The Rise of Postmodernism

If you have read our previous post our previous post on 9 things to consider when sharing the gospel with postmodernists , you may be wondering, “How did our culture ever come to this unbiblical way of thinking?”

Dr. JAMES N. ANDERSON is Professor of Theology and Philosophy at the Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, USA. He spoke some years ago at a The Faith Mission convention in Edinburgh, when his topic was The Rise of Postmodernism.
Dr Anderson has given us permission to share a brief synopsis of his talk, which outlines the development of this insidious and pervasive world-view.


The intellectual and cultural history of the western world over the last 2000 years can be divided into 3 eras. They tend to overlap by one or two centuries, so dates given are rough.
Here is an overview of prevailing attitudes in each era.

The PREMODERN era (Circa 300-1700)

  • Knowledge was attained through divine revelation
  • Special revelation was given through Scripture (and, later, church tradition)
  • The Bible was regarded as highest authority
  • Idea of objective truth is taken for granted
  • There is a common outlook on world
  • Most people’s lives are locally centred
An illuminated Christian manuscript

The MODERN era (circa 1700-1950)

This encompasses the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution

  • Knowledge attained through unaided human reason
  • Increasing scepticism about religious claims
  • Theism (God created the cosmos and maintains an active role in it) gives way to Deism (God created the cosmos but never intervenes), and then Atheism (there is no God).
  • Increasing individualism
  • Optimism about abilities to understand the world, improve society, etc.
Stephenson’s Rocket as preserved in the Science Museum, London.

The POSTMODERN era (circa 1950 onward)

Belief that the Modern era has not delivered on its promises

  • Human reason is not objective and universal
  • Science has not proved to be the saviour
  • Individualism grows into Subjectivism
  • Idea of objective truth is regarded as naïve and discredited
  • Written texts have no determinative meaning (e.g. what the author meant is irrelevant. The reader’s perspective is the truth — (*See What does it really mean? below for a description of this.)
  • Scepticism grows about all kinds of authority, about all claims to knowledge, about the very idea of universal reason.
  • Plurality(diversity) leads to Pluralism (all religions are right)

"Gay pride" flag
Postmodernists promote the LGBT agenda

This article was originally published in the magazine of The Faith Mission, First! (Sept/Nov 2008)

Photo of flag by torbakhopper balloon rainbow banner, scott richard via photopin(license)


*What does it really mean? Is any text true?

J. P. Moreland wrote:

The meaning of any text, sentence, etc. is determined and fixed by its author’s intentions.

According to postmodernists, however, the author of a text or utterance has no privileged position from which to interpret her own text or utterance.
She may have intended her text to mean one thing, but her intentions have no bearing on what the text actually means.

Rather, the meaning of a text, according to postmodernists, is determined by a community of readers who share an interpretation.

Thus [says the postmodernist] Paul’s intentions are irrelevant to the meaning of the book of Romans. In fact, [to the postmodernists] there is no book of Romans. Rather, there’s a Lutheran book of Romans, a Catholic book of Romans, a Marxist book of Romans, and so on—but no book of Romans in itself.

An extract from Postmodernism and the Christian Life, by J.P. Moreland


You might also like to read our previous post on 9 things to consider when sharing the gospel with postmodernists.

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