A quick thought on the impact of postmodernism on Christian Apologetics

August 16, 2010 § 5 Comments

Does postmodernism herald the end of Christian apologetics as we know it? Does the argument for God’s existence go out of the door as ‘so yesterday’?

I think we need to distinguish between cultural postmodernism and philosophical postmodernism. The latter is self-refuting in that it absolutely claims that absolute claims to truth do not exist, yes, that absolute truth as such doesn’t exist. Yet it provides a necessary critique to modernism which relied too much on the human agent to obtain and possess absolute truth. We are perspectival beings and will only be able to know perspectivally and make perspectival claims. Yet in doing so, absolute truth does exist and is knowable albeit in a perspectival manner. Cultural postmodernism on the other hand is more a mood or a mind-set. Hard to define but in existence nonetheless. Keywords might be: restlessness, being plugged-in, image over word, experience, authenticity, etc.

Though rejecting philosophical postmodernism we cannot ignore cultural postmodernism as it is the stuff we have to work with if we are to reach the people of this age with the gospel of Christ. This will require a reworking of the methods of apologetics in order to adapt to the postmodern mindset but does not necessarily call for a restructuring or reformulation of the basic apologetic arguments we employ. We employ the same logic, though with a degree of epistemological humility that a healthy critique of modernism requires. We have the same arguments for God’s existence (proofs are now called arguments), since the cultural postmodernist, though feeling himself greatly distanced from anything that went before, basically runs on the same logical operators.


§ 5 Responses to A quick thought on the impact of postmodernism on Christian Apologetics

  • Robbert Veen says:

    I like the distinction between cultural and philosophical postmodernism. I do think however that this claim: “Yet in doing so, absolute truth does exist and is knowable albeit in a perspectival manner.” … is difficult to establish. Is it really humble to claim that we grant perspectivism, yet claim that absolute truth does exist? How do we argue that point then?

  • Josh says:

    We argue for the existence of absolute truth out of necessity. Either there is absolute truth in which case we affirm its existence or there is none, in which case we have to affirm the absolute truth that there is none.

    That we are perspectival in our knowing of this truth is an insight that postmodernism is given us. After all the human is a contigent being steeped in a particular situation and not in possession of an overarching view of reality.

  • Robbert Veen says:

    I tend to agree with your idea that there is no escape from affirming an ‘absolute truth’ either way. That is a valuable and basic metaphysical insight: the scep[tical argument against truth is self-contradictory in a pragmatic sense. One can say without logical contradiction that there is no truth, but one cannot “exercise” that position, i.e. make that claim in a conversation without contradiction. After all, the sceptic expresses a position which he thinks is true.
    I wonder however how persuasive such a metaphysical argument would be in the current situation. It requires a kind of faith in reasoning since we trust the outcome of a series of reflections without being able to fully grasp the implications.

  • Josh says:

    Robert, I did not understand the past paragraph in your comment. However denying absolute truth is not just impossible in a pragmatic sense. It is so in a logical sense. Not being able to do so proves that there is such a thing as absolute truth. It is an important hint for truth.

  • Robbert Veen says:

    I doubt it. Saying that there is no truth is not the same as saying that there is a truth, i.e. that there is no truth which would be self-contradictory. It could mean that I know what truth means, but there is still no instance of it. My use of the meaning of the word truth would not contradict my negation that none is to be found, or that none hasn’t been found yet.
    I think that the pragmatic contradiction i more important – and might even be more persuasive to postmoderns – When I say, speech is impossible, the meaning of my statement is not logically wrong, but it is contradicted by the act itself.
    Furthermore, even if it were logically self-contradictory to claim that there is no truth, does that help us to establish that there is absolute truth? isn’t there a difference? When we talk about the existence of God e.g., isn’t that meant to be an absolute truth?
    My last paragraph was about the effect that this reasoning would have on postmoderns. Wouldn’t postmodern Man be inclined to cheerfully accept the argument, thank you for your wonderful magic and then forget about it? (The ‘hearer of the Word’ in James 1:24 comes to mind.)
    Thanks for responding! It wasn’t meant to take up all of your time…. :-)

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