As often happens with labels, the word postmodernism has become largely unhelpful.  Not only has it become politicized both by those who oppose “it” and like “it,” but different individuals use the word in different ways.  We often get the impression that most who use the word–both in favor and against–do not really understand what it is all about.  Some use it as some evolutionary step in the progress of human culture–some have now suggested what the next “ism” might be. [1]  To say the least, anyone of this mindset is not using the word postmodernism in its philosophical sense but to label a particular cultural trend.

In terms of philosophy, postmodernism is not a new “thing” at all but an “un-thing,” an undoing of the most recently dominant perspective on the world, modernism.  Postmodernism thus means “after modernism.”  In its most extreme forms, the reaction to “modernism” was a revolution against it.  Extreme postmodern trajectories rejected any definitive meaning to words and considered truth more a matter of power than of anything fixed about the world or ourselves.

It is easy enough to see how many Christians would react strongly to these sorts of ideas.  Is not the Bible true?  Is not truth more than the changing whims of those with enough power to convince or force others to see it their way?  Nevertheless, it is possible to process these sorts of challenges to our assumptions and come out the other end with a deeper appreciation for the way we and the world are, as well as how God deals with the way things are.

Indeed, some Christian responses to postmodern trends are potentially very enriching to Christian faith, particularly the work of James K. A. Smith. [2]  The Wesleyan tradition in particular seems very well equipped to resonate with what seems to be true about postmodernism without falling into its excesses.  In particular, postmodernism points toward a greater appreciation for what is in our “guts” as often far more primary and enduring than what we are thinking with our heads.  We would argue that this focus fits very well with Wesleyan sensibilities, making our current situation a great time for the Wesleyan tradition.

Next week: Postmodern Trends

[1] E.g., Digimodernism ***

[2] Cf. James K. A. Smith, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? ** Radical Orthodoxy *** and especially Desiring the Kingdom ***

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