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Is Postmodernism Passe?

mod·ern adj.

1. Characteristic or expressive of recent times or the present; contemporary or up-to-date: a modern lifestyle; a modern way of thinking.

pas·sé adj.

1. No longer current or in fashion; out-of-date.

Getting straight to the question–What is postmodernism anymore? Modern or passe?

For those who may have missed postmodernism’s main beef, here’s a ridiculously short summary: Lame = Belief in universal systems of truth that attempt to characterize, explain, or speak for a world and its people that are diverse and contextually situated with regard to all sorts of factors like geography, government, race, class, gender, and so on and so forth.

In short then, postmodernism takes the modern notion that truth indeed exists and can be found, and flips in on its head. No Truth; only truths, as they appear in various contexts.

In the past, the dilemma of postmodernism stacked up like this: Postmodernism batted its big, blue eyes of relativism at the world, while Christians—in particular pastors and publishers—scurried to combat this amazingly attractive foe through sermons, Bible studies, and books.

But in all the chaos, protestant Christianity forgot to debate the postmodern position. The work of authors like Leonard Sweet, or Brian McLaren notwithstanding, postmodernism was simply the equivalent of evil in many a Christian publication:

· “Poster Boy for Postmodernism: Strohmeyer Told Police He Strangled The Little Girl By Twisting Her Neck The Way He Had Seen In Movies”

· The Death of Truth: What’s Wrong With Multiculturalism, the Rejection of Reason and the New Postmodern Diversity

· Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air.

· Truth is Stranger Than it Used to Be: Biblical Faith in a Postmodern Age.

In fact, publishing ambiguous stands on postmodernity required delicate disclaimers. On publishing the article “The Antimoderns” (a piece detailing the ideology of young Christians immersed in postmodernism, like Andy Crouch, editor of Re:Generation Quarterly), Christianity Today includes the following: “This openness to postmodern ideas makes many conservative Christians nervous… At CT we thought it was important to find out just what these Christians are saying—and what they mean by what they say… Many CT readers will disagree with some of their statements, while cheering other insights.”

From pulpit to publication, then, many protestant Christians—and especially evangelicals—have been informed that postmodernity is a downright-no-good rival to the Christian faith.

So asked whether postmodernism is passé, some Christians chant, “Of course!” And furthermore, postmodernism should always be passé to the Christian mind. Since the writing of St. Paul, Christians have believed in one universal truth. Context be damned; Christ is Christ.

However, if we reflect on Jesus himself, we might be surprised what we find. We may even begin to inch toward the opinion that postmodernism is good for something (Have mercy!), and anything but passé.

Jesus did something much like postmodern thinkers do—critique a worldview. His message essentially said, “Hey you, my Jewish community…your worldview is whack, yo.” Okay, so maybe Jesus wasn’t down, but He did essentially point to errors in the metanarrative (fancy postmodern speak for one story that is applied universally and insisted to be true).

There were errors in application (Matthew 12:8-12), errors in intention, or purpose (Matthew 23:1-7), errors in inclusion (Matthew 15:1-2), and errors in lifestyle (Mark 7:5-13). In short, Jesus critiqued his own community and their understanding of truth.

Of course, it would be a stretch to make the message of Jesus a twin to postmodernism. Postmodernism does not accept a universal force like God, who exclusively the way, the light, the truth, and the voice for all people.

But where Christianity begins to have a family resemblance to postmodernism is in its numerous variations on truth. Jesus started this trend, promoting variations on the truth of His day. And, Christians have followed suit. First orthodox/Catholic, then protestant/Catholic, and now increasingly protestant denomination/protestant denomination.

Despite a belief in one truth, God, the multiplicity of Christian denominations, para-church organizations, and movements show the world just how varied truth can be.

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A famous quote summarizes this diversity nicely, saying something to the effect that before the Reformation there was only one way to hell. But after, well … people had a chance to get there in hundreds of ways.

So it would seem that Christianity is more postmodern than many like to admit. It not only permits variation in the metanarrative, but such variations define Christian history.

Of course, Christianity remains a distant cry from postmodernism proper. Divisions among them withstanding, Christians claim one truth indeed exists. But, Christians cannot deny a resemblance to the postmodern movement. Christians disagree on the reality of their one truth as often as Jerry Springer features fightin’ siblins’ from the south on his TV show.

Here then, isn’t an attempt to link Christianity to postmodernism in some sort of sneaky way that declares, “See I tricked you; if postmodernism is passé, then so is Christianity.”

Rather, the link between postmodernism and Christianity is one that begs any number of important questions: If I believe in one truth, God, how do I explain the variations of truth continually rising around me? Do I find confusion in deciding who or what is actually evil, and who or what is actually good? Do I believe that the truth, or at least my variation (denomination), can adequately explain away the contrasts in the world between health and illness, war and peace, prosperity and suffering?

To admit we don’t have adequate or definitive answers for some of these questions is not to admit Christianity is false. Nor does it prove how Christianity has been laid bare by postmodernism.

But, it does indicate that postmodernism is not passé; that parts of postmodernism—whether we attempt to preach and publish against them or not—are now a part of the fabric of modern consciousness.

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