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What Makes Me a Postmodern Christian

I admit it: I’m postmodern. And despite the negative connotations the word has amongst Christians, particularly conservative Christians, “postmodern” is a term I embrace. In this post I’ll explain the foundational difference between a modern and a postmodern worldview and offer my perspective on what it means to be a postmodern Christian.

Modern Christianity

The birth of modern thought ushered in a new way of understanding the world, that we can acquire objective, absolute knowledge through the use of pure reason. This radical shift in thought away from faith introduced a new Christian worldview. Instead of embracing the inherent uncertainty of faith, modern Christianity sought to prove the Christian faith through the use of reason. We see this shift from faith to reason in the 20th century debates between old-earth atheists and young-earth creationists. In the end, Christians claimed victory in the debate, arguing that they won because it requires more faith to believe in evolution than it takes to believe in God. In other words, the modern Christian has been arguing that the world should believe in God because it is the most reasonable understanding of our existence, which requires less faith than any other option.

In modern Christianity’s pursuit to prove the existence of God and justify faith, it has undermined the essence of our faith—trust in God. It’s for this reason that I’m not a modern Christian.

Pre-modern Christianity

Realizing how modern Christianity has undermined the essence of faith, many Christian theologians, educators, and pastors claim to be pre-modern, adhering to a worldview grounded in faith that is then supported by reason.

In theory, the idea of returning to a pre-modern worldview sounds like a sensible solution, unfortunately, it’s not a realistic option. We can’t go back in time. We can’t undo what we’ve seen and learned over the past 500 years. 500 years ago, people thought the earth was at the center of the universe; that the earth was flat, heaven was up, and hell was down; and that every unexplained event was either a miracle or a declaration of God’s judgment. Today, we have a different perspective on our planet’s position in the cosmos; we have a fuller understanding of the inner-workings of the natural world; and because we can explain the reproductive process in scientific terms, we don’t view “the miracle of life” as being much of a miracle anymore.

As much as I might like the idea of returning to a pre-modern worldview, it’s not possible. Hence, I’m postmodern because I can’t be pre-modern.

Postmodern Christianity

In contrast to modern thought, postmodernism rejects the belief that we can acquire objective, absolute knowledge through the use of pure reason. In rejecting the certainty of knowledge, early postmodernists concluded that absolute truth does not exist and that all truth/knowledge is relative to one’s own perspective and community. (I’ll address the issue of absolute truth a little later; however, it’s worth noting here that many conflicting ideas emerged within modernism over its 400+ year history and we should expect the same to occur within postmodernism, particularly since we are less than 50 years into the movement.)

As a postmodern Christian, I reject the modern premise that we can acquire objective, absolute truth through reason.

Knowledge is subjective. As much as I would like to think that I’m an objective observer of the world, I’m not. I’m only human. I cannot understand the world beyond the limits of who I am and what I’ve experienced. As I wrote in Dying to Control, “To think I can transcend my whiteness, my maleness, or my life story and understand the fullness of truth is to guarantee my being blind to the white, male, privileged bias of my [worldview]. And when I’m blind to my whiteness, I’m racist; when I’m blind to my maleness, I’m sexist; when I’m blind to my privileged life, I’m classist.” Therefore, as a postmodern Christian, I believe gaining a fuller, more objective understanding of the world begins with acknowledging my own subjective perspective.

Knowledge is uncertain. By definition, faith demands a degree of uncertainty. To speak in certain terms—to say “I know for sure…”—is to undermine the essence of faith. Further, for me to speak in certain terms takes my focus away from God and my faith in him and places the focus on me and my ability to reason. As a postmodern Christian, I have no illusions of being able to prove my faith, and therefore, I unapologetically confess my faith in Jesus Christ.

Knowledge is not inherently good.  The Bible teaches us that knowledge puffs up, but love builds up (1 Cor. 8:1). Unfortunately, modern Christians did not heed this warning and here’s what happened: the “quiet time” became the primary means of spiritual growth; biblical knowledge became the measuring stick of wisdom and maturity; the need for doctrinal purity divided the Church into irreconcilable parts; and, to this day, the modern Christian holds to the axiom that the greatest act of love is to tell someone the truth. The tragic irony in the modern pursuit of more knowledge is that it has blinded the modern Christian to Jesus’ teachings about what it means to love thy neighbor. Given the potential dangers of gaining knowledge, as a postmodern Christian, I believe the motivation for pursuing more knowledge should be greater and more sacrificial acts of love.

As a postmodern Christian, I believe that God is the source of objective, absolute truth.

To understand why early postmodernists concluded that absolute truth does not exist, it’s important to recognize the dissonance between the hope of modernism and the reality of the 20th century world. Modernism was supposed to discover absolute truth, which was then supposed to usher in a utopian existence—peace and prosperity for all of humankind. Instead, modernism provided people in positions of power and authority a means to rationalize their oppression of the poor and the weak; and with two World Wars and the fear of nuclear annihilation, people began to realize that more knowledge might not be such a good thing after all. It was in the midst of the world teetering on the brink of utter disaster that early postmodernists concluded that the problem in the world was modernism’s pursuit of knowledge.

However, there’s another option. Instead of the flaw being knowledge, maybe the flaw is humankind. As I see it, the problem with modernism wasn’t the pursuit of knowing; the problem was humankind’s sinful desire to gain power and control over the world and our eternal destiny. As a postmodern Christian, I believe in absolute truth, but I believe that truth is found through humble submission to God, for God alone is the Giver and Sustainer of life and the Arbiter of good and evil.

Therefore, in closing, instead of placing my faith in the most reasonable option, or concluding that all truth is relative, I choose to: 1. Acknowledge the limits of my humanity 2. Submit myself to God 3. Place my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and 4. Pray for the Holy Spirit to lead me into grace and truth. This is the essence of my faith, and living in the 21st century, this is what makes me a postmodern Christian.

 

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About Leon Hayduchok

Comments

  1. Spot on! Excellent portrayal of the timeless Biblical revelation that we ‘walk by faith’ not by sight. Faith only and always makes contact with the heart-healing God of Scripture. The headlong pursuit for control-freak-knowledge does, indeed, puff up rather than heal the human heart. The first couple bought into the lie that they could realize ‘utopia’ solo from God. The Biblical grand narrative is ‘Salvation is of the Lord’.

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