Faulty Footing: The Postmodern Approach to the Truth

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Not long ago, I began posting articles on Medium. Medium is a wonderful place for people to express their ideas. That said, as a Christian, I couldn’t help but notice a particular theme in many of the articles. This theme is the injustice in the world. It often expresses itself in monologues exposing the cruelty of suffering in the world. In many articles I noticed an animosity toward Christianity. There seemed to be an implied suspicion of all things religious. Of course, this does not mean that these articles were a-spiritual. In fact, there was an intense spiritual thread running through them. It appeared as though these writers were pro-spiritual but anti-organized religion.

Many of the authors saw the organized church as a dangerous thing. They seemed to believe that the historic church had used spirituality as a tool of oppression. Now, I concede that the church has perpetuated atrocities in its past. But, I would also advocate that it has done many good things as well. The history of the church is more than child sexual abuse and burning people at the stake. It is also a story of mercy ministries, orphanages, hospitals, and progressive social changes.

It seems that in the eyes of many, the tragedies perpetrated by past “Christians” has tainted their view of orthodox Christianity. As such, our post-Christian culture is wary of repeating the mistakes of the past. This fear has led to an individuation of spirituality. Spirituality is no longer a corporate activity. Instead, it is a personal thing. It is a thing just between the person and God. It is no longer safe for spirituality to change the world. Thus, the culture deems it necessary to confine it to the recesses of one’s private thought life. To make it anything else, so the thinking goes, infringes on the autonomy of other people.

A God Created in Man’s Image

So, in this current climate, God is a deity shaped to fit the personal taste of the individual believer. Now, spirituality is like a fingerprint. Everyone has one, but no two are identical. This brings up a important question. Why are personal tastes different? They are different because orthodox Christianity teaches we are personal agents. As personal agents we make choices. And choices leave open the possibility of differences. If we shape God to fit our preferences, we create a god in our own image. If everyone does this, we abandon monotheism for polytheism. This brings up another important question. In this situation, which god is the right one? Postmodernism gives no objective way to tell. There is no external standard to determine which god is the correct god. And for all practical purposes, this dilemma is the gift postmodernism has given to the contemporary church.

The Inherent Hypocrisy in Postmodern Thinking

But, the postmodernist might contend, “Yes, but spirituality is a personal thing. And you shouldn’t impose your idea of God on me!” Fair enough, but what if we applied this same logic to other areas of life? How about laws against drinking and driving? Shouldn’t a person have the right to drink and then drive anywhere she wants to? The postmodernist would howl in displeasure at such a statement. He would say, “That is dangerous! It is wrong because it puts others at risk!” This is true. But, on what basis can he make the claim that putting others in danger is wrong? This example shows the underlying legal principle of all postmodern thinking.  “Thou shalt not impinge on the autonomy of the self!” The problem is that selfs want different things. And as each self pursues its goal, it actually impinges on the autonomy of other selfs. As such, in the end, postmodernism is “self”-defeating. It devours itself in its “self”-ishness. Thus, it cannot provide a unified answer for the whole of life.

So, how does the postmodernist solve this problem of the competing selfs? She does so by relativizing truth.  I have my truth. You have yours. Of course, she has no way of settling this dispute about truth in a consistent way. Postmodernism falls into the same trap as historic organized religion. It seeks to impose its view on all dissenting viewpoints. You don’t think so? Try voicing opposition to gay marriage in our contemporary environment. See what happens.

The postmodernist shares something with the biblical wolf in sheep’s clothing. Both are fallen human beings. Both desire autonomy of the self. Both have rejected God (Rom 3:10-12). Both misuse truth. The postmodernist relativizes it. The wolf twists it. Neither are acting in the way that God designed them to act. In both cases, truth is up to the self. There is no external standard of truth. There is no arbitrator to determine who needs to change. This being so, both individuals seek to dominate others. In this quest to conquer, the postmodernist repeats the same errors as the wolf. In this way, he is no better than the religious abusers of the past.

The Fatal Flaw in Postmodern Thinking

Carried to its logical conclusion, postmodernism is a philosophical dead end street. Without an objective standard, there is no basis for ethics. Without a basis for ethics, one cannot make a legitimate claim about right and wrong. Everything is subjective, a personal experience, open for interpretation. This stance appeals to the ego-centric human heart. But, it does not provide a consistent philosophy of life. From a philosophical perspective, the postmodernist is a foolish lumberjack. Sure of his footing, he hacks away at the limb upon which he stands.

Of course, this absence of a philosophical foundation does not stop the postmodernist. He continues wacking on the limb. His tool is a dull saw blade of personal experiences and cultural groupthink.  Who can save him from himself? He needs an objective and transcendent word. He needs a word that will put him on solid philosophical ground. It is fortunate for him that this objective and transcendent word exists. The Bible contains this word. It explains reality. It tells us why we are here. It reveals what is wrong with us. It even tells us what we need to fix what is wrong with us. In it one finds, as Francis Schaeffer would put it, “a unified answer for the whole of life.” If this is true, then why don’t more people rely on it? Our problem is not a lack of knowledge. Our problem is a rebellious heart.

The Source of Postmodern “Truth”

The truth is, we all use some standard in discerning truth. No one argues this point. The point of contention revolves around the source of that truth. To the postmodern mind, the ultimate standard of truth emanates from within the self. The self is the origin of all things and the measure of all things. The postmodernist assumes that this self provides an accurate assessment of reality. When faced with inconsistencies, the postmodernist maintains his stance by relativizing the truth.

The Fruit of Postmodern Thinking

Postmodernism thrives because it is nothing more than a fancy form of self-worship. In a sense, it is polytheistic because everyone crafts a god in his own image. The postmodernist dismisses Scripture as a fairy tale. (Although she will accept those parts that may help her in her self-exaltation). This is not to imply that the postmodernist does not believe in universal truths. She does. She believes in one single universal truth — the autonomy of the self. Everything else is relative. But, if she can hold this universal truth close, she can guarantee her freedom. And for the postmodernist, freedom is the highest goal of life.

The Christian Response to Postmodern Thinking

Of course, this goal of life conflicts with the Christian’s goal. The Christian finds his freedom through slavery — slavery to God (Rom 6:22). The Christian glories not in self-exaltation but in submission of self. How then should we live with our postmodern friends? We should live as Christians in a post-Christian world. We should display the marks of a true Christian. Our lives should follow Paul’s admonition:

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom 12:9-21, ESV).

Heeding Paul’s words here will offer a Christian response to postmodernism. Living our lives in this way will provide tangible evidence of our Christianity. It will show that the Truth exits. It will show that the Truth is knowable. And it will show that the Truth is the answer to the complexities of life. This is an approach to the Truth that will befuddle the postmodernist. It is the best way that an orthodox Christian can overcome evil with good.

Join the Conversation

Do you have friends who have been influenced by postmodern thinking? How have you influenced them? How have they influenced you?