When it became apparent that postmodernism was not merely a movement of those caught up in a passing infidelity to modernism, many in the Church shuddered. Since the hub from which all spokes of postmodernism radiate is the assertion that absolute truth does not exist, most assumed that postmodernism had to be fought with all the vigor one had. It was identified early and often as the most deadly up and coming enemy of the Christian faith.
How could the Church loaded with absolute truth claims even interact with such a culture so beset with relativism? Some parts of the church decided the only way to interact was to loosen up its own claims of absolute truth. They would listen to the culture and adapt. Others simply mourned the change and isolated itself as best they could from the culture. They we afraid of what it might mean to talk with people inculcated with such transient ideas.
I would like to suggest however that for Christians who rightly understand how faith is worked, postmodernism actually might be a gift of God. I understand that that might seem a bit optimistic, but allow me a few more paragraphs to explain.
First, a couple of definitions:
Modernism is essentially the belief that absolutes do exist and must be found or established through the application of sound reason.
Post-modernism is essentially the belief that there are no absolute truths and that all opinions therefore are to be treated as equal.
The era of the Church I grew up in, no doubt influenced by modernism, eventually prepared itself quite well to live within its culture. Experts were trained and set forth before the world with appropriate academic degrees. Articulate, well-reasoned defenses of the faith abounded everywhere. People skilled at explaining every conceivable subject were ready to be dispatched to debate the opponents.
And yet, with all of that effort put forth, the Church’s truths became less and less popular and prevalent. Atheism rose from its underground roots to bloom anywhere and everywhere. The Church won debate after debate and still found ourselves losing the war. Modernism with it seemingly accommodating belief in absolute truths was not the friend to the faith it was once assumed to be.
Conversely, let me assert again that postmodernism might not be quite the enemy is it often assumed to be. In a world that lives with the mistaken assumption that absolute truth do not exists, the presentation of ideas and opinions is not as frightening as it was in a world led by modernistic tendencies. Every sharing of a truth is not an occasion for an all about battle to the death over truth. Dialogue really does happen without debate. And this is a great opportunity for those who truly understand how conversion works.
Those of us caught up in modernism often bought into a lie regarding how faith is created. We decided that we truly could argue people into the faith. We believed that if our rhetoric was polished enough, we would convince the unbeliever of their faults and they would join us. We believed faith was up to us to create and the existence of absolute truth up to us to prove.
Let us confess such idolatry, receive forgiveness, and be taught the the Spirit anew that his is the work of conversion, not ours. “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8) We merely scatter the seed and the Spirit gives it growth when and where he will. “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” (1 Corinthians 3:7) If faith creation is up to us, postmodernism is deadly. If it is up to the Spirit, perhaps postmodernism offers up more opportunity than modernism ever could.
I would contend that postmodernism is a mindset is which scattering is accepted, even encouraged. Where modernism ruled, sharing one’s beliefs was discouraged because it always led to a fight. Don’t talk politics or religion was the mantra of modernism. But not so now.
And so we must take full opportunity to scatter the seed of God’s word broadly especially among the younger generations to whom postmodernism is not concept they learned is a classroom but a worldview they grew up with. We do not need to argue that what we speak is absolutely true. We simply need to speak God’s word with conviction and clarity. The Holy Spirit will convict them that his Word are truth. That is not our job. It never has been. But especially now, we must understand this. For we must take full advantage of what this mindset offers to us.
If our culture will allow us to speak what we believe, we must rejoice. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17) We need not act as if we must be given the opportunity to prove truth or argue the opponents into sharing our convictions. We only need the chance to speak truth. The Spirit will do the rest. He always has.