Keywords: postmodernism, enlightenment, worldview, emergent church, neomodernism, moralistic therapeutic deism, creation, evolution, paradox, information
In Western civilization, the Mosaic generation (aka millennials and leavers born between 1984 and 2002) and those that are younger are leaving religious institutions en masse while embracing spirituality nonetheless at unprecedented rates (Kinnaman and Lyons 2007). Many reasons have been offered to explain why Mosaics are leaving organized churches and “experts” continue to offer limited solutions ad nauseum (Kinnaman and Lyons 2007; McDowell and Williams 2006). Each solution offered lacks a unifying idea to explain the underlying worldview issues facing Western civilization. The popular answer of the massive rejection of a biblical worldview is that we now live in a postmodern culture. While most invoke a concept of postmodernism, few commentators demonstrate a full understanding of postmodernism (Erickson 2001; Grauer 1981; Matthews and Mohler 2009; Meynell 1995). Granted, the whole postmodernism movement is wrapped in the cloak of lacking definition, which further confuses any rational discussion of postmodernism otherwise. With a proper view of postmodernism, it becomes apparent that no one continues in practice to embrace this view of truth. Even though these terms are used regularly by many and introducing a new set of terms for novelty’s sake is not always the best approach, it is important to abandon using the term postmodernism because we have experienced a significant shift in Western civilization reflected in many areas of life. Hence, our current culture is best described by the term neomodernism instead. The men of Issachar were commended for their “understanding of the times” (1 Chronicles 12:32), so understanding what neomodernism is will only help point out just how rampant this view of truth is in the culture at large and inside the church. Perhaps the main theme of neomodernism (for example, paradox) will be addressed and how understanding the times gives the church the opportunity to present Christ to the world and our own children before they are already gone. Of first importance is an analysis of what postmodernism is.
Defining Postmodernism Postmortem
The irony to a section defining postmodernism is that it is self-destructive from their worldview. Erickson notes this self-destruction well by asking the question,
How can we examine postmodernism as a system of thought, when by its very nature it decries any sort of systemization of thinking, any comprehensive understanding of life and reality? (Erickson 2001).
Given this limitation, one person that describes postmodernism well is Os Guinness in Fit bodies, fat minds. In Fit bodies, fat minds, Guinness says
Postmodernism is a total repudiation of modernism and an extreme form of relativism. Paradoxically, it is almost an absolute relativism. If postmodernism is correct, we cannot even aspire after truth, objectivity, universality, and reality (Guinness 1994, p. 105).
As good a description of postmodernism that Guinness offers, it has become increasingly clear (as other evangelicals such as Millard J. Erickson and Albert Mohler agree) that the term postmodernism is not the best way to describe society today (Erickson 2001; Matthews and Mohler 2009; Mohler 2010). Furthermore, most authors define postmodernism epistemologically like Os Guinness by simply stating that truth is relative; however, the relativity of truth is neither complete nor accurate for postmodernism (though it is significant). Relative truth claims are not confined solely to postmodernism as relative truth was present during modernism as well. Recently, there has been a particularly significant epistemological shift in Western civilization highlighting further movement away from postmodernism (Ham, Beemer, and Hillard 2009). A historical perspective on God and truth explains postmodernism more fully and also demonstrates why we are no longer “postmodern.” Again, it is important to understand first that postmodernism is effectually over so as to later understand the current zeitgeist. For clarity and simplicity, the following areas of society were chosen for analysis (though it could be broadened to include more areas): religion, God’s role in creation, truth, power, perspective, technology, and view of nature (see Table 1).
|Age of Reason||Modernism||Postmodernism||Neomodernism|
|Religion||Monotheism||Deism/Pantheism/Atheism||Nihilism||Moralistic Therapeutic Deism**|
|God’s role in creation||God is Creator||There is no god||I am God||“God” is “creator”|
|Technology||Birth of modern science||Pro-science||Antiscience***||Pro-science|
|View of Nature||God’s handiwork||All there is||Able to do whatever||Spiritual force|
|*In this paper, it is argued that the term postmodernism is improper and that the term anti-modernism ought to be applied. To avoid further confusion and for understanding, think of postmodernism as a movement synonymous with the word antimodernism used throughout the paper.|
|**For a definition of moralistic therapeutic deism, see the list below under the heading “Neomodernism in Classrooms.”|
|***For further elaboration, consult the corresponding section. To be clear, antiscience should be understood as being against the truth claims of science.|
It is difficult to specify a specific calendar date for each epistemological transition, so the Age of Reason will be referred to as the period roughly spanning the end of the Renaissance and leading up to the Enlightenment during the 17th century of Western Europe. Religion for the Age of Reason had a high view of God that not only acknowledged His existence, but recognized that He was the omnipotent Creator of the universe. Stemming from this understanding of God, no one denied the idea of absolute truth. Since religion played such a significant part of everyday life, the church was important in political life with no separation of church and state. The ideal was to understand who God is to understand more about ourselves and our surroundings; after all, modern science was founded by biblical creationists, such as Isaac Newton, seeking to understand God’s handiwork (cf. Psalm 19:1).
During the Enlightenment and the transition into modernism, the religious, high view of an intimate, Creator God in the Age of Reason was replaced at first with deism that developed into atheism. Without an active deity, truth claims become relative because there was no ultimate authority on which to base truth claims. The role of governments for the people increased with various revolutions across Western civilization as there was a distinct switch from God being the focal point to a developing secular humanism (for example, the American and French revolutions). As a result, scientific thinking (that is, man’s opinions) assumed the throne of authority to determine truth because members of the elite, such as Charles Darwin, were convinced that nature was all that existed.
