October 26, 2010

Killing the Postmodernism Boogeyman

John Armstrong has an excellent trio of posts [here and here and here] on the postmodernism issue and the inappropriate reaction from Christians that the word "postmodern" often triggers. He begins by responding to the common misconception that a postmodern Christian must be apostate or deluded, discarding the premise that such a Christian must "reject truth claims and moral absolutes and embrace relativism." The real misunderstanding, he continues, is that much of the American church has been co-opted by the modernist methodology for discovering and knowing truth:
Conservative Christians . . . reasoned that if you used the Bible correctly, studying the text of Holy Writ with a proper (scientific) method, then you would get the very mind of God about every thing that you could discover in this treasure house of divine (inerrant) revelation.
The problem with this approach to knowing the real truth that Christianity indeed does profess and testify to is that,
a Christian knowledge of God rests not on precise understanding or biblical equations but on personal knowing. We come to God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, based upon a personal relationship with the risen and reigning Christ. . . .
Modernity gave us confidence in our method. It told us that we could have precise understanding about every mystery that we encountered in the revelation of God. But the gospel calls us to place our total confidence in Christ, not in a system. . . . In modernity we figure something out and get hold of it. In the gospel someone gets hold of us and reveals himself to us.
Wrapping up the second post, Armstrong acknowledges the benefit that a postmodern stance can yield, and reiterates the key difference between the relationships with absolute truth that secular and Christian postmodernists can have:
The developing postmodern critique has helped more and more Christians become aware of a simple fact: God knows the truth in a way that we humans do not. The right use of postmodern suspicion is to employ it to combat the notion that we have easy access to the truth. When conservative pastors tell their people that solid exposition and Bible study will make them into mature disciples then they get very close to this danger! (This is not an attack on study and Bible exposition so read the statement carefully.)
A secular postmodernist deduces that there is no absolute truth. The reason for this is that the person has not yet met the one who is the truth in Jesus Christ. But no postmodern Christian, who knows the one who is the truth, will ever claim that there is no absolute truth since they have a personal relationship with the one who incarnates the absolute truth.
This difference is crucial. Knowing God is not the same thing as knowing about God. Our knowledge about an eternal, transcendent, and spiritual being is necessarily incomplete and likely flawed, particularly when much of it is obtained and limited by our human ability to read and interpret written text; but if this God adopts us into his family, we have access to an entirely different way of knowing him: relationship!