IntroductionThe last article in this series laid a basic groundwork for understanding the current state of Evangelicalism. Many Christian leaders are saying that the crisis in Evangelicalism is the rising up of a new factor called postmodernism. This postmodern challenge is the reason they give for why the Church has to change and become more like the world. This article addresses that view and shows how it really misses the mark.
Nowadays the concept of
“postmodernism” is in the air. It’s become almost a mantra to say
something like “We’re entering a new period of culture surpassingly
different from anything that came before.” Everyone talks about it, but
any attempt to define it is an exercise in futility because
postmodernism as a movement actually opposes definition. It’s like
trying to define the indefinable (or trying to describe a doughnut
hole)—yet ironically scholars use the term all the time.
Many intellectuals and some church leaders are saying that a word like “truth” that is supposed to apply in all times and in all ways is basically a way of thinking that is a product of the Enlightenment.(i) I intend to show that this is a distortion of the Bible and of history.
In actual fact, the concept of postmodernism is a faddish way of thinking and a kind of cartoon picture of history—a Marxist cartoon.
First of all, the hidden heart of the concept of postmodernism is Marxism, which has always had a materialistic-historical focus that evaluates history on the basis of economics, technology, and class struggle. This will become clear as I explain the idea and influence of deconstructionism a little later.
Second, postmoderns say that all learning and knowledge are culture-bound. They describe the Enlightenment period as focused upon Rationalism,(ii) where abstract universal terms like “mankind,” “freedom,” etc. were used to explain reality. Postmoderns assume that these terms have a built-in limitation because they supposedly refer to everyone rather than to specific cultures, classes, groups, etc. Thus they think there could be no such thing as a universal guilt or salvation because that doesn’t take into account the individual or separate groups.
But these abstract
terms were not just products of the Enlightenment for the Bible used
such terms over seventeen hundred years before the Enlightenment: “God
is love.” “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” “The
fool says in his heart there is no God.”
Third, postmodernists believe that twentieth century churches, and especially Protestant churches, adopted the Enlightenment emphasis upon technical and linear thinking. One of the ways postmodernists say that this occurred was through a focus upon systematic theology and the idea of the inerrancy of Scripture. But, again, this is a distortion of history, first of all, because the emphasis on systematic theology among Protestants started in the sixteenth century and not in the twentieth. And, second, because the belief in the inerrancy of Scripture goes all the way back to Christ.
Fourth, postmoderns claim that this Enlightenment (or modernist) worldview began breaking down in the twentieth century. According to postmoderns, the breakdown of modernism came from many places: Einstein’s theories of relativity; the vast increase in the knowledge of and contact with other cultures; the worldwide Web; the growing revulsion of younger people for the consumer society; the rebellion of the Sixties and the rise of the counterculture, and so on. Young people became more “hip,” rejecting modernism while their parents continued to accept it.
instead on the organic v. the mechanical; they yearned for communities
and turned away from the mega-churches to smaller, highly relational
church communities. They turned away from evangelism and missionary work
to the false “missional” idea of finding Christ in all cultures.
Postmodern Christian thinking generally dismisses the doctrines of
Heaven and Hell and focuses instead upon living life here and now as the
most important aspect of Christianity.
Just to clarify, I’m not saying that all this is true; I’m just saying this is how postmoderns analyze the historical situation. Bear with me as I explain how this postmodern view of reality is really inaccurate and acts to deceive people into viewing the struggles of modern Christians in a worldly and unhistorical light rather than in a biblical light.
Today we are seeing the results of this worldly thinking that the
Church is accepting, but many Christian scholars and church leaders do
not see the underlying deception and worldly assumptions that are, as
the Bible says, trying to squeeze them into their shape. Working on
these assumptions, people like
Tony Jones, and others are
saying that the Church must become postmodern to appeal to these new
postmodern, mainly young, Christians.
The following two sections on political correctness and deconstructionism show in some detail the Marxist character of these false teachings.
