Brian Mclaren believes that the church, thoroughly enmeshed as it is in modernism, is becoming increasingly irrelevant to a culture that is moving away from modernism and toward a new paradigm of postmodernism. To be able to speak to a culture that is well underway in making the transition, he argues that the church must also embrace this worldview.
The problem is, he never gives us anything close to an adequate description of postmodernism. He doesn't tell us that its main feature is the repudiation of truth, the common-sense notion that we have access to a mind-independent reality "out there"; rather, we create our own model of reality by our use of language. We are stuck in a bubble, the walls of which are mirrors that reflect only ourselves. There is no truth in the sense of correspondence with reality; there is only "truth" in the sense of coherence between the ideas in our story. Thus there can be no conflict between the "truths" of one community and those of another. Christians have their story, Muslims have their own story, and so on for every conceivable group. Each is "true" insofar as it is true to itself. Postmodernism, then, has no use for the idea of "metanarrative", a story which claims to actually be in contact with reality and thus is true for all peoples in all times. This is, of course, a perfect description of pluralism.
A second, related feature of postmodernism is that there is no singular, correct meaning in a text established by the intent of the author. Instead, there are as many meanings in a text as there are communities, be they Marxist, feminist, Southern Baptist, or any other group, ad infinitim. To say that one interpretation is correct is oppressive, because what's at play here is power, not truth.
Now, it is critical to realize that notions of truth and knowledge are not features of modernism. For almost two thousand years prior to the modern era, people took for granted ideas that postmodernism would have us jettison. These would include the idea that there is a mind-independent world, the basic reliability of our senses and reasoning capacities to obtain truth about that world, and also that God could reveal his Word to all peoples through the pages of the Bible. Though we might disagree among ourselves, it was thought that there was a singular meaning to the text and that it was reasonable for us to put our best efforts in disputation and exegesis in order to discover that meaning.
Thus Mclaren would have us repudiate not only modernist thinking, but premodernist and ancient thinking. This would cut the legs out from under Christianity. For two thousand years, and not just since the modern era, Christianity has understood itself as proclaiming a metanarrative, a singular gospel of salvation through one Saviour.
Mclaren plays his cards close to his chest on the issue of religious pluralism, perhaps anticipating resistance if he too quickly endorses it. But he does seem to reveal this postmodern commitment in a few places. In one place a character declares that Christianity doesn't own God, and that God is at work in the lives of non-Christians as well as Christians. That second statement is ambiguous: Christians have always affirmed that God works in the hearts of non-Christians in order to bring them to saving faith. But I get the feeling that this is not what is meant; in light of the odd statement that "Christianity doesn't own God" I think what is being communicated is that other religions are just as valid as Christianity in bringing people to God. My hunch is confirmed in the endnotes where Mclaren credits someone "for his insight that pluralism (recognizing the world's many diverse religions) means seeing the world more the way God has always seen it."
Truth (correspondence between a thought and the way the world really is) and knowledge (justified true belief) have no place in postmodernism because they presuppose access to the world. Mclaren doesn't openly denounce these but he does seem to downplay them in a way that is consistent with postmodern denial. For instance, he declares that the theological distinctions between evangelical and liberal, Calvinist and Arminian, and Protestant and Catholic, are modernist notions and thus to be dispensed with in the postmodern era: "Modern Protestant seminaries are still fighting the battles of yesterday, like the Protestant Reformation and the liberal-fundamentalist debates. Somebody tell them those wars are over". He doesn't appeal to the Bible, he just waves his hand in dismissal. It seems to me that he views these "warring" theological camps as different communities, who because of their distinctive use of language, construct their own truths so there's no way to adjudicate between them. Indeed, he says that since the time of Christ there have been "twenty centuries of Christian universes".
I am not defending modernism, regardless of whether or not the case against it might be overstated. Its enthronement of reason, its banishment of God and establishment of a religious belief/knowledge dualism, its consumerism, radical individualism, and the inauthenticity and hypocrisy that can result - these are all valid critiques that contemporary Christians need to face squarely. But if there is a sense in which the contemporary church is like a sick patient, embracing postmodernism would be a treatment that actually kills the patient. Efforts to contextualize the gospel to a changing culture must not result in changing the gospel itself.
The bottom line that illustrates the danger is this: Does Christianity give us an accurate picture of the way the world really is, and can we know it to be so? Is truth correspondence? Or does Christianity just tell us a story?
We ought to learn from the example of the first-century church, which was almost destroyed by absorbing the worldview (gnosticism) of the surrounding culture. In our case, Ravi Zacharias warns that postmodern pluralism and denial of knowledge is going to "produce a generation of people who will not be able to handle the challenge of Islam and other major world religions." When doctrine is dismissed as "too dogmatic" we lose the ability to distinguish between the real thing and a counterfeit.
To conclude, in the words of Greg Koukl, "There is no virtue in this view, only danger. If you are convinced there is no truth, there is nothing to protect you from being destroyed by lies; there are lies, and they do destroy. Truth and knowledge are essential to Christianity. Postmodernism denies truth and knowledge, therefore postmodernism is a philosophy that is not in accordance to Christ. It is a philosophy we should not only defend against but we should be tearing down."