If you do care to read it, please offer some critique. I'm trying to refine this to be as brief and complete as possible.
There are a few fundamental questions that all cultures have sought to at least address:
How did the world/universe come to be?
What is the meaning of life?/Is there
meaning to life?
What is the meaning of pain?/Is there meaning to pain?
Philosophies are built around human attempts to answer these questions. These philosophies then grow to encompass more and more of human existence until they shape nearly everything within a culture. Shortly after that time they are found to be lacking; they cannot fully answer the fundamental questions. That lack leads people to critique and attack the dominant philosophy until it inevitably collapses. Out of the collapse of one philosophy is another one born.
In or around the 1500’s AD people began to question the dominant philosophy of their culture. They began to reject the assertion that all truth proceeded from the clergy and nobility. Martin Luther began to tear down the authority of the Church and replace it with the authority of Scripture. Copernicus risked his life to show that the earth was not the center of the universe, though this contradicted the “truth” handed down from the church. What he had seen contradicted what he had been taught.
The Enlightenment was the intellectual revolution that placed human observation and reason above all other means of achieving knowledge. Francis Bacon and John Locke codified their scientific method of observation and experimentation. The world was fresh and new, for now anyone could, by their own reason and observation, reshape the frontiers of science, politics, and even religion. The Enlightenment philosophy gave rise to the industrial revolution, democracy, and the concept of individual freedom. The United States was founded based on this Modern thought.
At roughly the same time Alexander Campbell began to apply Modern thinking to the church and rejected the assertion that theology was the realm of only the clergy. Every person could, by their own reason and observation, form their own theology. The creeds of the ancient church were nothing but the constructs of the clergy. He sought to restore the forms and practices of the first century church through the application of logic and the observation of Scripture. The Churches of Christ (among other groups) were born of this restoration movement.
Just as the medieval philosophy was found lacking and was replaced by the Enlightenment/Modern philosophy, so now the Modern philosophy is being found lacking. Science has moved beyond what is observable and rational. Quarks and String Theories and the Uncertainty Principle are hypothetical constructs that cannot be observed or experimented with. The Modern emphasis on the ability of the individual has led to a culture that is largely devoid of community and relationship. The politics that claim that all people have a need for individual freedom and democracy are withering in the desert heat.
The rejection of nearly all of Christian history has left believers adrift with no anchor or safe harbor. Christianity has been run like a democracy, which is an adversarial process. The individual Christians have been epistemologically cut off from their community of faith. One then wonders how it is possible to restore the practice of first century Christianity without acknowledging anything that has happened between now and then.
The Enlightenment promised to answer the fundamental questions through the exercise of observation, reason and logic; it failed. The philosophy of Modernity has been found lacking; a new philosophy has been born. There is no name yet for this new philosophy, it’s still too new. It is only know by what it is not; it is not Modern. It is currently called Postmodernity, though I expect that to change with time. Just like Modernity and the Medieval philosophy before (and on back through history), Postmodernity cannot answer the fundamental questions. It is a philosophy of human beings and therefore incapable of answering those questions.
I cannot hope to simply define a philosophy that is both so new and so voluminously documented. I can point to good resources (A Primer on Postmodernism by Stanley J. Grenz, Things Unseen: Churches of Christ In (and After) the Modern Age by C. Leonard Allen, A Generous Orthodoxy by Brian McLaren, etc.). And I can, I hope, sum up the Postmodern philosophy under two very broad categories. Postmodernism is communal and experiential. This is, I believe, an antithetical position to the individual and rational nature of Modernity.
Postmodernity is communal in several different ways. It focuses on the way that truth is expressed within the context of a community. A communal focus sees the web of relationships between all people that cause us to be who we are. No one is an objective individual, but an essential part of the whole community. The community creates its own language that is unique to itself; the stories of each person in the community merge to create a context that can only be understood by its members. They are also a part of the community of all humanity and so they are affected by the joy and suffering of all people, in fact they are in community with the whole world and are responsible for the earth and all its inhabitants.
Postmodernity is experiential. There are phenomena for which there is no rational explanation, yet they still exist. This causes the Postmodern to reject reason and focus on the way that one can experience knowledge more than how one comes to know. Reason and logic are not completely rejected, but they are only one means by which knowledge can be attained. Intuition, experience, spiritual experience, and relationship all stand next to reason as means of attaining knowledge.
Though it lacks the ability to answer the fundamental questions, Postmodernity is, more and more, the language of the American culture. Secular Postmoderns pursue this philosophy because they think that it will succeed where Modernity failed. Christians cannot fall into the same trap. Modernity failed to answer the fundamental questions, so too will Postmodernity. Christianity, however, speaking the language of Modernity was able to offer answers; Christianity, speaking the language of Postmodernity will be able to offer answers in the future.
Modernity failed with its plea for individual reason as the fount of truth. Postmodernity will fail with its plea for communal experience, but it is through the language of community and experience that Christians need to reach the Postmodern world. Insofar as the Postmodern philosophy is in line with biblical teaching Christians should embrace it. But we must reject any philosophy of this world (Colossians 2:8) that does not align with the Bible.