Simply put, postmodernism is a philosophy that affirms no objective or absolute  truth, especially in matters of religion and spirituality. When confronted with  a truth claim regarding the reality of God and religious practice,  postmodernism’s viewpoint is exemplified in the statement “that may be true for  you, but not for me.” While such a response may be completely appropriate when  discussing favorite foods or preferences toward art, such a mindset is dangerous  when it is applied to reality because it confuses matters of opinion with  matters of truth.

The term “postmodernism” literally means “after  modernism” and is used to philosophically describe the current era which came  after the age of modernism. Postmodernism is a reaction (or perhaps more  appropriately, a disillusioned response) to modernism’s failed promise of using  human reason alone to better mankind and make the world a better place. Because  one of modernism’s beliefs was that absolutes did indeed exist, postmodernism  seeks to “correct” things by first eliminating absolute truth and making  everything (including the empirical sciences and religion) relative to an  individual’s beliefs and desires.

The dangers of postmodernism can be  viewed as a downward spiral that begins with the rejection of absolute truth,  which then leads to a loss of distinctions in matters of religion and faith, and  culminates in a philosophy of religious pluralism that says no faith or religion  is objectively true and therefore no one can claim his or her religion is true  and another is false.

Dangers of Postmodernism – #1 – Relative  Truth

Postmodernism’s stance of relative truth is the  outworking of many generations of philosophical thought. From Augustine to the  Reformation, the intellectual aspects of Western civilization and the concept of  truth were dominated by theologians. But, beginning with the Renaissance the  14th – 17th centuries, thinkers began to elevate humankind to the center of  reality. If one were to look at periods of history like a family tree, the  Renaissance would be modernism’s grandmother and the Enlightenment would be its  mother. Renee Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” personified the beginning of  this era. God was not the center of truth any longer – man was.

The  Enlightenment was, in a way, the complete imposition of the scientific model of  rationality upon all aspects of truth. It claimed that only scientific data  could be objectively understood, defined, and defended. Truth as it pertained to  religion was discarded. The philosopher who contributed to the idea of relative  truth was the Prussian Immanuel Kant and his work The Critique of Pure  Reason, which appeared in 1781. Kant argued that true knowledge about God  was impossible, so he created a divide of knowledge between “facts” and “faith.”  According to Kant, “Facts have nothing to do with religion.” The result was that  spiritual matters were assigned to the realm of opinion, and only the empirical  sciences were allowed to speak of truth. While modernism believed in absolutes  in science, God’s special revelation (the Bible) was evicted from the realm of  truth and certainty.

From modernism came postmodernism and the ideas of  Frederick Nietzsche. As the patron saint of postmodernist philosophy, Nietzsche  held to “perspectivism,” which says that all knowledge (including science) is a  matter of perspective and interpretation. Many other philosophers have built  upon Nietzsche’s work (for example, Foucault, Rorty, and Lyotard) and have  shared his rejection of God and religion in general. They also rejected any hint  of absolute truth, or as Lyotard put it, a rejection of a metanarrative (a truth  that transcends all peoples and cultures).

This philosophical war  against objective truth has resulted in postmodernism being completely averse to  any claim to absolutes. Such a mindset naturally rejects anything that declares  to be inerrant truth, such as the Bible.

Dangers of  Postmodernism – #2 – Loss of Discernment

The great theologian  Thomas Aquinas said, “It is the task of the philosopher to make distinctions.”  What Aquinas meant is that truth is dependent upon the ability to discern – the  capability to distinguish “this” from “that” in the realm of knowledge. However,  if objective and absolute truth does not exist, then everything becomes a matter  of personal interpretation. To the postmodern thinker, the author of a book does  not possess the correct interpretation of his work; it is the reader who  actually determines what the book means – a process called deconstruction. And  given that there are multiple readers (vs. one author), there are naturally  multiple valid interpretations.

Such a chaotic situation makes it  impossible to make meaningful or lasting distinctions between interpretations  because there is no standard that can be used. This especially applies to  matters of faith and religion. Attempting to make proper and meaningful  distinctions in the area of religion is no more meaningful than arguing that  chocolate tastes better than vanilla. Postmodernism says that it is impossible  to objectively adjudicate between competing truth claims.

