Looking back we see how history has gone through different periods. Antiquity gave way to the Middle Ages. Then came the age of modernity, and from the 1960’s onwards we gradually slid into the era of postmodernity. There are no neat dividing lines between those periods. While we usually say that the Middle Ages ended in 1500, it would be nonsense to say that the medieval period ended on December 31, 1499 and that the world became “modern” when the sun rose on January 1, 1500. It is just as difficult to indicate a point when most people in the western world became postmodern. Actually, most people of my generation of 70-plus are still partly modern and partly postmodern.
The big question is: What comes next. Some say that postmodernity is already something of the past. They say we have entered the age of post-postmodernism, or they use some other term to underline that postmodernity is gone. To me it seems that such statements are, at best, premature. Undoubtedly, the world continues to change. Our culture continues to change. As human beings we are impacted by what happens around us and by the ideas that circulate, and thus we change—often almost imperceptibly but yet very real. Postmodernism may indeed be changing, but I believe that the main characteristics of postmodernism are still very much with us. To name just a few: The rejection of “the grand narratives”, the disappearance of belief in constant progress, the replacement of Absolute Truth with our individual truths and the large-scale suspicion of organized religion.
So, if I am right, we are still in the time of postmodernism. But what comes next? Increasingly, people seem to feel that we are on the threshold of something new, something different, something scary. But could it be that postmodernism is really so short-lived? The medieval period lasted a thousand years and modernity reigned supreme for a number of centuries. Well, it seems many things in our world are speeding up. And I am not just talking of Moore’s Law, based on an observation of Gordon Law in 1965, that the number of transistors on a microchip doubles about every two years. I could also refer to the fact that nowadays generations follow each other ever more quickly. After the baby boomers came Gen-X, but they were soon followed by Gen-Y and now by Gen-Z. (So, what will the next generation be called?).
Is it perhaps the current Covid-19 crisis that intensifies the sense of large numbers of people that we are in a transition to a new time period? It seems that we have stepped into a period of unparalleled uncertainty in which the lives of hundreds of millions of people can be turned upside-down almost overnight. Wherever we turn we are faced with a stifling polarization—in our own country, internationally, in the church. It was never as easy as it is today to communicate, but much of the communication we receive has become suspect as fake-news. How is it to be explained that, where our world has become a global village and our cities have become an ethnic mix as never before, racism, ethnocentrism and culture wars, continue to plague our societies without any sign of improving? What kind of period are we entering? Will the Covid-19 pandemic have a lasting influence on how we work, travel, arrange our social life and worship? In the past, every era has had its thinkers who provided underlying philosophies. They provided a foundation on which people could build. But today, where are those intellectual guides who can give us direction?
I am asking these questions as a Christian. Has Christianity, as we know it, large failed in keeping our world on the track of decency, solidarity and hope? When persons like Donald Trump can pose as “born again Christians” then certainly something is terribly wrong. Yet, if it was ever needed that the message of Jesus Christ penetrates our world, as a leaven of grace, it is now. Let’s hope and pray that the church will be energized by the Spirit to be a power for good as we enter a new era, but above anything else that, as individual Christians, we will truly practice the kind of life that Jesus Christ modeled for us. Many may see this as a rather naive suggestion, but I see no other option.