In Search Of The Truth:
A Christian Response To Postmodernity
by Rev. Bryn MacPhail
How should the Church respond to postmodernism? Should we embrace it? Or should we
run and hide from it? This essay will argue that the first option of "embracing"
postmodernity would be extremely dangerous, but at the same time, "running and hiding"
is not an option for the Church either. Christians are called to be "lights" in the world,
and this world is becoming increasingly postmodern. The question then becomes, "How
can our lives remain faithful to Scripture while living in a postmodern context?".
Postmodernism is a metanarrative in its own right. It would never admit to that, of
course--postmodernism advocates the discarding of metanarratives! But it is true,
postmodernism attempts to get us to think in a certain way--like any metanarrative
does. The Bible is also a metanarrative. As metanarratives, both postmodernism and the Bible
have something to say about how we should think and live. These two metanarratives
share some common ground, while in some other areas, they go in opposite directions.
While postmodernism would have us discard all metanarratives, it is the thesis of this
essay that the Bible needs to be our metanarrative--our sufficient guide for life.
This kind of statement leaves this essay open to the accusation of having a modernist
agenda--of propagating "the greatest show on earth". While reverting back to modernism
would be a big mistake, it would be untruthful for this author to deny that the Bible
metanarrative is indeed "the greatest story on earth". Our difficulty is, we have
too often manipulated this blessed metanarrative for our own selfish purposes and we
have somehow managed "to make that story boring as hell"(First Things
Modernity and its Demise
One cannot even begin to understand what postmodernity is, and how we should respond
to it, unless we first understand what postmodernity is a response to--modernity.
Modernity is characterized as a movement that "delights in the natural" as opposed
to the supernatural(Middleton/Walsh 14). It is a movement that stresses the "individual"
and the "power" our minds have to attain truth(Middleton/Walsh 14). And it is a movement where progress is measured by our ability to "subdue" the forces of nature and
utilize them for our benefit(Middleton/Walsh 14).
Middleton/Walsh go on to describe these characterizations of modernity in terms of
"tiers". The first tier, "scientism", provides humanity with authoritative knowledge.
"Technicism", the second tier, is about the effective translation of scientific knowledge into control of the creation. The third tier, "economism", maintains that a increased
standard of living is the pinnacle of human life(Middleton/Walsh 22).
Stanley Grenz appropriately points to Star Trek
's Spock as someone who embodies this modern mind set. Spock was completely rational,
always using his "logic" to solve the problems encountered by the crew of the Enterprise
. The impression viewers would have surely got was that "our problems can be solved
by the application of rational expertise"(Grenz 5). In its most basic form then,
"the spirit of modernity" is equated with "a spirit of progress"(Middleton/Walsh
The difficulty with modernity, Middleton/Walsh point out, is that this "progress myth
is losing its power"(Middleton/Walsh 20). Middleton/Walsh argue convincingly how
the "myth of progress" began to crumble with the first bombs of World War I, followed
by the Great Depression of the 1930's(Middleton/Walsh 23).
How Do We Define Postmodernity?
Postmodernity is such a broad concept with a plethora characterizations that we will
find it difficult if we try to reduce postmodernity to a single "definition". The
best we can do, therefore, is talk about what "characterizes" postmodernity--as diverse
as that discussion may be. Alan Padgett, for instance, admits to being uncomfortable
with the term "postmodernism". His reason is that postmodernity "has no set of practices
and beliefs that gives it the coherence of classical Marxism, say, or logical positivism"(Christian Scholar's Review
Winter 1996). That is our dilemma in this essay. It is difficult to "pin down" exactly
what postmodernity is. That being said, this is not an exercise in futility. There
are many repeated themes that one will find when sampling the writings of those who
have commented on postmodernity. Even Padgett is able to "pin down" some of those
themes when he talks about postmodernism in terms of being an "attitude"--an attitude that
"celebrates the demise of King Reason", the "Independent Ego", "Absolute Truth",
and any "totalizing metanarratives"(Christian Scholar's Review
Postmodernity: A Reaction To Modernity
Steinar Kvale wonders if it is even appropriate to describe postmodernity as "a break
with modernity" or if it is more like its "continuation"(Anderson 19). Charles Jencks
agrees in part with this notion, describing postmodernism as "the eclectic mixture" of any tradition from the past which characterizes it as "both the continuation of
Modernism and its transcendence"(Anderson 27). While Edgar McKnight would agree that
postmodernity is the "transcendence" of modernity--he calls it, "an advance beyond
the modern"--he argues that this is not merely a succession, but a utilizing of the "assumptions
and strategies of the modern in order to challenge them"(McKnight 25). Stanley Grenz
agrees, describing postmodernism as "the quest to move beyond modernism". Grenz, at the same time, asserts, much like McKnight, that postmodernism is "launched
under the conditions of modernity"(Grenz 2).
