Truth is what you make it, right? Well, that’s what many people with a postmodern worldview would say. Christians look at the kind of statements and beliefs that come out of postmodern thought, and justifiably condemn it. If words and thoughts have no center of meaning, and everyone’s interpretation is as good as another’s, then how can we even communicate? More importantly, how can we live righteous lives if the definition of right and wrong differs from one person to the next?
So, yes, postmodernism as it’s defined in our society is a threat to the Truth of scripture. However, virtually every view or philosophy has some truth to it, and when rehabilitated, can help Christians mature and bring others to Christ. This is what Paul did in Athens (Acts 17:22-31).
Just imagine that every non-biblical worldview is a broken-down, rusty classic car. Because the car’s been abused and neglected, it’s missing some parts and it can’t take you anywhere, plus it’s not pretty to look at. But with some thought and effort, some new parts and some refurbishing, the car can be restored and bring great satisfaction.
As Christians, personal restoration is something we’ve committed our lives to, but we don’t often think about restoring systems of thought or worldviews, but they can be salvaged and made whole again. Postmodernism falls into this category. Is it missing key parts? Yes. But that doesn’t mean it should be discarded. It has something of value to add when restored through the biblical worldview.
I’m not going to try to “restore” the postmodern worldview in one short article, but I would like to illustrate some salvageable pieces that will be helpful for Christians to acquire in their thinking. Of course, the main “part” that postmodernism is missing is God, the engine that drives all worldviews (pardon my comparison of God to a mechanism), but once he’s been included in his rightful place, there’s hope for the entire vehicle.
There are two things that Christians should appreciate about postmodern thought when modified to include God.
First, it injects a much needed dose of humility in our conclusions. I’ve heard Christians say for years that we need to make sure we don’t confuse our understanding of the truth with Truth itself; that we should always be willing to change our views when scripture reveals something different than what we thought. This approach to scripture is very postmodern. It’s a recognition that people will see things differently. We ought to be humble in our approach, believing that God has given us the Truth and that it’s understandable, but without assuming that we’ve acquired an understanding of the Truth in its fullness or perfection.
The Bereans demonstrated that they were humble enough not to assume their interpretation was the only possible correct understanding when “they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:11).
Secondly, postmodernism helps us appreciate that things can have multiple meanings. The “problem” with a mathematical or scientific approach to scripture is that it leaves us with the impression that there can only be one answer, one solution. While it’s true that not every interpretation of scripture is valid, that doesn’t mean that two or more meanings can’t come from the same passage. This is especially obvious when we look at the symbols God’s given to us.
For example, the cross may be a symbol of Christ’s humility (Phil. 2:8). It could also be seen as a symbol of his power (1 Cor. 1:18), or as a symbol of his love (1 John 3:16), or mercy (Rom. 5:8), or his condemnation of sin (Rom. 8:3), or as a reversal of the story of Adam and Eve, or a statement of faith in God, or hope, or love for our brethren. I’ll stop there, but I could go on. If someone emphasized only one of these aspects when speaking of the cross, would you say they were wrong? Of course not.
All of these views of the cross are correct at the same time. Furthermore, two of the meanings seem contradictory (mercy and condemnation of sin). But they’re still both true, and not all of these meanings need to be stated each time the cross is mentioned. It’s not even possible to do so.
This again is a very postmodern way of reading. When Christians reduce the scriptures to only one possible meaning, as if there’s a formula to bring us to the only possible truth, they often suppress the richness and depth God has infused into scripture. Postmodernism can help Christians explore God’s word and world more fully and deeply.
The problem with postmodernism, then, is not that it espouses the possibility of multiple views and interpretations, but that it does so without God. There are some difficulties that should be worked through when appropriating this type of thinking that I haven’t addressed in this article, but hopefully we can see some benefits and potential. As frustrating as it may be to think about the postmodern worldview, it’s actually a tool that can be refurbished and modified to the the glory of God!