By William J. Larkin. Postmodernism is the worldview of the dawning age, the environment forming for twenty-first century civilization. It is the mind-set embodied in the young, playful postmodern M.D. content to practice medicine a limited number of hours at a “Doc in a Box” instead of building up his own practice because he wants “time” to pursue his own interests, his “play.” It is the environment we live in, when, moving at the speed of light, we can experience, at a distance, events in “real time” in a place called “cyber-space,” which is actually nowhere.
This forms a worldview which impacts how we understand and receive the gospel. Indeed, how can we communicate a gospel that is truly “good news” to the postmodern person (or any cultural being for that matter)? We must “exegete” the culture from the inside out. We must interpret the Scriptures at a metacultural level. Then, we must bring the two together in effective gospel communication. After describing the shift to postmodernism, which is occurring all around us-exegeting our culture-and understanding the good news at its most fundamental level, we will illustrate how the two may be brought together.
Exegeting the Culture: Postmodernism
What is postmodernism? Originally, this label applied to a movement in western architecture which moved away from the boxy, modernist, glass and steel functionalism of the first half of the twentieth century to an eclectic, decorative, and more humane style. Since the 1980s, however, it has come to describe a broader cultural shift away from modernism, the worldview characterizing western civilization since the eighteenth century Enlightenment. Though some see postmodernism as modernism reaching its logical extreme, a hyper-modernism, most believe “post” points to a worldview distinct from modernism. Not only is it chronologically “post,” it is “post” in the sense of critique, for it claims to supersede and replace modernism.
So fundamental and comprehensive is the shift postmodernism brings, we must keep in mind certain basic worldview categories if we are to understand what is happening.The postmodern thinker has turned away from modernist views of the nature of the universe and reality and how we relate to them, and the nature of humans, language, and text.Postmodernism is not a passing fad but the dawning age of twenty-first century western civilization. A postmodern environment is not a cultural context of an isolated intellectual elite. It is the cultural context forming around us. Postmodern types of individuals are already walking onto the stage of history. We work and play with them. They may even sit across from us at the dinner table.
Postmodern: The Dawning Age
We know that the postmodern age is the dawning age, when we observe that under the weight of history and experience the “Modernist Project” is collapsing. Themes of the modernist “grand narrative”-this worldview’s explanatory myth of origin, power and destiny-have been discredited. Hence, there is an openness to viewing reality differently.
From Closed to Open. In science for example, postmodernism has demonstrated that we do not live in a self-contained, closed universe where all change is simply a rearrangement of eternally existent phenomena. Rather, we inhabit an open universe which began with a “Big Bang” and is continually expanding to an uncertain end. Will our universe know eternally emergent evolution? Or, is the universe headed for an evitable cold, empty, starless night in which proton decay means matter’s last gasp?
From Totalizing to Deconstruction. Modernism’s reductionistic and totalizing approach to explaining reality involved the penchant for declaring one of its features the basic building block which explained everything. For example, Marx’s materialistic economics of class struggle claimed to explain all events of human history. Yet, experience and history in the twentieth century have discredited one totalizing explanation after another, because when each was given full reign in society, it created the exact opposite of its ideal. Marxism was to bring about the progressive emancipation of labor. That ideal died in the streets of Budapest in 1956, if not before, in Stalin’s purges of the thirties. Indeed, the twentieth century totalitarian regimes of the left and the right, and their attendant atrocities, give evidence that the “Modern Project” has failed to find a basis for morality and society.
From Purpose to Play. Modernism believed in the inevitability of progress, the improvement of all humanity through the advances of capitalist techno-science. A trip to Disney World and the Epcot Center lets you experience this quintessential modern ideal-science and technology meeting all your needs and wants, titillating your senses and firing your imagination.
From Metaphysics to Irony. Sobered by the use of science in the creation of weapons of mass destruction and realizing the potential of scientific advances for evil, as well as good, postmoderns reject the modern belief in the inherent goodness of knowledge. They are not convinced that the progressive emancipation of reason and freedom is humankind’s destiny. This was the German ideal, the most erudite people in the modern western world. And where did that erudition and incarnation of the “inherent goodness of knowledge” reach its climax? In the experiments of Auschwitz. No wonder the postmodern turns from a pursuit of knowledge, which confidently constructs a metaphysic, to a quizzical, if not cynical, exercise in irony.
From Christianity to Spirituality. Though the “Modernist Project” with its closed, self-contained universe and its human-centered ideals of progress and improvement actually has no room for biblical Christianity, still the Christian faith was the dominant religion of modern Europe and North America. The postmodern historical critique casts its penetrating light on modern Christianity. Here is the indictment of Jean-Fran