What Postmodernism Gets Right


The Audacious Ride for Visions, painting by Leda Luss Luyken

When I first started examining postmodernism to know how precisely that way of looking at the world differed from what I was used to, my pastor at the time, Dale Burke, said that postmodernism is no more dangerous than modernism — neither one is a Biblical worldview but neither one is all wrong either.

He was right. And yet it seems so much easier to camp on the ways that postmodernism contradicts what I believe rather than affirming the things about this way of thinking that are helpful.

First, postmodernism is essentially a way of looking at the world that stands against the ideals of modernism — things like socially progressive trends; affirming the power of the human being to create, improve, and reshape the environment; and replacing the old with the new to facilitate the advance of science and technology.

One thing that seems true of postmodernism is that science and materialism is no longer the end of all knowledge. Instead, there’s a new awareness that there is spiritual knowledge — influences that can’t be scientifically defined or measured and a world beyond the material that can’t be quantified.

This is a good thing. In some ways it’s a replication of the difference between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the latter being the Jewish sect that didn’t believe in supernatural intervention in the world such as angels or visions or presumably, the Holy Spirit, and certainly not the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

It was the Pharisees that could say when Paul was arrested, Wait a minute; maybe he has seen an angel.

The point is, the refusal to see beyond the material world is a huge barrier to anyone coming to Christ. How do you explain God’s existence to someone who begins the discussion believing that the only viable proofs are material in nature? It’s like saying, Show me love.

Postmodernism reintroduces the spiritual into the conversation. Granted, another part of postmodernism wants to accept all and any spiritual experience as equally valid and true, so it’s still far from a Biblical position, but nevertheless, it seems to me more Pharisees were likely to believe Paul’s conversion on the Damascus road than Sadducees who thought communication with a supernatural being an impossibility.

Something else I think postmodernism has right is validating human experience. Today there’s much more emphasis put on a person’s story, and on story in general. Telling stories as opposed to delineating facts puts the heart back into history. How people feel and how they act as a result is a holistic approach to understanding others.

Of course, postmodernism misses again by thinking that no one can understand another person’s experiences because of the limitations of language and that all experiences, even those that clash, are equally true because they are true for each person in question.

The important thing for the Christian, I believe, is to pay attention to what our culture says and to measure it by the standard of God’s word. How others in society perceive the world matters a great deal.

In many respects, someone like Rob Bell (Love Wins) or Paul Young (The Shack) is doing nothing more than mirroring the thinking of the age. Christians can pooh-pooh those ideas and scorn those books, but we had better understand why so many people listened. Two of those reasons are things postmodernism gets right — stories touch our hearts and the spiritual is real.

Those things are consistent with a Biblical worldview, and it would be wise for us to admonish and teach and evangelize by capitalizing on exactly those things.

This post first appeared here in April 2012.

What Postmodernism Gets Right


The Audacious Ride for Visions, painting by Leda Luss Luyken

When I first started examining postmodernism to know how precisely that way of looking at the world differed from what I was used to, my pastor at the time, Dale Burke, said that postmodernism is no more dangerous than modernism — neither one is a Biblical worldview but neither one is all wrong either.

He was right. And yet it seems so much easier to camp on the ways that postmodernism contradicts what I believe rather than affirming the things about this way of thinking that are helpful.

First, postmodernism is essentially a way of looking at the world that stands against the ideals of modernism — things like socially progressive trends; affirming the power of the human being to create, improve, and reshape the environment; and replacing the old with the new to facilitate the advance of science and technology.

One thing that seems true of postmodernism is that science and materialism is no longer the end of all knowledge. Instead, there’s a new awareness that there is spiritual knowledge — influences that can’t be scientifically defined or measured and a world beyond the material that can’t be quantified.

This is a good thing. In some ways it’s a replication of the difference between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the latter being the Jewish sect that didn’t believe in supernatural intervention in the world such as angels or visions or presumably, the Holy Spirit, and certainly not the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

It was the Pharisees that could say when Paul was arrested, Wait a minute; maybe he has seen an angel.

The point is, the refusal to see beyond the material world is a huge barrier to anyone coming to Christ. How do you explain God’s existence to someone who begins the discussion believing that the only viable proofs are material in nature? It’s like saying, Show me love.

