Subject: RE: terms modern, pre- and post-

Fred Putnam fputnam at
Fri May 31 09:27:37 EDT 2002

Vince & Paul,

I'll make this quick, since it is 'way off-list.

"Modern" in this discussion essentially refers to the thought processes and certainty 
engendered by the Enlightenment, the rise of the "scientific process" (experimental 
verification), Descartes, &c. It entails [at least] two assumptions: (1) All human beings 
can and do appeal to certain fundamental assumptions in searching for truth (or even in 
merely living); (2) absolute truth can be known with absolute certainty (i.e., I can say, "I 
know that my conclusions are absolutely right"). In biblical studies, for example, the 
JEDP hegemony is a truism for many that cannot, therefore, be questioned without 
revealing some other bias (and will not be questioned by anyone willing to "face the 

Postmodernism, on the other hand, says that although there is absolute truth, we may 
or may not know it *at any point* of our understanding, for several reasons. (1) We are 
part of the search for understanding, and our own preconceptions--and the questions 
which they lead us to ask--determine at least some of what we find; (2) we need a 
variety of perspectives, without rejecting any of them out of hand, in order to begin to 
approximate the truth more fully, since every perspective has its own biases, and thus 
serves as a corrective to others; (3) our truths are therefore constructed "socially", 
because they are in fact approximate formulations/expressions of the truth; (4) we 
should therefore hold "truth" lightly, realizing that we may be wrong (although we may 
be very confident of some things). If nothing else, a truly postmodern spirit engenders 

I am not expert or fluent in this, although I have been dabbling [emphasis here] with 
these ideas for a number of years.

One of my colleagues, John Franke, has co-authored a book with Stanley Grenz, 
another theologian, titled Beyond Foundationalism (JohnKnox) that addresses these 
issues in the area of theology. I think that some of Kenneth Pike's work on language as 
an aspect of human behavior sets a trajectory in the same directions in the field of 
linguistics (vs., e.g., logical positivism, structuralism, and the "certainties" assumed by 
those and other approaches to language). Deridda (as he has been read in USA) is a 
radical postmodern; I find Ricoeur and Gadamer more helpful.

Not as quick as I'd hoped (sigh).

Pax et lux,
Subject: RE: terms modern, pre- and post-
From: "Paul Zellmer" <smdirect at>
Date: Thu, 30 May 2002 10:21:17 -0400
X-Message-Number: 8


As I understand the philosophical (as opposed to the artistic or
architectural) use of modern/post-modern, modern tends to emphasize a
logical approach to dealing with questions.  Post-modern thought
emphasizes more of the impact on the individual.

Most of the impact that this has made on my work is a change of focus
between how I address issues with the over-40 crowd and with the under-40
crowd.  The older group seems to grasp exegesis and information-oriented
approaches, while the younger crowd needs more of the emotional,
motivational emphasis.

Pre-modern is not a term that I have seen used, except as a grouping of
all or philosophical thoughts prior to the modern period.



Frederic Clarke Putnam, Ph.D.
"Dominus illuminatio mea."

Professor of Old Testament
Biblical Theological Seminary
fputnam at
215-368-5000x150 (office & voice-mail)

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