Joel T. Uecker, Ed.D.
Abstract: The Postmodern Bible Teacher (2010)
Jack is a Christian high school Bible teacher and Jill is his student. Jack wants to engage and motivate Jill to increase her learning. Jack hopes that Jill will understand God’s plan of salvation in Jesus as the only way to acceptance with God. He also hopes she will submit herself to the authority of the Scriptures as God’s will for her life, and in so doing, will acknowledge the necessity of moral absolutes. Unfortunately, Jack finds that Jill’s frame of mind is set against these biblical objectives. In fact, although Jill claims to be a Christian and is eager to learn, she does not understand how God’s plan of salvation could be exclusive, His Word authoritative for all people, and truth to be absolute.
Can you sympathize with the challenge Jack faces? Chances are if you have taught students in the last decade or two, you can. In philosophical terms, Jack has a modern view of knowledge and Jill has a postmodern view. These two different views of knowledge make communicating difficult because assumptions of both teacher and student about the nature of reality and truth are different. What can Jack do to reach a student like Jill? If you are like Jack, you may wonder how you can connect with your student without compromising what you believe to be the essentials of orthodox Christianity. It is suggested that this can be accomplished when a Christian teacher realizes the benefits of the postmodern style of teaching and is able to employ this style without blindly embracing all the tenets of postmodernism. In order to understand postmodernism, one must first understand modernism.
Modernism is a worldview which began during the 1500’s and rose to prominence at the end of the 1600’s. The modern mind believed knowledge was objective, accessible to the human thinker, and inherently good (Grenz, 1996). The objectivity of knowledge stemmed from the belief that knowledge is an entity outside of the knower. God was believed to be the source of knowledge and humans had no role in creating or changing truth about reality (White, 2006).
Although modernists believed they did not create or change truth, they did claim to have access to knowledge. This accessibility was made possible by their Creator who revealed knowledge to humans. Since God was the source of knowledge, modernist thinkers also believed knowledge was inherently good.
Postmodernism developed in the late 20th century as a reaction against modernism. Postmodernism replaces the modern view of knowledge with beliefs that knowledge is subjective, unattainable, and inherently neutral (Grenz, 1996). To the postmodern mind, there is no absolute truth. Knowledge is constructed within a person’s particular social and cultural contexts. The guiding ethic for the postmodernist, therefore, becomes tolerating others and rejecting absolutist claims about truth and knowledge. In postmodern thinking, truth is no longer knowledge to be discovered or attained, but rather a preference to be created and chosen. The postmodern thinker also views knowledge as potentially good or evil; the knowledge holder holds power over those who do not have knowledge and therefore knowledge can be dangerous (White, 2006).
An evangelical Christian can see how Jack would be troubled with the influence of postmodernism on Jill. When postmodernism is given reign to critique Christianity, the exclusivity of Christ, authority of the Scriptures, and ethics based on absolute truth can all be called into question. Exactly how widespread is the influence of postmodernism on Christian students today?
Students like Jill have been reared in a culture permeated by the postmodern mindset. Since the 1970’s and the rise of postmodern thought in American universities, postmodernism has gradually permeated all of American society. The established and significant presence of postmodernism in culture means that students born in the 1980’s have only known a postmodern culture and a postmodern way of viewing knowledge, unless intentionally educated to view the world from a modern perspective.
It follows, then, that many Christian students find themselves in a culture which encourages all aspects of postmodernism and a Church or Christian school which rejects certain aspects of postmodernism. Furthermore, it would seem many Christian young people are taught by parents, Church workers, and Christian school teachers to hold on to some tenets of modernism embraced by Christians, especially the claims to absolute truth, ethics based on the absolutes of Scripture, and the exclusivity of the Christian gospel. In the very least, this Christian student is constantly faced with competing notions of truth presented by the postmodern culture and the sources of authority in the student’s life which seek to cling to modernist notions of truth. One can only speculate as to the view of knowledge a Christian young person may hold in the midst of this confusion.
The impact of postmodernism has extended not only to student thinking but also to the profession of teaching. In fact, a completely new type of postmodern pedagogy has emerged in institutions of teacher training. What is the postmodern teacher and how has postmodernism impacted teachers and teaching?
The postmodern view of knowledge results in a particular approach to teaching and learning. In educational circles, the manifestation of the postmodern approach to knowledge is referred to as constructivism (Green & Gredler, 2002; Kinchin, 2004; McInerney, 2005). Constructivism espouses the belief that classroom practices must change to meet the new postmodern approach to knowledge (Green & Gredler, 2002).
Primary instructional strategies in the postmodern teacher’s classroom are the use of cooperative learning groups and multi-media technology. Cooperative learning is an instructional strategy which enables students to participate in intentional action for the sake of their own learning (Abrami, Poulson, & Chambers, 2004). During the cooperative learning process, the teacher views the students, rather than himself, as the center of the activity and seeks to motivate the students to discover knowledge instead of transmitting the content to them (Bilgin, 2006). Multi-media technology is another useful tool in the repertoire of the teacher with a postmodern style. Examples of multi-media tools include the internet, power point presentations, music, television and film clips, and interactive whiteboards.
While media education and cooperative learning are instructional strategies of the postmodern style teacher, it is also important to discuss the nature of interaction the postmodern style teacher maintains with his students. The postmodern style teacher is transparent and empathic in the classroom. A transparent teacher is one who shares his thoughts and feeling with students (Horell, 2004). When appropriate, this teacher may share personal struggles and triumphs. The transparent teacher is able to allow the students to witness his experience of life in a manner that facilitates an understanding of the content (McKinney, 2003).
In addition to being transparent, a teacher with a postmodern style is also empathic. In the opinion of one author, the students are the best source for understanding the postmodern culture for which teachers are preparing them (Horell, 2004). Postmodern teachers take time to listen to the thoughts and opinions of students. Wrong answers are encouraged by affirming the risk-taking behavior of the student and no questions are considered bad questions. The empathic teacher recognizes the many sources of distraction and pain so prevalent in the lives of postmodern students and their bearing on student performance (McKinney, 2003). Because of this recognition, the postmodern teacher is available for private conversation with students (McKinney).
Let us return to Jack and Jill. The problem that exists in this illustration is the presence of conflicting views of knowledge. Jack, the teacher, holds a modern view of knowledge, while Jill has a postmodern view of knowledge. Kinchin (2004) has suggested that when a teacher’s view of knowledge is different than a student’s view of knowledge, the existing discrepancy may impede learning. It follows, then, that a condition can exist in which a teacher possesses a different view of knowledge than the student. This is exactly the condition present when a teacher maintains a modern view of knowledge and the student possesses a postmodern view of knowledge and a preference for a postmodern teaching style.
So how does Jack best minimize the negative impact of teaching a student with a postmodern view of knowledge? It seems the answer is found in embracing the postmodern style of teaching while maintaining modern views of knowledge. Teaching in a postmodern style means Jack will use multi-media and cooperative learning groups. He should also make every effort to connect in relationship with students by being transparent, authentic, and empathic.
Jack can cling tightly to such essential beliefs as the exclusivity of the gospel, the authority of the Bible, and the absolute nature of truth. Adopting a postmodern teaching style does not mean Jack must also adopt the philosophical bases of postmodernism. In order to communicate basic truths to students, Jack needs to study and become a postmodern style teacher. By doing this, Jack chooses postmodern style over postmodern substance and increases his chances of motivating and engaging Jill.
For Dr. Uecker's complete dissertation, click here to order (UMI Publication Number 3438795).