04 January 2010

A Primer on Postmodernism

by Phil Johnson

ver the years I've had quite a lot to say about postmodernism on this blog—mostly critical. Yet I'm constantly reminded via e-mails that we have lots of readers who aren't even certain what that term refers to. Several years ago, I gave a message on the subject. I've never excerpted that message or tried to summarize it on the blog because the subject doesn't lend itself to that.

But this weekend I was nosing around over at Monergism.Com and stumbled across the following recording, originally posted by my friend Will Moneymaker at SwordandTrowel.org. If I remember correctly, this message is from a conference at Grace Bible Church of Bakersfield (Ray Hammond, pastor). It's a single-message overview of the subject in layman's terms. It might be helpful to PyroManiacs readers who are struggling to get a handle on why these postmodern times are so confusing. Here you go:

A Beginner's Guide to Postmodernism

Phil's signature


Bobby Grow said...

"If that works for you, great!"

markbe said...

funny, i had just found and was reading Deconstruction in a Nutshell on Google Books when stumbling on this post during an RSS feed check break, haha. thanks for the link!

Bobby Grow said...

Douglas Groothius has a really accessible summary, quite exhaustive too, on PoMo called:

Truth Decay

Then of course James Sire in his book: The Universe Next Door also has a nice primer on PoMo.

Both of these are very accessible, and should help most thoughtful layman out in navigating these perilous waters.

Shaun RW Little said...

Great sermon Phil. I usually don't feel the need to take notes but I couldn't help myself:

"Postmodernism might be defined in a nutshell as, the belief that no single world view offers a universally and objectively true perspective on all of life and reality."

"Postmodernism is hostile to every world view that makes a universal truth claim"

Heh, I even participated in making the little tic-tac-toe timeline.


Kimberly said...

just a thought, new believers that come from the world or a cult like my family can get lost in the new world, vocabulary and ideas floating around. I would love to see a handbook for little fire sparklers. A navagation guide of sorts. I think it would be a great blessing to so many.

Terry Rayburn said...



I got John MacArthur's book The Jesus You Can't Ignore for Christmas.

I have pretty much all of his books, and am enjoying this one, but I'm reminded of something, and just want to say it.

I'm reminded of how much you have put into the ministry of MacArthur's books.

The digging, sorting, editing, wording, distilling, etc., is fairly monumental, and seems to never end with book after book.

It seems to me that so few people could do that on the scale and with the excellence that you do, that it's obviously a combination of gifts and skills.

And it's all done to put someone else's name on it.

Which reminds me of the 'ol saying, "It's amazing what can be accomplished if you don't care who gets the credit". (Which is not to say that Mac doesn't deserve huge credit for the study and preaching that goes into the original material -- this goes without saying, though I say it anyway.)

Anyway, thanks for what you do. Huge.


Bryan Wayne said...

There is a short article on monergism.com also that was very informative for me. However, the problem arose when my post-modern friend wouldn't accept the truth in the article because he said it was biased. I couldn't see the bias because from what I saw, the article was based on truth.

What do you do with friends who are post-modern? This friend in particular isn't willing to acknowledge that he is post-modern. He and I have been friends almost our entire life, and our conversations always seem to get into a scriptural or theological disagreement. He never wants to concede that we can know and understand truth.

David Rudd said...


until your friend is certain that you understand his viewpoint, he will not likely be willing to hear your critique of it.

can you state to him in your words a thorough yet concise and clear enough summary of what he believes that he can say, "yes, that's it!"

most people are not interested in hearing an argument against their belief if they don't think you understand their belief.

Shaun RW Little said...

I've been recently doing a series of lessens with my youth group on discernment in the last days.

A point I've been really focusing on is: "Why we need discernment"
I had gone over various warnings we find in the NT of there being deception in the church, wolves in sheep's clothing, people drawing some after themselves speaking perverse things,... exc

Anyways this morning while doing dishes and reflecting on this sermon I realized I had not yet gone over a definition of postmodernism with the kids. It occurred to me that these kids are immersed in this mind set even more than I was growing up in the 80's and 90's and it's likely they don't even know what postmodernism is.

If you don't mind I think I'm gonna do a lesson on postmodern thought and use your cute tic-tac-toe box to help the kids understand.