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).
Political correctness is a major factor in our society today that reveals the tyrannical influence of postmodernism with its underlying Marxist philosophy. If you work, for instance, in social services, in government, in education, or in any number of fields, you will undoubtedly find that you must speak a certain way or you will be attacked—you might even lose your job. For example, it is politically incorrect to view homosexual relationships negatively.
life: An office worker brings in a shirt proclaiming the joys of the
homosexual lifestyle. A Christian in the office objects and is called on
the carpet for her protest even though she wouldn’t be allowed to wear a
tee shirt proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord. She might even have to take
“sensitivity training.” This extends even to the kindergarten level
where children have been forced not to share Jesus in their drawings or
even allowed to use words like “mother” and “father.” This is especially
rampant in California. Thousands of similar examples exist today.
This practice derives from totalitarian countries where the government seeks control not only of the way people act, but of the way they talk and think. It is a tool of totalitarianism (think the book 1984), and, sad to say, our government is tending to support this practice under the guise of being fair and tolerant. It often requires using words as euphemisms to diminish the power of the word, for example, “terminating a fetus” instead of killing a baby.
Deconstructionism and the Bible
“Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” Galatians 1:7–8
Probably most people wouldn’t be interested in learning about
postmodernism. And even less about a word like deconstructionism. (No,
it doesn’t have anything to do with the building industry.) The reason
that understanding these terms is important for the Christian in the pew
is that this is what seminaries and graduate schools are teaching your
church leaders. And it is affecting your life in ways you can’t imagine.
One example is the role of niche music in the church, such as hip-hop. Rick Warren boldly declared how he went around their neighborhood and asked people what kind of music they liked and then he had that in his new church. In other words, the congregation and their felt needs created the teaching and worship strategies.
Some churches de-emphasize preaching because, they say, although it would be fine for people during the 1850s to the 1950s, it “doesn’t work” for “postmoderns” because it’s built on “another culture.”
example is the way Brian McLaren talks about the blood atonement. He
says it only makes sense in the context of Roman-occupied Judea. The
acceptance of homosexuality by many churches is yet another example. A
teaching exists that in Bible times people needed big families so they
condemned homosexuals who didn’t have children. Thus, in that cultural
context homosexuality was bad. But in this age, the Church has to drop
its biblical attitude because we’re in a “new cultural context” of
population overgrowth that makes homosexuality “acceptable.”
Deconstructionism involves a philosophy and techniques borrowed to a great extent from Marxist thinking.
The term deconstruction was coined in the late 19th century, and it really means to dismantle or to destroy a structure. As applied to a literary work, the process is fiercely critical, intent upon destroying the author’s meaning and replacing it with something entirely different.(iii) In academia it means to take apart a work of literature or a history or some kind of academic work to find out what it’s supposedly “really” saying. And what it’s really saying usually turns out to be something to do with Marxism. This process is not new. It began in the 1700s with the attack on the Bible as the Word of God.
Many scholars in the 18th century, especially in Germany and France, used this acidic process of analysis to supposedly discover the “original intent” of manuscripts, but it really was a method of trying to destroy belief in the Bible as truth. This led to the rise of liberal Biblical scholarship in the form of a method called “Higher Criticism”(iv)—a process clearly seen today in the “Jesus Seminar,” which totally misuses and ignores the Bible.
this “Higher Criticism” came up with the following “assured results”:
Four different people wrote the book of Isaiah, and four or five
different people—and certainly not Moses—wrote the first five books of
the Bible. Daniel could not have written the book of Daniel, and Paul
could not have written First and Second Timothy.(v)
The end result of this method is a famine of the Word and chaos.
