Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States


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I. Introduction

  • We live in strange times. Thirty years ago, Christianity was under fire because it was thought to be unscientific and consequently, untrue.

  • Today, Christianity is still under fire, not because it is thought to be unscientific, but merely because it claims to be true.

  • What accounts for this bizarre and growing consensus is what is called postmodernism.

  • Postmodernism, and its companion moral relativism, should be among the foremost concerns of Christians living in the 21st century.

II. Definition

  • Postmodernism isn't a philosophy as we typically think of philosophies. It isn't a single, well thought out philosophical system which seeks to define and answer the big questions of life.

  • Postmodernism is the mindset of Western culture in the latter half of the twentieth century.

  • Postmodernism is best defined as an "attitude". An attitude that celebrates the demise of reason and Absolute Truth. (Christian Scholar's Review Winter 1996).

  • Postmodern ideology rejects the authority of reason and views all claims to objective truth to be dangerous.

III. Historical Background

  1. The Bankruptcy of Modernism
    • Modernism is characterized as a movement that "delights in the natural" as opposed to the supernatural (Middleton/Walsh 14).

    • It is a movement that stresses the "individual" and the power our "minds" to attain truth (Middleton/Walsh 14).

    • A main tenet of modernism is that human reason armed with the scientific method, is the only reliable means of attaining knowledge about the universe.

    • In contrast to the truth of the oral tradition in the premodern era, the modern period accepted as truth only that which could be proven to be true.

    • It proposed a world created without any assistance from God.
  2. The Rise of Postmodernism
    • Postmodernism rejects modernism' view on humanity as an ocean of individuals, postmodernists think of humans as "social constructs."

    • Our society's values, languages, arts, entertainment define who we are. We do not have fixed identities which are separable from our surroundings and which remain the same.

    • The inescapability of seeking the supernatural.

    • Postmodernism is a result of the failures of modernism.

IV. Modernism vs. Postmodernism

Reality is knowableReality is creatable
We yield to realityWe command reality
Reality is what it isReality is what you want it to be
Christianity is rejected because its claims are not trueChristianity is rejected because it claims to be true
Christ is not the only way – it is a mythChrist is not the only way – it is arrogant
We can know everything without GodWe cannot know anything

V. Characteristics of Postmodernism

  1. The Death of Truth
    • Rejecting objective truth is the cornerstone of postmodernism. In essence, postmodern ideology declares an end to all claims to truth.

    • Truth is political and created by "belief communities," not discovered rationally. Reality itself turns out to be a "social construct" or paradigm.

    • Postmodernism cannot separate the belief from the believer.

    • Rejecting the content of faith means rejecting the person holding it, because truth now means personal preference.

    • It's no more appropriate to question the validity of a person's belief than to critique their choice from the dinner menu. Simply believing is justification enough.
  2. Moral relativism
    • The worldview of postmodernism provides the foundation for moral relativism.

    • Moral relativism is the belief that morality is relative to the person.

    • Moral relativism can be summed up with the phrase: "It all depends."

    • Is murder always wrong? Relativists would say, "It depends on the circumstances."

    • Is adultery wrong? They would say, "It just depends on whether you are caught."
  3. The Rejection of Objective Knowledge
    • Knowledge is seen as uncertain, subjective, relative, and hence tentative.

    • Postmodernism rejects the idea that our knowledge is an accurate representation on how thing are--of reality.
  4. The Assassination of Words and Language
    • Knowledge is mediated by language, but postmodernists believe that language can't adequately convey truth.

    • Words and language are just human conventions.

    • But if language is what we use to convey ideas about reality, then we can't know objective reality.

    • What we do with words is not to reflect reality, but rather to create it.

    • This is called constructivism, the power to construct reality with our words.

    • Words then, can only refer to other words and not to any "objective reality" (Carson 73).

    • For Postmodernists, It's all about interpretation, not about what's real or true.
  5. Religious Pluralism
    • The basic premise of religious pluralism is that no religion can assert any legitimate claim to superiority over any other religion (Carson 26).

    • Pluralism advocates that God has revealed Himself in "saving ways" in other religions (Carson 27).

VI. Problems with Postmodernism

  1. World of Chaos
    • Postmodern subjectivity leads to the dangerous inference that no one can ever be wrong about what they believe.

    • If we are free from the constraints of rationality, nothing separates truth from self-delusion.

    • The rejection of truth leads to the rejection of standards which leads to the rejection of perspectives by which we evaluate ideas which in turn leads to a world of chaos.
  2. Loss of Meaning
    • Postmodern anti-dogmatism ends up being anti-intellectual. If we can't reject a theory because it is objectively false, then the pursuit of truth is meaningless.
  3. Loss of Self
    • We, Christians, have our identity in God who created us in His image. We are His creation made for His glory.

    • According to postmodernism, you aren't really a self at all.

    • You have no unique identity that is identifiable from birth to death; there's no real "you" which remains constant throughout all of life's changes.

    • Human personhood is the product of socialization, so there is no universal human essence.

    • It is not we who think, speak, and act but the culture which thinks, speaks, and acts through us.

VII. Conclusion

    We cannot embrace postmodernism, yet we must not retreat to the hills either. With sound Orthodox biblical teaching, we can refute the tenets of this era. Without being rooted in the Scriptures we will have nothing to say to postmodernism. Postmodernism tells us to abandon the quest for truth, yet we must humbly affirm that truth is nonetheless available. It is found in the Person of Our Lord Jesus Christ.


Allen, Diogens. Christian Belief in a Postmodern World. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/ John Knox Press, 1989. McCallum, Dennis. The Death of Truth. Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany House Publishers, 1996.

Anderson, Walter Truett ed. The Truth About Truth: De-Confusing and Re-Constructing the Postmodern World. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1995.

Carson, D.A. The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996.

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