Since the mid 20th century (1950-60’s), a system that denies absolutes and
objectivity has emerged into our society. It has brought every established tradition and metanarrative into subject. It has cast doubt on everything that has been believed as solid foundational truth, and every institutional belief, including the church. This system is known as postmodernism.
In this article I will address postmodernism and the church.
What is Postmodernism
Postmodernism is a relativistic system of observation and thought that denies absolutes and objectivity. Postmodernism has become an influence across the board: theology, art, culture, architecture, society, film, technology, and economics. Traditional, social, art, and cultural beliefs are discarded and reinterpreted in relativistic terms. Unfortunately this includes the traditional teachings of the church based on Scripture.
Now I mentioned relativistic terms. This means that everything is relative and there are no absolutes. This practice is called relativism.
Relativism is the philosophical position that all points of view are valid equally and that all truth is relative to the individual. This means that all moral positions, all religious systems, all art forms, all political movements, etc., are truths that are relative to the individual. Under the umbrella of relativism, whole groups of perspectives are categorized. In obvious terms, some are:
- Cognitive relativism (truth)- Cognitive relativism affirms that all truth is relative. This would mean that no system of truth is more valid than another one, and that there is no objective standard of truth. It would, naturally, deny that there is a God of absolute truth.
- Moral/ethical relativism – All morals are relative to the social group within which they are constructed.
- Situational relativism – Ethics (right and wrong) are dependent upon the situation.
Some typical expressions that reveal an underlying presupposition of relativism are comments such as: It is true for you, but not for me; That is your truth, not mine; and There are no absolute truths.
Unfortunately, the philosophy of relativism is pervasive in our culture today. With the rejection of God, and Christianity in particular, absolute truth is being abandoned.
An example of postmodern thought would be the validation of homosexuality as an equally legitimate sexual expression over and against the Judeo-Christian ethic of heterosexuality. Also, that gay marriage is an equally legitimate union over and against the Judeo-Christian ethic of marriage between a man and woman. In other words, practices and beliefs that were previously taboo are given equal validity to traditional values and norms often to the point of superseding the latter. This equalization and displacement is not restricted to religious realms but affect all circles of human interaction.
This is a worldwide movement but predominantly here in America where pluralism and relativism are rampant. The only thing by the postmodernist not tolerated is intolerance. Tolerance is king to the postmodernist who says,My truth is different from your truth so don’t judge me with your outdated morals. Such thought process by the spiritually dead is all too common.
We in America live in an increasingly pluralistic society. Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We are a nation of diverse people and we all need to get along and some
tolerance is necessary—even healthy. But, as I like to say, too much of a good thing, is a bad thing and the tearing down of our moral fiber to get along is a detriment rather than a benefit to society. Therefore, there should be borders to our tolerance.
Our increasingly tolerant society wants to avoid the idea that there really is a right and wrong. This is evidenced in our deteriorating judicial system that has more and more trouble punishing criminals (e.g. decriminalization), in our entertainment media which continues to push the envelope of immorality and indecency, in our schools which teach evolution and social tolerance, etc. In addition, the plague of moral relativism is encouraging everyone to accept, pornography, fornication, homosexuality and a host of other sins that were once considered wrong but are now being accepted and even promoted in society. It is becoming so pervasive that if we speak out against moral relativism and its anything goes philosophy, you’re labeled as an intolerant bigot. Of course, this is incredibly hypocritical of those who profess that all points of view are true, but reject those who profess absolutes in morality. It seems that what is really meant by the moral relativists is that all points of view are true except for the views that teach moral absolutes, an absolute God, or absolute right and wrong.
Postmodernism in the Church
I’m sure it is clear to see by now that the church hasn’t escaped from postmodernism. In America, apostasy has reared its ugly head in the church. The church is under attack and one of the enemy’s weapons is postmodernism. The worldly thinking of the postmodernists has infiltrated the church making it more and more worldlier. Church leaders should be led by the Holy Spirit. But He (the Holy Spirit) is slowly being replaced by a different spirit.
Understanding the influence of postmodernism in the church may be easier if we view it as an extension of or a reaction to some of the key ideas held during the period of modernism that began in the 1600s.
