The Postmodern Challenge

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					The Postmodern Challenge

           Michael Goheen
      Trinity Western University
             Langley, B.C.
Ephesians 4:14-15

 Then we will no longer be infants,
 tossed back and forth by the waves
 and blown here and there by every
 wind of teaching and by the cunning
 and craftiness of men in their deceitful
 scheming. Instead speaking the truth
 in love, we will in all tings grow up into
 him who is the Head, that is Christ.
New Winds of Change
 A massive intellectual [worldview, cultural]
 revolution is taking place that is perhaps as
 great as that which marked off the modern
 world from the Middle Ages (Diogenes

  If the world has not approached its end, it
 has reached a major watershed in history,
 equal in importance to the turn from the
 Middle Ages to the Renaissance
 (Alexander Solzhenitsyn).
What is postmodernity?

 “This word [postmodernism] has no
 meaning. Use it as often as
 New cultural period
 Failure of modernity?
 New worldview?
How are Christians to respond?
 We are not intended to be conformed to the
 world but to be transformed by the renewing of
 our minds. God uses changes and chances in
 history to shake His people from time to time
 out of their conformity with the world; but when
 that happens our job surely is not just to push
 over the tiller and sail before the winds of
 change, but to look afresh to our chart and
 compass and to ask how we now use the new
 winds and the new tides to carry out our
 sailing orders. Every new situation is a
 summons to bring all our traditions afresh
 “under the word of God.”
                           - Lesslie Newbigin
No longer tossed back and forth
 Present: New postmodern winds
 Past: Sailing peacefully before
 modern winds
 Our task: Not simply push over tiller
 and sail before PM winds of change
 Our task: Look afresh at our chart,
 compass, sailing orders
 Our task: Understand changing winds
How are Christians to respond?
  The real question is: What is God doing in
 these tremendous events of our time?
 How are we to understand them and
 interpret them to others, so that we and
 they may play our part in them as co-
 workers with God? Nostaligia for the past
 and fear for the future are equally out of
 place for the Christian. He is required, in
 the situation in which God places him, to
 understand the signs of the times in the
 light of the reality of God‟s present and
 coming kingdom, and to give witness
 faithfully about the purpose of God for all
                     - Lesslie Newbigin
Response to Changing Times
 Enable us to see our conformity with
  Not simply conform to postmodern winds
  Nostalgia for past, conservatism wrong
  Require fresh analysis of cultural situation
  Analysis done in the light of God‟s word
  “What is God doing in these events?”
  Understand for the purpose of witness
Postmodern Challenge

 Postmodernity is skepticism toward
 big cultural stories of progress.

 “Simplifying to the extreme, I define
 postmodern as incredulity toward
 metanarratives” (J-F. Lyotard).
Big Stories of Progress

 Humanistic vision
 Build better world through science
 and technology
 20th century forms:
Why don‟t we believe these big
stories anymore?
 Growing poverty
 Declining economy
 Depletion of resources
 Destruction of the environment
 Escalating militarization (nuclear
 Social and psychological problems
Idols have not delivered on
 Material prosperity? Poverty is
 Freedom? Controlled by media,
 education, big business, government!
 Truth? Bewildering pluralism!
 Justice and peace? Oppression, war,
 violence, crime abound!
Impotence of Idols
 Of what value is an idol, since a man has carved
 it? Or an image that teaches lies? For he who
 makes it trusts in his own creation; he makes idols
 that cannot speak (Habakkuk 2:18).

 Their idols are silver and gold, made by the hands
 of men. They have mouths but cannot speak,
 eyes, but they cannot see; they have ears, but
 they cannot hear, noses, but they cannot smell;
 they have hands but they cannot feel, feet but they
 cannot walk; nor can they utter a sound with their
 throats. Those who make them will be like them,
 and so will all who trust in them (Ps.115:4-7).
What is God doing in our time?


