World Championship Wrestling, Postmodernism
Postmodernism… everyone’s talking about it, but what’s it really about? This summary from Luke Tattersall may be a useful resource for your church magazine.
Source: Perspective Vo7 No2 © Perspective 1999
If you are over about 35 years of age and male then you may remember some of these names from you youth: Spiros Arion, Mario Milano, Killer Karl Cox, Tiger Shing, Larry O’Day, Brute Bernard. Do you remember them? They were all wrestlers. I have some vivid memories of sitting on the floor of our lounge room watching wrestlers succumb to the “sleeper hold” or scream in agony at the pain of the “figure-four leg-lock”.
But have you seen the wrestling recently? It has changed – in a big way.
When you watched the wrestling back then, one thing was always clear – there were good guys and there were bad guys. Good was good and bad was bad. The good guys always fought clean and the bad guys always used the dirty tricks. The good guys may become bad guys. Or the bad guys might repent of their evil ways and become good guys. But it was always clear which side they were on.
The wrestling on TV today is totally different. The men and women that grace the ring now are called “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Vince McMahon and The Undertaker. They have groups called “the Ministry of Death”. But it is not only the names that have changed. It is now impossible to tell who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. Everyone seems to fight dirty. The lines have all been blurred.
But the wrestling is really only a reflection of a bigger shift that has taken place in the way society thinks. You may have heard the term “postmodernism”. This is the name that describes that shift. We live in a day and age when people don’t want to see things as black and white. They would prefer to just see lots of shades of grey. We live in a day in which the idea of “truth” is not that important – or even considered to be irrelevant. You can’t say what is good and what is bad. Just because you don’t like it or approve of it doesn’t mean it is bad. We have to be tolerant of the views, beliefs and practices of others.
Let me try to give you some idea of what postmodernism is and how it influences the world we live in, but most importantly how it influences us sharing the Gospel with people.
To understand “postmodernism” we need to have some idea of the prevailing thinking before postmodernism. The word used to describe it was “Modernism” (obviously).
We have all grown up in the “Modern” world – in a world where science was thought of as King. It is a world where there was enormous confidence that science would hold the key to unlock the mysteries of life, the universe and everything. It was thought that the truth was out there and that all we need to do is follow the rules of logic and scientific methods and we will find it. Here is how one writer summarised modernism:
“The goal of the human intellectual quest became that of unlocking the secrets of the universe, in order to master nature for human benefit and create a better world.”
It was also thought that when we discover the truth about things, then that truth will be the same for everyone, everywhere at all times.
Now let’s be clear – there is nothing particularly “Christian” about modernism. In fact there is much about modernism that is anti-Christian. Modernism has a hard time accepting the concept of God because he can’t be proved by scientific methods. The miracles of the Bible, likewise, don’t conform to my experience and can’t be verified by any testing so they have to be dismissed. That means that the Bible is no longer a book teaching us the “truth” about God and what he has done through Jesus. At best, the Modernist says the Bible can be thought of as a book of myths. Many Modernists think that the realms of “faith” and “science” were mutually exclusive. Science will be the way that truth is discovered. Faith is a private thing.
In recent years some people have suggested Modernism has had its day. Modernism has been trying to unlock the secrets of the universe for a long time now and seem to be no closer to doing it. Maybe the truth isn’t out there after all, says Postmodernism. Maybe if it is there we won’t be able to comprehend it fully or express it in a way others can understand. Maybe “truth” is just a matter of individual preference – some things may be true for you and other things may be true for me.
That is the world we are now living in. We are told that we should not force our truth on others – we should be tolerant of what other people think. Postmodernism says everyone is entitled to their own truth. If two people see things in different ways that is OK – that is just “your interpretation”.
Now we can see the influence of Postmodernism in a whole variety of areas – some good, some not so good. Things like Multiculturalism are an attempt to say that all cultures are of equal value and should be equally tolerated.
Another place that you can see postmodernism clearly at work is in English Departments in any university. When it comes to studying a book at university today the lecturer is not really interested in finding out what the author was attempting to do when he wrote the book. That is viewed as a pointless exercise. All you can do is think about what the book means to you. So whatever the book means to you is what the book means. The motto is “The Reader is the Author” – the reader is the one who determines the meaning of the text. There are as many meanings for a book as there are readers – all of them equally valid.
Now all this has serious implications for how understand the Bible and how we share the Gospel with people. The influence of Postmodernism is not just in universities. You may have noticed it already. Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you were trying to tell someone about Jesus and they said, “That may be true for you – but it doesn’t mean it will be true for me.” That is the influence of postmodernism.
Or have you ever found yourself showing someone a verse from the Bible and they dismissed it by saying, “That is just your interpretation”. That’s the influence of postmodernism. When it comes to looking at the Bible the postmodernist says there’s no limit to the number of interpretations you can get from the Bible. You can’t claim that your interpretation is any more correct than someone else. They are all equally valid. Remember: “The Reader is the Author”.
Let me offer a few things I think we must be ready to do as Christians:
1. Be aware of how it is we think and how it is the world thinks. If we want to share the Gospel with people we need to understand what and how they are thinking. To communicate clearly and effectively we must first understand what people are hearing us say. There are some good books and articles you can read to help understand this idea of postmodernism and the influence it is having on the way people think.
2. But we also need to be ready to critique the prevailing thinking of the world and point out the inconsistencies. Take multiculturalism for example. Everyone says we should be tolerant of other cultures. They are happy to do that if it means we have Thai restaurants or World Movies on Pay TV. But what about those cultures that practice female circumcision or the cultures that consider the birth of twins to be an evil thing and will kill them both. Are we going to be tolerant of them? Are we going to say those practices are OK – that we should let them continue? If not, why not? Or take literature as another example. The people who write these books that say you can’t understand what an author is trying to say certainly expect that you will be able to understand what they are saying.
3. We have to be convinced of the truth of Gospel. The Gospel message of Jesus and his death on the cross is not just “my truth”. It’s universal truth – something everyone needs to hear and believe. In the coming years it will become harder and harder for us to preach the Gospel and hold to the concept of truth. We need to be convinced that the truth about Jesus is indeed true for everyone.
4. We need to be committed to the fact that the Bible speaks the truth of God, that it speaks it clearly, and that this truth will be the same truth for all people at all times. It is true that people can come up with different “interpretations” – but the fact is some will be right and some will be wrong. Some will be a correct understanding of what that Bible passage is saying, others will be incorrect. Lets not fall into the trap of thinking that the Bible can mean whatever I think it means. The Bible means what the Author (God) says it means. We need to work at understanding what the Bible is clearly saying – the truth that it is presenting.
Postmodernism shouldn’t be seen as some new enemy of Christianity or some evil force that is working against us. It is just the latest expression of mankind refusing to acknowledge their God and creator. Paul says in Romans that the truth about God is plain to them – yet they suppress that truth.
Paul also says in Romans that he is not ashamed of the Gospel because it is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe.
The Gospel is a powerful message – far more powerful then any postmodern thinking. Let’s keep telling people about what God has done for us in Jesus. And let’s be confident that God will continue to use that message to bring people into the Kingdom of his son.