(I wrote this years ago for a class I took at Dallas Theological Seminary. I shared it recently with our church and am making it available here.)
Postmodernism, which might be termed post-Enlightenment thinking, is a worldview, whether secular or Christian, that is committed to pluralism and averse to the concept of one truth. Postmodernism does not identify with the historic faith of pre-modernism, nor does it identify with the rationalism and optimistic spirit of modernism, i.e., the Enlightenment. Rather, postmodernism finds meaning everywhere and does not hold to one authority or one meta-narrative to answer life’s questions.
Dr. Glenn Kreider, has said that Pre-modernism was identified with faith seeking understanding, and modernism was identified as faith seeking understandings. (1). Note that Kreider sees the pre-modern and modern eras as periods where people sought for an understanding, but postmodernism is an era where people seek for a plurality of understandings. As Alistair McGrath has observed,
“Postmodernism is generally taken to be something of a cultural sensibility without absolutes, fixed certainties, or foundations, which takes delight in pluralism and divergence, and which aims to think through the radical “situatedness” of all human thought. In each of these matters, it may be regarded as a conscious and deliberate reaction against the totalization of the Enlightenment…Its leading general feature…is the deliberate and systematic abandonment of centralizing narratives… There is an inbuilt pre-commitment to relativism or pluralism within postmodernism in relation to questions of truth…All interpretations are thus equally valid, or equally meaningless (depending on your point of view).” (2)
Having defined postmodernism in terms of pluralism, relativism, and reaction against one truth, it must be stated that this postmodern mindset that characterizes the current Western culture does not appear to be going anywhere in the foreseeable future. The average community (and even the average church) is populated with people who believe that truth is relative and that answers for living are found in a variety of perspectives. Today’s churches, pastors, and Christians will have to continue to minister in the context of this postmodern mindset as it manifests cross-culturally, and to speak God’s truth in love.
Addendum: This illustrates why we do not hold to the notion, “All truth is God’s truth,” but rather, “Thy word is truth” (John 17:17). As the Apostle Paul told Timothy in the context of coming perilous times: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.”
(1) From Dr. Glenn Kreider’s class lectures
(2) Alistair E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, Fifth Edition (West Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons Ltd., 2011), pp. 73-74.