The chart below illustrates the breakdown of the modernism periods.
|Premodernism (up to 1650)||Modernism (1650-1950s||Postmodernism (1960s – present)|
|God/the supernatural realm furnishes the basis for morality, human dignity, truth, and reason.||Morality, human dignity, truth, and reason rest on foundations other than God (reason, science, race, etc.).||All metanarratives (systems or grand stories) are suspect-whether religious or not. No universal foundation for truth, morality, human dignity exists.|
|French Revolution (1789)
|Fall of the Berlin Wall (1989)
As you can see, modernists attempted to create metanarratives or grand stories without reference to God-to ground human dignity, freedom, morality, and progress. But at the least, modernism held high regard for reason, rationalism, and authority. However, postmodernism carried the ball even further by responding with subjectivity, relativism, and assertions that absolute truth is not knowable. You see, once we allow the enemy to gain a toehold, it gains a foothold.
Generally speaking, we are experiencing postmodernism’s influence in our local churches when we see church attendees wrestling with issues related to relativism, truth and authority. Many members and people attending our churches have grown up and been influenced by a postmodern culture. So the question becomes: how do relativism, views concerning truth, and views concerning authority influence our churches, and what are the implications of those realities? Well …read on.
A main area of focus goes back to the postmodern concept of relativism. In a day when debates are raging over sexual orientation, the definition of marriage, abortion, and many other moral and ethical issues, we see our church attendees influenced by postmodernism when they tend to base views more upon personal preferences and experiences rather than on absolute truths taught in God’s Word. Modernism was characterized by a majority of people holding firmly to a foundational Judeo-Christian worldview — but in a pluralistic and relative postmodern period, morality is driven by a desire to let individuals determine right and wrong based on personal preferences and a spirit of freedom for individual choices. In open discussions, we may see trends where issues regarding right and wrong are no longer determined to be black and white but instead are left as some shade of gray. The so-called gray areas have increased dramatically. Sadly it may not be uncommon to witness a group of church attendees coming to the conclusion that although a matter is clearly addressed in Scripture, it should simply be left up to the individual to determine what was right and wrong. This is a way of gently kicking the Bible to the curb. This is an illustration of how a postmodern culture has influenced church attendees toward a relativistic mindset. But the fact of the matter is, when it comes to God and His Word, personal feelings—simply doesn’t count.
It simply astounds me that the church; including church leaders no less, can be divided on issues of homosexuality and gay marriage—issues that are clearly addressed in the Scriptures. There is no gray there. [Lev.18:22,20:13,1 Cor.6:9,1 Tim 1:10] Gay priests…? Churches performing gay marriages…? They say: It doesn’t matter; God is a God of love. Really? Where is the Scriptural justification of that?
Another important consideration that involves the influence of the postmodern movement in the church is the denial of authority. This is evident in churches when members are more concerned with tradition and personal preferences than with being guided by the authoritative Word of God (e.g. marriage, authority) and the Spirit of God. In other words, they are being led by their feelings. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard in response to Scripture: Yes, but I just feel… But feelings by themselves are led by the flesh and can carry us down a path we shouldn’t travel. God’s Word says:thou shall and Thou shall not It is not conditional and it never mentions: according to your feelings.
Postmodernism says that language and words are always open to various interpretations and that coming to an authoritative conclusion about the meaning of teachings in an ancient text such as the Bible is not possible. But the discarded difference is the Bible is inspired by God. In my article https://thechristianadvocate.org/thehistoryofourbible I mention the argument that the Bible was written by men. This is one of the excuses postmodernists to discredit the Bible.
This type of thinking has resulted in the devaluation of the authority of the Bible. The basic tenets of accurate biblical interpretation are pushed aside, and the meaning of a text is left up to the individual. Failure to turn to the Scriptures to determine a path that should be taken or blatant disregard for clear teachings in the Scriptures are examples of denial of biblical authority in the local church.
How Should the Church Respond
How should a church respond to these postmodern influences? One way is to teach, model and equip families to instill a biblical worldview in the lives of their children. Parents, children and church members in general must promote a healthy respect for the authority of the Scriptures. The regular reading and application of God’s Word in everyday life will help tremendously in countering the postmodern denial of authority.
Unfortunately, some leaders of the church have fallen victim to postmodernism. However, for church leaders to focus on the reality of truth and hold a high regard for the authority of God’s Word is a key element in helping church attendees battle the relativistic view. Christians must stand firm on doctrinal truths that are truly objective based on an accurate understanding of the Scriptures.
Messages spread through media have blurred the lines for some individuals, and they may no longer be willing to stand firm on biblical objective truth. Effective ministry will teach and model the idea that the Bible is full of objective truth, and that by not compromising in areas of truth, Christians will be equipped for faithful service in kingdom work. With this in mind, we return to Paul’s encouragement to Timothy:Preach the Word[2 Tim 4:2]
Postmodernism continues to have a strong influence on the family, individuals and churches. Leaders in local churches will make great strides in combating this negative influence by faithfully applying Paul’s exhortation to again,Preach the Word. Whether it is relativism, denying the knowable truths of the Bible, or denying the authority of the Scriptures, we must remember that All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.(2 Timothy 3:16-17, KJV). A commitment with prayer to faithfully preach this Word in our homes and our churches can minimize the negative influence of the postmodern culture in the lives of individuals as well as in the corporate life of the local church. We must stand firm.
