About Jesus     Steve Sweetman

Home Page

Post-Modern Christianity


Before I say anything, the subject that I’m about to comment on is huge and I certainly can’t address all the issues in a short article.  Besides, the nature of the subject itself seems to be in transition and is in the process of being clarified.    


So what’s “post-modernism”?  My explanation may be too simplistic for some technical post modernists, although technicalities aren’t normally associated with pure post-modernism.  As the term implies, post-modernism comes after modernism in a historical sense.  Its expression is seen in all areas of society, including art, architecture, music, and religion, among other things.


Because post-modernism is a departure from modernism, I’ll briefly explain “modernism” first.  Modernism is a detailed, analytical, structured, organized, and institutionalized approach to thinking and reasoning.  Those who are supposed to know, tell us that modernism began somewhere around the beginning of the sixteenth century.  Modernism was and is expressed in many ways.  One example is seen in the Industrial Revolution. The western world was industrialized by inventions that came about because certain men thought they could discover things through a methodical and analytical search for what was then unknown.  In Christian terms modernists would diligently study the Bible to find every last detail of Biblical truth, because modernists believe truth is found in the details. 


Post-modernism is presently moving away from this analytical approach to thinking.  It doesn’t see the need to know and understand every last little detail of things.  It even suggests that you can’t know every detail, so why try.  Such an analytical approach to life is too constraining and rigid.  The modernist approach also tends to divide people into various philosophical camps that is based on “one’s perception of the truth”.   In Christian terms, a post-modernist would not take the time and energy to search out every aspect of Biblical truth in all of its detail.  They would simply acknowledge the Bible’s general concepts. 


In Biblical terms, I’ve heard some post-modernists suggest that Genesis chapter one is inspirational poetry.  Many post-modernists wouldn’t view Genesis one as a theological document concerning the origin of things.  Being inspired by the awesomeness of creation is sufficient for the post-modernist.  In contrast, the modernist wants to know how, why, and when God created.   


Turning to Biblical forgiveness as another example, the post-modernist might tell us to simply forgive. That’s it.  Just forgive and enjoy life after forgiveness  – end of story.  The modernist would ask, “what does forgiveness mean?”  “Why does Jesus tell us to forgive?”  “Are there conditions to forgiveness?”  “What should we expect from forgiveness?”   Modernists want to know all the details, because one can’t appreciate forgiveness without knowing the truth that’s discovered in the details.  In order to find the truth their approach to Scripture is very methodical, analytical, and structured.  Both of these approaches to reasoning have far reaching consequences in one’s life. 


When it comes to forgiveness, the modernist discovers that forgiveness is actually the cancelling of an offense.  That offense cannot be cancelled or forgiven unless the offender repents by recognizing his offense and is willing to stop offending.  Once the offender repents, the offense is no longer recognized as an offense by the one who was offended.  Only then can forgiveness be extended and the shattered relationship begin to be repaired.  The modernist knows there’s a difference  between loving the offender and forgiving him.  The post-modernist just forgives without really understanding forgiveness, or so the  modernist might say.  The result of this vagueness of understanding makes the modernist wonder if forgiveness really takes place in a post-modernism world.  


Post-modernism began to transition in the early 1900’s and found some support in the 1960’s.  All the old rules and reasons of modernism were exchanged for a lifestyle of freedom and relativity in the 1960’s.  Free sex was one expression of this new found freedom from rules and reason among many youth in that decade.  Yet nothing is really free, and that expression is now being paid for with sexual diseases and broken relationships.      


Post-modernism has found its way into Christianity. One example of this is how post-modernists approach the Bible as I stated above.  They don’t see the Bible as an answer book, a road map, or a manual that should be analyzed, dissected, and organized into inflexible doctrine, as they’d put it. They view the Bible as more of a story of God and his family, or inspirational poetry, or a book of concepts to build upon.  The whole approach to the Bible is different for post-modernists than it is for modernists.      


In my thinking post-modernism leads to a pragmatic approach to living.  In other words, “if it works, do it”.  Well, if you rob a bank and get away with it, does that mean it was right because it worked?  Of course not.  I don’t think Christians should be pragmatic.  We should base our actions on Biblical truth.  Post-modernists would suggest that what a modernist calls Biblical truth is merely “their perception of Biblical truth”.     


Also in my thinking, post-modernism leads to relativism.  This means that truth varies from one person to another because no one has taken the time and effort to know the details of truth, if ultimate truth can actually be known in the first place.  Truth becomes subjective and experiential.  That is, “if it feels good to you, do it because it must be good”.  Another way to say this is, “how you feel about things may differ from someone else, but that’s okay.  Truth to you may not be truth to another.”   Post-modernism seems comfortable with truth being relevant.          


I admit knowing all Biblical truth is hard to come by and Christians have a hard time agreeing with one another on matters of truth.  Yet, that doesn’t mean truth can’t be found.  I also admit that the dogmatism of many modernist Christians have turned people off and that’s why some have become post modernists.    


When it comes to being dogmatic, I look at Jesus to see how He handled dogmatism.  He was ultimate truth and had every right to be dogmatic.  When confronting the religious hypocrites, and even to His close followers,  He was dogmatic and forceful at times.  Yet for the most part, Jesus was humble and gentle, but not to the exclusion of stating the truth in a straight forward way.


This is seen in John 4 when Jesus speaks to a Samaritan woman.  Jesus was gentle and humble in His approach to this lady, but He did not hesitate to speak to the truth of her adultery. Like Jesus, we should be humble and gentle, but not to the exclusion of truth.   


It’s interesting to note that God thought highly of Ezra because He studied the Law of God and lived by its details.  (Ezra 7:10)  That doesn’t sound like post-modernism to me.  Jesus also rebuked the Jewish leadership for a lack of understanding of the same Law. (Mark 12:24)  That doesn’t sound like post-modernism to me either.


In my thinking, post-modernism in Christianity reduces the truth of Scripture to a less meaningful place.  Once the Bible is not seen as God’s authoritative message book for mankind, anything goes.  We begin to think and act in ways that seem right to us.  At the point of believing what we think is right, faith in Jesus begins to fall away, and gives place to a type of secular humanism.   


Many Christians have slipped into post-modernism without even knowing it.  If your interest in Biblical truth has fallen by the wayside, then by default you’ve become post-modern in one sense of the word.  Even though you might not believe in post modernism or even understand what it is, your actions suggest that you are post-modern.  


One last thought.  I’d like to suggest that modernism and post-modernism isn’t necessarily philosophical periods of time or approaches to thinking. Let me suggest that you and I, our very nature are either modern or post-modern.  Who we are will determine how we approach the way we think and the way we live.  It is clear that I am modern by nature, with a touch post-modernism.  You might be post-modern with a touch of modernism. 


Home Page