Postmodernism and Os Guinness

I have spent a bit of time this weekend researching Postmodernism and The Emerging Church . Cleaning out our "office" closet tonight, I came across an article I had printed out months ago that held fresh meaning for me tonight. Calling, Postmodernism, and Chastened Liberals is a Mars Hill interview with Os Guinness.
A few excerpts for your consideration:

MHR: What has silenced the church? What keeps us from responding to this opportunity?

OG: There are a great number of factors. Many conservatives have lost their genuine passion to reach outside of themselves. They're now immersed in a political-cultural warring mode, which attacks people rather than tries to win them.

I also think the American church has an underlying insecurity. The larger culture is disintegrating-and yet, rather than having an incredible confidence in the truth of the gospel in a time of cultural disintegration, Christians sense that it's all over for the church and the gospel.

There are many other reasons we're not responding to this incredible opportunity we have evangelistically and aplogetically. But, in any case, we're not exploiting it.

MHR: You mentioned that some of the grand philosophies are failing, such as postmodernism. Would you say the gospel has relevance only outside of postmodernism, or could it have relevance within as well?

OG: I think the gospel has relevance both outside and inside. Both modernism and postmodernism give tremendous opportunity to the gospel, and both provide deadly challenges to the gospel as well.

Modernism, to its credit, had a very strong sense of truth, and a strong sense of the importance of truth and reason. Modernists may have thought the Christian faith was untrue or simply a bad faith, but at least they would discuss it.

Postmodernism is more welcoming. The postmodern attitude is, "You come from where you come from," so that more positions are level on the playing field. Yet, this perspective is built on a radical relativism that, at the end of the day, destroys everything.

I think a good apologetic based on scripture should be flexible enough and creative enough to survive and thrive in any situation. I don't agree with those who see postmodernism as either radically dangerous in some extraordinarily novel way, or as a great advantage. The important thing is that we must speak from a position of our faith.

MHR: There are many definitions of postmodernism. What is the definition from which you're speaking?

OG: A key to remember is that postmodernism is not postmodernity. Many evangelicals make the mistake of thinking that if we are postmodern-which we are-then we must be living "after modernity."

On the contrary, postmodernism is a set of ideas which follows the collapse of modernism, not modernity. If you define modernism as the ideas that are part of what is sometimes called the Enlightenment project-the ideas that have flourished from the Enlightenment until today-then those ideas have collapsed. Modernity, on the other hand, is not just as a set of ideas, but is based on great structural revolutions, such as capitalism, industrialized technology, and modern telecommunication. And although modernism may have collapsed-the belief in truth, reason, progress, science-modernity is actually at its high noon.

In simple terms, postmodernism is a set of ideas that is flourishing at the high noon of modernity. Yet because many evangelicals have confused modernity and modernism, some think that because we are postmodern we've waved the wand and gotten rid of modernity.

Quite the contrary is true. The challenge of modernity is stronger than ever. There is no foreseeable means of dismantling modernity, short of the Lord's return or a nuclear disaster of unimaginable proportions.

If we in the west think we can give up modernity, then the Asians would be only too happy to take over. In other words, modernity will not simply be rolled back or dismantled anytime soon. Postmodernism is just a western phenomenon within the overall context of modernity.

MHR: Is it your prediction that postmodernism will fade?

OG: I don't believe postmodernism can last, because it is essentially negative. You couldn't build a family, sustain a university, or run a country on postmodern ideas for very long. Let me suggest an example.

At the moment, one of the Christian claims that seems embarrassing is the claim to truth. If you claim anything close to absolute truth on a modern campus, you are seen as Neanderthal, obscene, politically incorrect. A kind of "brave new world" feeling is prevalent, in which people are saying that truth is dead, following Nietzsche's thought-and that if truth is dead, then knowledge is simply power. The underlying idea is that if you simply understand the gender, race, or class of the person who makes the claim to truth, you will then discover the real bid, which is the bid for power. Everything is reduced to the role of power.

At first that sounds very brave, as you unmask and demystify. But it is an absolute myth. When all is said and done, if knowledge is only power, and if truth is dead, then everything is left to manipulation.

Many people are starting to recognize this problem. For example, how many western liberals admire Vaclav Havel and his role in the Czech revolution? The Czech revolution maxim was, "Truth prevails for those who live in truth." That's actually very close to the scriptures. Havel's point was that in facing a Marxist regime-an empire built on lies-there were only two ways to overcome it. One was by being strong, which, of course, the dissidents weren't. The other way was to live in truth: "Truth prevails to those who live in truth."

What fascinates me is the vast number of western liberals who admire that thought deeply-and rightly so-but who don't have a view of truth upon which they could do the same thing. And if you follow that line of argument around, you come back to Jesus' words: "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."

Whether it happens on the level of interpersonal relationships, or in the realm of grand political things, people are casually giving up truth today with the "brave new idea" that knowledge is power and truth is dead. And, ironically, what looks like a great embarrassment-the Christian claim to truth-is actually one of our great trump cards. I think it soon will be seen to be so.

MHR: Soon?

OG: Marxism, for all its tyranny and technology, lasted only seventy-four years. That is a mere blinking of the eye in terms of history. Modern choice and change are coming so fast that the shelf-life of idols is very brief. I don't think postmodernism will be around in ten years' time.

MHR: At present, is the church making a mistake by trying to understand the gospel's relevance to postmodernism?

OG: No. You must understand that the gospel has relevance to everything while it's in vogue. But those who try to adapt too much will be washed up when the next thing comes along.

For two hundred years, that has been the mistake of liberalism-following Frederich Schleiermacher-in trying to reach a culture that despises the gospel. Liberals have joined the culture and stayed there.

Today, there is a near equivalent within evangelicalism, in the name of reaching the unchurched for the sake of relevance. The trouble is that the church often has adapted too much. Much of evangelicalism is every bit as liberal as liberalism. One could easily make the argument that evangelicalism is the worldliest tradition of the modern church.

I know liberals who describe themselves as chastened liberals. They chased every idea in the sixties, whether the idea was politics, therapy, or whatever. And they adapted the gospel to every one of those and sold out. Today they are amazed not that they were chastened by all those events, but that they see evangelicals doing the same things in the nineties.

2 thoughts on “Postmodernism and Os Guinness

  1. //
    I don’t think postmodernism will be around in ten years’ time.

    Whew! One less mass of confusion to hassle over.

    I’ll just let it pass. Let others wrestle with it.

    Lets talk about comic books!

  2. Ha… wish I could let it pass. I seem to be caught up in it darn it! I hope his prediction is right… that will put me at a young age of 38 when my head gets screwed back on. ;D

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