As the idea that our existence was all that matters gained momentum, postmodernism arrived to dethrone modern thinking. The thought of what is traditionally referred to as postmodernism is, at the core, an attempt to undo and revolt against modernism. So as an affront to the idea that no God exists, the postmodernist would claim that the individual is God and, therefore, creates his/her own reality. With that view of God, the practical conduct of the individual’s life was that of nihilism rather than atheism because your existence would end when your life ended. Creating your own reality allows the individual to determine truth and the individual role in government turns into a function of one person in control (that is, totalitarian dictatorship). Under the dictatorships, the role of government became the focus of the community and communal living (either in the forms of communism or socialism). Lastly, the negative reaction against modernism came in the rejection of truth claims from science because the individual determines his/her own reality and understanding of his/her existence.
The idea of living within postmodernism today is peculiar because if our society remained in this supposed postmodern culture, then we would not be living in our current scientific age (that is, science is authoritative). Albert Mohler echoes this sentiment about the relationship between the current worldview and living in a postmodern culture:
We’re not really in a postmodern age. We’re just kind of in “post-modern moods” because we still live in a world shaped by the Enlightenment [modernism] as well. A lot of what we face in the battle over science and origins, in academic debates and the new atheism, most of that is really not postmodern. It’s the same old arguments going all the way back to questions of how we can know that something really happened. How can we know there really was a Christ? How can we know these things? Those are old Enlightenment questions, and they are still around (Matthews and Mohler 2009).
Ironically, Mohler shares company with Richard Dawkins in recognizing this tension between academia and postmodernism. Dawkins wrote about the tension between academia and postmodernism in his article “Postmodernism disrobed” from the perspective of the scientific establishment’s view of postmodernism (Dawkins 1998). In the article, Dawkins tells about how two physicists, Sokal and Bricmont, published a hoax scientific article called Intellectual Imposters in a postmodern journal that was not based on any scientific truths: once Intellectual Imposters was published, the hoax was revealed. Dawkins comments about sentiments felt by the postmodern journal and describes the brilliance of Sokal and Bricmont as follows:
The genesis of Intellectual Impostures was a brilliant hoax perpetuated by Sokal, and the stunning success of his coup was not greeted with the chuckles of delight that one might have hoped for after such a feat of deconstructive game playing. Apparently, when you’ve become the establishment, it ceases to be funny when someone punctures the established bag of wind.
Dawkins (as the voice of secular scientists) appropriately underscores the epistemological clash between science and postmodernism. The reason for this epistemological clash between science and postmodernism is fundamentally due to the definition of postmodernism. According to postmodernism, science is both rooted in meaningless definitions and, therefore, puts the postmodern ideal of meaningless definitions at odds with the modern scientist holding to substantive definitions. So Dawkins and the rest of the scientific community react negatively towards postmodernism because postmodernism undermines the scientific pursuit of truth by defining one’s own reality rather than discovering it. Actually, postmodernism is better described as an antagonistic effort aimed at modern science. As a result, what is traditionally called postmodernism needs to be replaced with the term antimodernism to eliminate the confusion of postmodernism for the same reasons that Victor A. Grauer lists (Grauer 1981). In Grauer’s article, he may as well have equated what he called “C modernism” with postmodernism. With this caveat, Grauer properly states that postmodernism
can only be understood as forms of resistance to authentic modernism, despite the fact that they are so often associated with it . . . . [The latter forms of modernism (aka postmodernism) are] usually more consciously “anti-modernist” . . . . Its purpose is to subvert what it regards as “modernism” by revealing its contradictions, debunking its “pretensions” and emphasizing that to which it is opposed (Grauer 1981).
The term antimodernist is functionally equivalent with and superior to postmodernist because postmodernism was more of a backlash against modernism (that is, the prefix anti-) than some productive movement away from modernism in the positive direction (that is, the prefix post-). In particular, two additional items further solidified referring to our current age as something other than postmodernism: (1) the title of Cornelius van Til’s The New Modernism (van Til 1946) as well as (2) Francis A. Schaeffer’s use of the term new theology (Schaeffer 1968). Neither “new modernism” nor “new theology” describes something antagonistic towards modernism, but an advancement of modernism with added novelty. The added novelty to modernism is something that has not escaped the average person either. The average person has rejected antimodernism because it is not practical to everyday life and cannot easily be understood. Instead, the average person has returned to what is comfortable and natural from their past with some slight modifications (that is, something similar to but distinct from modernism). Some have tried to identify this new epistemology as postpostmodernism (Meynell 1995) or late-modernism (Keller 2010), but that term is not descriptive because post- simply means getting past something or having happened after a particular event (for example, postpartum depression). It is interesting to observe this epistemological shift in Western civilization because there are people from each era living today and each are using different definitions of what truth is. The many different definitions of truth have led to some confusion even when discussing these recent shifts. Francis Shaeffer explained that,
the tragedy of our situation today is that men and women are being fundamentally affected by the new way of looking at truth, and yet have never even realized the drift which has taken place (Schaeffer 1968).
Millard J. Erickson similarly explains his rationale about the shift away from postmodernism.
Customarily there is some overlap of eras . . . . Thus, in a period in which postmodernism is strong and is perhaps the primary ideology, early elements of a postpostmodernism may well be visible . . . . Rather than merely relating to postmodernism, evangelicals must understand that postmodernism is simply another stop along the way, not the final destination. We must be preparing for the postpostmodern era (Erickson 2001).
Understanding that what Erickson calls postpostmodernism is better understood as neomodernism, his main point is correct that as we are living at this time of great transition, there are remnants of postmodernism (aka antimodernism) in society while neomodernism is gaining intellectual momentum. In all this societal confusion about what postmodernism is, the term neomodernism is preferred to describe today’s way of looking at truth as has previously been used by other critics such as Thomas S. Kepler and Victor A. Grauer to describe this scientific, information-rich age (Grauer 1981; Kepler 1947).