Characterizations Of Postmodernity: Pessimism
Continuing in the spirit of postmodernity being a reaction to modernity, Middleton/Walsh
describe the "onset of postmodernity" as a "loss of enthusiasm in the grounding convictions
of modernity"(Middleton/Walsh 11). James Fowler says much the same when he attributes the emergence of postmodern thinking to "a loss of confidence in the
foundational features of thought established by the Enlightenment"(Fowler 179). Put
quite simply, the postmodern consciousness has abandoned the modern trust in inevitable
progress(Grenz 13). In contrast to the optimism of modernism, the spirit of postmodernity
is one of "gnawing pessimism"(Grenz 7).
Characterizations Of Postmodernity: Multiple Voices
Kenneth Gergen describes postmodernity in terms of being "marked by a plurality of
voices vying for the right to reality"(Gergen 7). Much later in his book, The Saturated Self
, Gergen goes on to elaborate on this "plurality" when he describes postmoderns as
having "a plethora of selves"(Gergen 174). To be postmodern is to receive "a chorus
of invitations" of what "to be". And so with each invitation "to be", one begins
to doubt the "authenticity" of the other invitations(Gergen 174). Grenz speaks of the plurality
of voices in the postmodern world in terms of being "an arena of dueling texts"(Grenz
7). Middleton/Walsh employ a very appropriate metaphor to help us understand postmodernity when they assert that "postmodern life is like a carnival"--a carnival that
offers a myriad of "sideshows" calling for our "momentary attention"(Middleton/Walsh
42). This carnival, Middleton/Walsh assert, is the antidote to modernity which hailed
itself as the "greatest show on earth"(Middleton/Walsh 42).
Characterizations Of Postmodernity: Denial Of Objective Truth
It is difficult to be governed by competing voices without, at the same time, losing
a single, authoritative voice. As Gergen pointed out, with each new voice we can't
but help doubt the validity of the other voices. While some postmodernists are reluctant to speak of this denial of the objective as total relativism, it is difficult to
see how that can be avoided. While postmodernists do their linguistic gymnastics
between absolute relativism and relativity, they are in agreement when they doubt
that any "objective truth" can be discovered(Anderson 19). Gergen talks about how postmodernity
is propagating "the full-scale abandonment of the concept of objective truth"(Gergen
82). Gergen theorizes that this may be, in part, a reaction against the modernist
view that was committed to "an objective and knowable world"(Gergen 83). Grenz goes on
to elaborate on this postmodernist rejection of knowledge as objective. Grenz claims
that postmodernists argue this, because the universe is not "mechanistic" and "dualistic", but "historical, relational, and personal"(Grenz 7).
Disposing Of Metanarratives
The modernist notion of "greatest show on earth" is no longer believable, say the
postmodernists. "Plurality of voices", "a plethora of selves", "dueling texts", and
"sideshows" is their preference. It is their preference because they unashamedly
deny the existence of objective truth(Anderson 19). Postmodernists strongly resist any kind
of "all-encompassing", "universal" explanations. Instead, they celebrate the "local"
and the "particular"(Grenz 12). Steinar Kvale talks about how, in postmodernism,
there is "a
continual change of perspectives, with no common frame of reference"(Anderson 21).
Charles Jencks describes the postmodern age as "a time of incessant choosing", where
no orthodoxy can prevail because "all traditions seem to have some validity"(Anderson
Postmodernists insist that truth is relative to the community. And since there are
a myriad of communities, there are necessarily a myriad of truths. The postmodern
abandonment of the belief in universal truth and the advocacy of a myriad of truths
necessarily entails a loss of a "final" criteria with which to evaluate various interpretations
of reality. This of course, makes postmodernity somewhat safe from criticism. By
eliminating any universal standard, there is no one left to judge their own movement. Postmodernity's strength comes from disposing the metanarrative, their greatest
What's The Problem With Metanarratives?
