Is Postmodernism Primarily Concerned with Truth?

John MacArthur versus the Emerging Church - 3
Review of
The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception

The title of John MacArthur’s book should give us a clue to its major premise.
  • God has revealed to us the truth.
  • Postmodernism denies truth.
  • Therefore, postmodernism denies God’s revelation.
First, MacArthur defines truth.
“So what is truth? Here is a simple definition drawn from what the Bible teaches: truth is that which is consistent with the mind, will, character, glory, and being of God. Even more to the point: truth is the self-expression of God. (p. 2)

Few, if any, Christians would find anything in that definition to argue with. I think that even most of those in the Emerging Church conversation could go along with that definition.

MacArthur then defines postmodernism.
“Postmodernism in general is marked by a tendency to dismiss the possibility of any sure and settled knowledge of the truth. Postmodernism suggests that if objective truth exists, it cannot be known objectively or with any degree of certainty.” (pp. 10-11)
Here’s where we should pause and ask, Does MacArthur correctly identify the key characteristic of Postmodernism?

I’d say, no. There is a lot more going on in Postmodern thought than simple rejection of truth and certainty. MacArthur offers just a shallow assessment of the Postmodern crisis.

Postmodernism has more to do with the limits of language and those in power using "word games" to manipulate the marginalized than it does with the simple rejection of a settled knowledge of truth and certainty.
  • It recognizes that when people groups claim for themselves that they have a settled, certain knowledge of truth, they seek to force that onto others – often resulting in violence against the ones not in power. One just needs to look at the history of the Church to see this is true even in the body of Christ - where different sects in the Church, from Rome to Geneva, have killed in the name of truth.
  • It recognizes that those who have claimed such settled, certain knowledge of truth have often changed that truth over time. The issue is not the simple rejection of truth; the issue is the arrogant certainty that people have about their truth claims. Again, we snicker at Rome's Magisterium as it has changed its teachings over the centuries but we Protestants have seen so many manifestations of 'truth' in our developing theologies that we cannot possibly say that we've arrived at a settled and certain understanding of truth and have any integrity.
  • It also recognizes that Modernity deified Reason and the scientific method, resulting in people groups using these tools to legitimate their truth claims at the expense of others. The Church in Modernity had embraced these as well, seeking to prove the truth of our doctrines by way of logic.

Postmodernism’s incredulity to truth claims and certainty has a deeper root that MacArthur never seeks to understand. His simplistic assessment of Postmodernism only goes as deep as “the attack on propositional truth is the natural and necessary outworking of postmodernism’s general distrust of logic, distaste for certainty, and dislike for clarity. To maintain the ambiguity and pliability of ‘truth’ necessary for the postmodern perspective, clear and definitive propositions must be discounted as a means of expressing truth.” (P. 16)

That is intriguing rhetoric, but it offers little deep analysis of the postmodern turn.

The Entire Series:
1: John MacArthur’s Post-Enlightenment Philosophical Understanding of “Truth”
2: Is Rob Bell a Godless Man, Condemned by God?
3: Is Postmodernism Primarily Concerned with Truth?
4: Straw Men – The Emerging Church is Filled with Hard Postmodernists
5: MacArthur Fits His Own Criteria for an Apostate

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Matt Wiebe said...

Quite right. Postmodernism is (and I'm generalizing in the extreme!) a suspicion towards authority and/or power; an inkling that an unjustified power-play is lurking beneath all truth claims. It is not about truth: it is about justice and especially the injustice masked by "truth."

Bob Robinson said...

That is very well said.