Does Reality Exist?   Leave a comment

I’ve been reading this book on postmodernism and the Christian church. I’ll spare you reading this book. It’s really a hard slog, written by an intellectual theologian who can’t seem to get to the point, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have some useful knowledge to impart. I also keep hoping he’ll break out into practicality by the end of the book.

So what is postmodernism and what should the Church (as in the broad collection of congregations across the face of the planet) do in response to it? Maybe we need to first define what postmodernism is.

Unlike some writers, I do not view postmodernism as a cancer that will inevitably destroy the Body of Christ. I actually view it as an antibody reaction to another disease that did as much or more harm than postmodernism.  Consider a fever. It is your immune system’s response to an infection, so it’s a good thing … unless it climbs too high and then it kills you.

Postmodernism did not spring up all by itself in the middle of a cow field. It arose in response to the culturally paralyzing empiricist variant of modernism espoused by the like of David Hume, John Stuart Mill and the logical positivism movement of the mid-20th century that taught that knowledge must needs be restricted to “science” and “science theory” and interpreted with a bias toward the sense-perceptible world. You could sum up their philosophy as: There is one reality which is the natural world and physics is its prophet.

Christians rejected this new philosophical paradigm and found ourselves accused of being idiots and hating science, believing in fairy tales rather than fact. Scientists who held to the Christian worldview were marginalized not because their science was found to be wrong, but because they were politically incorrect. Christian students were told that they need not apply to science programs unless they rejected their faith. Worse, from my perspective, Christians were told to leave their faith at home when going to the ballot box … that their beliefs were not germane to the areas of public policy.

For entirely different reasons, postmoderns didn’t agree with this narrative anymore than Christians did. While Christians refused to ignore the metaphysical reality of the universe because God has opened our eyes to it, postmoderns refused to let moderns get away with saying they alone define truth.

To the modernist assurance that only science knows the truth, postmoderns say “Yeah, well, your truth is culturally and personally defined and therefore no more valid than my truth.” Reality, to the postmodern, does not actually exist except as a construct of the human mind, therefore “truth” is defined by the individual and cannot be too strongly believed because the human perception is too subject to cultural and personal points of view.

The postmodernist philosophers (Rorty, Toulman, MacIntyre, Lyotard) cannot come to any reasonable definite conclusions about anything, because they do not believe you can have solid knowledge of anything.

Still, it’s danged hard to live your life that way, so they make some definite statements:

Christians must abandon all truth claims because truth is culturally determined.

The problem for the postmoderns is that I disagree because I believe their assumption that truth is relative is wrong and they can’t say I’m wrong because they don’t believe anyone is wholly wrong. Note, they still think they can dictate to Christians what to belief and they want that belief to encompass a rejection of the God of the Bible.

Modernists are a lot easier to argue with and also much easier to take seriously. They can affirm a solid belief on what knowledge really is, even if evidence later proves them wrong. The postmodernist cannot officially deal with objective reality. They are left with the rather weak argument that “society works best for us if we talk about knowledge our way.”

In its insistence that truth is a not mandated by science, postmodernism does the Body of Christ a great favor. It is the fever that has been weakening the virus of modernism for more than a half century. That’s good.

As is so often the case, however, the fever is not without its risks because our children are raised in this culture with two messages that are like saltwater to the roots of Christianity.

Modernism says only science can define true knowledge, so the Christian claim that Jesus Christ is the Truth and the Truth will set you free is obviously wrong, since Jesus Christ refuses to submit to the standard scientific tests. Then postmodernism teaches them that no truth is certain, so therefore, even if you really believe that God exists and that Jesus is God, you can’t say it with confidence.

Like a body with a virus that is experiencing a high fever, the Body of Christ in this generation is struggling not to succumb to the twin disease. One is the antidote to the other, but the antidote has potentially fatal side effects.

So how do we bulwark our children so that Christ remains central in their lives as they live in this world, but are not of it?

Now there’s the most important question!

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