 “ shall suffer the penalty…
 and bear the consquences of
 your sinful idolatry…” (Ezekiel
O Lord, my strength and my fortress, my
refuge in time of distress, to you the
nations will come from the ends of the
earth and say, “Our fathers possessed
nothing but false gods, worthless idols that
did them no good. Do men make their own
gods? Yes but they are not gods!
Therefore, I will teach them--this time I will
teach them my power and might. Then
they will know that my name is the Lord
(Jeremiah 16:19-21).
Postmodern Challenge

 Postmodernity is skepticism toward
 big stories of progress
 Postmodernity is a challenge toward a
 rationalistic view of humankind
Christian view of humanity

 Religious centre/direction
 Serve God or idols
 Many aspects: body, emotional,
 rational, imagination, historical,
 communal, aesthetic, judicial, ethical,
 Creational harmony
 Modernity: reason exalted
Idolatry and Depreciation

  Idolatry of some part of creation
  Depreciation of other aspects
  God‟s faithfulness to harmonious
 interrelation of diverse creation
  Suppressed aspects forces its way
Understanding Postmodern Times

 God made human beings with numerous
 functions and abilities
  God made human beings to be unified in
 service and knowledge of God
  When that religious dimension is denied,
 one of the functions is absolutized
  Other aspects diminished
  Rise of suppressed aspects to new
Non-rationalist dimensions of
humanity suppressed by rationalism
  Desire, passion
  Instinct, intuition
What is God doing in our time?

 Human rationality cannot bring
  Invitation to find true unity
  Human beings are made to live in
 communion with God
  Faith, obedience, and love define
 humanity not rational activity
Postmodern Challenge

 Postmodernity is skepticism toward
 big stories of progress
 Postmodernity is a challenge toward a
 rationalistic view of humankind
 Postmodernity is a protest against an
 objectivist view of knowledge
Modern worldview . . .

 Stories of progress
 Rooted in confident rationalistic
 Science tool to enable man to
 achieve goal
Objective knowledge of science
 Science gives us objective knowledge
  Our minds can mirror world
  Scientific method gives us a neutral
 standpoint outside relativities of
 culture and history
  Objective and neutral knowledge
 enables modern man to shape the
 world with technology and social
Subjective factors shaping


  Tradition         Feelings
  Community         Imagination
  Language          Subconscious
  Culture           Gender
  History           Class
  Faith             Race
Change in knowledge
 Certainty to uncertainty
 One truth to pluralism
 Objectivity to relativism
Need for new epistemology
 Incomparably the most urgent missionary
 task for the next few decades is the
 mission to „modernity‟ . . . It calls for the
 use of sharp intellectual tools, to probe
 behind the unquestioned assumptions of
 modernity and uncover the hidden credo
 which supports them. . . .At the most basic
 level there is need for critical examination
 from a Christian standpoint of the reigning
 assumptions in epistemology . . .
Postmodern Challenge

 Postmodernity is skepticism toward
 big stories of progress
 Postmodernity is a challenge toward a
 rationalistic view of humankind
 Postmodernity is a protest against an
 objectivist view of knowledge
 Postmodernity is the triumph of
 economism and consumerism
Late modernity (Walsh/Middleton)

 (Idolatrous faith in economic growth as goal
  of human life)

 (Idolatrous faith in technology)

 (Idolatrous faith in science)
Growth of Consumer Culture

 Industrial Revolution
   Technology, rationalization of work
   Free market comes to centre
   Liberalism and capitalism
 20th century: Economism,
 Global dimensions
Consumerism and postmodernity

 “The postmodern is rightly associated
 with a society where consumer
 lifestyles and mass consumption
 dominate the waking lives of its
                        -David Lyon
Creeping consumerism

 “Once established, such a culture of
 consumption is quite undiscriminating
 and everything becomes a consumer
 item, including meaning, truth, and
                     -Philip Sampson
Consumption of experiences

 “From rock music to tourism to
 television and even education,
 advertising imperatives and consumer
 demand are no longer for goods, but
 for experiences.”
                     -Stephen Connor
Christian response: 1-5
 As a believing community we are entering
 into a new missionary situation
  We need to understand the postmodern
 shift not simply react
 We must be committed understanding and
 living within the story of the Bible
 We must engage in dialogue from within
 the story of the Bible
  This dialogue with postmodernity will give
 us a deepening insight into modernity that
 has been shaping our culture for centuries
Christian response: 6-9
 In postmodernity we will find dangerous
 idols that bring death
  In postmodernity we will find new insights
 that bring life
 We need to struggle with new ways to
 understand our relation to postmodern
 culture so we can be both faithful and
 This dialogue with postmodernity must not
 lead only to understanding but must take
 on forms of communal life that embody life
 and reject death