Kepler wrote his article from a religious perspective and emphasized this need to learn from the past errors to move forward. For Kepler, the religious perspective was (admittedly) liberal and the error with modernism was to be corrected by neo-modernism. The correction for Kepler would address the following points of modernism (as he perceived them):
- The modernist will listen to neophysics, as well as neobiology.
- The modernist will evaluate the “corrective” possibilities of a “realized eschatology.”
- The modernist will consider anew the depth of meaning involved in the fact that “God is agape.”
- The modernist discerns the pattern of an ethical mysticism as the key to understanding God’s immanent relationship to man and the world.
- The modernist will keep listening to those neo-supernaturalists who reiterate that the Bible is a book of revelation. (Kepler 1947)
Grauer echoed Kepler’s idea of neomodernism in saying that he was “in search of the fundamental principles of . . . [authentic] modernism” (Grauer 1981). While Kepler, Grauer, and others (such as Mohler, Erickson, Meynell, and Keller) are correct in rejecting the foundation of antimodernism, two wrongs (modernism and antimodernism) do not justify the foundation of neomodernism.
Defining Neomodernism Afresh
Neomodernism is a worldview that has realized the flaws of antimodernism and works at providing the foundation of modernism in a novel way. The neomodern will often redo something in an updated way that emphasizes the following points from Table 1:
- Knowledge is power
- Blatant religious overtones lacking substance
- Return to nature
Oftentimes, neomodernism is confused with living in an information age, but that would mean everyone with internet access would have power and authority. Simply considering web resources like Wikipedia as sources of truth should be convincing enough that information is not powerful in and of itself because anyone can post anything on the internet and, thus, makes the volume of information a poor metric of living in an information age. Robert Darton recently commented on having finally “entered the information age” as follows:
This announcement is usually intoned solemnly, as if information did not exist in other ages. But every age is an age of information, each in its own way and according to the media available at the time. No one would deny that the modes of communication are changing rapidly, perhaps as rapidly as in Gutenberg’s day, but it is misleading to construe that change as unprecedented (Darton 2011).
The power of knowledge is not that it neither existed previously nor that it is rapidly available en masse, but the power of knowledge is a function of being able to discern truth from falsehood either formally (for example, censorship) or informally (for example, internet filters on personal computers). The individualism is best exemplified by individualized access to the information through such devices as cell phones and laptops. But the individualism does not end with the access to information because it extends to the popularity of the fast-food industry that thrives on allowing the individual consumer to pick and choose whatever s/he so desires. Additionally, individual rights are frequently being accused of being abused by big business and the government. Furthermore, religion is very popular today (more specifically spirituality) and no one is afraid of using religious terms. However, the religious terminology has been further redefined and restated to accommodate a current understanding that (more often than not) rejects biblical ideas (more on this point is discussed below). Lastly, we see the natural element strongly emphasized in ideas such as global warming. Essentially, neomodernism is just like the modernism of the 1800s, but with a twist that is highlighted by the above points. In light of all these points, it may further help to understand the neomodern in terms of his/her view of God and truth.
The neomodern believes in “God” (most likely deistic) and believes that this “God” was involved in “creation” (usually an evolutionary process). With an evolutionary understanding of the universe’s origins, man becomes the authority for understanding the concept of what is right and what is wrong. With man as the authority, morality becomes relative. For example, when you ask someone on the street if the moral issue of abortion is wrong, they don’t reply by saying “when I say so” like a divine command, but they say, “it depends” as if there is no moral authority. With no moral authority, truth becomes relative as well. To better illustrate this point about morality, consider the following analogy about truth in black and white terms. In the Age of Reason, most people said that truth is either “black” or “white.” During modernism, there was a significant change epistemologically by an acknowledgement of the “gray” areas in life. Then, there was another transition to answering this question according to antimodernism in which they would answer “green” on a black and white scale. Obviously, there is no green on the black/white scale and antimodernists are frequently called absurd. Antimodernism is often laughed at, which indicates that antimodernism is no longer recognized as current. In the neomodern mindset, we have gone back to acknowledging gray areas of life, but with further precision (that is, high-definition gray).
The first use of the prefix neo- in the 20th century appeared with regard to the biological sciences that were permeated with neo-Darwinism in light of advances made in molecular genetics. While most argue that modernism ended with postmodernism, it seems more logical that we were transitioning from modernism to neomodernism. Thus, the transition out of modernism was interrupted by antimodernism. Antimodernism and neomodernism (as distinct as they are) came after modernism and make both of them “post-” modern by definition. Thus, in modern thought, everything was improving (including humanity), but antimodernism reacted negatively towards modernism because everything is not improving (for example, the world wars); but no one is an antimodern today. So the world today finds itself disliking both ideas of how modernism logically leads to atheism as well as the idea of how antimodernism logically leads to the individual having a god complex; the epistemology of the world today has returned to what feels good intellectually (that is, God exists) and emotionally (that is, God loves everyone), but with a twist (that is, neomodernism). One particularly good example of neomodernism is the movie Finding Nemo in light of its twist on the book 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. To understand the similarity, modernistic elements included an epic story involving nature where humans are just another animal on the face of the planet in our struggle for existence (that is, Darwinism). With that understanding of the modern elements in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, it is easy to see how Finding Nemo is an epic story on the silver screen about a fish with human behaviors in a very natural setting where humans are the enemy (that is, modernism with a technological twist). Remarkably, the concept of neomodernism has already been applied in popular culture, the various academic disciplines, as well as in the church.
