ArticlesThe Dangers of the Overcorrection of Postmodernism

The Dangers of the Overcorrection of Postmodernism

By Silas Ingram, Youth Minister at FBC Cisco 

 

The next generation of the American church is combatting poisonous ideologies that are perhaps more pervasive than in any other period of American history. Postmodernism has infected politics, academia, and even religion. Many politicians, professors, and pastors can’t give a clear definition of a woman. The entire ideology, which suggests that truth cannot be known, is a house of cards that can be completely dismantled by asking one simple question. “How do you know truth cannot be known?” Thankfully, many have realized the absurdity of this belief system. According to Cultural Research Center, in 2020 only 32% of Americans believed in absolute moral truth. In 2023, the number rose to 46% of Americans.[1] Christians seem to be successful in the fight for truth, but there are dangers to be avoided. While truth is certainly essential to the Christian faith, the pendulum cannot swing too far in the opposite direction. Invalidating the role of experience in the Christian faith altogether comes with consequences that could be equally condemning for Christians. While it’s true that Christians cannot rely solely on experience, they also cannot rely solely on logic. Ultimately, Scripture is the only reliable guide for the Christian faith, and relying too heavily on experience or logic can negatively affect one’s personal discipleship, cultural interaction, and theology.

Dangers for Personal Discipleship
The implications of postmodernism on Christianity are fatal. If truth could not be known, then the Christian faith is in vain. The gospel hinges on knowing certain nonnegotiable truths such as the sinfulness of mankind, God’s righteous indignation towards sin, the hypostatic nature of the incarnation, the mercy offered through the cross, and the triumphal resurrection of Jesus. If truth could not be known, then God would have been entirely foolish to send His Son into the world. Jesus was sent as the definitive self-revelation of the infinite God of the universe, but if truth could not be known then any attempt of making Himself known would be futile. In the postmodern perspective sending Jesus to proclaim that the kingdom of God was at hand would have been no more effective than sending the Swedish Chef from the Muppets.[2] The fact that Jesus came to reveal truth is integral to Christianity. However, Christ did not only come with exclusively gnostic motives. Take James’ epistle for example. It says, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.”[3] Mankind can be an encyclopedia of biblical truth and even profess those truths, and yet still be leaps and bounds away from the kind of follower they are called to be. Christ was more than a teacher. He was also an exhorter. Christ came to die on the cross as a propitiation for sin and then to urge His followers to unite with Him in death daily by living according to the will of God the Father.

The first danger of overcorrecting postmodernism is that it could potentially lead to a purely intellectual faith that never stirs the heart and therefore never results in practical application. In other words, when one completely dismisses the role of human emotion and experience, the bridge is burnt between orthodoxy and orthopraxy, between right thinking and right practice. All that is left is disembodied doctrines.[4] If the Christian walk is a voyage across a treacherous sea, then reason is the compass and zeal is the sail. Without reason, Christians would wander off into every wind of deceitful doctrine without ever knowing if they are on the right track. However, without zeal they would make as much progress on their voyage to conformity to Christ as the demons mentioned by James. Zeal without reason is dumb, but reason without zeal is dead. An anti-intellectual faith has nothing of value to say, but an anti-emotional faith will lie lifeless in the pages of systematic theology textbooks. If Christians are not careful, they will fall into this trap, and it is possible that many already have. The aforementioned study by Cultural Research Center seems to indicate that as postmodernism declines so does the application of Christ’s teachings in the lives of His followers. In 2020, 85% of self-professing born-again Christians said they were deeply committed to practicing their faith. In 2023, the number declined to only 50% of the religion.[5] This drop-off should be alarming for any Christian, even as poisonous as postmodernism is. It is not enough to know truth. Christians must love truth and live truth.