Middleton/Walsh observe that, to most postmodernists, metanarratives are "mere human
constructs"(Middleton/Walsh 71). These "constructs", when deconstructed, are inferred
by postmodernists to be nothing more than a "legitimation of the vested interests
of those who have the power and authority to make such universal pronouncements"(Middleton/Walsh
71). The problem with metanarratives then, postmodernists assert, is that they are
often the cause of physical violence against persons(Middleton/Walsh 72).
Middleton/Walsh assert that if the postmodernist is asked, "What's wrong?", the answer
will be "totalizing" systems and narratives(Middleton/Walsh 73). It follows then,
if the postmodernist is asked, "What's the remedy?", the answer will be to discard
these metanarratives(Middleton/Walsh 73). The discarding of metanarratives is the logical
conclusion when no metanarrative can be seen as universally true. If no metanarrative
is true, but all are "constructions", then no narrative should be "privileged" over another(Middleton/Walsh 73). The postmodernists encourage then, only "local", "multiple",
and "marginal" narratives(Middleton/Walsh 73).
Middleton/Walsh rightly point out that some of this postmodern "suspicion" is justified.
Many metanarratives, and sadly many versions of the Christian metanarrative, have
served selfish ends "suppressing minority stories in the process"(Middleton/Walsh
75). Middleton/Walsh insist, therefore, that we should be "sympathetic" to the postmodern
diagnosis that metanarratives can, and have, caused violence(Middleton/Walsh 75).
The main problem this essay has with the postmodern critique of metanarratives is
not so much with the diagnosis, as it has with the remedy. By discarding all metanarratives,
postmodernists are guilty of "throwing the baby out with the bath water". Is the metanarrative really to blame? Or is it the travesty that has been made of a very
useful and liberating metanarrative? This essay would argue its the latter. Just
as Paul insisted that we not cease to proclaim the Gospel because others are proclaiming
it "out of selfish ambition"(Phil.1:15-18), Christians must not discard our metanarrative
simply because some have been guilty of perverting it and oppressing others with
it. The answer lies, not in throwing out the metanarrative, but in reforming the
metanarrative--getting the metanarrative right
. Now I realize this resolution plunges us neck-deep into a discussion on absolute/objective
truth. Is it possible to "get the metanarrative right
"? We will visit this issue of "truth" in the Bible a bit later on.
Middleton/Walsh point out other difficulties with the postmodern diagnosis and prescription.
They point to the "horrendous bloodshed" that has been motivated by a "local narrative"--a
narrative that makes no universal claims, but nevertheless legitimates war against a perceived enemy(Middleton/Walsh 75). Another difficulty with postmodernism's
diagnosis, Middleton/Walsh point out, is that it fails to recognize its own character
as a metanarrative(Middleton/Walsh 78). Middleton/Walsh rightly conclude then, that metanarratives are not "the root of the problem"(Middleton/Walsh 78). Instead,
Middleton/Walsh go on to make the diagnosis that the root of the problem("the ethical
chaos" we live in) is "the violence of the human heart"(Middleton/Walsh 79).
Postmodernity's Challenges To Christianity: Throw Out Our Metanarrative?
Now what does all this have to do with Christianity? How are the views of Christianity
challenged by postmodernity? Quite simply, postmodernity desires to "deconstruct"
our metanarrative. They want to cut the Grand Story into a collection of snippets--snippets that can only be regarded as authoritative when applied locally and pragmatically.
The Christian faith is grounded in the Scriptures--Scriptures which unmistakably form
a metanarrative and make "universal claims"(Middleton/Walsh 83). One cannot reduce
the presentation of creation or redemption to a "local tale"(Middleton/Walsh 83).
Middleton/Walsh accurately observe that "its difficult to find a grander narrative" anywhere!(Middleton/Walsh
83). To be fair, Middleton/Walsh insist that we need to ask ourselves if the biblical
metanarrative is guilty of the charge of "totalizing violence"(Middleton/Walsh 83). This essay would argue that the metanarrative is not guilty of
anything, but we are. We are guilty of interpreting the "true metanarrative" in such
away that we confuse our "constructed metanarrative" with the real thing. We sometimes
talk about the infallibility of Scripture, but quite often what we
really mean is the infallibility of our own interpretation of Scripture. Our guilt
stems from universalizing our interpretation instead of the metanarrative.
Christians have been, and still are, guilty of misusing and misapplying the biblical
metanarrative, but that is not due to anything intrinsically oppressing in the Text.
