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Chastened Modernism

A chastened modernism and a “soft” postmodernism might actually discover that they are saying rather similar things. A chastened or modest modernism pursues the truth but recognizes how much we humans do not know, how often we change our minds, and some of the factors that go into our claims to knowledge. A chastened postmodernism heartily recognizes that we cannot avoid seeing things from a certain perspective (we are all perspectivalists, even if perspectivalists can be divided into those who admit it and those who don’t) but acknowledges that there is a reality out there that we human beings can know, even if we cannot know it exhaustively or perfectly, but only from our own perspective. We tend to sidle up to the truth, to approach it asymptotically — but it remains self-refuting to claim to know truly that we cannot know the truth. To set such a modest modernism and such a chastened postmodernism side-by-side is to see how much alike they are. They merely put emphases in different places. ~ D.A. Carson in Christ & Culture Revisited, p. 90.

7 Responses

  1. It seems that these two progressive mindsets reflect the inherit flaw in both modernism and post modernism. Man cannot be autonomous.

  2. Thank you for that quote. It’s something I’ve considered much recently.

    I’m an unapologetically postmodern young fundamentalist, and frankly struggle to see how any middle-aged or young man can in good conscience be otherwise. We critique postmodernism most effectively from within. There is no merit to critiquing the weaknesses of today’s worldview from the perspective of yesterday’s weakness-laden worldview.

  3. Hey Jason,
    Could you further develop what you said about critiquing postmodernism from within? If you want, you can email me: DHudSmith@charter.net.

  4. Share it here so that we can all benefit from your philosophizing.

  5. Well, I’ve noticed that when a modernist stands up to preach at a place like BJU or at the typical Fundamentalist conference (Sword, Hyles, Crown, etc.), a lot of fellow-modernists will be all excited about the message, but there seems to be a disconnect with the postmodernists. In other words, much of what we consider “strong preaching” is just a modernist railing against the weaknesses of modernism in a day when pure modernism is almost dead. Sure, everything they are saying is right, but it’s irrelevant. Perhaps this happens because our Fundamentalist sub-culture raised and nurtured modernists long after the broader culture was raising postmodernists… I don’t know. Whatever the case, it seems to me that unless we immerse ourselves in the world philosophy of the day, we can speak against it’s weaknesses, but it comes across like an American missionary railing against the weaknesses of a foreign culture. It sounds arrogant and it’s often based on a misunderstanding of the culture it is chastising.

    I’ll sum up what I’m trying to say…

    Modernism has great strengths (looks for objective truth, pushes for growth and experimentation, seeks to verify objectively, etc.) and great weaknesses (tends to feel it can master truth, tends to be simplistic, tends to put too much faith in science, etc.). Postmodernism has great strengths (sees nuance and subtlety, recognises the validity of differing perspectives, admits and deals with biases, etc.) and great weaknesses (tends to relativism, shies away from bold assertions, tends to err on the side of subjectivity, etc.).

    So since both sides have significant weaknesses, wouldn’t we be more effective in connecting with our generation if we did so from the perspective of being part of the same world philosophy they are a part of? This doesn’t mean we completely repudiate modernism. Hopefully we can learn from and build on the strengths of modernism. But not as modernists. It seems to me that the strongest position from which to fight the weaknesses of postmodernism is within postmodernism. Criticism comes easier from those who are one of us. The wounds of a friend better.

    That’s what I was attempting to communicate. But of course as a good postmodernist, I’m open to try to understand criticism and differing perspectives.

  6. Hey Jason,

    Thanks for the follow up.

    Here is my concern: both modernism and post modernism originated secularly and both are genetically anti-Christian. You pointed out their weaknesses very succinctly. And I believe all those weakness are symptoms of a greater underlying problem: they do not acknowledge the existence of a sovereign God who created and sustains the universe.

    Now, certainly we as Christians can’t escape thinking, at least to some degree, through the eyes of our modernist/postmodernist culture, and certainly we have things to learn from the modernists and post modernists. But, as Christians, we must strive to follow the philosophy of the Bible. This requires that we strive against our cultural leanings. We must recognize our inability to arrive at truth without guidance, we must recognize differing perspectives while maintaining a belief in the absolute.

    A true Christian World-View takes all the strengths of modernism and post modernism and breathes life into them with a belief in a God, the God of the Bible. This world-view is neither modern nor post modern. It is Christian.

  7. Hudson,

    I have to disagree with the dichotomy you’ve set up between a modernism/postmodernism world-view and a Christian world-view. I can’t think of a good term for what modernism is (I’ll use world-philosophy for lack of a better term), but it is more than a world-view. It has to do with our very epistemology and our hermeneutic. It colours how we approach our world-view.

    In other words, there is a Buddhist world-view, but it has existed since long before modernism and continues to function within postmodernism. There are many distinct “isms” that have functioned within the various world-philosophies.

    Also, these world-philosophies aren’t inherently Christian or anti-Christian. If we go back to the dark ages, the world-philosophy would have certainly been “Christian” in that it would have clearly recognised God, yet it was inferior to both modernism and postmodernism. Each world-philosophy tends to build on the last and we can benefit from the strengths of the previous (which is a good reason to study history).

    Ultimately, since our world-philosophy has to do with how we interpret things (our hermeneutic) and how we view truth (our epistemology), it is what we do with our world-philosophy that gives us a Christian world-view or not.

    Very interesting feedback. I’m interested in Bob’s take on this as well since I see this as colouring a lot of the major Fundamentalist issues like “young fundamentalism,” the KJV-only issue, and the Reformed resurgence.

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