Dangers for Cultural Engagement
There is also a correlation between the role of experience in Christianity and cultural engagement. Those who overvalue experience tend to give culture too much authority while those who undervalue experience isolate themselves from culture. Pontius Pilate for example, being the Roman prefect of Judea, may have very well been influenced by the philosophical ancestor of relativism known as sophism as taught by Protagoras, who famously asserted that man is the measure of all things.[6] On top of that, Judea was a melting pot of Egyptian, Babylonian, Greek, Roman, and Jewish cultures which defaulted in a cultural pluralism similar to twenty-first century America. All of these factors culminated in the infamous question that would define Pilate for millennia to come.[7] As Jesus stated that the purpose of His coming was to testify to the truth, Pilate responds by asking, “What is truth?” When tasked with the responsibility of sentencing Jesus, Pilate then turns to the culture to determine truth, the Jewish culture who saw Him as a blasphemer and an offense to their religion and the Roman culture who saw Him as an insurrectionist and an offense to the Roman Empire. The same mistake is made in postmodern America. Is the unborn life sacred? Is marriage exclusively between a man and a woman? What is truth? Just ask the culture. However, God does not intend for His people to find truth in culture, but rather in the pages of inspired Scripture. Neither the postmodernist nor Pilate find truth, and they both turn to culture to crucify it.

However, in the pursuit for truth Christians cannot completely abandon culture. The phrase, “facts don’t care about your feelings,” has become the battle cry of conservative Americans whether religious or not. Those who use the phrase stand firm on the objective truth that truth is objective. The phrase mirrors the expression that the truth is the truth even if no one believes it and a lie is a lie even if everyone believes it. God is the determinant of truth, not the fallible, mutable emotions of men.[8] However, the sentiment gives conservatives a heartless and antagonistic reputation, and perhaps the reputation is fitting as many have become somewhat indifferent to the plight of the confused and deeply troubled culture. It creates an isolationist mindset in which the only reason to engage in culture is to combat it. It is true that the unborn life is intrinsically valuable regardless of how anyone might feel. It is true that God designed male and female, and it is good that Christians stand firm on these truths. However, Christians cannot overlook the emotional hardship of a pregnant teenager whose boyfriend abandoned her or become calloused to the socially anxious preteen who has been deceived into thinking that there is an infinite spectrum between God’s created binary of gender.

Christians must be sympathetic to the hurts of people while faithfully proclaiming the truth. Men and woman came to Christ in droves during the eighteenth century when the good news was preached amid the perilous frontier lifestyle. Faced with disease, harsh weather conditions, limited nutrition, and long journeys away from loved ones, the men and woman of the Great Awakening found hope in the gospel. In a state of emotional brokenness, they found comfort in the unchanging, lifegiving truth of the cross.[9] Christians must take the gospel into the culture, not make an enemy of culture. Christians are explicitly called not to conform to culture, but they are called to transform the culture by making disciples of all nations. This cannot be done while also villainizing anyone who holds an opposing worldview. The Christian enemy is the deceiver, not those who have fallen victim to him. Diminishing the role of experience may cause Christians to forget that.

Dangers for Theology
Lastly, how one handles experience may lead to faulty theology. Those who can draw their philosophical lineage back to the sophist often fallaciously assume that God is unable to overcome human limitations. Many who are influenced by postmodern thought would hold to a linguistic method of interpreting Scripture. In this view, mankind is inside of, and limited by, language and therefore cannot objectively know the meaning of Scripture. By necessity, those who hold to a linguistic method would have to assume that God is either incapable of clearly communicating to His people or that He doesn’t care to.[10] However, this would be in direct contradiction to the biblical teachings of God’s characteristics of omnipotence and benevolence. God does all that He pleases and desires that all men come to a knowledge of the truth. In spite of the false theology produced by postmodern thought, God is both able and willing to communicate clearly to His people.