Neomodernism in Western Culture
Across Western civilization, each cross section of culture employs a particular paradigm that begins with the prefix neo-. The prefix neo- is rampant in our culture and is not limited to the academic disciplines (for example, neo-Darwinism was already discussed and will be discussed later). Again, the key elements to neo-modernism are: knowledge is power, individualism, blatant religious overtones lacking substance, and a return to Nature. With that in mind, one prime example of neo- in popular culture is the movie The Matrix in which the name of the main character is Neo. In The Matrix, neo-modernism is explicitly applied by the use of religious imagery that purposely ignores the specific religious implication. Even though The Matrix is gnostic (filled with mysterious knowledge), it is simultaneously neo-modern in the sense that it uses blatantly religious overtones lacking substance (see above section on neomodernism); hence, the name of the supporting character, Trinity, and the name of their vessel, the Nebuchadnezzar. Other neomodern films that use these elements include Avatar, The Planet of the Apes (both versions), Star Wars, or The DaVinci Code. The movie Avatar was really about the general world force (aka nature) and how humanity needs to get back to and preserve nature. Both versions of The Planet of the Apes have strong elements of blatant religious overtones that are quite blasphemous with the emphasis on technology and the authority of apes over humans. Star Wars has its secretive elements where knowledge of the force brings success in the end and being able to control oneself (that is, individualism). Lastly, The DaVinci Code can be summarized as a secret religious society that has ruled the world via censorship. Outside of the movies, neomodern elements are also clearly seen in Emergent churches filled with Christian hipsters that have already compromised God’s Word with Darwinian elements.
Neomodernism in Churches
Previously, Ken Ham published about how students are leaving solid, Bible-believing churches in the book Already Gone (Ham, Beemer, and Hillard 2009). Among those surveyed that left the church, many that left church began leaving by asking questions. The nature of the questions stem from questioning for questioning’s sake as well as not getting solid answers to questions about the Scriptures. Oftentimes, students will embrace the nuances of mystery and contradiction before completely abandoning such beliefs. Among those books that are read before leaving church include those like Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christian (McLaren 2001). What is particularly striking about the neomodern terms in this book is the name of the main character: Neo. Ideas of embracing mystery are even coupled with evolutionary ideas (that is, there is an openness to consider an evolutionary understanding of the Scriptures). Notably, the web site Evolutionary Christianity (evolutionarychristianity.com) includes a list of theologians, scientists, and pastors that embrace Darwinism, including Emergent leaders Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt, and Spencer Burke. Spencer Burke with Barry Taylor echo these ideas of embracing the mystery of evolution when they write:
The challenge of the spiritual life is to live fully connected here and now. A commitment to mystical responsibility is a commitment to an evolutionary journey toward personal, social, and communal transformation, where we pay attention to life, listen to its messages, and discover its opportunities (Burke and Taylor 2006).
Clearly, Burke and Taylor echo what has been said in popular culture with groups such as BioLogos and de-emphasize biblical authority via neomodernism. Biblical authority undermined within Emergent thinking can also be seen with more than just deep time evolution, but through undermining the clear teaching of Scripture on Noah’s Flood as seen by Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz. In it, Miller writes:
I associated much of Christian doctrine with children’s stories because I grew up in church. My Sunday school teachers had turned Bible narrative into children’s fables. . . . How did we come to think the story of Noah’s ark is appropriate for children? Can you imagine a children’s book about Noah’s ark complete with paintings of people gasping in gallons of water, mothers grasping their children while their bodies go flying down white-rapid rivers, the children’s tiny heads being bashed against rocks or hung up in fallen trees? (Miller 2003)
The idea of analyzing Noah’s Flood as something irrelevant and not practical today is echoed by Brian McLaren. In his latest book, A New Kind of Christianity, he writes:
[For] me, today, the Noah story, in which God wipes out all living things except one boatload of refugees has become profoundly disturbing . . . . In this light, a god who mandates an intentional supernatural disaster leading to unparalleled genocide is hardly worthy of belief, much less worship. How can you ask your children—or nonchurch colleagues and neighbors—to honor a deity so uncreative, overreactive, and utterly capricious regarding life (McLaren 2010)?
While it is ironic, McLaren and Miller are correct to reject the fanciful story that many Sunday schools use to teach little children: an ark that is overflowing with animals, none of which are dinosaurs, while Noah is smiling in the background. Granted, the childish, oversimplified view of Noah’s ark is incorrect; but that does not license people such as McLaren and Miller to use this as a reason to abandon the biblical record of the history of Noah’s Flood. Even though McLaren wrote that in 2010 (that is, one year after Already Gone), Miller wrote his book in 2003! So the neomodern emphasis can easily be seen within the Emergent church and the general public today as nothing new and only gaining momentum.
Neomodernism in Classrooms
The hallmarks of neomodernism are seen within the sacred halls of academia more than the previous examples. Neomodern ideas have permeated the halls of secular institutions across the world, especially (but not limited to) the sciences. Remember that the hallmarks of neomodernism are an emphasis on the individual, information (right or wrong), nature, and science/technology.
- In science, no one is a Darwinist today in light of the discoveries of molecular biology; thus, everyone is a neo-Darwinist. Neo-Darwinism is “a theory about how evolution works at the level of genes, phenotypes, and populations whereas Darwinism was concerned mainly with organisms, speciation and individuals” (Moran 1993). So mainstream academia adheres to Darwin’s main points, but updates his theory in light of modern technological finds concerning the DNA molecule.
- The pagans of today are neo-pagan because they worship the earth and enjoy (rather than detest) the benefits of personalized technology (Veith 2006). Furthermore, the co-founder of Greenpeace left the organization he founded because he found:
The peace movement had been mainly Western-based and anti-American in its leanings. Many of its members moved into the environmental movement, bringing with them their neo-Marxist, far-left agendas. To a considerable extent the environmental movement was hijacked by political and social activists who learned to use green language to cloak agendas that had more to do with anticapitalism and antiglobalization than with science or ecology (Moore 2011).Not only is the modern environmental movement largely neo-pagan, but it is also neo-Marxist. The neo-Marxism is that far-left political agenda now intimately tied into what is called environmentalism seeking to undermine the oppressed in society.