It's not easy keeping the attention of teenagers and even harder to get something to stick to their ribs.

To be honest I actually had fun making the little tic-tac-toe-box but maybe I am just easily entertained.

In Christ,


Bobby Grow said...


Just take your friends logic to its logical conclusion, then start from there.

In other words, simply ask him if he believes in "absolute truth" (or something like that); if he says "no," then simply respond back, "are you absolutely sure that you don't believe in absolute truth?"

Obviously, we all believe in an "objective truth," PoMos, or relativists (there really is no such thing as a Post-Modernist), in fact must assume (objective truth) what they deny (objective truth) in order to deny it (objective truth). Clearly this is a self-refuting position, or circular thinking (petitio principii); and is really quite simple to demonstrate (see the example above). Even if your friend replied that "truth is probable," he still is appealing to an objective standard that is both external to both you and him (and everyone); that is "true" and discernable for both him and you, and is "outside" his subjectivity (even if he claims the contrary).

IMHO, if you use the simple "reduction of logic" I just mentioned; you'll set your friend up (in a good way) to see the fallcious nature of his thinking (if he's honest, even not, I would just press him), and then have the opportunity to share from a vantage point that might have more weight behind it. I've used this with folks many times, as an entry point, and it truly works (not like a formula, per se); they can't respond, which gives you the perfect opportunity.

Anyway, hope that helps :-).

PS. Is this friend a Christian?

mike said...

you said
most people are not interested in hearing an argument against their belief if they don't think you understand their belief.

actually, i fing that most people are not interested in hearing any comments about their beliefs unless they think that you agree with them.

to a very real degree, i believe that we must stick with our gospel of "foolishness" and let the Spirit of God break those that he will. the broken listen best. that is what it took (and takes) for me.

David Rudd said...


ironically, i don't think you disagree with me on this.

but, i don't think you understand what i'm saying either.


Bobby Grow said...

I agree, the "Gospel is the power of God," but that doesn't mean we can't have responses that squash smoke and smirror responses to the Gospel either. Using a little bit of Evangelistic swagger can't hurt --- Paul did --- it actually requires some work, which I don't think most Christians are willing to put in.

Anonymous said...

I find that many of the younger crowd I deal with who want to be seen as "thinkers" will eagerly call themselves pomo's, but can't really explain what that means. One guy I conversed with who claimed to love postmodernism thought it was a method of teaching. He said they used it at his college (Liberty). Well, maybe...

Blogger won't let me delete my own profile. said...


Your friend must not understand postmodernism very well considering the fact that key postmodern thinkers would affirm that ALL people are biased (Derrida, Foucault, Lyotard). I would agree with that because the Bible teaches it. There is a constant battle between flesh (disillusioned) and spirit (pure, true). So our bias will always affect the message in as far as we are not speaking the words of the Spirit.

Our perspective, of course, is on the opposite sid eof the spectrum and it is informed by the all knowing, all good God who gives us this "knowledge of the truth".


On another note, when is someone going to give a sermon on the negative and unbiblical teachings of modernism?

Anonymous said...

It is my experience that the post modern, emerging...and its circle of authors don't seem to be concerned about logic.

David Rudd said...


that's your "experience"?


Anonymous said...

David Rudd,

What's so ironic?

David Rudd said...


irony explained usually loses it's bite, but i'll try.

this may be a simplification, but one important element of postmodern thought is the high value placed on "experience". in fact, often "experience" is considered a more valid truth-test than logic, facts, or revelation.

the irony is that you are condemning their disdain for logic (which is rooted in a high value on experience), not based on facts or source-evidence but on "experience".

i just thought that was funny.

Anonymous said...

David Rudd,

It took another read and I got it! :-) I do have a Source for my beliefs and don't fly by the seat of my pants.

I haven't had a chance to listen to the message, but am quite familiar of the post modern message, as I now live in the Grand Rapids area.

Anonymous said...

And of course you would have had to post your answer before my aha!

David Rudd said...

ZOIKS! Grand Rapids?

is that now the definitive lair of postmodernism? i thought the creeping from minnesota would be stopped by Lake Michigan.

time for me to move south.

Anonymous said...

Muskegon isn't all that far away, or do you need to update your profile? :-)

Anonymous said...


When I lived in the Soo, I attended the same Church as others with the last name of Rudd - small world.