Postmodernism reintroduces the spiritual into the conversation. Granted, another part of postmodernism wants to accept all and any spiritual experience as equally valid and true, so it’s still far from a Biblical position, but nevertheless, it seems to me more Pharisees were likely to believe Paul’s conversion on the Damascus road than Sadducees who thought communication with a supernatural being an impossibility.

Something else I think postmodernism has right is validating human experience. Today there’s much more emphasis put on a person’s story, and on story in general. Telling stories as opposed to delineating facts puts the heart back into history. How people feel and how they act as a result is a holistic approach to understanding others.

Of course, postmodernism misses again by thinking that no one can understand another person’s experiences because of the limitations of language and that all experiences, even those that clash, are equally true because they are true for each person in question.

The important thing for the Christian, I believe, is to pay attention to what our culture says and to measure it by the standard of God’s word. How others in society perceive the world matters a great deal.

In many respects, someone like Rob Bell (Love Wins) or Paul Young (The Shack) is doing nothing more than mirroring the thinking of the age. Christians can pooh-pooh those ideas and scorn those books, but we had better understand why so many people listened. Two of those reasons are things postmodernism gets right — stories touch our hearts and the spiritual is real.

Those things are consistent with a Biblical worldview, and it would be wise for us to admonish and teach and evangelize by capitalizing on exactly those things.

Published in: on April 19, 2012 at 6:28 pm  Comments (3)  
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Writing for the “Spiritually Interested”


I wasn’t going to link to it or even reference the source of these thoughts, but I want to copy a chart, and therefore have to give due credit.

Recently editor Mick Silva has been blogging about writing for seekers, those operating with a postmodern perspective. In one post entitled “Why Is The Shack Still Selling?” he asks

How do these “pioneers” differ from the more traditional Christian book market?

By “pioneers” I believe he means authors who are engaging the “spiritually interested” within the Christian framework (in another post, though, he includes authors such as Rhonda Byrne, author of The Secret, and Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now, so I may be assuming too much).

Anyway, here is the chart I found interesting.

    Pioneers value / Traditionalists value
    Mystery over certainty/ Certainty over mystery
    Experiential faith/ Propositional truth
    Freedom from structure/ Structure to their freedom
    Personal authority/ Authority figures
    Love at the expense of truth/ Truth at the expense of love
    Authenticity over status/ Status over authenticity
    Relationship over rules/ Rules over relationship
    Maleable [malleable], interpretive/ Concrete, quantifiable
    A story over principles/ Principles over a story
    Seeking over knowing Knowing over seeking

In many ways, this list is nothing more than a description of a person influenced primarily by postmodernism versus a person influenced primarily by modernism, and to be honest, I don’t see the Christians I know on either side of the chart.

A few years ago, I asked my pastor, Dale Burke, what he thought of postmodernism, and his answer was insightful: it’s just a philosophical approach to life, no more right or wrong than other approaches. We can glean good things from any number of philosophies, but the key is to square what we believe with the Bible.

Well, that puts my pastor, my church, and me decidedly on the side of propositional truth, doesn’t it? Yes, and the first proposition is to love God with all of my being and the second, to love my brother as myself.

So does that mean we are part of the “Pioneers,” putting love over truth?

Yes, except another proposition we believe says we can know the truth and the truth will set you free. And that statement is supplemented by Jesus’s declaration that He is the way, the truth, and the life, that no one comes to the Father except via the Son. Which again shifts us back to the camp of the “Pioneers” because we value relationship over rules.

Sort of. Because Jesus also said, If you love me, you will obey my commandments. So now it seems we’re back on the “Traditionalists” side.

I could go on, but I want to make two salient points.

First, if someone values seeking over knowing, will they ever find? Jesus says, Seek and you will find, ask and it will be given you, knock and the door will be opened. Is someone genuinely—authentically, to use the term ascribed to the “Pioneers”—seeking if he has no intention of finding?

And secondly, the apostle Paul, when he preached in Athens started where the Athenians were—as idol worshipers who loved a good debate and to learn something new.

Granted, authors aren’t preachers, but we have the same mandate as the “professionals”: to go and make disciples. So if there are, as it seems, a host of spiritually interested who have broken free of the humanism and rationalism espoused by modern philosophy, shouldn’t we meet them where they are?

Even so, I think we need to keep Paul as our model. He was committed to preaching Christ, and Him crucified. What he excelled at was showing the Athenians that their “Unknown God” they worshiped was in fact known.

It seems to me, the challenge before Christians is to show seekers that what they’re looking for is the very thing we looked for too. And found.