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THE LEGACY OF POSTMODERNISM

Twisted Fiction

Any vision of the future must include—though often reluctantly—the role of "postmodernism." This buzzword fixates the minds of all would-be futurists and levitates the learning of all "wannabe" philosophers. And not without cause. Within these great powers of change, postmodernism shouts "Salvation!" for dead-end leaders and frustrated intellectuals.

Yet, even scholars disagree on what postmodernism means. In fact, "A precise understanding . . . is notoriously difficult to pin down."1 Nevertheless, most postmodernists believe we put far too much faith in our language . . . in our ability to hammerlock truth and reality.

Accordingly, we moderns simply ignore the particular slant on our slang . . . the prejudice, myopia, and arbitrariness of our lingo. In other words, we have no standards for our tastes, no credibility for our texts. Whether retorting or reporting, subjectivity traps each of us in the myriad influences of our small world.

Worse, we use this twisted fiction to impose power on others.

So postmodernists consider "truth" neither timeless nor universal. "Truth" with a capital "T" is especially incredible. "Goodness" with capacious knowledge is particularly implausible.

Unfortunately, the unity of this movement lies not with a hopeful plan for the future, but with a common rejection of the past.

It is antimodern!

"Going . . . Going . . . Gone"

Some see this break with the past as a refreshing philosophical game. Others see a fearsome gamble with the very foundations of Civilization. Some see a chance to wipe the slate clean of "outmoded" religious ideas. Others see the final disintegration of religion itself. Some see uncontainable joy at the death of the modern world. Others see only sinister gladness behind this illusion of joy.

Right or wrong, we dismiss postmodernism with difficulty, because it has proven itself in many ways.

But "rightness" is not the problem. The problem is postmoderns fail to realize postmodernism has come and gone. Postmodernism is about the death of the past, and the past has already past. The mere fact that this term has become a buzzword reflects the afterimage of social change. In fact, the underground shift to "POST-postmodernism" has already occurred and now emerges on the mainstream scene.2

What will arise in a more constructive future after "deconstructive" postmodernism has finally run its course? A new world is in the making. History has propelled us out of the modern period on a wild trajectory not yet understood. We call it "postmodern" simply because we don’t know its real name.

Is it the "Digital Age"? "Age of Virtual Reality"? "Age of bio-technology"? "Age of the Machine"?

Oxymorons and Old Cadavers

There’s a difference between postmodernism and what’s actually happening now. Postmodernism—for the most part—describes the death of a passing world. But today, we envision a new future, a new knowing, a new language.

The biggest myth of postmodernism, though, is that it is "postmodern." In truth, it wears modern eyeglasses more often than not. It frequently uses modern thinking to criticize modern thinking. It often parades effective language to communicate the ineffectiveness of language. In short, it squeezes the last drop of blood out of old cadavers. It forces, for example, modern, Enlightenment skepticism to its (il)logical conclusion: "There is no truth beyond doubt."3

It is hypermodern. It is superskeptical. It is a cynical, modern-world view.

Postmoderns too often boil everything down to literal logic, while history moves clearly toward multiple meanings. They still "divide to conquer," while we "connect to win." They still "line their ducks up in a row," while we find significance in the whole flock. They still demand debates, while we hunger for dialogs.

Postmoderns gleefully dismantle what were assumed universals, but today we earnestly reconstruct those same Universals. They refuse a unified truth, but we see patterns of transcendence. They take a position fundamentally against Christian faith4, but our world is now spiritually reconnected.

In short, a "POST-postmodern atheist" is mostly oxymoron. In the emerging era, everyone is assumed essentially spiritual. Atheism, agnosticism, and skepticism are increasingly remnants of an obsolete civilization.5

In a weird sort of humanism, postmoderns claim man is the source of all things . . . that there is no prophetic revelation except what man creates himself—yet they insist even that you can’t trust! Today, truth by definition is true, regardless of individual beliefs. Truth is not something we create, it is something we encounter.

As a result, the postmodern "self" is a fragmented, unstable, impermanent self, with a fleeting existence that is "less a matter of ‘multiple selves’ and more a matter of attention deficit disorder."6 A chaotic self. An anarchic self. But today, we know an inspired self . . . a creative self . . . a self created in the image of a Creator-God.

In short, the freedom to define our own truth—combined with ever-present selfishness—turns postmodern freedom into a living hell.

Good News, Bad News

Still, the gift of postmodernism thinks afresh the most basic assumptions. But it takes more than cynicism and relativism. The refusal of subjective truth does not destroy Truth beyond subjectivity. The refusal of a universal story does not rid us of universal questions.

Postmoderns correctly discern the subjective limitations of natural man. Let’s face it. Our knee-jerk selfishness can’t be trusted. But the early Hebrews remind us there’s a difference between our Greek soul and our Hebrew spirit—there’s a difference between the inner drives of our natural instincts and the internal obedience to something bigger and better than us.

Postmoderns have simply thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

Failing to recognize universal truth, though, postmoderns rightly search for "useful fictions" in local truth. That’s honest. That’s positive. But their search ignores the difference between subjectivity and true inspiration. It’s true no one holds a claim on total truth. Yet, "We know in part, and we prophesy in part."7 And that part is a valid part of the whole.

Postmoderns have lost the ability to see the whole in the parts—to detect the unity in the variety. The have given us a sea of dots, but no way to connect them.8

And, yes, they correctly criticize the ability of language to describe the universals of inner experience. But prophetic metaphor transcends all the failed language of postmodernism. It rises above all the cultural icons of narcissistic society. Hebrew prophets, for example, shared their visions within the context of their time, yet the message always transcended their medium.

Today, as well, creative artists frequently report that their work "chooses them" . . . that it permits "some, but not just any, variation" . . . that, finally, they are only the "discoverers."

There’s more there than what the legacy of postmodernism offers.

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We will need new tests of authenticity . . . new tests of credibility . . . new tests of reality. If the interface with the future is indeed headed toward the breadth and complexity of prophetic metaphor . . . of art . . . even of virtual reality, then we will need a new veracity for our experience.

The art or science of interpretation can still be done. It will just have to be done a different way.

Goodbye modernism. Goodbye postmodernism.

Welcome Holy Spirit.

© 2010 Thomas Hohstadt

ENDNOTES

1. Stanley J. Grenz, John R. Franke, Beyond Foundationalism: Shaping Theology in a Postmodern Context (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001) p. 18.

2. Brad Sargent, "Enemies in the Post-Postmodern Era . . . Unless . . . ," Strategies For Today’s Leader, First Quarter, 2001, Volume 38, Number 1, p. 23.

3. Sargent.

4. Grenz and Franke, p. 19.

5. Sargent.

6. Steven Johnson, Interface Culture: How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate (New York: Basic Books, 1997) p 82-84.

7. I Corinthians 13:9, KJ.

8. Sally Morgenthaler in an email to the author.



Future Church Administrator