church movement, or anything of the sort. However, incoherencies bother me.

"We need to keep both truths together - that there is an objective reality, an objective truth, but that we can never know it objectively." How do you know that this statement is true? Do you know it 'objectively'?

Most of what I hear about this stuff sounds like me, when I was a 16-year-old atheist, going around saying, "There's no such thing as absolute truth," or "No one can really know what is true." Unfortunately none of the Christians I badgered with such comments knew enough (or bothered, perhaps) to smile sweetly and ask, "Is that true?"

You'll notice that EVERYONE makes truth claims. Even the ones who claim that we can't know any truth objectively speak as if they know that truth objectively. The fact is, I know some things with absolute certainty. Denial is rampant, so not everyone will admit that they know them too (Romans 1 speaks of this). It is not possible, for instance, that I am mistaken in asserting that pulling a baby feet first from his mother's womb, stabbing him in the back of the head, then pulling him the rest of the way out, dead, is morally reprehensible, or that 2 plus 2 does indeed equal 4 or that God is there, and He is not silent.

We can get all caught up and confused by this stuff. I prefer to simply preach Christ and Him crucified.

Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?