Truth Decay: Defending Christianity against the Challenges of Postmodernism
Michener, Ronald T., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against The Challenges of Postmodernism. By Douglas Groothuis. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2000, 303 pp., $12.99 paper.
In an age where one often finds it difficult to identify an author's defined position on issues related to postmodernism, in Truth Decay Groothuis takes a stand with unequivocal clarity. Groothuis understands postmodernism as a force in the process of dealing a deathblow to Truth, only to be replaced by little "truths." Groothuis claims that this is "very bad news philosophically, ethically, apologetically and theologically" (p. 11). His task is to show why this is the case while passionately defending the notion of objective, absolute truth.
Chapter 1 paints a picture of how postmodern "truth decay" is spreading throughout our culture and directly confronting the Christian worldview. Chapter 2 describes how such decay began by tracing its roots from modernism to postmodernism. Although Groothuis provides an adequate treatment, any attempt at tracing such a development will have its necessary omissions and difficulties. He credits Nietzsche as being the "top candidate" (p. 37) marking the pivotal transition. Certainly Nietzsche had a profound influence on Foucault and the development of other postmodern thinkers. Groothuis also critiques both Derrida and Rorty. Yet he neglects to mention any influence of Heidegger or of structuralism (i.e. Saussure), both which had a profound influence on these thinkers. Groothuis helpfully distinguishes modernism and postmodernism as philosophical systems from the social conditions of modernity and postmodernity. He carefully points out that postmodernism has not simply superceded modernism, noting that they overlap and conflict with each other. Yet he too hastily claims that both modernists and postmodernists agree in their philosophical naturalism and in the denial of God's existence. Certainly not all who are considered postmodernist are philosophical naturalists. Groothuis himself critiques evangelical theologians whom he perceives to have mistakenly appropriated postmodernist traits (chaps. 5-6). Neither are all modernists philosophical naturalists. For example, Groothuis calls Francis Bacon a "modernist philosopher" (p. 30); yet Bacon was most clearly a theist. We may certainly concur with Groothuis in his assessment of the naturalistic premises of such thinkers as Lyotard, Foucault, Derrida, and Rorty. However, to imply that all "modernist science and post-modernist philosophy have arisen out of naturalistic premises" (p. 43) is an over-generalization.
Chapter 3 advances Groothuis's view of the biblical nature of truth. He briefly examines the consistency between the NT word aletheia and the Hebrew 'emet. He follows this by issuing eight core aspects of objective "biblical truth" in contrast to post-modernist claims. Groothuis helpfully clears up several misunderstandings concerning the notion of truth. For example, he contends that objective biblical truth does not diminish the need for its subjective appropriation. Nor does it imply that a Christian may claim absolute knowledge, or provide an absolute defense of a stated objective biblical truth. However, it does free "needy mortals from the confusion of a mass of conflicting religious claims" (p. 71).
Chapter 4 provides a philosophical defense of the correspondence theory of truth in contrast to the relativistic, sociological views of postmodernism. Groothuis persuasively argues that this is "the only biblically and logically grounded view of truth available and allowable" (p. 110). He refers to statements or propositions as true if they correspond to reality. He also submits that the proper definition of truth is correspondence to reality. In my estimation, Groothuis could have more clearly drawn the difference between statements corresponding with reality and the notion of truth being equated with reality. For the postmodern, statements or propositions cannot truthfully correspond to reality, because human beings are tangled in an endless web of culturally conditioned signifiers. …