(or) Bringing Gospel into the Postmodern world.
“The truth can be spoken only by someone who is already at home in it; not by someone who still lives in falsehood and reaches out from falsehood towards truth on just one occasion.”
These words came from an Austrian-British philosopher Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein who contemplated about the logical relationship between the propositions we make and the world. In the end he concluded that there cannot be such a relationship.
While the Great Commission found in Matthew 28 certainly remains unmodified, the context (space and time) for which it is originally meant, on the contrary is nearly always different that is a natural result of the phrase “all nations”. If apologetics is perceived to be one of the ingredients of effective evangelism, then it follows that the way one reasons or promotes the defense for Christian case must go along with any adaptation to the particular environment. It is not otherwise with major group of the western world that was swayed by intense thoughts of Postmodernism and Relativism presented by Foucault, Derrida and Rorty. This would cover mostly all the people born between the years 1984 and 2002, which some usually refer to as Millennials or Gen Y, while Barna Group uses a very apt expression – Mosaics for “it reflects their eclectic relationships, thinking styles, and learning formats, among other things.”
Since Postmodernism can be understood variously, depending on the point of view we are taking we must be careful with some assertions of a definite sort. In fact the postmodern inability of being accurately defined could serve as some sort of definition itself. Due to its syncretistic nature it accepts no simple answers or singular truths and disapproves any core foundation for an ideology. A postmodern person does not believe that in any way we can examine, prove or access the objective reality or truth, if there is such a thing. At best we can observe what works and what does not. Claims about any higher truth are perceived as an attempt to impose view or push someone’s agenda (propaganda). Since all people were born into an environment, all were influenced by their context and thus cannot serve as independent agents in search for a truth. Because of that what is true for a group of people at a certain point in time is not necessarily true for another group, therefore as Jim Leffel said: “There is no possibility of “transculture objectivity.””. In this space diversity of viewpoints is celebrated, inspired by Nietzsche, who believed that really there are no facts, only interpretations. Another shift that takes place is that a classic notion of individualism is substituted by a type of communal thinking. When Danish sociologist Peter Gundelach was asked to characterize the local social connectivity, he said: “One way of characterizing it is to call it collective individualism…” Further he saw that social ties here are horizontal and do not contain much hierarchy, which contributes to overall happiness of the people. The denial of truth is also reflected in how people perceive themselves. Here obscurity and lack of foundation puts people in variable roles that are often mere results of social and linguistic influences.
As one could already notice, one of the cardinal challenges of postmodernism is to present the truth of Christ to those who do not believe in the very notion of truth. If we ought to address it more specifically this thought stream is not that much rooted in academia movement but rather it is an attitude or a mood in the (popular) culture that is the underlying condition. However in this situation Christianity is just a human interpretation and since opinions are neither valid nor invalid, we are threatened to be only one more faith among others. The truth deteriorates to a mere preference that depends on how useful a particular “truth” is in a particular situation. Therefore I believe the challenge is in the main twofold. First, the very idea and the correct meaning of the notion of truth must be reestablished by pointing out the intellectual, logical and philosophical inconsistencies that permeate this ideology. Now, while the former might not be so difficult, we must also engage in dealing with the second crucial stronghold, which is the unapproachable attitude.
It may seem like in this position there is only little we can do, nevertheless if we look closer there is a number of obstacles which if are examined and advanced suitably can turn into a springboards for further witnessing. The first one is the extraordinary “free speech” circumstances that have never been so loose prior to this age, for in a world were variety is celebrated we have the equal right to be heard in the marketplace of ideas as anybody else. In this way pluralism also opens doors to places that might have been closed before. Secondly, when we meet a typical postmodernist he might object that our representation of Christ as the only way to God is arrogant and intolerant, yet postmodernist himself is bound by the same principle and therefore he cannot indulge himself the benefit of intolerance for that would go directly against his own conviction. In this situation as Chan Mark affirms, we must distinguish between two kinds of tolerance.
- Social tolerance – people have a right to their own beliefs without accepting that all beliefs are valid
- Intellectual tolerance – All truth-claims are really valid and true
While postmodernist would disagree with the second item he should conform to the first one, yet also we need to differ between “behaving” and “disagreeing”, so if conflict arises, it should originate from the intellectual issue and not the social aspect of the Christian witnessing. Thirdly, the truth being influenced by time and space (context) of an observer issue also cuts both ways, for we can point out and emphasize that the very thoughts of a postmodernist can be traced down to certain factual set of circumstances in 20th century. In this new light the historic focal point around the person of Jesus Christ is not an obstacle anymore, but a relevant fact.
Next: True Be or Not True Be?
- Postmodernism and Science (fridayroom.wordpress.com)
- Deconstruction and the Inworming of Postmodern theology (onedaringjew.wordpress.com)
- Postmodernism (philosophicalaesthetics.wordpress.com)
- On Postmodernism (artandtheeveryday.wordpress.com)
- A Critical Review of James K.A. Smith, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church (Baker Academic, 2006) (elmerjohnthiessen.wordpress.com)
- Douglas Groothuis’ Christian Apologetics Manifesto (winteryknight.wordpress.com)