The Danger of Postmodernism
As world history has shown, superpowers are destroyed from within, not without. The danger of postmodernism and the resulting relativism is overall weakness. It tears away at the foundation of civilization.
Relativism is invading our society, our homes, our economy, and our schools. Society cannot flourish nor survive in an environment where everyone does what is right in his own eyes, where the situation determines moral truth, and that lying and cheating are okay as long as you don’t get caught. Without a common foundation of truth and absolutes, our culture will become weak and fragmented leading to overall decline.
Fragmented is almost an understatement. These days we have numerous segments of our population contending for their own
rights (i.e. women, homosexuals, animals [with the help of humans], transgenders, illegal immigrants, gun owners, etc.). These are sub-movements under the umbrella of postmodernism and in the long haul, fragment the population. It comes to the point where one group’s rights interfere with another resulting in utter confusion. The founding fathers laid the foundation, the absolutes—the objectives. There were, for the most part, enough laws to cover everybody’s rights and if that foundation was adhered to there would be no need for segmental rights. By the way, that foundation is Biblically
based—government is Biblically based. Man did not devise it on his own volition.
As we tear away at this foundation, ultimately the dwelling-the-building-the nation, will crumble. As our nation becomes less religious and more secular, the more our dependency shifts to the government. Needless to say, this is a sad state of affairs. Notice that the government is in constant gridlock and extremely inefficient for the citizens? Where are we headed? Corruption from within.
Need an example? We’re the most powerful nation on earth. Yet, we’re killing each other in record massive numbers with guns and the government is incapable to do anything about it! So our dependency is leaning on an inefficient, gridlocked government? The Scriptures sums this up in one verse: Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools [Rom 1:22]
Early on, I mentioned the bringing of metanarratives into subject. One major metanarrative is the Bible. Contained in the Old Testament is the history of Biblical Israel—the rise and fall of it. One time a glorious nation, led by God, rebelled and turned away from Him and was ultimately annihilated by Him. When we don’t learn from history, we repeat it. Instead of learning from the Bible, postmodernism is discarding it. As a result, we are following the pattern of Biblical Israel. But doesn’t this confirm Scripture? Ecclesiastes 1:9 reads: The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. In other words, history merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new. The postmodernists think they’re doing something new. But they’re not! They’re only confirming Scripture! More on this irony to follow.
This abandonment from God’s law by Israel led to corruption from within, which led to oppression from without
(Israel repeated this cycle 7 times in the book of Judges).
We ourselves are returning to the days of the judges when … every man did that which was right in his own eyes [Judg.17:6,21:25] and Israel set aside God’s law and substituted it with their own, fulfilling their desires. Referring back to the chart above, prior to 1650, God was the prime basis to be followed. Over time God has been moved aside and we’re doing our own thing; just as Israel did. New Testament Scripture further confirms what happens when God is removed from the equation.[Romans 1:21-32]
The Ultimate Outcome
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could create our own world? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to create our own reality…that we can be whatever we identified ourselves to be…? Wouldn’t it be great if the world was just what we wanted it to be individually— based on what we think it should be? Wouldn’t it be terrific to be able to do exactly what we wanted to, individually? Yes, it would be wonderful! But God didn’t create it that way and we can’t recreate the world. God is a God of order—not confusion [2 Tim.1:7,1 Cor.14:40] and the modernists and postmodernists are moving things out of divine order. And one day, ultimately, no matter what kind of reality we create for ourselves, the absolute, objective reality will ultimately come forth. We can only delay reality for so long.[2 Peter 3:9]
As John Adams, a founding father and the second President of the United States said, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”
The Irony of the Matter
The postmodern movement is full of irony. How? The absolute truth that the postmodernists refute, which is the Scriptures, they confirm.
2 Tim 4:3-4 reads:
3 For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear.4 They will reject the truth and chase after myths. NLT
This is what they confirm—absolute, objective truth. Since this is the case, we can anticipate the need to focus on preaching the Word in order to promote a biblical worldview in the individual and corporate lives of our church family. We need to hold fast to the Word of God!
Please feel free to leave any question or comment below. Also, suggestions for future topics are welcomed.