The postmodernists are partly right. Christians have been, and are guilty of manipulating the metanarrative to assert power over others. Middleton/Walsh also point out
that the postmodernists are right in demanding that the "voices of the marginalized"
be heard. The problem, however, is not the metanarrative, but us. Instead of discarding the metanarrative, as the postmodernists would have us do, we should attend to the
more pressing issue which Middleton/Walsh bring to our attention--the rooting out
of the "violence" within our heart. What the postmodernists need to understand is
that the "voices of the marginalized" are best heard and responded to when the metanarrative
of Scripture is being lived out as it was intended to. Discarding the metanarrative
is not the answer. Allowing the metanarrative of Scripture to shape us is the best
resolution postmodernists could hope for.
Middleton/Walsh buttress this essay's claim, that there is nothing "intrinsically
oppressing" in the biblical metanarrative, when they insist that our metanarrative
actually "works against totalization"(Middleton/Walsh 87). Middleton/Walsh point
to two "antitotalizing factors" that are predominant in the Scriptures: Its "radical sensitivity
to suffering", and its "overarching creational intent"(Middleton/Walsh 87). God purposes
are not totalizing or tyrannical, but are, as Middleton/Walsh insist "purposes of shalom, compassion, and justice"(Middleton/Walsh 107). Purposes of peace and justice,
Middleton/Walsh remind us, are not automatic functions of the text, but "depends
on our response"(Middleton/Walsh 107). Since we have this preponderance to misapply
the text and build our own constructions, we must be "willing" to allow the biblical
text to "judge our constructions"(Middleton/Walsh 107).
One can always count on Stanley Hauerwas to provide a completely different perspective,
and he provides just that when he highlights the positive aspect of postmodernity's
attack on our metanarrative. Hauerwas observes how "most" Christians go to church
"to be assured we have no enemies"(First Things
May 1995). The positive side of postmodernity then, Hauerwas argues, is that it refutes
the modernist notion that "conflict should not exist". Hauerwas' hope is that God
is "using" this time of postmodernity to "remind the Church that Christianity is
unintelligible without enemies"(First Things
May 1995). Is Hauerwas advocating a metanarrative that does violence to another?
In a sense, yes. Not violence by the manipulation of power, or violence by oppression,
but the Gospel does its violence by confronting the ideologies(idols) of others.
The Gospel embitters enemies, not by oppressing them, but by calling them away from the
god they want to worship(themselves) to the God of the Universe revealed in Christ.
Hauerwas warns, however, that when the "truth" is preached it must be "robed in love"(First Things
May 1995). Yet, at the same time, Hauerwas insists that we should preach the metanarrative
so "truthfully" that people should call us "terrorists"(First Things
Postmodernity's Challenges To Christianity: Pluralism
While it is true that religious pluralism has always existed, in some shape or form,
its recent growth in popularity can be attributed to the fuel it has received from
D.A. Carson describes two basic types of pluralism: "radical religious pluralism"
and "inclusivism"(Carson 26). The basic premise of radical religious pluralism is
that no religion can advance any legitimate claim to superiority over any other religion(Carson 26). Inclusivism, while affirming the truth of fundamental Christian claims,
nevertheless insists that God has revealed Himself in "saving ways" in other religions(Carson
27). Carson goes on to describe the position of "exclusivism" which opposes the other two. Exclusivism maintains that the central claims of "biblically faithful
Christianity" are true
. Therefore, where the teachings of other religions conflict with these claims, they
must be "necessarily false"(Carson 27). It is important to note that Carson is not
saying that every religion is wrong in every respect. And by specifying "biblically
faithful Christianity", Carson means to point out that not all Christians who claim
to be Christians "are saved", and not all Christians who make claims from the Bible
are "right"(Carson 27).
Carson observes how "all the challenges" arising from postmodernity are connected
in some way to hermeneutics(Carson 57). One of postmodernity's main arguments is
for the "limitations on the power of interpretation"(Carson 57). Since interpretation
is nothing more than my interpretation, no purely objective stance is possible(Carson 57).
One of the main advocates for this circular hermeneutic is Jacques Derrida. Derrida's
name is most commonly linked to the type of postmodernism termed, "deconstructive"(Carson 73). Since all meaning is bound up irretrievably with the knower rather than
the text, the words never have a referent other than words. Words then, can only
refer to other words and not to any "objective reality"(Carson 73). Applied to the
Bible, "texts" refer only to other "texts", and these too are in the hands of "interpreters"(Carson
74). Taken to the extreme this can mean that there are as many meanings as there
are interpreters leading to the natural conclusion that a text may equally support
two mutually incompatible interpretations(Carson 75).
