I’ve recently been teaching on postmodernism to students preparing for cross cultural missions.
Their reactions indicate that postmodernism is still somewhat of a new concept in some portions of the church, particularly for generations older than mine, attractional church cultures, or fundamentalist / separatist (withdraw from the world) cultures.
Their church is not growing or in decline and people are beginning to want to do something about it, reengaging the culture around them.
Does everyone know what postmodernism is?
When I first started my evangelism studies nearly 20 years ago, the term postmodernism was somewhat new in the academy and it’s implications for the church were still unfolding. Here 20 years later, in some parts of the world and the Church at large, it is still a new concept.
When I give evangelism seminars in churches, I continue to be asked: What is post modernism?
At a denominational conference I attended last year, one of the most popular workshops was “What is postmodernism?” It is as if people are just beginning to hear about it and realizing that they need to know what postmodernism is and how it will impact a new cycle of growth in the church.
In the US, lots of books and papers have been written about evangelism and post-modernism. Most books in the field have one or two chapters devoted to trying to explain postmodernism and what it means for evangelism and church planting.
Magazine articles that make mention to postmodernism now give it just one or two sentences as if the readership knows what they are talking about.
It may be old news to you, but as I share with the students in my classes — it’s a new discovery that is suddenly making sense of the world.
What is post-modernism?
Postmodernism is difficult to define, because to define it would violate the postmodernist’s premise that no definite terms, boundaries, or absolute truths exist. But I’ll try to describe it anyway.
Postmodernism is a worldview that is centered on the individual, and how the individual interprets reality.
The Enlightenment laid the foundation for Modernity – where people believed
- truth is universal
- truth can be discovered
- humans are essentially good
- Human progress will master the universe.
- Science and reason can explain everything.
- Truth can be discovered through investigation and reason
- The universe is a closed system (no God, or God is not involved)
However, with two world wars, and the ongoing injustice in the world, the events of 9/11, generational suspicion of authority, a postmodern worldview
- Doesn’t believe in ultimate truth
- A trust of personal feelings and intuition.
- Has a suspicion to claims of institutional authority
- Doesn’t believe in a universal story to explain everything
- Locates authority in the experiences and feelings of the individual
Truth and Authority is in the self, in what a person experiences and feels about that experience. Personal preference and relativism has replaced human reasoning.
Morality is ultimately shaped by what the individual thinks or feels is right.
For example, Walt Mueller tells this story:
[In 2008] a young 20-something named Katy Perry sat atop the music charts thanks to kissing another girl and liking it. This pastor’s daughter/former CCM singer turned mainstream pop star told her impressionable young listeners that she was conflicted about the experience, based not on any sort of enduring moral standards, but on her feelings: “If felt so wrong, it felt so right.” In the end, feeling “right” yielded to “like,” which turned into alright, and Perry’s message came through loud and clear. The old ’60s counter-culture motto—“If it feels good, do it!”—is now embraced and embodied as a mainstream cultural mantra.
Source: The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding
A few characteristics of postmodernism.
Some writers have tried to capture it this way:
Prior to the Enlightenment, people said “I belong, therefore I am”
Under the influence of the Enlightenment, people said “I think therefore I am.”
Postmodern people now seem to be saying: “I feel, therefore I am.” . . . or “I am, so what?”
Celtic Way of Evangelism – p. 97
Ravi Zaccarias is quoted saying:
This is a generation that hears with it’s eyes and thinks with its feelings.
This of course is not exhaustive, but shows a few ways to describe postmodernism.