Despite our “righteous” desires for a Christian nation, most people today recognize we live in a postmodern society. Postmodernity has found its way into our architecture, our entertainment, our technologies and certainly our philosophies and religious systems. In a philosophical nutshell, postmodernism is the belief that there is no one universal belief: that your truth is your truth, and my truth is my truth. But more than that, it is skepticism toward ANY system of belief. In his seminal work: The Postmodern Condition, French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard, Lyotard describes postmodernism as an “incredulity towards metanarratives.”1 Individually, postmodernism affords us our own adoptable moral criteria, unchallenged by others. But holistically, it keeps us all in a state of mistrust.
A good postmodernist needs to be wary of any and all belief systems that enforce their mandates and statutes on others. Historically, the philosophy rose through a natural progression. In an age of technological independence and design-influenced individualism; a hyper mistrust of authority; and a social networking matrix that promotes autonomy and metaphysical disconnection, postmodernism flourishes and breeds. And as we have distanced ourselves from the confining mandates of the God of the supposedly arcane and irrelevant Bible, we have embraced religious systems that melt well into postmodernist thought. We now live in a culture celebrating religious systems that “play nice” in the philosophically syncretistic sandbox of Western society, and we decry those that inflict their mandates on others.
As morally freeing as postmodernism may appear to be, it presents a huge problem: a problem that has repercussions on all facets of societal life. It is not with postmodernism’s philosophy, or its religious plurality, or even its systematic attack on the faith we hold dear. By focusing on the areas in the sentence above, Christians put themselves further at odds with the culture. Instead, we need to recognize the damage postmodernism is doing to culture as a whole. Before I continue, let me declare that I will make no moral critiques in the following argument. So how do we expose the damage of the philosophy without attacking its tenets or decrying its advocates? We do so by understanding what is devoid in Postmodernism: rebuke.
Postmodernism allows for more than freedom of religion or the unshackling of universal moral confinement. It assures its adopter that no other religious system can migrate its way over into your particular worldview. What is right for you; is quite simply right for you. There is no argument and no need for the debate of centralized truth; we each carry our own set of truths. If this is the accepted standard of society, and there are no universally right answers, then there is logically no ability for correction, no opportunity for rebuke. How can you tell someone what he or she is doing is right or wrong if his or her personally adopted belief system may claim the exact opposite? You might ask, “so what?” On the surface, for much of the culture, this appears to be a good thing. After all, we don’t like others telling us what do. But there is an underlying problem with this mindset…
Wisdom manifests through rebuke.
“If you had responded to my rebuke, I would have poured out my heart to you and made myself known to you.” Proverbs 1:23 NIV
“Since you ignored all my advice and would not accept my rebuke…” Proverbs 1:25 NIV
“Since they would not accept my advice, and spurned my rebuke.” Proverbs 1:30 NIV
We learned in the first book, Parables & Parallels, that wisdom is more than just knowledge applied. It is the foundational principles and law structures that established the earth and mankind, prefall – or before the fall of Adam. Wisdom is the blueprint for God’s perfect system of liberation and protection for humanity and all of creation. It is an essential component in the Kingdom of God, “on earth as it is in heaven.” Historically as a culture, when we distanced ourselves from God and his dogmatic mandates, we distanced ourselves from wisdom. And when we brushed off God’s holistic intent of prosperity and protection, we invited in its postfall antithesis: disease, decay and destruction. You can read about this in detail in the chapter: A High Call to Men and Women of Understanding in the first Parables book.
Without any universal standard of understanding and conduct, we are free to make decisions as we see fit, to choose our own path for our lives – but we do so without Wisdom as our navigator or our future building contractor. In our aversion to correction and rebuke, we erected philosophies and technologies to stave off its supposedly subjugating power. But in doing so, we have furthered ourselves from the culturally transforming and spiritually liberating power of wisdom. Wisdom rarely manifests in a society that has no metric for correction. And as much as we desire a culture without rebuke, celebrating individualism over Godly correction, that culture quickly becomes less and less utopian. Listen to wisdom’s taunt.
“I in turn will laugh at your disaster, I will mock when calamity overtakes you – when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind… for the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them.” Proverbs 1: 26-27, 32 NIV
Our embrace of an “incredulity toward metanarratives” appears to lead to Wisdom’s apathy toward (if not mockery of) our own damaging condition. We need to make a change. But the central focus of change should be not our desire to have our belief system once again elevated to its righteous place. It should be focused on the damage that this postmodern system of thought is having on the lives of those adopting it. Postmodernism often leads to nihilism, a sense of meaningless not simply toward truth, but toward life itself. Wisdom fills the world with wonder, purpose and protection, as you discovered in the first Parables and Parallels book. But without Wisdom’s ability to rebuke, postmodernism thrust us further and further from that ideal. Creating a society of individual autonomy but holistic despair, malaise and apathy.
As believers, we must be the first to embrace wisdom’s rebuke. The world, after 50 plus years of postmodern oxidation, isn’t going to discard this pattern of thought easily. But as those “born again,” we must celebrate wisdom’s role of correction in our lives, and then through the outcome of that correction, manifest to the world something fresh and winsome. As is always the case, it starts with the actions of the church, producing outcomes that the rest of the world can take notice of. In other words, once again, liberating the damaging condition of our modern world begins with a transformation in us, not a critique or an attack on the postmodern culture at large.
1 Lyotard, Jean-François (1979). La condition postmoderne: rapport sur le savoir. Paris: Minuit.