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Becoming All Things, Spoiling the Egyptians, and Occupying Culture till Christ Comes

 

Postmodernism, therefore, is a cultural framework or philosophy apparently in process of replacing modernism. As I will say more below about understanding postmodernism per se, I only wish here to state that postmodernism and theology until recently have had a rather ambiguous relation. Yet an assessment that “postmodern theology” is “a contradiction in terms” seems premature and surely challengeable.21 For example, I think Knight successfully shows that “a critical appraisal of postmodern perspectives can be made to serve evangelical theology’s fundamental insistence on the unique yet universal revelation of God in Christ.”22 Probably, Bevins, Putt, and Viola would generally agree, while Carter and Ryken might not.

A lot depends on presuppositions regarding philosophy of culture and Christianity. Tertullian, always quick-witted and sharp-tongued, produced a famous quote against cultural philosophical speculation: “What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem?”23 My own conviction is that while Athens/the world may not be seeking to understand Jerusalem/the Church, Jerusalem/the Church ought always to endeavor to understand, though not always to embrace, Athens/the world.24 This obvious inequality, in a manner of speaking, is because Christians are in the world, but not of the world (John 17:14-16), and because we are called in Christ to participate in God’s redemptive love for the world (John 17:18; cf. 3:16).

Indeed, the postmodern conversation is complex, but it is at least now moving forward more rapidly than previously. This is as it should be. Accordingly, I will now move on to some explication regarding a definition, or perhaps better, a description, of the postmodern worldview.

 

Watching a Worldview on the Rise: Evaluation

James Sire gives a verbally concise and technically precise definition of worldview as a concept.

A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true, or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being.25

More simply, “worldview” means a “perspective on life or outlook on the world.” Briefly put, a worldview is a lens through which one looks at all of life. Everyone has a worldview, whether one realizes it or not and whether one applies it consistently or not. A worldview comes from the experience of life in all its myriad forms, and enables one to function accordingly. There are many competing worldviews, and sometimes people change their worldview. Yet worldview determines identity and is essential for understanding others and ourselves.26 Moreover, not all worldviews are equal. To adopt one that is inadequate or cling to an outdated one is like building a house on a foundation of sand. One can only expect it to crumble (cf. Matt 7:24-27).27

As a worldview, postmodernism is new. In fact, the jury is still out as to whether it really is an entirely new paradigm shift, simply a late modern development, or even what final shape it may take. This prevalent ambivalence inspires Sire to speak of postmodernism as “the amorphous cultural phenomenon”.28 However, indisputably postmodernism is an attempt to move beyond traditional modernism. Modernism’s perceived over reliance on rationalism, a tendency arising out of the eighteenth century Enlightenment, is anathema to postmodernists.29 They generally perceive it as a severe reductionist and even arrogant mindset. For postmodernists truth is subjective as well as objective, and they tend to avoid “metanarratives” or “big picture stories” purporting to explain all of life. In lesser and lower versions, this often results in idiosyncratic individual system building. In healthier and higher versions, it tends toward more humility without succumbing to relativity. One thing is certain: postmodernism permeates contemporary culture, especially in the West.30

Unfortunately, too many Christians tend to either baptize or demonize postmodernism. Riskier but wiser is learning to discern what really is or is not compatible with a biblically based Christian worldview. “Can Christians adopt a postmodern approach without embracing postmodernism?”31 The answer is probably yes, if they do so carefully enough, but no, if incautiously. Yet that has really been the same answer to the same question regarding all cultures in the course of Church history. Perhaps best is avoiding over attachment to any “worldly” worldview. There is wisdom in the thought that “An airtight worldview often indicates a lack of truly critical thinking or a childish naiveté; both are dangerous in their own right.”32 As with almost anything else, beware of being too dogmatic.

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Category: Ministry, Winter 2009

About the Author: Tony Richie, D.Min, Ph.D., is missionary teacher at SEMISUD (Quito, Ecuador) and adjunct professor at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary (Cleveland, TN). Dr. Richie is an Ordained Bishop in the Church of God, and Senior Pastor at New Harvest in Knoxville, TN. He has served the Society for Pentecostal Studies as Ecumenical Studies Interest Group Leader and is currently Liaison to the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches (USA), and represents Pentecostals with Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation of the World Council of Churches and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs. He is the author of Speaking by the Spirit: A Pentecostal Model for Interreligious Dialogue (Emeth Press, 2011) and Toward a Pentecostal Theology of Religions: Encountering Cornelius Today (CPT Press, 2013) as well as several journal articles and books chapters on Pentecostal theology and experience.

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