Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Postmodern Musings: Swimming in the Waters of Uncertainty

Written by: on March 5, 2024

I am ever so guilty of throwing around the word, “post-modern” without fully understanding how deeply ingrained this philosophy is in how I think and live. As I slogged through Stephen R.C. Hicks’ book, Explaining Postmodernism Skepticism from Rosseau to Foucault, and more willingly listened to some podcasts with Hicks as a guest, I began to see that it is nearly impossible for me to untangle postmodernism from my belief system. [1]

In a previous blog post, I wrote that capitalism is the water in which we swim because of how deeply saturated our culture is in trying to get ahead. Capitalistic ideology seeps its way into our beliefs, our practices, our decisions, the very way we live our lives. The same is true for postmodernism. It, too, is the water in which we swim. It is our reality even as postmodern thought would argue against a fixed reality. [2]

What is Postmodernism?

In the Jordan B. Peterson Podcast, Hicks says, “Postmodernism is skepticism of the metanarrative.” In other words, there is no overarching story or truth to how the world works. By pushing back on modernism, philosophers became skeptical that there are any communal truths, focusing instead on smaller narratives, opinions, and beliefs. As we moved from modernism to postmodernism, truth and reality became subjective, based on one’s lived experience.

Yet, Hicks asks, “If there is no world or self to understand and get right on their terms, then what is the purpose of thought or action?”[3] If everything is subjective, based on my experience or your experience or the lived experience of someone somewhere else in the world, then what is the purpose of anything? There can be no absolutes, no truths, nothing to know for sure.

And, when said this way, I get how foolish this sounds. Take science, for example, isn’t the purpose of science to move us closer to objective truth? Admittedly, I only received decent marks in biology and had to work extra hard for the same in chemistry. I was lucky to pull a D+ in my college genetics course but I could have possibly landed a C if I had actually attended class. Science may not be my strength but what I’ve always (maybe incorrectly) understood about science was that it was about finding objective truth. Am I wrong about that understanding?

But when it comes to anything else, and I’m pretty sure I mean anything else, I glide through the waters of postmodernism like an Olympic swimmer, especially when it comes to religion.

Postmodernism and the Church

Graham Ward, Regius Professor of Divinity at Christ Church, Oxford, writes, “… theology has always been aware that the knowledge it produces facilitates an understanding of the human condition and the world we live in more than a knowledge of God-in-Godself.”[4] Take for example the typical interpreters of the Bible who until recently were overwhelmingly educated males, often formally celibate, raised into a higher social class, and trained to broker and maintain an organized form of Christianity upon which their jobs depended.[5] These male interpreters could see through no other lens than the ones in the goggles they wore to see in the modernistic water they were swimming in. A postmodern perspective would recognize that these men would have a vested interest in continuing a system that keeps the status quo – including the inequities, such as male leadership, white and class privilege, insuring adherence of belief to creeds.[6]

The church I currently serve has made solid work of re-imagining what following Jesus looks like in the postmodern world. The tagline of our church is “spacious Christianity,” meaning,

a way of wisdom and practice in the footsteps of Jesus of Nazareth. This path is a commitment to the complexity of community, to the paradox of both/and, to transformation of soul, mind and body, and to the flourishing of a just and whole earth. The Jewish and Christian Scriptures are our sacred guide along centuries-old paths that lead us into the universal love of God. Spacious Christianity invites us to tell our stories and welcome questions as we delight in the larger Mystery that draws us into a future that is more than we can ask or imagine, living lives of hope, healing and purpose.[7]

This postmodern spacious Christianity works well for our adults. In fact, adults seem to greatly appreciate being in a church that encourages questions, doubts, and wonder, a church in which the leadership regularly says things from the pulpit like, “I don’t know. I don’t have an answer.”

But I wonder if spacious Christianity is what our kids need.

As a human development major in college (classes in which I received A’s and B’s, so not like my genetics class), we learned about Piaget’s stages of childhood development. Most elementary school age children are in what Piaget calls the “Preoperational” or “Concrete Operational” stages during which their brain works differently than an adult brain. They need absolutes, rules, boundaries or as Richard Rohr says, “containers” to be able to develop more complex thinking and, perhaps even more important, to feel secure.[8]

Richard Rohr writes,

A sense of order is the easiest and most natural way to begin; it is a needed first “container.” I cannot think of a culture in human history, before the present postmodern era, that did not value law, tradition, custom, family loyalties, authority, boundaries, and morality of some clear sort. While they aren’t perfect, these containers give us the necessary security, predictability, impulse control, and ego structure that we need, before the chaos of real life shows up. As far as I can see it, healthily conservative people tend to grow up more naturally and more happily than those who receive only freeform, build-it-yourself worldviews.