Michel Foucault gives a different slant on interpretation when he argues that all
interpretations advanced to others are in part an exercise in power(Carson 101).
For this reason, Carson argues that Christians should examine themselves by this
postmodern principle to ensure that they are not guilty of "trying to manipulate people into
the kingdom"(Carson 102).
While Stanley Grenz is willing to concede that all interpretations are in some sense
invalid, "they cannot be equally invalid"(Grenz 165). Grenz goes on to insist that
"we simply cannot allow Christianity to be relegated to the status of one faith among
others"(Grenz 165). Diogenes Allen illustrates how postmodernity relegates religion
to "flavours of ice cream". Just as one person may prefer chocolate ice cream to
strawberry, one may also prefer Christianity to Buddhism. Allen objects to this,
however, arguing that Christianity's claims "are so serious and so demanding personally that
adherence to them cannot be properly described as merely a matter of personal taste(Allen
It is a questionable "leap" that postmodernists make believing that a "plurality of
truths can exist alongside one another"(Grenz 14). Although postmodernists will not
readily admit it, the result of this type of thinking inevitably entails "a radical
form of relativism and pluralism"(Grenz 14).
While we rejoice with postmodernists in the demise of "King Reason" of modernity,Christians
should be unnerved by the refusal to accept any "absolute truth" or "unifying metanarrative".
Postmodernity's Challenges To Christianity: No Objective Truth?
With the growth of postmodernity comes another distinctive and formidable challenge
for Christianity--a challenge against the notion that, in Scripture, we have absolute
or objective truth. This is the crux of the debate. Can we know truth? And is that
truth available in the Scriptures?
Before beginning his defense for the accessibility of biblical truth, Carson asks
an appropriate question, "If uncovering objective truth is well-nigh impossible,
how can one speak of an eternal gospel that was once and for all entrusted to the
saints?"(Jude 3; Carson 92). At the same time, Carson balances his view with the preface that
"all of us see things only in part"(Carson 97). Carson does not want us to confuse
"seeing in part", however, with absolute relativism--he simply recognizes that all
of us are "finite" and our beliefs are shaped in part
by our culture(Carson 97). Carson points out how Christians, in a sense, go a step
farther than postmodernists. Not only do we insist on human finiteness, but we also
insist on the thoroughness of human sinfulness(Carson 98).
Reluctant, sometimes, to use the word "objective", Carson maintains that "true knowledge"
is possible, "even to finite, culture-bound creatures"(Carson 102). This view is
born out of Carson's conviction that people "say more or less what they mean"(Carson 103). Now our understanding, Carson concedes, is never exhaustive or perfect, but
we can nonetheless gain "true knowledge"(Carson 103). Carson does, however, define
objective truth: something that is true "regardless of whether anyone happens to
accept it as truth"(Carson 120).
How is it that "truth" is found in the Scriptures? Because God is not merely sovereign
and transcendent, but He is also "a talking God"(McGrath 19). The Reformers described
this in their doctrine of "accommodation"--God chooses to communicate with finite
mortals in their languages(Carson 130). That being said, God cannot possibly communicate
that He is and knows. Carson suggests, however, this need not be a barrier to His
true elements of what He is and knows(Carson 130). Admittedly, we will misunderstand
this communication and even distort it, due to our finiteness and our sinfulness.
This of course, does not change the content. The content may still be objectively
true--not exhaustively true, but true nonetheless-- "a subset of what Omniscience knows,
and cast in culture-laden forms"(Carson 130). Christians should most definitely wake-up
and recognize the culture-relatedness of all truth. At the same time, we should not
feel that we have to abandon the belief in the objectivity of the revelation in the
Bible to do this.
It is also important to note, that understanding the content of Scripture to be "objectively
true" should not necessarily be confused with the argument for "dictation". As Carson
points out, this term "is accepted by no responsible conservative today"(Carson 152).
Since God's self-disclosure is found in the Scriptures, the canon must be understood
as establishing a principle of authority(Carson 131). As a an authoritative canon
then, the Bible is an authoritative metanarrative
. Walter Brueggemann reflects a postmodern approach to Scripture when he argues that
the focus of biblical studies "is the specific text, without any necessary relation
to other texts or any coherent pattern read out or into the text"(Brueggemann 58).
