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Postmodernism versus Certainty

November 10, 2009 Leave a comment

Phil Johnson’s latest post over at PyroManiacs, “Settled Certainty,” deals with the post-modern idea that all certainty is arrogance. In response, he points to 2 Timothy 1:12 and Paul’s emphatic certainty of knowing what he believed:
“I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.”
Phil Johnson further notes:

Certitude. It probably wasn’t popular in Paul’s time, either. But frankly it’s never been more out of vogue than it is today. The fashionable thing today is to question everything. The visible church is overrun with bad preachers and weak-willed people who are convinced that the very epitome of humility is never to state anything with too much conviction.

Everything nowadays is supposed to be carefully qualified with lots of ambiguous expressions and weasel-words like “perhaps,” or “possibly,” or “It seems to me . . . ” or “maybe.” Everything (including the gospel itself) gets prefaced with, “I could be wrong, but to the best of my knowledge this seems reasonable—although I know other people see it differently, so I don’t want to be dogmatic.”

Doubt has been canonized as a virtue and renamed “epistemological humility”—as if doubting what God says could be excused by labeling it “humility.”

I have not personally dealt with postmodern thought in its extreme (doubting one’s own salvation), yet I do see the general attitude, even in a close Christian friend, that to be sure of what I believe is somehow arrogant, accompanied with the reproach “you just think you know everything.” Coming from a close family member, it hurts all the more; yet such words came forth, for instance, when I tried to explain the importance of holding to the Bible’s clear meaning of Genesis 1. Though he does accept biblical creation, he somehow thought it arrogant to state such a belief emphatically. My reply that it is God’s word, the Bible, and not my ideas, only brought more of the same: “that’s just your interpretation, and you think you know it all, and you’re right and everyone else is wrong.” Another conversation, related to what the Bible has to say regarding future things, brought out his distinctly post-modern attitude: the Bible isn’t clear on it, all the views have their problems, we can’t know it for sure, and people much more learned than you have studied this much more and they see all the difficulties and uncertainties; who do you think you are? I have since learned that such a view has its own term, deconstructionism — a form of post-modernism, though focused especially on the prophetic texts of Scripture.

Such a mindset indeed seems baffling, and yet as I often remind myself from reading my Bible (and articles from Phil Johnson and John MacArthur) it is unscriptural.  Today’s post-modernists in the emergent church take the idea of uncertainty to extreme, but even the moderate, selective approach as in my example above undermines God’s character by suggesting that God deliberately obscures the truth, that He doesn’t really want us to know or to study His word.  As John MacArthur pointed out in his Revelation series, the book of Revelation states its purpose, that it was written to REVEAL Him to us, and the stated purpose is so that we will know and understand.  God wants us to understand Him and to study His word–not to think that He is unclear, an unkind God who deliberately keeps His word veiled from us, His children.

Jack Kelley well observes the problems in today’s Church (in “The Church Against the Rapture“):

So the liberals are amillennial and couldn’t tell a rapture from a rupture. Pentecostal, charismatic, and emerging congregations are often dominionists, although for different reasons. Catholics and some conservative protestants are post-trib. Almost all have been tainted by replacement theology, and hardly any study prophecy. That leaves the evangelicals and even among us there’s growing disagreement.

It’s popular to just smile and say of the protestant church, “On the essentials of salvation we all agree, but in the non-essentials there’s room for lots of different opinions.” Baloney. The Bible is not a document written to provide a debating society with lots of different positions. It’s the Word of God and it’s not subject to man’s opinion. Though we may not like it all, we don’t have the right to re-interpret it to suit our desires.

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