- In theology, neo-orthodoxy is widely being used as a way to understand the Bible. Properly speaking, neo-orthodoxy is also called the Theology of Crisis by Karl Barth and Emil Brunner that begins with neo-Darwinian evolution as true and must accommodate the Scriptures accordingly (everything is fuzzy) (Enns and Schloss 2011). The neo-orthodox view of Genesis 1–11 is, therefore, viewed as allegorical and not literal history. As a result, it is not always straightforward about what neo-orthodoxy actually believes or holds to without a literal history in Genesis. The connection between neo-orthodoxy and the Emergent church has already been well-documented (Enns 2008; Henard and Greenway 2009). As a practice, the Emergent church and left-leaning evangelicals have even been called neo-Anabaptists (DeYoung 2009).
- In literature, understanding language consists of what the reader perceives as seen in books that highlight religious themes (for example, The DaVinci Code), which are neo-existentialist with our choices about what matters in the immanent present.
- In political science, dictators are not popular, but we have political correctness in their stead as an effort to appease everyone. How else could a wartime president win the Nobel peace prize? Not only in political correctness, but other neomodern terms include neoconservative (aka neocon), neofunctionalism, and neoliberalism (Kristol 2003; Ong 2006; Sandholtz and Sweet 2010). Most of these terms pertain to a new way of looking at economic trade in an international market (not just domestic).
- The neomodernism argument is best made in music where there has been neoclassical, neoromantic, and even neominimalist music (consider the fact that no one writes opera anymore and that operatic music has been updated by technology in film scores that are readily available to the masses). Neoclassical, neoromantic, and neominimalist are best understood in terms of not being antimodern (that is, what’s traditionally referred to as postmodern). Antimodern music was highlighted by figures like John Cage with his work of “music” in which he sat for four minutes and thirty-three seconds in front of a piano without actually playing it, arguing that the music was the sound of the audience. If antimodern music were currently being promoted, then it would be highly likely to find it on popular radio stations as well as primary school music classes: it is not. With the abandonment of antimodern music, composers have rediscovered the pleasant harmonies of classical, romantic, and even minimalistic music such that they are writing it again, but with a twist. The best example of a neoromantic piece was written by Alan Hovhaness called And God Created Great Whales, which takes its title from Genesis 1:21, but is written about whale conservation as Hovhaness is from the Pacific Northwest. In the piece, he uses orchestral instruments to mimic whale calls in addition to actually playing prerecorded whale calls in the piece.
- Business is engaged in employing situational ethics, whose foundational principles include: pragmatism, relativism, positivism, and personalism. Just consider current business practices in terms of whether fringe benefits ought to be given to same-sex couples.
- Lastly, even the issue of origins has been affected by the Intelligent Design movement which has been dubbed neocreationism by atheist Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE, an atheistic evolutionary think tank) (Scott 1997, p. 403). The late Henry M. Morris correctly recognized,
this new creationism is really not very new, except for perhaps the terminology . . . . [It] will not . . . displace evolutionism as the reigning paradigm in the intellectual community (Morris 2008).John Whitcomb echoes this sentiment of the Intelligent Design movement in that “it deliberately stops short of honoring God’s written revelation on the creation of the world” (Whitcomb 2008). While there are many good things about what Intelligent Design does to thwart neo-Darwinism, it simply allows for one void philosophy of man to be filled by another void philosophy of man.
In particular, the subset of neomodernism receiving much attention in the media and the courts is neocreationism (Intelligent Design). Ironically, the Scopes trial was dubbed the trial of the century back in 1925, and it seems that the Dover proceedings of 2005 will follow suit, except ruling in favor of evolution. The Scopes trial of 1925 was a lawsuit brought by a school teacher named Scopes that was in violation of Tennessee state law, which strictly prohibited the teaching of evolution. Contrary to public opinion, the creationists won the court battle at that time. It is important to understand that biblical creation and the Intelligent Design movement are not one and the same. As already stated, there are features of the Intelligent Design movement that are good, but the main problem with the movement is that they compromise the clear teaching of the Word of God. Even the atheists recognize that this movement is an attempt to get creation taught in the public schools. So it was surprising that almost one century after the Scopes trial when Intelligent Design was put on trial in Dover, Pennsylvania, that the evolutionists won and now even Intelligent Design is not allowed to be taught in the public schools of Pennsylvania. The new atheists of neomodernism are ardent in their allegiance to Darwin to the point now that it is nearly illegal to even question the current Darwinian establishment. An unfortunate consequence to all this debate with atheists and compromising creationists is that religious ideas void of meaning are morphing into what Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton have referred to as “moralistic therapeutic deism” as seen in Table 1 (Smith and Denton 2005). Moralistic therapeutic deism (MTD) has been described as the growing religion of today’s youth as follows:
- A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
- God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
- The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
- God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
- Good people go to heaven when they die.
What is particularly striking about this description of MTD is how similar each point is (or at least has a related point) to the neomodernism described by Kepler (see above). In analyzing the main points of MTD, it is apparent that MTD is just a neomodern religion gaining acceptance in the church today as evidenced by polling results with regard to origins.
In a 2009 Gallup poll, Americans were asked about their belief in evolution (Newport 2009). When the word evolution was used, it was intended to mean Darwinian evolution as is taught at secular universities (that is, molecules-to-man evolution over billions of years). The best way to interpret the data is that the people who had “no opinion either way” were like the people that, when presented with salvation through Jesus Christ alone, express “no opinion either way” and so they remain unregenerate (or, in this case, evolutionists). So, the only people on the chart that reject evolution are a minority: only 25% of those surveyed. The 25% minority also correlates with a recent poll about American views of God in that only a small percentage viewed God as an authority figure (which is biblical) (Grossman 2010). As a result, three out of four Americans are evolutionists and it begs the question: is there any difference in our churches?
