So stick with me here as I try and think through some things out loud.
Thomas Oden saw that shifts in Western thinking were tied to major events. For example, the premodern era that was dominantly classicist and Christian ended at the Fall of the Bastille in 1789, marking the beginning of the French Revolution and replacing classicism and Christianity with science and reason as the new dominant ideologies. This marked the end of the premodern era and the beginning of modernism.
The end of modernism, according to Oden, came to an end when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. Since communism was the ultimate expression of modernist ideology, and it had utterly failed, Western thought then shifted away from modernism to what’s now called post-modernism. Post-modernism jettisons objectivism and exalts relativism as its most key component: “what’s true for you is true for you, what’s true for me is true for me.”
September 11 was another event that would caused a major shift in Western thinking, this time away from relativism. People near-unanimously condemned these attacks as evil, a statement that post-modern thought could not support. Suddenly, Fundamentalist Islam was not considered to be just another valid option that people could choose from, but was off-limits and condemned as evil. Goodbye relativism. And as relativism left, so did post-modernism.
Or did it? We still see heavy influences of post-modern thought in contemporary culture, particularly when it comes to issues of gender and sexuality, but we also see something new happening. The rise of cancel culture flies directly in the face of post-modern thought, and the conflict now between feminism and transgenderism is causing liberalism as a worldview to fracture from the inside out. Now, extreme polarization is taking place–you’re either not liberal enough or not conservative enough, and that judgment is typically made based on a single idea one may hold, a single position one might take, a single speech, a single tweet, a single sentence.
I have been wondering if this global pandemic will eventually come to be seen as another monumental shift in our thinking, but I feel that if it is, it won’t be a good one. During 9/11 and the aftermath, there was a palpable sense of transcendence that overtook the nation. Interest in God and religion increased, but it was a short-lived distraction, it seems like. However, during the COVID-19 crisis, I’ve not seen anything that looks like a major increase in interest in religion or transcendence. Sure, more people are watching church online, but literally all sports are cancelled and the vast majority of people are quarantined in their homes bored out of their minds. There may be a surge in online religious exposure, but time will tell if that, too, is only a distraction from our boredom.
We’re in the throes of a major shift in contemporary thought that is hard to navigate. What is truth? What is good? What is real? What is offensive? What is the way to flourishing and happiness? All of these questions are becoming harder and harder to answer, and as these questions become harder to answer, cohesive worldviews become harder to form. Consistency is being lauded as a good virtue right now, but if our current modes of thinking are going to be validated, I think it won’t be long before that’s thrown out the window as well. We’re heading headlong into some full-blown kind of hyper post-modernism.
All this to say, I think that conservative evangelical Christians, meaning those Christians who hold to the inerrancy of Scripture and the necessity of evangelism to fulfill the Great Commission, are in as good a spot as any to meet this world where it is with answers to the questions mentioned above. It won’t be long before the instability of our current mode of thinking will collapse on itself, the signs are already there. And when it happens, what will be the dominant characteristics of the new major ideology will be built from the rubble? If we work hard now, preaching and teaching the objective truth of Scripture in a way that allows people to see the need of holding the truths of the Bible as convictions rather than merely beliefs, then I think we can play a major role in shaping the coming form of Western thought that’s looming on the horizon.
If you read this far, thanks for coming to my TED talk.