We need a very strong container to hold the contents and contradictions that arrive later in life. We ironically need a very strong ego structure to let go of our ego. We need to struggle with the rules more than a bit before we throw them out. We only internalize values by butting up against external values for a while. All this builds the strong self that can positively follow Jesus—and “die to itself.”

I think Piaget would agree.

I wonder about how postmodernism in our church is affecting the faith of our children. I value that children in our congregation are taught to ask questions, to wonder, to doubt. I appreciate that they are not being indoctrinated with a non-negotiable belief system that threatens them with hell if they do not believe “correctly.” At the same time, I wonder if they might also need a stronger “container” some boundaries, a foundation, teaching them that this is who we are as Presbyterians, this is what the saints of the Church have confessed about God for centuries, this is what we know about God, this is who Jesus is to us. From this container they can then grow, discover, and embark on a journey of faith that will bring them closer to following in the way of Jesus, knowing who they are and Whose they are.







[1] Jordan B. Peterson podcast, Stephen Hicks: Philosophy and Postmodernism, Jordan’s Conversation with Stephen Hicks, May 5, 2019, Scribd.

[2] Stephen R. C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, Ockham’s Razor Publishing, 2014, Kindle Edition, 12.

[3] Ibid, 10.

[4] Ward, G. (2003). Deconstructive theology. In K. J. Vanhoozer (Ed.), The Cambridge companion to postmodern theology: Cambridge University Press, 82. I was introduced to Graham Ward when reading this blog: https://firstpostmodern.org/blog/2019/02/14/postmodernism/ accessed March 4, 2024. I want to read more from Graham Ward!

[5] Richard Rohr, What do we do with the Bible? Albuquerque, NM: CAC Publishing, 2018, 38-39. I also discovered this quote on the blog: https://firstpostmodern.org/blog/2019/02/14/postmodernism/ accessed March 4, 2024.

[6] Rick Bowers, My Thoughts on Postmodernism, https://firstpostmodern.org/blog/2019/02/14/postmodernism/

[7] https://bendfp.org/about-2/what-we-believe/ accessed March 4, 2024.

[8] Richard Rohr, The Universal Pattern, https://cac.org/daily-meditations/the-universal-pattern-2020-08-09/, accessed March 4, 2024.

About the Author

Kally Elliott

Mom of four. Wanna-be Broadway star. PC(USA) pastor. Wife. Friend. Sometimes a hot mess. Sometimes somewhat together. Is this supposed to be a professional bio?

4 responses to “Postmodern Musings: Swimming in the Waters of Uncertainty”

  1. Jennifer Vernam says:

    Wow, Kally; these questions you are raising about striking the right balance of certainty with our kids are compelling. As I was reading your thoughts I wondered if you also have the same questions as a parent? Should the approach be the same or different?

  2. Jenny Dooley says:

    Hi Kally, I really appreciated your summary of postmodernism, “In other words, there is no overarching story or truth to how the world works. By pushing back on modernism, philosophers became skeptical that there are any communal truths, focusing instead on smaller narratives, opinions, and beliefs. As we moved from modernism to postmodernism, truth and reality became subjective, based on one’s lived experience.” Understanding that this is the world we and our children are swimming in make your thoughts extremely valid and important. I keep thinking about the both/and approach you suggested. An approach in which we clearly explain how the postmodern world acts and thinks while at the same time providing a sturdy container for truth, questions, and doubt. Without that explanation of the water we swim in or the right tools to keep us from drowning, how would we or our children know not to just jump right in? How would you address this with the youth in your congregation?

  3. Adam Harris says:

    Loved your post and I’ve asked the same questions in light of people like Piaget, Erik Erikson, and James Fowler who lay out psychological models of development. Younger kids do seem to need some concrete ideas and stories in their development. Many churches are leaning toward wonder, curiosity, and questions, to remedy some of the things we had to unlearn or “deconstruct” later. I think many Christian teachers and parents are trying to find a healthy approach in our postmodern world that passes on Christ’s spirit, good fruit, and values to our kids over dualism, shame, strict doctrines, and religious legalism.

  4. mm Jana Dluehosh says:

    good post. I like your view of spaciousness! I think we all need more space! There are so many demands, and perhaps you found the gift of postmodern thinking…Hick felt very discouraging to me.

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