Later in 2009, a different poll focused on churchgoers results suggested that an overwhelming majority of religious Americans thought evolution was the best explanation concerning origins (Masci 2009). The only groups to significantly believe in biblical creation were Historically Black Protestants (62% of their adherents), Evangelical Protestants (76%), Mormons (78%), and Jehovah’s Witnesses (92%). It is a sad day in America when the cults successfully teach biblical creation to their people better to a higher percentage than those claiming to be God’s children (that is, mainline Protestants). As a result, only a small margin of American society believes in biblical creation, even though most religious Americans say they are “creationists.” The fact that most are “creationists” (deists in practice) is symptomatic of a neomodern worldview for the 21st century church. One book tried to capture this thought about how most Christians in Western civilization go to church on Sunday and act like the world the remaining six days of the week. Perhaps a better title for one such book by Craig Groeschel called The Christian Atheist ought to be “Christian deism” (Groeschel 2011). Christian deism and MTD are practically one and the same, except that Christian deism is a subset of MTD. So even though the atheist and deist begin with different starting points, the end result is the same: living a life as if there is no direct involvement with everyday life by anything divine. Is it any wonder that Christian Deism is spreading in America where
[several] of the most conspicuous leaders of the struggle for independence (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Paine were notable examples) were Deists” (Hudson and Corrigan 1999)?
The problem with Christian Deism ultimately stems from gross ignorance of the practicality of the Bible in the everyday life of Western civilization (including religious people). In fact, most religious people feel intimidated by evolutionists and to the extent that they attempt to argue in favor of Intelligent Design while tragically expunging Bible literacy.
As a result, those that leave out the Bible from evangelistic discussions with the lost are committing intellectual suicide when they would rather use what they perceive as the “best evidence” to “prove” the Bible. The entire worldview for any evangelical, born-again, conservative, consistently logical Christian is founded on the Bible and cannot make sense of reality apart from God’s Word. Anyone with a biblical worldview cannot provide an argument for faith without using God’s Word because it is God’s Word and His Word is reality, but only understood and accepted by faith (cf. Hebrews 11:6). All successes in life are because God honors His Word (cf. Isaiah 55:11). For example, a successful heathen business entrepreneur will not be punished specifically in only his/her business endeavors only because he/she is heathen. The successes of the heathen business entrepreneur are because of consciously or subconsciously understanding the principles of working hard and because God honors hard work. God will not stop honoring His Word about reaping and sowing (cf. Galatians 6:7–8) for someone that is heathen. God will reward the heathen for his/her hard work because God’s Word never fails (even to the heathen). At the end of the day, “for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45). Furthermore, we must be reminded that we were heathen at one point in time until God heard our prayer of repentance. Too often when reading Galatians 6:7, the words are overlooked that say, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked.” Admittedly, the heathen will have their judgment coming, but God honors His Word. So if there are any successes to be made in this life and the next life, the Scriptures must have primacy to understand our own worldview, to compare the Scriptures to what the world has to offer, and to make sense of our existence. It is no wonder that the church in Western civilization is not flourishing in light of how few Christians have a biblical worldview. This sad reality is based on the practical deism of professing Christians today. If there is a deistic god out there, then it is no wonder why many are leaving churches today. As a result, many professing Christians and unbelievers have begun questioning the Bible’s authority in unique ways that must be addressed.
Responding to Neomodernism
One unique way God’s Word has been questioned is well illustrated in the story about an atheist (fictional or real) that presents his/her argument against God during a debate. During this public debate, the atheist asks God to strike himself/herself dead and nothing happens. So the atheist walks away smugly claiming to have proven by the scientific method that God does not exist. However, there was a Christian in the audience who was not shaken by this tremendous display of scholasticism. When asked how the atheist was not correct, the Christian responded that God’s mercy extends even to those that are unbelievers. Notice that nowhere in Scripture does God make Himself available to scientific, empirical study outside the second person in the Trinity. God, in His essence, is spirit. Therefore, there is nothing that can be tested scientifically. Hence, there is no scientific argument against God’s existence, nor is there a “proof” (it is of reasonable faith). Part of the scientific method is a matter of observation. Even Jesus, while an empiricist, was true to His nature (cf. Luke 17:20b)! Therefore, the atheist’s polemic does not work because his nonexistent faith statement begins with a wrong understanding of God’s Word. While it is expected for an atheist to improperly understand the Bible, worldly Christians (that is, neomoderns) also misunderstand key biblical doctrines. Among the doctrines they misunderstand is that God is infinite and that God defines the paradox.
Probably the most difficult concept in our day and age is that God is infinite (that is, He knows the future from the beginning because He is omniscient, eternal, and self-sufficient cf. Psalm 90:2, Psalm 139:1–6, Isaiah 46:9–10, John 21:17, and 1 John 3:20), but that he condescends Himself to our understanding and communicates to us directly through the Scriptures. In Numbers 23:19, the Scriptures reveal that God does not lie and infinitely tells the truth because He is truth (cf. John 14:6). God can always be trusted to tell the truth and never tell half-truths (which remain completely false), which is the basis of the deception in the Garden of Eden by the serpent. God is infinitely true such that there is no part of telling falsehoods found present in Him. In 1 Samuel 15:29, we learn that God is unchanging in His character. God can always be trusted and not just some of the time. If God cannot be trusted all the time, then there is some time when He is not trustworthy, which is especially disconcerting when considering spending eternity with or without Him. God infinitely remains the same or His character would change and would not be trustworthy. These select Scriptures teach that God spans eternity and that anything less than infinity sells God short on His deity.
