Postmodernism, part 1

The sources are linked to at the bottom of the post – Phil Johnson, D. A. Carson, John Frame

Why being aware of Postmodernism is important

  1. To know what is influencing you and assess whether or not you should be influenced by it
  2. To know how other people think (people whom you want to love and serve)
  3. To glorify God with your thinking and not be swayed into other things.

The limits of understanding Postmodernism 

The limit of understanding postmodernism is that it is a passing fad of philosophy and will be irrelevant in major ways in the future.  Many of the essential sinful trains of thought in postmodernism can be found elsewhere in the history of thought, though the way it has come together in these days in our culture is peculiar.

The characteristics and description of postmodernism compared with pre-modernism and modernism (taken from Phil Johnson and D. A. Carson)    

Pre-modernism Modernism Postmodernism

Knowledge starts with God

Knowledge starts with man

Knowledge starts with man

Belief in objective, ultimate truth

Belief in objective, ultimate truth

Objective ultimate truth is unknowable

Belief in the supernatural

Skepticism to the supernatural

Belief in supernatural – by mysticism and not revelation (personal experience is the rule)

Authority derived from supernatural god(s)

Authority derived from science and human reason

No ultimate authority

Superstitions, irrationalism, traditionalism

Atheism, rationalism, naturalism, utopianism

(Open theism), Skepticism, Anarchy, Arbitrary thinking and acting

More on Postmodernism (taken from D. A. Carson) 

1.      Absolute certainty is not possible but arrogant – because you are finite, influenced by your background, and unable to see anything as it truly is.  It is better to see the many different perspectives of religion and morality.

2.      Postmodernism is anti-foundationalist – a reaction to modernism

3.      Whatever truth we discover is temporarily located – it is true for you or your community at that time and that is all.

Agenda of Postmodernism (Taken from Phil Johnson)

1.      Eliminate certainty – therefore it attacks every worldview that claims to be true.  There is no certainty, therefore you can’t be sure about anything.

2.      Question authority – therefore it hates dogmatism

3.      Obliterate clarity – therefore they have an endless number of definitions

4.      Undermine every notion of objectivity – therefore it denies the possibility of knowing objectivity if it even exists

Strengths of Postmodernism (Taken from Carson)

1.      It effectively criticizes modernism’s autonomy and arrogance

2.      It is much more sensitive to deep and undeniable differences that characterize people of different reces, languages, ages, cultures, genders, and personal experiences.

3.      It helps us see what modernism hid, that there is more to human knowing than rationality, proofs, evidences, and linear thought.  We are now more aware of the aesthetic, social, intuitive, linguistic, and other factors that influence are thinking.

4.      There is a pluralism of religions and perspectives that allow other people’s views and beliefs to be heard and paid attention to, which is what Christians need to do as they confront people with the gospel.  In other words, postmodernism respects the individuality of the person and doesn’t categorize the person so that he loses his individuality.

Weaknesses of Postmodernism (Taken from Carson)

1.      It habitually exaggerates the difficulties we have with communicating with one another – postmoderns expect their views to be heard and read fairly while they say that it doesn’t matter what the author says, I’ll read into the text whatever I see.

2.      It assumes a false antithesis and manipulates argument based on it.

3.      It loosens the constraints of doctrine and morals – making us uncomfortable with verses like Jude 3 or Galatians 1:6-9.  Postmodernists rightly argue that there is no uninterpreted truth.  They incorrectly infer from that that objective truth cannot be known.

4.      After challenging modernism’s arrogance, it displays its own arrogance – Postmoderns are so certain that uncertainty is our lot that even if God did exist and speak and reveal himself, we could not possibly know that he had.  This lends to the new view of tolerance that tolerates all views as equally valid except the view that disagrees with this view.  The old tolerance said that I will disagree with you and say you are wrong but defend to the death your right to say and think it.

4 Characteristics of Christianity (Taken from Johnson)

  1. Objectivity – i.e. the resurrection of Christ – the Bible is not a book of facts or objectivity but it is a story. 
  2. Clarity – there are many possible interpretations and that nothing is clear and cut and dry.  Doctrinal precision is not even desirable.  To be uncertain is okay.  Christians should worry less about being right and more worried about being good.
  3. Authority – they despise dogmatism  – p. 52 of a New Kind of Christianity – The Bible is not a foundation for authority.
  4. Certainty – Before the debate was who was right.  Now postmodernism attacks any view that claims to be certain.  If you are sure, then you are accused of being intolerant.

