What We Are Addressing: A Criticism of the Christian’s Focus on Postmodernism

“Postmodernism is an elusive term – even for its advocates! But if we can say anything for certain about postmodernity, it is that the concept of accessible, knowable, objective truth is antithetical to standard, postmodern epistemology.” (Voddie Baucham Jr., 2007)

There has been quite a bit of literature regarding the distinctive character of postmodernism and its relation to the Christian worldview. Of course, though the evangelical community contains several adherents to this given cultural phenomenon [1], others are within the tradition of critical evaluation and criticism. For instance, Douglas Groothuis (2004) writes that “Postmodernism poses a great challenge to the enterprise of Christian apologetics, largely on account of its views of truth, rationality and language” [2]. Groothuis furthermore pretexts this statement by saying that there is in fact “little recognition of the profoundly unbiblical and irrational nature of postmodernism and the threat is poses to the articulation and defense of Christian truth” [3].

Voddie Baucham Jr. (2007) makes the even more so serious statement that the present state of the culture, where “[g]ay marriage is happening, partial-birth abortion is a common procedure, and political candidates regularly tone down their religious affiliations. . . the stark contrast between our culture and our Christ is seen most acutely” [4]. Moreover, Baucham identifies 5 distinctive qualities  – or worldview categories – that separate “Christian theism” and “postmodern secular humanism”:

  • Questions of God
  • Questions of Man
  • Questions of Truth
  • Questions of Kowledge
  • Questions of Ethics. [5]

In respect to (1), Baucham suggests that “Christian theism answers the question of God by positing a necessary, intelligent, all-powerful being.” While however, “Postmodern secular humanism, on the other hand, is fundamentally and functionally atheistic” [6]. And of course, going on and analyzing questions (2)-(6) from hereafter are of a similar kin. However, this is my fundamental issue with Christian apologists and Christians who partake in apologetics who posit postmodernism and Christianity as a dichotomous threat to one another. Particularly, the general and vague nature of the term requires us to form a subsequent set of secular beliefs in order to provide some level of distinctive clarification as to its meaning. These elsewhere [7] have been identified as the following:

  • (1) Alethic Postmodernism
  • (2) Epistemic Postmodernism
  • (3) Ontic Postmodernism
  • (4) Axiological/Religious Postmodernism

J.P. Moreland (2012) taxonomizes these forms of postmodernism in their respective “degrees of ingression.” As Moreland explains: “The more deeply ingressed or strongly graded one’s postmodernism is, the more persuasive is the impact of postmodern ideas throughout one’s worldview” [8]. Alethic postmodernism simply means to say that postmodernists in this involvement deny the concept of truth while still yet acknowledging the existence of a theory-independent world “out there.” Epistemic Postmodernism attacks objective rationality, or, ” the ability of a knowing, believing subject to have (1) objective justification for his beliefs and (2) direct, cognitive access to the objects of knowledge in the external world” [9].

(3) simply denies the existence of a mind/language/theory independent world, and (4) allegedly treats “religious, political, and aesthetic claims in a postmodernist way” [10]. However, even taken at the lesser “degrees of ingression” (to borrow Moreland’s term), you only find the ultimate issues to regard some forms of relativism, pluralism and [more or less] mitigated skepticism within secular cultural thinking.  For instance, William Lane Craig in his 2008 article “God is Not Dead Yet” once attempted to address the question as to whether or not rational arguments for theism can be made in our supposedly postmodern age. As he writes:

 . . . some might think that the resurgence of natural theology in our time is merely so much labor lost. For don’t we live in a postmodern culture in which appeals to such apologetic arguments are no longer effective? Rational arguments for the truth of theism are no longer supposed to work. Some Christians therefore advise that we should simply share our narrative and invite people to participate in it.

This sort of thinking is guilty of a disastrous misdiagnosis of contemporary culture. The idea that we live in a postmodern culture is a myth. In fact, a postmodern culture is an impossibility; it would be utterly unlivable. People are not relativistic when it comes to matters of science, engineering, and technology; rather, they are relativistic and pluralistic in matters of religion and ethics. But, of course, that’s not postmodernism; that’s modernism! That’s just old-line verificationism, which held that anything you can’t prove with your five senses is a matter of personal taste. We live in a culture that remains deeply modernist. [11]

Whether or not I agree with Craig here is a separate issue, however I do think he offers insight in respect to the Christian’s who pay all of their attention to “postmodern philosophies,” to which, I do think is reducible to some more old school modernistic principles rather than distinctively “postmodern” ones.

Are We Living in a Postmodern Society?

I am not necessarily intending to focus the aim of this post towards a historical or societal analysis, but am rather attempting to pin something peculiar about the agenda regarding certain respective apologists and just exactly what they are attacking. For, one could dispute my findings here since I am personally furthered by the assumption that no era in history carries with it any real distinctive philosophical goal, or “outlook,” so as to judge a given era by its beliefs, philosophies, etc.

For instance, even examining the humanism of the Renaissance, or the existentialism of the 1960’s (Schaeffer, 1976), you don’t necessarily find a culture who is consumed and swallowed whole by one tidal wave of a philosophical postulate. However, what I strongly believe that you do find is the Christian worldview and some given antithesis that provides it with a notable challenge. Consider the interesting comments made by Kenneth Boa and Robert Bowman in their book, Faith Has its Reasons on apologetics in the Reformation:

Moreover, the Renaissance was marked by an infatuation with pagan antiquity, especially Plato and Neoplatonism, and the result was a further corruption of the Christian message in what came to be known as humanism. Originally humanism was essentially an intellectual approach to literature and learning, emphasizing the study of the classics (and of the Bible) directly instead of through medieval commentaries. By the sixteenth century, though, Catholic humanism (as represented, for instance, by Erasmus) was characterized by a man-centered philosophy emphasizing human dignity and freedom at the expense of the biblical teachings on sin and grace. [12]

It wasn’t until the 17th-century that apologetics dealt with certain rationalistic critiques of Christianity that compromised “the very truth of Christianity” [13]. I do believe that Christian apologists are right in adopting this “worldview mindset” in respect to the challenge(s) of the culture. However, I think it would just be my position to address some other given issues that might deserve the apologists attention, and not rather a priori fault some given secular philosophies as the product of a “postmodern regime.”

____________________________

Notes:

  • [1] See Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christian (Jossey-Bass: 2001) for an interesting discussion.
  • [2] Douglas Groothuis, “Facing the Challenge of Postmodernism” in To Everyone An Answer: A Case for the Christian Worldview, ed. Francis Beckwith, J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig (IVP Academic: 2004) p. 239
  • [3] Ibid.
  • [4] Voddie Baucham Jr., “Truth and the Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World” in The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World, ed. John Piper and Justin Taylor (Crossway Books: 2007) p. 51
  • [5] Ibid., p. 52
  • [6] Ibid.
  • [7] See J.P. Moreland, “The Four Degrees of Postmodernism” in Come Let Us Reason, ed. Paul Copan and William Lane Craig (B&H Academic: 2012)
  • [8] Ibid., p. 17
  • [9] Ibid., p. 26
  • [10] Ibid., p. 31
  • [11] William Lane Craig, “God is Not Dead Yet” (June 2008) at Christianity Today.
  • [12] Kenneth Boa and Robert Bowman, Faith Has its Reasons (IVP Books: 2006) p. 45
  • [13] Ibid., p. 46
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s