A Christian Critique of Postmodernism

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post called, “How Does Your Worldview Answer Four Big Questions?” The bulk of the post compared Christianity and naturalism, which fall under two of the five major worldview categories. Last week, I looked in-depth at evolution, the most obvious expression of naturalism. This week, I’m focusing on postmodernism, one of the three other major worldviews.

Let me begin by comparing the answers that Christianity and postmodernism give to four big questions:

  • Where did we come from? Christianity says that God created human beings in His image; postmodernism says that the universe has always existed.
  • What’s wrong with the world? Christianity says that original sin is the problem; postmodernism blames the oppression of Western civilization.
  • What’s the solution? Christianity says that the answer is Jesus’ atoning death on the cross and His resurrection; postmodernism says the answer is personal autonomy and tolerance enforced by law.
  • What’s our purpose in life? Christianity says that our purpose is to glorify God; postmodernism says that the development of a utopian Earth is our purpose.

I trust that you can see already that postmodernism has significant problems. For example, astrophysics has demonstrated that the universe had a definite beginning, and Christianity agrees with this. Regarding blaming the problem on the oppression of Western civilization: it’s like biting the hand that feeds you; living in a Third World country can quickly change your perspective. Postmodernism’s proposed solution to what’s wrong with the world is basically that everyone should be able to do whatever they want. After all, that’s what tolerance means; you have no basis for telling anyone that they’re right or wrong–except in regard to the making and enforcement of laws, apparently.

Ravi Zacharias, the great Christian apologist who went to heaven in May of this year, defined postmodernism with three “no’s:” no truth, no meaning, no certainty. I think the first “no” is the most obvious; I have heard and read things like, “You have your truth; I have mine.” This, of course, dovetails with postmodernism’s emphasis on personal autonomy. However, if you listen carefully to people, they end up saying things that are absurd. In his book The Good Life, Charles Colson recounts an exchange between Congresswoman Maxine Waters and a reporter, who asked her why she was marching in an abortion-rights demonstration. Waters responded that it was because “my mother didn’t have the right to an abortion.” And she said it with a straight face! Colson also gives the example of the army recruiting slogan “An Army of One.” The phrase is laughably self-contradictory, but the slogan was reportedly successful in terms of the Army’s recruiting efforts. Thankfully, the Army replaced it after just five years with the slogan “Army Strong.” Pundit Frank Luntz wrote the reason for the replacement was that “An Army of One” is contrary to the idea of teamwork. Duh. What’s amazing to me is that this absurd slogan lasted five years!

As I thought about postmodernism and its emphasis on personal autonomy, it seemed to me that there might be a connection between postmodernism and tribalism. Your “tribe” could be your family and friends; it could be those who share your beliefs and values, whether in terms of religion or political affiliation; it could be those who share your gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Upon doing some research, I came across a book by Steve Wilkens called Hidden Worldviews: Eight Cultural Stories That Shape Our Lives. One of those “hidden worldviews” is what he calls postmodern tribalism. Wilkens writes about the postmodern idea that all social structures are political in nature; postmodern tribalism is all about power. We have certainly seen that over the past several years, and in particular, this year with all of its protests and riots. I see postmodern tribalism as an extension of postmodernism; in other words, people like to have their personal autonomy, but they also want to have connections, especially ones that elevate their own particular “tribe.” If you are a Facebook user, I’m sure that no further explanation is necessary.

As stated earlier, postmodernism’s answer to the fourth big question about purpose is the creation of an earthly utopia. At an individual level, that means personal autonomy, meaning that I can do whatever I want; at a tribal level, it means that my tribe is the one in power. However, if my tribe is in power, that means others are not. It’s easy to see, then, that an earthly utopia is impossible for everyone. It’s just another contradiction of postmodernism and its offshoot, postmodern tribalism.

From a Christian perspective, I think the most fundamental problem with postmodernism is its rejection of absolute truth. It reminds me of when Jesus, immediately prior to His crucifixion, was standing before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate; he disdainfully asked Jesus, in John 18:38, “What is truth?” Another verse that came to mind as I was preparing to write this is the last verse in the book of Judges, where it says in the NIV, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” I like the ESV even better, which says, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” What a perfect description of American society. If this is you, my prayer is that you will come to see that Christianity is the only worldview that you can truly live by.

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