During the Enlightenment, authority shifted from traditional institutions to human reason. A scientific approach to the world yielded tremendous advances in medicine, technology, and communications and challenged the centrality of theology and religious belief as the paradigm for learning. Free from the restrictive shackles of traditional beliefs (thus, modernism), progress seemed inevitable. Immanuel Kant described this period of time in this way: “Sapere aude! ‘Have the courage to make use of your own mind!’ is thus the slogan of the Enlightenment.”
The modern period had begun. The growing skepticism in regards to anything supernatural was matched by growing faith in human ability to know the world, control it, and reap the inevitable benefits. The “Big Story” of the world was not given by revelation; rather, it was to be discovered and perhaps even determined by science, reason and technology. This major transition was at the heart of the modern period.
However, from our 21st-century perspective, it is clear that the predictions of utopia guaranteed in the modern period never materialized. Instead, modernists became disillusioned as military increase brought world wars, failed development policies led to class oppression and colonialism, economic idealism resulted in communism and the Cold War, and our best science created nuclear weapons and the threat of global devastation.
Postmodern writers, beginning with Nietzsche, began to question the integrity of modernism’s metanarrative of progress. In fact, the main casualty of a postmodern perspective is the very idea of a metanarrative. Postmoderns are skeptical of any and all claims to an authoritative comprehensive worldview, absolute truth about reality, and an overarching purpose to the human story.
From: Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview, co-authored by William E. Brown, W. Gary Phillips, and John Stonestreet