Be on your guard, they warned me. A new danger was rising, they warned me. Christianity itself was about to face its greatest existential threat, they warned me. With imprecations like these, some of my evangelical leaders warned me about insidious villains emerging from the dark realm to destroy the very fabric of faith. These shadowy figures could be identified by their alluring devil-may-care philosophy: postmodernism.
Maybe you recall such dire forecasts uttered by pastors and writers on the spectre of postmodernism. But if not, allow me to jog your memory with this completely unbalanced and overly-concise summary of postmodern tenets:
- So-called ‘objective facts’ can’t be trusted. Why not? Because people and powers can formulate, reformulate and manipulate those facts to support their own agendas.
- Hence, there is no such thing as indisputable ‘truth’. ‘Truth’ is, at least, flexible and, at most, unknowable. Your ‘truth’ is no more or less true or absolute than my ‘truth’.
- Likewise, morality and ethics are relative; they’re constructs of the cultures and systems from which they emerge.
- Postmodernists are thus suspicious of all power structures, whether social, political, religious or otherwise.
Maybe it was the appeal of mystery that accompanied postmodern ideas. Maybe it was its ‘rebel without a cause’ sensibilities. Maybe it was the smouldering come-hither stare of deconstructionist and postmodernist icon Jacques Derrida. But evangelical elder statesmen insisted (to me, to others…maybe to you) that postmodernism was luring many acolytes, not just from secular society, but frighteningly, from within the church. The devil was inside the walls!
If you and I and every faithful Christian didn’t stand firm against the rising tide, the world would devolve into a relativist soup, into which all faith, certainty, morality and truth would disappear.
And alas, it turns out, those leaders were prophetic: we have indeed witnessed the decay of truth, ethical behaviour and faith.
Of course, what those leaders didn’t foresee was that so many evangelicals — so many of these leaders themselves — would turn out to be some of the biggest relativists of all. They’ve empowered a demagogue to define the parameters of ‘truth’ as he saw fit and revered his words as the only truth that matters, while excusing his amoral speech and behaviour as insignificant. They’ve dismissed plain facts and the copious evidence behind them as ‘part of the-other-guy’s wicked plot’. In many cases, they’ve even espoused wild and nonsensical conspiracy theories and proliferated them. In short, they’ve been only too happy to make up truth as they’ve gone along.
Don’t mistake this for a detached revelry in one of the ironies of our time; this is a lament. Because as they predicted, faith itself (in other words, allegiance to Jesus and his Way) has deteriorated. What now stands in its place is a hideous chimera: a militant, nationalist, hyper-partisan, xenophobic, racially-insular doomsday cult, masquerading as genuine faith. More than that, it has almost given up the pretence of being something different.
But hey, you know what? I still have hope! I have hope that evangelicalism can be resurrected as something new and something better. I believe that because, though that generation of leaders who preached the dangers of postmodernism has largely sold its soul in exchange for favours, many among them have resisted. I believe that because so many in my generation, and even more in the younger generations, are abandoning jingoistic syncretism and religious silliness in an serious effort to recover undivided allegiance to Jesus, the true power of his death, resurrection and ascension, and the force of his words.
It’s an ironic turnabout, but they’re the ones who are searching for truth and resisting a certain relativism — that of so many of their leaders, parents and friends.