Postmodernism 101: A First Course for the Curious Christian

Here is a book that you will want to read, especially if you are trying to understand something of the postmodern world.Worship wars, consumerism, ethics and morality, politics and the entire spectrum are under the postmodern umbrella. If you are not convinced that you need to expand your understanding of this philosophy, read this book and then make that determination.

For those of you who have reading Making Kingdom Disciples, or a few other books that deal with philosophical and theological development, you will recognize White’s overview of philosophy in the three major periods of history: pre-modern, modern, and postmodern. While we are definitely in the postmodern period, we are actually still in transition from modern to postmodern. Understanding this transition is important to interpreting our culture and world and knowing how the Christian faith provides what is missing in both the modern and postmodern paradigms.

We have previously mentioned how the reformers surrendered much of their influence early on by trying to use the framework of modernism and its language to communicate the Christian faith, leading to a strong movement in the direction of dualism in the western world. Hopefully, but obviously not in all cases, we did not learn that lesson very well, because today Christians are trying to synthesize and syncretize Christianity with the postmodern paradigm and it may be giving away the essence of the Christian religion.

Postmodernism is a worldview that influences our perception and understanding of reality. Though many of the leaders in the postmodern philosophy movement are Frenchmen, postmodernism is no longer simply growing in Europe but all through the Western culture, including North America. And though postmodernism is extremely difficult to define, there are enough key ideas that once understood will enable you to see how impacting this philosophy really is, especially with who we call the “rising generation.”

White is right on target when he says that ideas drive culture. We can be pragmatists and say either ideas do not have consequences or I do not need to understand ideas, I just need to see what works and go in that direction. Or, we can move beneath the surface and try to understand why things are moving in the direction they are in order to know better how to respond, challenge, and offer better ideas.

White reminds us that new ideas take time to actually permeated and transform a culture, which says to me, we should know what those ideas are and challenge those that are contrary to the Christian philosophy of life before they take root. Postmodernism, as the third major school of thought in history, is new enough that maybe there is still time to recapture those who are embryonically involved in postmodernism. For example, why are so many rejecting modernism and embracing postmodernism? White states, “The culture is changing and postmodern ideas are driving the change.”

The change in our culture is impacting every aspect of our lives, from private to public, religious and philosophical, to day to day living. While we are reminded that it is hard to identify our own worldview and be somewhat objective about our culture, we must put forth that effort or Christianity will never have the transforming influence on the world that God has in mind. White mentions three general concerns that Christians have with postmodernism: the moral concern–tends towards relativism, the evangelistic concern–knowing something about postmodernism will help communicate to postmoderns without changing the message, and the theological concern–a time to rethink and develop new ways of teaching what Christianity is all about.

Reading this book gives you a basic understanding of postmodernism and deals with six areas that are so crucial in understanding its impacts: ethics, self, language, knowledge, culture, and history. White raises one thing that demonstrates the importance of taking the time to read and study this topic, “the social forces that have such power over individuals are not in general trustworthy. After all, how many of them have your best interest at heart?” To which I would also say, how can a postmodern, with his socially constructed view of reality actually know what is in his best interest? Society has to determine that.

I agree with White that postmodernism is a big deal because it involves a worldview shift. It affects what people think on so many topics. I also agree, contrary to what some have said, postmodernism is not a flash in the pan, and that modernism with its rational, logical and scientific approach is not likely to return, though those things will never totally leave us. White concludes, and I amen what he says, “Postmodernism, as outlined in this book, is the latest large-scale cultural change to hit Western civilization. It will change a lot of things for Christians and non-Christians alike.” Please take the time to read, discuss, and study this little book. You will benefit in so many ways. It is written in an easily readable and comprehensible style.

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Charles Dunahoo pastored churches in Georgia and Alabama before being called to his present position as Coordinator for the PCA of Christian Education and Publications (CEP).

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