I was shocked at what I heard from the back row. I was sitting in an English and Psychology class at a Community College and when my classmate began to speak I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. You learn about Postmodernism from books, you have an idea of what people could in fact think, but to hear it actually applied is a strange experience indeed. People throw around the ideas: “Whatever works for you”, “Don’t be intolerant”, “I’m glad you have found fulfillment in life,” or “I have really found that some things in Zen Buddhism have helped me.” These ideas are born out of the current thinking, Postmodernism. But you only hear bits and pieces on the streets, and in classes. It is a huge mass of disjointed ideas and theories, unproven and underdeveloped ideas, and based mostly on experience.
But this was different. My classmate went into a ten-minute discourse on his worldview and it shattered my heart to see where his hope was set.
“Utopia will come, all the things that are happening in the world are leading up to it,” he preached, “Evolution will soon solve our problems, man will evolve and become better and better, and we will overcome the current problems in our world. War will be no more, sickness will be overcome, man’s mind will improve, and there will be peace!” He said this triumphantly. Ironically this was a very Christian ideology, and there is truth in these sayings, but only if you replace “Utopia” with “The Millennium” and “Evolution” with” Christ.”
How shallow is his hope, and how unfounded! I wish he had a castle to stand on, a rock to place his trust on; not dried grass in the summer heat.
Postmodernism is a word not often used by today’s culture, yet it is one vastly practiced. Over the last hundred years the idea has been arising, slowly overthrowing modernism and its rational ideas. But the jump to the current cultural climate was not immediate—it had to wade through existentialism and Nietzsche’s Nihilism. Only then there came Postmodernism, the idea that truth is relative and experiences supersede fact.
In his essay “Christianity Challenges Postmodernism,” G.R. Osborne says that the reason why this movement arose was the same reason why theories to explain man’s life and his purpose arose in the past. He takes the time to outline them:
Man is always seeking to find fulfillment in life apart from God, apart from the truth that is staring him in the face. Early Greeks used mythology (Homer); later Greeks used philosophy (Plato, Cicero). Catholics used fear (inquisition, papal bull’s) and tradition while Muslims used violence (Jihad) and discrimination. The Reformation (Luther, Calvin) may be one of the few shinning lights in history that brought man face to face with the holiness of God and caused man to repent and believe in Christ. But man’s ideas were not far behind and Descartes (himself a Christian) started a philosophy that led to Modernism. His axiom is well-known: “I think, therefore I am”. And thus he ushered in a rationalistic and spiritually-closed era. Darwinian Evolution took full advantage of Modernism—it sought to explain the origins of life by random chance and thus excluding God. But when Einstein (Theory of Relativity) and others challenged the idea of the universe being a “closed-system”, Modernism was in dire straits (and Evolution, currently).
It can be clearly seen that every new invention and ideology of man simply plays-off of the failure of the last ideology. As Osborne puts it, the failures of Modernism were that “world wars have destroyed the viability of optimistic humanism, and capitalism has self-destructed from within. The American dream has been shown to be a nightmare.” So Existentialism took up the opportunity and tried to placate the fear of death by lessening the value of the spiritual as well as man’s status. But this ideology proved devastating and led only to Nihilism (No purpose to life).
Postmodernism, then, took over—mocking the Modernists and claiming to have the hope that Nihilism failed to give. It was reactionary. D.A. Carson in his essay “The Dangers and Delights of Postmodernism”, points out the benefits that Postmodernism has given to the sharing of the Gospel, but he also warns of the problems with such a worldview. Our current culture has a problem with the “metanarrative”—the sweeping story line that runs through the Bible and throughout history, says Carson. Our modern culture has trouble realizing that this world is not a big mess and life is not a maze. There is purpose and reason for all things, and nothing has or ever will happen by chance. God exists and he has given humankind hope through and only through his Son, Jesus Christ. Therefore we can be reconciled to God, find purpose in life, find direction, and begin living the way we should in light of his existence—storing up eternal “treasures” that last forever. Because the hope we hold is living one day with God in heaven, and he will reward those who put their trust in him and work hard to give him glory here on earth.
The major point that both Carson and Osborne make in their essays is on the aspect of the Infallibility of Scripture. This is a foreign concept to our culture where one’s stories and experiences mean everything and history is useless. We forget that history is the best of teachers, but if quieted we shall never know how much better we could live or how much more enjoyment we could have in life. There is purpose in life, there are things worth dying for—but if one never reads of Polycarp’s martyrdom, or finds out of Luther’s battle with guilt, or why Eric Liddell died in a concentration camp in China, then that person has missed out on the purpose of life itself. For their lives were built on the assurance of the truth that was found in the Scripture—God not only exists, they showed, but the way he has chosen to reveal himself to us is through the Bible.
The only way to live life free of changing ideologies and man’s flawed interpretation of the world is to believe in truth, believe in Christ as the giver of such, and to live in light of God’s judgment. The Bible is where it all starts—for 4,000 years men and women of all ages have invested their lives into learning what God had to tell the human race, and to apply those unchangeable truths to their lives. Such history and transforming power is readily available to all of us. Postmodernism will fail, utopia will never come, and in the near future a new ideology will arise, but it too shall fall. Just like all have—except for those who seek after God with a pure heart and seek to find out what he wishes to tell us through his revelation to mankind.
History is the best teacher, listen to her.