Dangers of Postmodernism – #3 – Pluralism

If  absolute truth does not exist, and if there is no way to make meaningful,  right/wrong distinctions between different faiths and religions, then the  natural conclusion is that all beliefs must be considered equally valid. The  proper term for this practical outworking in postmodernism is “philosophical  pluralism.” With pluralism, no religion has the right to pronounce itself true  and the other competing faiths false, or even inferior. For those who espouse  philosophical religious pluralism, there is no longer any heresy, except perhaps  the view that there are heresies. D. A. Carson underscores conservative  evangelicalism’s concerns about what it sees as the danger of pluralism: “In my  most somber moods I sometimes wonder if the ugly face of what I refer to as  philosophical pluralism is the most dangerous threat to the gospel since the  rise of the Gnostic heresy in the second century.”

These progressive  dangers of postmodernism – relative truth, a loss of discernment, and  philosophical pluralism – represent imposing threats to Christianity because  they collectively dismiss God’s Word as something that has no real authority  over mankind and no ability to show itself as true in a world of competing  religions. What is Christianity’s response to these challenges?

Response to the Dangers of Postmodernism

Christianity claims to be absolutely true, that meaningful distinctions in  matters of right/wrong (as well as spiritual truth and falsehood) exist, and  that to be correct in its claims about God any contrary claims from competing  religions must be incorrect. Such a stance provokes cries of “arrogance” and  “intolerance” from postmodernism. However, truth is not a matter of attitude or  preference, and when closely examined, the foundations of postmodernism quickly  crumble, revealing Christianity’s claims to be both plausible and  compelling.

First, Christianity claims that absolute truth exists. In  fact, Jesus specifically says that He was sent to do one thing: “To testify to  the truth” (John 18:37).  Postmodernism says that no truth should be affirmed, yet its position is  self-defeating – it affirms at least one absolute truth: that no truth should be  affirmed. This means that postmodernism does believe in absolute truth. Its  philosophers write books stating things they expect their readers to embrace as  truth. Putting it simply, one professor has said, “When someone says there is no  such thing as truth, they are asking you not to believe them. So don’t.”

Second, Christianity claims that meaningful distinctions exist between  the Christian faith and all other beliefs. It should be understood that those  who claim meaningful distinctions do not exist are actually making a  distinction. They are attempting to showcase a difference in what they believe  to be true and the Christian’s truth claims. Postmodernist authors expect their  readers to come to the right conclusions about what they have written and will  correct those who interpret their work differently from they have intended.  Again, their position and philosophy proves itself to be self-defeating because  they eagerly make distinctions between what they believe to be correct and what  they see as being false.

Finally, Christianity claims to be universally  true in what it says regarding man’s lost condition before God, the sacrifice of  Christ on behalf of fallen mankind, and the separation between God and anyone  who chooses not to accept what God says about sin and the need for repentance.  When Paul addressed the Stoic and Epicurean philosophers on Mars Hill, he said,  “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men  that all people everywhere should repent” (Acts 17:30).  Paul’s declaration was not “this is true for me, but may not be true for you”;  rather; it was an exclusive and universal command (that is, a metanarrative)  from God to everyone. Any postmodernist who says Paul is wrong is committing an  error against his own pluralistic philosophy, which says no faith or religion is  incorrect. Once again, the postmodernist violates his own view that every  religion is equally true.

Just as it is not arrogant for a math teacher  to insist that 2+2=4 or for a locksmith to insist that only one key will fit a  locked door, it is not arrogant for the Christian to stand against postmodernist  thinking and insist that Christianity is true and anything opposed to it is  false. Absolute truth does exist, and consequences do exist for being wrong.  While pluralism may be desirable in matters of food preferences, it is not  helpful in matters of truth. The Christian should present God’s truth in love  and simply ask any postmodernist who is angered by the exclusive claims of  Christianity, “So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?” (Galatians 4:16).

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