It is important to understand God’s infinitude because it directly relates to the demise of organized religion in Western civilization. Contrary to God alone being infinite, fallen Western civilization lives without limits on themselves with substance abuses and sexual abuses galore. The concept that God being infinite may not be straightforward upon looking at Numbers 23:19 and 1 Samuel 15:29, but more practical examples help make things concrete. For example, if God is infinitely powerful, can God create a rock so infinitely large that He cannot lift it? The answer is that He does not because that would be illogical and go against His infinitely logical nature. Further examples of this accommodation include His explicit nature as pertaining to love: is God infinitely loving that He loves hatred? Does any part of God’s holiness have sin? Does the truth of God lie? Is there any part of His goodness that is bad? God is infinite in every distinction because that is His nature. Too many today want to blur those distinctions and that undermines the very essence of God when this blurring is accomplished. A fuzzy view of God’s infinitude has distorted the nature of God, which directly affects our contemporary moral malaise. For example, some people argue that there are times when abortion is a viable option, contrary to the clear teaching of the Word of God. The issue is one where man has become the final authority over God’s Word.
We do not discover the divine within, but the divine Creator reveals Himself to us through His Holy Scriptures. Many self-help gurus teach a need to discover our divine nature within ourselves. Contrary to those gurus, we ultimately learn of morality in two distinct ways: through general and special revelation. The root etymology of the word conscience comes from the Latin preposition con that means with and the Latin word scientia, which means knowledge. Therefore, our conscience is that innate part of our being that tells us right from wrong. All cultures recognize lying, stealing, and murder as wrong. However, we cannot determine the real nature of morality by looking to all cultures for the answer. In the Bible, we have the true set of morality as laid out in the Ten Commandments rather than societal rules agreed upon by the culture. We can learn of God’s “eternal power and Godhead” (Romans 1:20) from the night sky (general revelation), but we cannot learn of God’s love for us and payment of our sin debt except as revealed in the Scriptures (special revelation) (for example, John 3:16). General revelation teaches that there is nothing wrong with wanting what others have, but the Scriptures teach “you shall not covet” (Exodus 20:17 and Romans 7:7). Nature also teaches us that death, disease, pain, and suffering is the way things operate, which logically concludes in deism or atheism. Those who confuse general with special revelation will end up teaching a form of a deistic god that hates you and wants to kill you as evidenced by “nature red in tooth and claw” (Tennyson 1849). The Intelligent Design movement correctly supports the ideas of general revelation, but never identifies the deity and supports the previously described deistic view of god. Only by the Scriptures can we learn who God is and His expectations of right from wrong as is stated in Isaiah 5:20.
Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness;
Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
What is particularly striking in this verse is the juxtaposition of these two stark contrasting ideals: good/bad, light/darkness, and sweet/bitter. The paradox of these ideas is suggestive of the authority of God’s Word and His character as revealed by paradox.
The Paradox of Neomodernism
While this verse is not definitive on biblical morality in itself, it certainly is one of the chief verses against the moral relativism of our age. However, this verse does not teach that only moral relativism is wrong. Most Bible commentaries on this verse will pick up on the moral relativism of good/evil and let the remaining words (light/dark and bitter/sweet) linger as echoing the same thought. The poetic nature of this verse progression goes from good/evil, then dark/light, and landing on bitter/sweet. With each word pair we learn about paradoxes in the Scriptures. The paradoxes are strong and (most importantly) decried against by the Lord. The context of Isaiah 5 is that of the Lord’s judgment on Israel for their sin. The judgment pronounced on God’s people in the word woe is a strong indication that this is severe and should not be mentioned among the chosen seed through whom Messiah is to come. If the first “woe” against Israel was for denying that good and evil are paradoxes, then it stands to reason that there are other paradoxes that God is speaking against. The purpose for God’s “woe” is simply not that the children of God were living the life of a paradox, but that they were living the life of paradox that went against God’s nature. God’s nature is revealed to us in classical proofs of God’s existence: ontological (good/evil: the essence of being), cosmological (light/dark: how the universe came into existence), and teleological (bitter/sweet: design in nature). While Isaiah 5:20 is poetry and is not primarily written to an audience familiar with the three-fold proof of God’s existence, the verse does support that idea. With that caveat, this verse contains the biblical support for the idea of the three-fold proof of God’s existence and not the other way around.
The only proper way to understand that first paradox is to assume that the last two also represent paradoxes. The biblical paradoxes fit with our notion of ontology, cosmology, and teleology. In the first example of Isaiah 5:20 concerning ontology, the ontological proof of God says that good and evil exist, but cannot exist by random chance processes. The idea that every meaningful word in human language carries a connotation is evidence that we all have an innate concept of right/wrong that goes beyond descriptions of words and the human experience. In this ontological sense, C. S. Lewis describes the problem of pain as screaming like a megaphone that God exists because it is not possible to understand pain without understanding pleasure. In the second example from Isaiah 5:20 concerning cosmology, the cosmological proof of God says that light and darkness exist in a way that does not have any moral attributes associated with it. There is nothing inherently good or bad about photons of light. They exist, but the real question is how they exist if everything came from nothing? Nothing does not create something, unless there is an uncreated Cause of cosmic proportions. Furthermore, the anthropic principle clearly indicates that life on earth is unique and not just a cosmic accident. These two (fine tuning of the universe and the anthropic principle) demonstrate the cosmological proof of God in terms of light and dark. In the final example of Isaiah 5:20 concerning teleology, it may be a little difficult to recognize with the words sweet and bitter. However, notice how we can know what is bitter/sweet: taste buds. Taste buds are wired into the brain and transmit certain chemical signals that are understood in terms of whether a particular sensation can be described as bitter or sweet. It is one thing to embrace an unbiblical paradox in this life, but only the biblical paradoxes that God defines are the ones that are ultimately right and the ones that God will bless.
