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Al Mohler is the President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Here is a summary of an article he wrote for the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society titled “What is Truth? Truth and Contemporary Culture”:
In the West’s current postmodern society, postmodernists have moved beyond truth. Most persons go through life, expecting to be lied to, to receive dishonesty, to have many things intentionally misrepresented. In the public landscape, ethical issues such as the arguments for same-sex marriage, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, etc. are disguised arguments about the nature of truth itself. The purpose of this article is to prove that postmodernism is nothing more than the logical extension of modernism in a new mood.
Postmodernism confronts the church with a challenge of several dimensions: 1) The deconstruction of truth. Deconstructionists, a sect of postmodernists, believe that all truth is socially constructed. The result is that there is no absolute universal gospel. 2) The death of the meta-narrative. Christianity is based on the biggest metanarrative of all: God’s plan to redeem sinners through Christ. If the meta-narrative is dead, then the redemptive work of Christ is dead as well. 3) The demise of the text. Readers establish the meaning of a text instead of the author. Thus, it is unimportant what the Scripture writers actually meant. All we are left with is what readers think the authors meant. There is no “right” or “wrong” interpretation. 4) The dominion of therapy. It no longer matters what is true; my personal needs are all that matters. The value of the Scriptures is determined based on their pragmatic benefit. This varies from interpreter to interpreter. 5) The decline of authority. Scripture, elders, confessions, traditions, etc. no longer contain any amount of authority. All is reduced to the eye of the beholder. 6) The displacement of morality. With the death of absolute truth comes the death of absolute morality. This does not keep postmodernists from using moral language, but this moral language is at the discretion of the interpreter instead of based on absolute truth outside the interpreter.
The question then comes as to how Christians are to react to this. The answer is not easy. Some evangelicals have tried to understand Christianity in light of the postmodern propositions. They often refer to themselves as postconservatives. Postconservatives believe that modernism/foundationalism should be rejected, and that such rejection will lead to an apologetic breakthrough and theological advance for the evangelical movement.
Even though postconservatives are correct that the church must understand postmodernism in order to engage postmodernists, they miss that postmodernism has fatally overreached. Who can live in this world on a daily basis if there are no absolutes, if there is no form of even soft foundationalism? No one wants a consistent postmodernist surgeon, for example. Also, to embrace the postmodern mood in evangelicalism is to adopt a de-propositionalized, epistemologically nuanced view that cannot agree with the certainties that started the evangelical movement to begin with. In other words, adopting postmodernism kills evangelicalism, if its assumptions are consistently applied. Contemporary culture indeed provides a challenge, but Christians still stand where the apostle Paul stood in Acts 17. We must present Christ, encouraging others to obey Scripture and respond to the gospel, for the purpose of extending God’s Kingdom.
I agree with Mohler’s six challenges that postmodernism brings to the church. First, postmodernists believe there is no universal gospel, but they do believe there is a gospel. It appears that the gospel is relative based on the community in which one hears it. Even then, postmodernists will argue for a specific good news that is not “bad news.” In other words, I believe all Christian postmodernists are really modest or soft foundationalists because they believe (most of them) in morals, evil, good, a gospel, a non-gospel, etc.
Second, postmodernism celebrates the death of the metanarrative, the grand story needed to validate propositional truths. The problem is that the Bible is one big metanarrative embedded in redemptive history. Postmodernists try to cross the postmodern ditch through faith, but how does one argue that the metanarrative is dead while also believing the historic redemptive metanarrative? Some try to put the Scriptures in a different category, possibly a meganarrative category, but is this meganarrative dead as well? Also, what about the definition of faith? Is there an objective definition? I suppose I’ll give postmodernists credit concerning their epistemological assumption when they stop doing a semantic dance. The truth is that postmodernism replaces previous metanarratives with a new postmodern metanarrative. When postmodernists stop making their arguments using propositional truths to explain their metanarrative, which decrees the death of propositional truth and metanarratives, I’ll consider them a legitimate epistemological option. In other words, when their assumptions are livable, I’ll consider them.
Third, postmodernists believe interpreters basically determine the meaning of all texts instead of the authors who wrote them. Authorial intent is traded for the interpretation of the hearers. These interpretations, of course, will vary from one person to the next, and no one is “right” or “wrong.” Postconservatives may argue differently by adding tradition to their hermeneutic process, but is anyone ever objectively right or wrong? I think they would say no, but then argue that they believe in good and evil. It’s just a semantics dance because all of us, modernists and postmodernists, live in God’s world. In God’s world, people go to heaven or hell based on their response to His revealed Word. God doesn’t care about what one believes about His truth, for His truth is true regardless whether one believes it or not.
Fourth, therapy replaces truth in the postmodern world. In other words, it does not matter what is true, it matters if the interpretation fulfills my needs. This is why preachers who preach to the felt needs of their hearers have such a large following. Thus, postmodernism is the air we breathe; it’s all around us. In postmodernism, the interpreter determines his or her disease and the purported cure as well.
Fifth, there is no accountability for the postmodernist, no authority beyond the interpreter. The interpreter is his or her own authority. In other words, the only thing the postmodernist knows for sure is that he or she doesn’t know anything for sure. How does one avoid relativism? The simple answer is that one cannot, if the postmodern epistemic assumption is true. The result of postmodernism, if consistently believed and responded to, is a selfish, self-seeking individual narcicist, if the interpreter is God of his interpretation. If the author is dead, “the truth is NOT out there” (objective and possible to understand), and the subject is dead, the truth is NOT in here (understandable and knowable from the interpreter’s perspective), then I will live based on how I feel. In other words, pragmatism will reign. I will determine what I need and what I do not need; I will determine everything based on how I feel.
Sixth, there is no absolute morality in postmodernism. Instead, morality is determined based on the specific interpreter or his or her community. Can you imagine a society that adopted such a view of morality? If everyone is right, no one is right. The result is chaos and the eventual death of a society.
Finally, I also agree with Mohler’s suggested response from the church: Preach the Word of God as it is written. The Word of God claims to be God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16). The Scripture writers did not present Scripture as optional, relative, or subject to the interpreter, but on the contrary, God expects a specific response. Obedience and disobedience are real. How can one read Scripture honestly and walk away a postmodernist who affirms Scripture? If the Scripture writers and Christ Himself affirmed propositional truth, and God embedded the saving of His church in human history, a grand metanarrative, then how can one possibly pronounce the death of the metanarrative and still be a Christian? Either he or she believes the Scriptures or not. To summarize, there are no postmodernists in heaven or hell, for each experiences the judgment or reward of God based on objective realities they correctly or incorrectly responded to on earth: sin, repentance and faith in Christ (or lack thereof) due to Christ’s life, death, and resurrection to reconcile sinners to His Father.
What is interesting is that postmodernists do not care about being inconsistent or illogical, at least when it comes to pragmatic truths. Of course, no postmodernist looks at his or her bank account, tax return, the murder of a family member, the stealing of one’s property, etc. as “subject to the interpreter.” In other words, let me electrocute a postmodernist with a taser and see if he or she is a postmodernist afterwards. :).
Source: Mohler, R. Albert. “What is Truth? Truth and Contemporary Culture.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 48, no. 1 (March 2005): 63-75.