To start with, you may want to take a look at Wikipedia’s entries for Modernism and Postmodernism. Wikipedia isn’t an authoritative source, but it is usually helpful, as it is here. It’s rather difficult to categorize a lot of cultural phenomena. People don’t even agree on what these terms mean as applied to culture.
Consider this from the modern entry:
It is a trend of thought that affirms the power of human beings to create, improve, and reshape their environment, with the aid of scientific knowledge, technology and practical experimentation. Modernism encouraged the re-examination of every aspect of existence, from commerce to philosophy, with the goal of finding that which was ‘holding back’ progress, and replacing it with new, progressive and therefore better, ways of reaching the same end. In essence, the modernist movement argued that the new realities of the industrial and mechanized age were permanent and imminent, and that people should adapt their world view to accept that the new equaled the good, the true and the beautiful…Embracing change and the present, modernism encompasses the works of thinkers who rebelled against nineteenth century academic and historicist traditions, believing the “traditional” forms of art, architecture, literature, religious faith, social organization and daily life were becoming outdated; they directly confronted the new economic, social and political aspects of an emerging fully industrialized world. Some divide the 20th Century into movements designated Modernism and Postmodernism, whereas others see them as two aspects of the same movement.
According to this article, modernism
–encourages the re-examination of every aspect of existence
–looks for progressive ways of meeting the same ends
–believes many aspects of tradition are outdated
Interesting. Isn’t that what many say postmodernism is? Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?
Actually, though, before World War I, the Western world believed in Progress to the extreme. Ideas like evolution went from a theory about origin to a declaration about continuous human development. Even the American church was influenced by this vision of progress. There was a noticeable shift, for instance, to pre-milleniallism after the disillusionment of World War I and other factors. Without a doubt, human reason and belief in progress in the Western world brought about a lot of amazing change and technological advances.
In the process, what else happened? We talk about tradition, but even in church, how old are our traditions, really? What we call the traditional nuclear family structure, for instance, dates back about 200 years (see Families at the Crossroads). We don’t know our history as well as we should, and to paraphrase: those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. Our consumerist society has, in many respects, re-examined everything, assigned a dollar amount, thrown out history, and found progressive ways to meet real and perceived needs.
Plus, and this is important, human reason has fallen short and caused disillusionment. That shouldn’t surprise anyone with a Christian world view. It goes back to original sin and our self-centered nature. And sin, by it’s nature, is usually based on anything but reason. Further, humans are created in God’s image with reason and emotion, to separate them is to have a false picture.
Lastly, postmodernism is a response, or as some say, an extension of modernism into contemporary times. The title of this post, then, is likely inaccurate. I’ll mention disillusionment again, because that’s important to understand. I’ve been disillusioned myself, as a Christian. Let me tell you something about it. When you are apathetic and discouraged because your ideals about life have been shattered, Christian formulas and appeals to truth just don’t amount to much…they don’t stir the heart, don’t give hope to a thirsty soul. It is, after all, not about the Christian philosophy of life. I don’t need a rationale philosophy of life…I need Jesus Christ in my heart, my mind, my soul…and so does the world.