There are three philosophies that dictate the methods of knowing for us today, premodernism, modernism, and postmodernism. In this article, we’ll take a look at all three of them.

Premodernism is based on the assumptions that absolute truth does exist, and that it could be known through revelation. Religion had a lot to do with this, as God, or at least a god, defined what absolute truth was in many religions. Through the Bible (or writings of other religions), truth existed, could be learned, and could be acted upon. Modernism started to take over in the 17th century, when the world started to embrace science. The main methods of knowing became those of the commonly accepted scientific method: that which could be known through the five senses, and reason/logic. It is important to note here that those things that could be known by premodernism and modernism do not entirely overlap. For example, science is unable to definitively speak about moral issues. It can attempt to emulate moral judgment by backing up secular assertions of morality (such as ‘quitting smoking enables people to live longer lives than those of people continuing to smoke’), but science cannot prove those actual assertions (‘not smoking is a moral good’) in the first place. Those are simply human judgments which come outside science. Therefore, and we cover this a bit more in other articles, science is able to speak to what IS, but not to what SHOULD BE (at least concerning morals and ethics). Confounding the two is the source of a lot of moral confusion today.

On the other end, sticking to Christianity on the premodernist mindset alone would also cause problems. If someone holds to the Bible as the one and only source of knowledge, they will find themselves woefully unable to explain themselves to someone who rejects the authority of the Bible right out of the gate. This is why the highly Christianized world of Europe in the Middle Ages was largely unprepared to address the oncoming Islamic culture intellectually. The church was so integrated with culture back then that comparatively little thought was given to addressing radically different worldviews because it was so rare to have to deal with them. Some Christians in the middle ages such as Thomas Aquinas faced challenges like these with the assumption that if God created the universe, then there was nothing to fear in science that would contradict Christianity, and thus looked to science to become a common ground for reasoning between holders of different religions. People like Aquinas were eventually known as Christian apologists, and that is one reason how Christianity ultimately persevered through the modernism movement.

Today, the instantaneous speed of modern communication means that anybody can learn about virtually any worldview provided they know where to look, and perhaps that helped give rise to postmodernism. A person holding to the postmodernist school of thought is skeptical that there is such a thing as broad, absolute truth. People claiming to hold a comprehensive worldview find themselves subject to scrutiny, perhaps especially those of a religious nature as well as those used in conjunction with politics. It’s undeniable that various ‘truths’ have been used to justify horrible blights on society through history (Hitler’s ‘truth’ leading up to the Holocaust, the ‘truth’ of ISIS validating genocide, and yes, even various interpretations of Christianity have been used through history to justify wrongdoing). Partially because of this, postmodernists are wary of any specific truth being pushed on society as a whole. Additionally, a postmodernist would argue that truth could simply not be verified, at least insofar as it relates to comprehensive worldviews.

There are some who take postmodernism to the extreme, saying there is no such thing as truth at all, which is absurd. Besides the fact that ‘there is no such thing as truth at all’ is in itself a claim of absolute truth, you’d (thankfully!) still be relatively hard-pressed in many people groups to find someone who believes something like murder is NOT evil. Not only that, but the fierceness of politics tends to prove that very few people are willing to completely buy into the ‘no absolute truth’ view.

Regardless of the brand of postmodernism, a consequence of it is that the concept of external authority starts to erode and conversely authority over the self begins to rise. In the United States (and also many other first-world countries), people are highly skeptical of truth claims, especially of those asserted over others, and there is a general sense that any person should be able to do whatever they want to do as long as it doesn’t endanger other people, as long as they believe it is right for them. We see ourselves heading for a culture that when nothing is allowed to be true, everything can be construed to be true.

It should come as no surprise that the Bible, asserting absolute truth as God’s word countless times, undercuts postmodernism. God being who He is, we have a universal, unchanging source of truth. Paul issues warnings to keep the integrity of the truth of the Gospels intact, defending it from unbiblical teachings. In fact, Paul seems to anticipate a postmodern mindset in 2 Timothy 4:3, when he says that people will ‘not endure sound teaching’ and instead ‘accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions’. We see this brand of ‘feelings determining truth’ today. Instead, what the Bible offers is in place of the ultimate authority of the sinful self is the ultimate authority of a perfect God. Instead of seven billion different truths, some of which are downright harmful, the Bible offers the common truth of ‘Love God, and love your neighbor’. And instead of simply feeling good about yourself being the most important thing in life, the Bible places the utmost concern on doing what is RIGHT.

Universally, unshakably, absolutely, right.

—–

Recommended resources:

Our ‘The Relationship Between Christianity and Science‘ article.
Ministry is Stranger Than it Used to Be: The Challenge of Postmodernism’ by Albert Mohler
The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog by James W. Sire

—–

P.S.: While this article was published in January 2017, it may be interesting to note that it was written in August 2016, before the word ‘post-truth’ entered mainstream use as a result of events leading up to the 2016 US election.