God further provides His reason why God’s people abandoned His very existence in this passage. Verse 24 has several examples from nature and, notice, that to refuse God’s nature goes against these natural pairing examples listed. Therefore, rejecting God is unnatural from God’s perspective even though it is completely natural for man to reject God (Jeremiah 17:9). Although it is not directly stated, it appears that God’s people rejected God’s very nature/existence because they embraced unbiblical paradoxes (for example, Christian deists, homosexuals, abortionists) not contained in the Scriptures as evidenced by the fact that they abandoned the authority of the Scriptures (aka God’s Holy Law). In particular, the Emergent church is notorious for embracing unbiblical paradoxes and, to date, none of whom are biblical creationists.
Other examples of unnatural paradoxes in the Bible include James 3:11–12, which says,
Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening?
Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.
Notice how these unnatural and unbiblical paradoxes (sweet/bitter, figs/olives, and salt/fresh water) accompany judgment (these examples do not happen). This idea of judgment of unbiblical paradoxes is also seen in Psalm 4:2, which says
How long, O you sons of men,
Will you turn my glory to shame?
How long will you love worthlessness
And seek falsehood? Selah
The paradox decried against is shameful glory or loose love. The reason those are wrong is because God defines the paradox: God is God (aka “I AM THAT I AM”) and we are not. Saying that His ways are higher than ours is not a cop-out answer, it is a definition that we are finite and He is infinite: our finite brains cannot comprehend infinite Being. Therefore, we must submit our understanding to the authority of God’s Holy Word. In the Scriptures, we learn of paradoxes that God blesses: giving is better than receiving (Acts 20:35), the weak are strong (2 Corinthians 12:10), the secret to success is to deny ourselves (Luke 9:23–25). We can turn nowhere else to confirm that we understand anything, except that we use the authority of the Bible to confirm/reject our reality. Turning to the Bible is not intellectual suicide, but intellectual worship. The real paradox of neo-modernism is that they are turning away from the Scriptures for all their answers. Sadly, many in the Mosaic generation have left a biblical worldview to embrace unbiblical paradoxes because they have nowhere to turn for answers to their questions. Therefore, having a biblical worldview is necessary to teach our youth a biblical worldview to counter today’s zeitgeist and serve as a necessary corrective of neomodernism.
The End of the Beginning or the Beginning of the End
The German phrase “so fängt es immer an” means it always begins the same way. While the world and Satan always attack the Word of God at the beginning, the result of the different attack schemes is not always that clear. No one prophesied that modernism would succeed the Enlightenment nor that antimodernism would succeed modernism. So there is no way to determine what the end of neomodernism will be. My concern about what may be called the end of neomodernism will not actually be the end since neomodernism is inherently futuristic (that is, no regard for the past, always looking forward, emphasizing novelty). Certainly, neomodernism is strong today and will prevail for another decade or so, even though it is thoroughly unbiblical. The difficulty in trying to determine the end of neomodernism can be compared to the secular view of the end of the universe: forever expansion, the big crunch, or an oscillating universe. By analogy, the forever expansion would be a scenario in which neomodernism never ends in our lifetime (or ever for that matter). Or maybe the Lord will return during our lifetime and neomodernism will be done away with only because it never had a chance to end properly. If neomodernism were to end in a big crunch, it would self-destruct ultimately because it is not founded on God’s Word and could end in a third great awakening that recognizes our Creator King. Alternatively, and perhaps more disturbing of the three potential outcomes, is that neomodernism is oscillating through cycles of history “repeating” itself. Only until recently did anyone suggest studying history because it repeats itself. The benefit to studying history is to not repeat the errors of the past, not because the errors of the past are bound to identically present themselves again. Neither Nebuchadnezzar, nor Antiochus Epiphanes, nor Nero, nor Hitler will ever come back to life and rule tyrannically, squelching God’s people on the face of the planet. The spirit of those tyrants will return (that is, Antichrist), but those very people will not repeat history. What is repeated historically is the same moral and intellectual lapses in judgment as Solomon noticed that “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). The danger of neomodernism is that we may think it is defeated morally and intellectually when it has simply disappeared briefly from public life only to rear its head on a later date with the same tactics as the last time it was faced with some caveat to gain a new audience. The issues of neomodernism are new in that we are faced with new, individualized technology with no distinct regard for the Word of God (while worshipping nature), but it is the same old trick of deception as seen in the garden of Eden: doubting God’s Word. The proper response to the neomodern attack must be the Word of God, especially at its foundation in Genesis 1–11.
Instead of using the term postmodernism, we should use the term neomodernism. Postmodernism is better understood as an historical movement better described as antimodernism, which is very different from our current zeitgeist. Neomodernism is a term that helps understand the times in which we live, and so Christians ought to study it for the sake of understanding the questions of this age (as opposed to embracing neomodern ideas). In particular, today’s predominating worldview is open-minded towards neomodernism in Western civilization’s culture, the church, and academia. Since we live in a neomodernistic age, science reigns supreme and we must counter its atheistic claims in light of the ensuing secularization of society at large. Sadly, many Christians have embraced the current worldview and tried to compromise the Scriptures with such ideas as Intelligent Design (aka neocreationism). Christians must be better equipped at understanding the paradox of our times and reject the unbiblical paradoxes while embracing the biblical paradoxes in light of the fact that we will inevitably face these same issues again in the future. Ultimately, the Word of God must be the authority in all areas of life. We do not remain in darkness, but in light of the glorious gospel of Christ. Our youth have unfortunately tasted the hypocritical religion of neomodernism (that is, moralistic therapeutic deism), but not the God of the Bible as they have been brainwashed with neomodernism. Therefore, the youth must be challenged with biblical authority at home and in church (and academically if possible) to abandon neomodernism and live the new life found in the Lord Jesus Christ, according to the Scriptures.
I would like to thank Jason Kleber and Kevin Woodruff for their aid in preparation of this manuscript.
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