Those who have dethroned the idol of experience only to replace it with logic must be careful not to also make a weak version of God. Many self-proclaimed Christian intellectuals often assume that God is not capable of orchestrating biblical history in the miraculous manner which the bible claims. If the passionate Christian who seeks to defend the truth is not careful, he can fall into Christian naturalism. Christians must not elevate reason so much that they abandon the supernatural elements of the faith for natural explanations as if God is unable to operate outside of the laws of nature that were created by Him. One example would be the adoption of theistic evolution. While not essential to the Christian faith, the evolution narrative is simply incompatible with the biblical narrative of God forming Adam from the dust and death coming as a result of his sin. A naturalist perspective may also open the door for denial of more essential Christian doctrines that are supernatural such as the resurrection of Jesus.[11]

Overvaluing the role of reason could potentially lead Christians to divorce what is supernatural from what is true. It may cause the Christian to arrogantly assume that if there is something that he cannot easily explain through nature then it cannot possibly be true. However, the supernatural is closely linked to truth, and the two should not be divided. Throughout Scripture God breaks the laws of nature in order to verify truth. When Moses was tasked with confronting Pharaoh, God granted him with the ability to perform signs and wonders which testified to the truth of Moses’ claims. When Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal, God used a consuming fire to demonstrate His power over false gods. When Jesus went on his rampage through the temple courts, He told the pharisees that He would prove the validity of His message through His death and resurrection. Regardless of where one falls on the ever-enduring debate on spiritual gifts, it is undeniable that through history God has used extraordinary and supernatural methods to show that He is extraordinary and supernatural. Just as the Christian postmodernist limits God by saying that He cannot overcome language, the Christian naturalist limits God by saying that He cannot overcome nature. Both are preposterous, erroneous theological views of God’s omnipotence, or perhaps more accurately His semi-potence.

Conclusion
While postmodernism has had an unfortunate impact on culture, the potential consequences of overcorrecting into the realm of stoic hyper-intellectualism can be encapsulated in one word, damnable. If Christians are not careful in the fight for truth, the ramifications could be a fruitless, isolated faith with heretical theology. Christians have been diligent in fighting to prove that objective truth exists, but it will be to no avail if they do not submit to the truths revealed in Scripture, allow those truths to be alive within their hearts as well as their minds, and then carry that truth out into the culture with all of the love that Christ commands of His followers. The heart and the mind are both corrupted by sin, so Christians shouldn’t rely on either of them as their foremost authority. Both are fallible. Both are errant. Scripture is neither, so Christians should look to the word as their primary source of truth and as their primary example of how to apply those truths.

 

[1] “Research – Arizona Christian University,” 3, accessed November 21, 2023, https://www.arizonachristian.edu/culturalresearchcenter/research/.

[2] R. Scott Smith, Truth and the New Kind of Christian: The Emerging Effects of Postmodernism in the Church (Wheaton, Ill. : Crossway Books, 2005), 147.

[3] Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version, NIV. 

[4] Gregory S. Clapper, John Wesley on Religious Affections: His Views on Experience and Emotion and Their Role in the Christian Life and Theology (Metuchen, N.J. : Scarecrow Press, 1989), 155.

[5] “Research – Arizona Christian University,” 3, accessed November 21, 2023, https://www.arizonachristian.edu/culturalresearchcenter/research/.

[6] Eduard Zeller and Wilhelm Nestle, Outlines of the History of Greek Philosophy, 13th ed., rev (New York: Dover Publications, 1980), 81.

[7] Catherine Keller, On the Mystery: Discerning Divinity in Process (Fortress Press, 2008), 29.

[8] Travis Hearne, “Do Facts Care about Your Feelings?,” Southern Equip, October 12, 2021, https://equip.sbts.edu/article/do-facts-care-about-your-feelings/.

[9] Lawrence L. Lacour, Evangelism and Pastoral Psychology ( Great Neck, N.Y., Pastoral Psychology Press, 1956), 34.

[10] R. Scott Smith, Truth and the New Kind of Christian: The Emerging Effects of Postmodernism in the Church (Wheaton, Ill. : Crossway Books, 2005), 144.

[11] Jerry L. Walls, The Problem of Pluralism: Recovering United Methodist Identity (Wilmore, Ky. : Good News Books, 1986), 48. 

 

 

 

*The views expressed are those solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pastor’s Common

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