My article, “Recovering the Scandal of Liberalism: Disdaining the Cross,” shows deconstructionism in action as “Evangelical” scholars launched a full-scale attack on the Gospel and the Bible at a popular pastors conference at Fuller Seminary in 2004, using a technique of devaluing Scripture that theological liberalism borrowed from Marxism. Writing in accordance with liberal political correctness (including the viewpoint of “Christian” feminism), they claimed that the doctrine of the substitutionary atonement gives people the impression that Jesus’ death on the Cross was some kind of “divine child abuse” by God the Father. They made sociology the touchstone of truth instead of the Word of God. They approached Scripture as if it is just historical writing full of errors and prejudice and not divinely inspired.
Unfortunately, most mainline seminaries today have adopted these methods.
This same process of deconstructionism—or destruction—is happening right now not only in our society but particularly among what used to be Bible-believing churches. Brian McLaren provides one of the most vivid examples. His stated goal is to “change everything.” And he uses this same kind of destructive analysis that developed in Germany to undermine the Bible in order to claim that Jesus didn’t come to give personal salvation, that He was a social revolutionary, and that somehow this is much closer to the truth than orthodox theology. This may not be terribly surprising in the worldly culture, but it’s tragic to see its growing influence among Christians and especially among those who call themselves Evangelical Christians.
Stripping off the Mask of Postmodern Rhetoric
Keep in mind that postmodernism is really
just a philosophy. It’s not an objective analysis of history; it’s a
philosophy of history seen through a particular lens. It’s a spin on
history whose driving purpose is the acceptance of the Marxist
worldview. For instance, it is fairly clear that the Civil War had to do
with the problem of slavery. A Marxist would say though that it was
really a class struggle where the Northern capitalists tried to
eliminate the competition of the Southern system of slavery so they
could further exploit the workers in the North, and that it had nothing
to do with freeing the slaves or treating them like human beings. In the
same way, the original postmodernists reduced everything to economic
By now it should be clear that the word “postmodern” does not effectively describe what is going on. It’s rather like a mirage. It gives one impression, but when you get close to it, you can see there are many different things happening than what the label actually describes. It’s important to understand this because false teachers like Brian McLaren are using this label and approach to truth to say that this is why the Church must change in response to the changes in our culture; it must be relevant.
That word relevant was also extremely important in justifying unbiblical changes to the Church during the First Great Evangelical Meltdown. At that time, critics said the Church had to change because of the development of science and developing criticism of the Bible. In our time, critics say that the Church must change because the culture has changed—culture meaning the way people view art, life, politics, marriage, etc.
Actually, what people are calling postmodernism today is really a resurgence of a historical movement called Romanticism with a different label. (Elsewhere I’ve written extensively on the rising tide of Romanticism in our time. See the list in the footnote.(vi)
What is Romanticism?
During the late 18th and early 19th centuries there was an upheaval of Romantic fervor combined with a revolutionary spirit, a love of art and poetry, and a love of rebellion, which flaunted the established morals and elevated the artists, writers, and poets as the true revolutionaries and the leading edge of a movement toward liberation.
People felt like
they needed liberation from both aristocratic society and church
authority, which often supported the aristocrats. It was also a
rebellion against moral restraint and indulgence in unmarried pagan
sexuality, much as the Sixties was in our time. The Romantic Movement
developed in opposition to the Rationalism of the Enlightenment by
focusing on dreams, intuition, visions, fantasy, nature, mythology,
fairy tales, the elevation of folk culture, and a love of paganism.
Thus, Romanticism sounds exactly like what postmodernist thinkers are calling postmodernism today. Understanding Romanticism is difficult, and it’s hard to find another term to substitute for it. A good description is “an exaltation of imagination and feeling as vehicles, or even the greatest vehicles, of truth.”
Future articles in this series will provide many examples
in our times of the resurgence of Romantic thought and life and show how
greatly it is affecting modern society and the modern Evangelical
The next article in the Meltdown Series will discuss the reasons
This article emphasized that, in spite of much contemporary Christian activity and commitment of resources, the Church’s response to postmodernism is flaccid and ineffective. Why? Because the Church was already compromised.
The next article in the Meltdown Series will discuss the reasons involved.