Last summer I posted on Facebook and Twitter that I had concluded I am “solidly postmodern.” It created a bit of a stir among quite a few of those who know me. Many consider Christianity and postmodern thinking to be mutually-exclusive. They have questioned me and tried to get me to back away from this crazy-talk.
I don’t mind those conversations at all. It is good to have people in your life who care enough to ask questions, seek clarity, and push back when they think I’m headed for trouble (or just getting distracted, which happens all too often). It helps me know where my words may have confused instead of clarified, and to think things through further.
One thing I discovered is that the word “postmodern” is often misunderstood. I found this explanation by Thomas Groome helpful, from his book “Will There Be Faith?: A New Vision for Educating and Growing Disciples”
“It is not easy to describe postmodernity, much less its effects on our consciousness and identity. We are like fish in its water. Two of its agreed-upon features, however, make education for Christian faith all the more challenging. The first is that postmodern people resist “metanarratives,” in other words, systems of thought and belief that presume to explain everything to everyone all the time. Christian faith presents itself as such a metanarrative. Can it also allow for diversity of perspectives, even welcome them? If not, postmoderns seem less likely to embrace it. A second feature of the postmodern mentality is to consider all universals – truths, values, principles – as purely the product of their context: we can “deconstruct” or “reconstruct” them as needed. Such radical “relativism” (i.e. all ideas are related to their context) poses steep opposition to the universal truth claims of Christian faith.”
I’ll take a stab at putting that into plain English. Postmodernism is a way of thinking, a way of looking at the world, tinted sunglasses if you will. What’s significant is that postmodernism recognizes, accepts, even celebrates that we all wear tinted sunglasses of different shades. No one person’s explanation of reality can account for every person’s perception because we see things differently and none of us can take the glasses off and see it clear. If you see the world through red glasses while I see it through green, different things stand out or disappear to each of us. Postmoderns recognize that and place value on it – you can see things I can’t, and vice versa. If we don’t realize those glasses are coloring our view, we will misunderstand each other.
In contrast, modern thinkers don’t think anyone is wearing tinted glasses. They believe we all see the same thing the same way and therefore should come to the same conclusions about life, morality, politics, etc. They believe people disagree because they choose to go against what is obvious – perhaps they are rebellious (or sinful) or foolish, or maybe they’re just crazy. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t change the self-evident truth. Disagreement cannot be tolerated.
It’s no wonder moderns and postmoderns don’t like each other. And it’s no wonder Christians gravitate to a modern worldview.
Postmodernism appeals to so many today because we’ve found the weaknesses and holes in modern thinking. Here’s an example: a young-earth creationist (a modernist) says, “I don’t go with my personal opinion on the matter, I follow the Bible. You can disagree with me, but you’re disagreeing with the Bible too.”
Postmodernists hear that and respond, “Wrong. You follow your interpretation of the Bible. You deceive yourself if you think you are objective.”
I am a postmodern.
I see your sunglasses, and mine too (as much as is possible anyway). We all wear them, and will continue to be until Jesus gives us perfect sight. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
I am trying my best to respect you and your perspective, the world as you see it, and I hope you will do the same for me. We have much we can learn from each other if we will listen and acknowledge that we can’t see it all.