This approach, typical to postmodernists, focuses on "little stories" as opposed to the
"great story"(Carson 131).
While this essay argues that God's self-disclosure is reliable and true, it must be
reiterated that this does not mean that our doctrine will be equally reliable and
true. While we insist, on the one hand, that there is such a thing as "true knowledge",
we confess openly that all grasping of that truth is "necessarily interpretive"(Carson
133). Postmodernists may have accurately pinpointed how the biblical metanarrative
gets misinterpreted and misapplied, but their argument for the intrinsic unreliability
of the metanarrative is not yet convincing. Objective truth may be difficult to perceive
and interpret, but as "objective" truth, it is true whether we perceive it or interpret
So is there hope for us? Since we are admittedly finite and sinful, won't we always
distort and misinterpret the Bible even if its contents are true? While it is true
that "cultural baggage shapes our perceptions and categories" we do have the ability
to "transcend those categories"(Carson 349). And while Christians add "sin" to "finitude"
when giving reasons for our misinterpreting the truth of Scripture, we must not forget
one factor. God's grace
. By grace, the Holy Spirit works in our hearts and minds in order to transform our
understanding. The same Spirit that penned the Scriptures is accessible to us. This
Spirit has the power to "remove our willful incapacity to believe and recognize the
truth"(Carson 188). Grace enables us to discern truth.
The Alternative To Objective Truth
D.A. Carson reminds us of the dreadful alternative to objective truth when he writes,
"If there is no objective truth that binds all cultures together and evaluates them,
then epistemologically, there is only truth for the individual, or for the individual culture, or for the diverse interpreting communities found within each culture"(Carson
Alister McGrath, in attempting to highlight postmodernity's skewed approach to truth,
To the postmodern suggestion that something can be "true for me" but not "true" the
following reply might be made. Is fascism as equally true as democratic libertarianism?
Consider the person who believes, passionately and sincerely, that it is an excellent thing to place millions of Jews in gas chambers. That is certainly "true for him".
But can it be allowed to pass unchallenged? Is it as equally true as the belief that
one ought to live in peace and tolerance with one's neighbours, including Jews?(Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
The postmodernists are wise to question the the modernist arrogance regarding truth,
but at the same time, it would be foolish to say objective truth doesn't exist or
can't be perceived. The balanced approach would suggest that any "claims" on truth
be done humbly and with little sense of finality, allowing that "truth" to be constantly
polished and reevaluated. Truth should constantly be polished and reevaluated in
light of the fact that human understanding of truth, though potentially accurate,
is never exhaustive or absolute.
Carson also reminds us that "not all of God's truth is vouchsafed to one particular
interpretive community", such as, a particular denomination(Carson 552). For this
reason, we must be eager to learn from one another while, at the same time, submitting
to God's self-disclosure in Christ and in the Scriptures(Carson 552).
Evangelism In A Postmodern World
The question needs to be asked, does a society's basic worldview affect how we evangelize?
Should Christians be evangelizing differently in the postmodern age than they did
in the modern age? The simple answer is, yes.
Take, for example, the "Four Spiritual Laws" of Campus Crusade for Christ. There is
nothing intrinsically wrong with this approach as long as the "targeted" person has
already bought into the Judeo-Christian heritage(Carson 501). There was a time when
most people had a basic understanding of creation/fall, sin, and Christ, but that is
no longer the case. Carson poses a question to those who would continue to use these
"modern" approaches to evangelism: If we continue to use these methods on people
"who no nothing about the Bible's plotline . . . how will they hear you?"(Carson 502). We
must be sensitive to our context if we want our evangelism to be coherent. We must
engage postmodernism to discern how best to articulate our faith in the world--a
world that is increasingly postmodern in its thinking(Grenz 174). Carson goes on to insist that
the gospel "is virtually incoherent unless it is securely set into a biblical worldview"(Carson
502). Our task then, is to proclaim the "never-changing" gospel in a
manner that our postmodern generation can understand(Grenz 174).
The Positive Influence Of Postmodernity
Up to this point, this essay has been quite critical of postmodernity--critical of
its attack on metanarratives and objective truth, and of its advocacy and facilitating
of pluralism. There are, however, some positive aspects of postmodernity that we
must make mention of.