Christianity has always been offensive and nonsensical to the world who’s thinking is upside down. 

Excerpt from – John Frame – “Certainty”

The question also arises in the religious context: can we know God with certainty? The Bible often tells us that Christians can, should, and do know God and the truths of revelation (Matt. 9:6, 11:27, 13:11, John 7:17, 8:32, 10:4-5, 14:17, 17:3, many other passages). Such passages present this knowledge, not as something tentative, but as a firm basis for life and hope.

Scripture uses the language of certainty more sparingly, but that is also present. Luke wants his correspondent Theophilus to know the ‘certainty’ (asphaleia) of the things he has been taught (Luke 1:4) and the ‘proofs’ (tekmeria) by which Jesus showed himself alive after his death (Acts 1:3). The centurion at the cross says ‘Certainly (ontos) this man was innocent’ (Luke 23:47, ESV).

The letter to the Hebrews says that God made a promise to Abraham, swearing by himself, for there was no one greater (6:13). So God both made a promise and confirmed it with an oath, ‘two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie’ (verse 18). This is ‘a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul’ (verse 19). Similarly Paul (2 Tim. 3:16-17) and Peter (2 Pet. 1:19-21) speak of Scripture as God’s own words, which provide sure guidance in a world where false teaching abounds. God’s special revelation is certain, and we ought to be certain about it.

On the other hand, the Bible presents doubt largely negatively. It is a spiritual impediment, an obstacle to doing God’s work (Matt. 14:31, 21:21, 28:17, Acts 10:20, 11:12, Rom. 14:23, 1 Tim. 2:8, Jas. 1:6). In Matt. 14:31 and Rom. 14:23, it is the opposite of faith and therefore a sin. Of course, this sin, like other sins, may remain with us through our earthly life. But we should not be complacent about it. Just as the ideal for the Christian life is perfect holiness, the ideal for the Christian mind is absolute certainty about God’s revelation.

We should not conclude that doubt is always sinful. Matt. 14:31 and Rom. 14:23 (and indeed the others I have listed) speak of doubt in the face of clear special revelation. To doubt what God has clearly spoken to us is wrong. But in other situations, it is not wrong to doubt. In many cases, in fact, it is wrong for us to claim knowledge, much less certainty. Indeed, often the best course is to admit our ignorance (Deut. 29:29, Rom. 11:33-36). Paul is not wrong to express uncertainty about the number of people he baptized (1 Cor. 1:16). Indeed, James tells us, we are always ignorant of the future to some extent and we ought not to pretend we know more about it than we do (James 4:13-16). Job’s friends were wrong to think that they knew the reasons for his torment, and Job himself had to be humbled as God reminded him of his ignorance (Job 38-42).

In Christian epistemology, God’s word is the ultimate criterion of certainty. What God says must be true, for, as the letter to the Hebrews says, it is impossible for God to lie (Heb. 6:18, compare Tit. 1:2, 1 John 2:27). His Word is Truth (John 17:17, compare Ps. 33:4, 119:160). So God’s word is the criterion by which we can measure all other sources of knowledge.

Christ’s call to be transformed by the renewing of our minds in the midst of the time and place wherein he has called us. 

Romans 12:1-2

2 Peter 1:21

“In God’s revelation, the Christian has a wonderful treasure, one that saves the soul from sin and the mind from skepticism” – John Frame Next week: We’ll look at how some Christians have tried to adopt some sinful/erroneous tenets of postmodernism into their Christianity


Sources used (there are more sources read and listened to, but these are the ones used in the compilation of these notes):

  • Phil Johnson, “A Beginner’s Guide to Postmodernism,” audio recording (click here, then search for the title to download – I think this was a good lecture of which I am in agreement, but one-sided and unbalanced)

  • D. A. Carson, “The Dangers and Delights of Postmodernism” (click here)

  • John Frame, “Certainty” (click here)


About pjtibayan

I love Jesus Christ and live to share life and share Jesus together with First Southern Baptist Church of Bellflower primarily to Southeast Los Angeles County.
This entry was posted in Friday Bible Study & Sunday Sermon, Postmodernism. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Postmodernism, part 1

  1. calebkolstad says:

    Thanks for this brother!

    Caleb Kolstad

  2. pjtibayan says:

    You’re welcome brother. I hope this can help. May God use you mightily as you serve your local church and this world with the gospel. Thanks for also letting me know about your blog (See expository thoughts on the blogroll to see Caleb’s blog).

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