Three Major Epochs of Human History

The postmodern worldview didn’t suddenly emerge out of nowhere or spontaneously appear in a vacuum so let us take a brief journey to understand its development in its historical context.

Pre-modern Epoch

This period covers from the beginning of time to about 1700 AD. In this pre-modern era people generally believed in the supernatural realm, God or the gods exercised absolute authority, power and control over every area of human life,[1] and that society was generally united under one religion, which prescribed rules and roles and beliefs.[2]

Gene Vieth Jr. said that “life in this world owed its existence and meaning to a spiritual realm beyond the senses.”[3] Walt Meuller said that “the pre-modern era was God- (or god-) centred; every society recognized and worshipped some sort of supernatural power. It was a diety-centered world in which humans had faith or belief in a supernatural reality that existed beyond themselves.”[4] And Stanley Grenz echoed that pre-modern people believed that “there is a God; therefore conform to him.”[5]

Modern Epoch

At the dawn of 1700s, human understanding of the physical sciences began to expand and accelerate. Mueller went on to describe this period:

This new era of rapid scientific advance ushered in a growing sense that by exercising the newly discovered vista and power of human reason through scientific study and exploration, humanity was limitless in its ability to bring about positive change and progress to a world marked by disease and decay.[6]

Some of the results of such so-called “change and progress” are: Firstly, the reliance on reason and faith in the supernatural was relegated to the back-burner. This gives birth to what is known as “the Enlightenment.” Secondly, in the “enlightenment”, the modern man had become the measure of all things – the “final arbiter of truth.”[7] Thirdly, it was believed that the result of such economic advances and higher standard of living would naturally result “in personal happiness and social harmony.”[8] Fourthly, religious belief and practices no longer shape the culture though it still exists. It is relegated to the private sphere solely offering personal comfort.

Post-modern Epoch

Postmodernism dawned as a popular movement in the 60s in the West and found its way into the rest of the world through globalisation, the internet, the media and pop-culture. Postmodernism is largely a reaction to modernity. Modernity glorified reasons over the supernatural; scientific advances brought about technological advances. The result was not personal happiness or social harmony as expected but rather two world-wars and atrocities as never seen before. A new generation emerged being disillusioned by the empty promises of modernity that the world will become a better place through technological inventions of the enlightenment. Mueller painted the picture of the empty promise of modernism:

The evidence was overwhelming. Crime was on the rise. Conflict and war raged on virtually every continent. Poverty and hunger existed for a growing segment of the world’s population. Urban centres were rocked by scandals and decay. Pollution filled the skies and rivers.[9]

Alan Roxburgh, in his book entitled “Reaching a New Generation” puts the nail into modernism. He said that “in spite of real advances in medicine and convenience, people now sense that technology and progress have given us a society of useless products, deforested countryside, polluted water, extinct species and fragmented social structures.”[10]

[1] Mueller, Engaging the Soul of Youth Culture, p. 58

[2] Groothuis, Douglas., Truth Decay, (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, USA, 2000), p.33

[3] Veith Jr., Gene E., Postmodern Times, (Wheaton, III. Crossway, 1994), p. 29

[4] Mueller, Engaging the Soul of Youth Culture, p. 59

[5] Grenz, A Primer on Postmodernism, p. xi

[6] Mueller, Engaging the Soul of Youth Culture, p. 59

[7] Grenz, A Primer on Postmodernism, p. 62

[8] Veith Jr., Postmodern Times, p. 27.

[9] Mueller, Engaging the Soul of Youth Culture, p. 61

[10] Roxburgh, Alan J., Reaching a New Generation, (Regent College Publishing, Vancouver, B. C., 1998), p.11.


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