While being hard on postmodernity on one front, Carson insists that there is "a large
measure of truth in postmodernity", specifically in its critique of modernity(Carson
91). For some, postmodernity is a helpful pendulum swing away from the "unnecessary
dogmatisms and legalism of a previous generation"(Carson 91). Postmodernity is waking
us up to the fact that we have been canonizing our own interpretations for far too
long. Carson observes how postmodernism "is proving rather successful at undermining
the extraordinary hubris of modernism" and concludes that "no thoughtful Christian can
be sad about that"(Carson 10).
The postmodernist approach will also benefit to Christians by freeing us us of the
modern emphasis on Christian apologetics--having to provide verifiable evidence for
every faith stance. It may allow Christians to once again "speak about God without
defensiveness or self-consciousness"(Bottum 32).
Conclusion: Our Response To Postmodernity
J. Bottum correctly points out that what Christians have in common with postmodernists
is "a distrust of modern claims to knowledge"(Bottum 31). On the other hand, when
Christians understand the implications for their faith when confronted by postmodern
deconstructionists, they might be tempted to argue in support of modernity. We might
be tempted to do this, Bottum claims, because we share in common with the modernists
"a trust in the reality of truth"(Bottum 32). Brian Walsh warns, however, that "any
notion of truth as arrival" should be abandoned(Taken from an InterVarsity Press "Author Interview", 1997). If by "truth as arrival" Walsh means an uncritical propagation of truth, this essay
concurs. The answer to postmodernity is not a reversion back to modernity, but neither
is it a "myopic conservative retrenchment"(Middleton/Walsh 173).
D.A. Carson perceptively cites "biblical illiteracy" as one of the main contributors
to the growth of pluralism(Carson 37). With this being the case, Middleton/Walsh
accurately insist that "without a renewed rooting in the Scriptures Christians will
have nothing to say to postmodernity"(Middleton/Walsh 173). This makes perfect sense.
If one of our primary errors is misinterpreting our metanarrative, and if one of
our resolutions to this error is to allow Scripture to "judge our constructs", it
is only appropriate for Christians resolve to humbly immerse themselves in Scripture allowing
It to topple our idolatries.
Christianity cannot embrace postmodernity, yet we must not retreat to the hills either.
There are certain lessons we must learn from postmodernity. Postmodernity reminds
us to abandon "truth as arrival", yet we must humbly affirm that truth is nonetheless available. Postmodernity rightly warns us of misuse of the biblical metanarrative,
yet we must resist the temptation to discard or water-down the metanarrative. Instead,
we must endeavour to sensitively, but authoritatively, apply the biblical metanarrative to our lives and to our community. Postmodernity awakens us to the need of understanding
our context--how it affects our interpretation and our understanding. At the same
time, we must not forget the opportunity we have to transcend our context by the
grace of God, and the power of the Holy Spirit.
D.A. Carson best summarizes the Christian response to postmodernity when he insists
that we must recognize "certain truths in postmodernity, without getting snookered
by the entire package"(Carson 136). So let us resolve to stand firm against the
negative currents of postmodernity, but let us do so humbly
Allen, Diogenes. Christian Belief in a Postmodern World. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1989.
Anderson, Walter Truett ed. The Truth About Truth: De-Confusing and Re-Constructing the Postmodern World. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1995.
Brueggemann, Walter. Texts Under Negotiation: The Bible and Postmodern Imagination. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993.
Bottum, J. "Christians and Postmoderns". First Things
. February, 1994.
Carson, D.A. The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996.
Fowler, James W. Faithful Change: The Personal and Public Challenges of Postmodern Life. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996.
Gergen, Kenneth J. The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life. New York: Basic Books, 1991.
Grenz, Stanley. A Primer on Postmodernism. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996.
Hauerwas, Stanley. "Preaching As Though We Had Enemies". First Things
. May, 1995.
McGrath, Alister. Intellectuals Don't Need God and Other Modern Myths. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993.
McGrath, Alister. "The Challenge of Pluralism for the Contemporary Church". Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
McKnight, Edgar. Post-Modern Use Of The Bible: The Emergence of Reader-Oriented Criticism. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1988.
Middleton, Richard J. and Brian Walsh. Truth Is Stranger Than It Used To Be: Biblical Faith in a Postmodern Age. Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1995.
Oden, Thomas. Two Worlds. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1992.
Padgett, Alan. "Christianity and Postmodernity". Christian Scholar's Review
. Vol.XXVI, Number 2(Winter 1996).