October 20, 2017

A Few Thoughts On Postmodernism

1) I’ve read two introductions to Postmodernism, and both have convinced me that the term has at least four distinct applications that are quite varied.

2) Postmodernism is not a coherent “school” of philosophy, but a description of methods, authors, points of view, types of analysis, questions, reactions….iows a whole potpourri of items gathered around a term.

3) One would be entirely justified to refer to postmodernism as a “mood” of philosophy more than anything else. This accounts for the difficulty in finding clear definitions and representatives.

4) As is quite obvious from the term, the critique is most pointed towards “modernism.” It strikes me as particularly strange that the defenders of true Christianity don’t see their tacit defense of modernism as more than a little troubling. How can these critics condemn “postmodernism” without embracing the errors of modernity?

5) Relativism and postmodernism are not identical. Liberalism and postmodernism are not the same thing. Nihilism and skepticism are not identical to postmodernism. I believe most of the Christian critics talking about postmodernism miss this entirely.

6) Typical pomo-bashing will find a number of things condemned that are clearly used in scripture. Take, for example, the condemnation of postmodernists for their use of the conceopt of story and narrative. Jesus is a master storyteller, using new narratives to overturn and reinterpret old narratives. He was not an exegete. He was a story-teller.

7) (This is the Big One) Certain types of critics seem to be making the following error: Anyone who uses postmodern insights or takes account of the postmodern analysis of culture and communication is labeled as buying into the evil that is postmodernism. That’s intellectually juvenile. In fact, what we have here is a fear that the postmodern critique has exposed some of the rotten underpinings of authority in certain circles of Christianity that are used to talking like people ought to listen and believe their message because they have scripture verses attached. Postmodernism is attacked as “relativizing the Bible” when, in fact, what has happened is a rethinking of communication when the Bible’s role in what people “know” has significantly changed.

Some of us have taken note of this situation and- like Kierkegaard- changed the way we write, talk, preach and communicate. That doesn’t make us “postmodern.” It makes us people willing to listen to the Holy Spirit and make some attempt to respond.

The condemnation of postmodernism comes most strongly from communities and individuals that fear they are losing their ability to make meaningful pronouncements about truth. “Postmodernism” is merely a critique, an analysis and a response to thesituation that already exists.

8) The books that I have read by Christians emnbracing some aspect of “postmodernism” are almost entirely books about communication, not philosophy. They are books about mission, not the undermining of doctrine. You figure it out.

Comments

  1. Although his critique of the Emerging Church isn’t very accurate, D.A. Carson has a good article on the pros and cons of Postmodernism @ http://www.modernreformation.org/dac03postmodern.htm. He leans more towards embracing modernism, but I really liked his comments about the need for objectivity and rationally critiquing both sides.

  2. Rasselas says:

    Some of us have taken note of this situation and- like Kierkegaard- changed the way we write, talk, preach and communicate. That doesn’t make us “postmodern.” It makes us people willing to listen to the Holy Spirit and make some attempt to respond.

    Amen Bro!

    some great insight here
    http://www.firstthings.com/ftissues/ft0310/articles/hart.html

    http://www.leaderu.com/marshill/mhr07/kierk1.html

  3. Eric in New Haven says:

    This is a very helpful summary, thanks!

    I have been thinking about your point #4 over the past week: If only I understood what moderist Christianity is, then maybe I would have some idea of what postmodern Christianity is.

    People seem to believe their modernist Christianity is True Christianity. Probably much of it is, but the part that proves to be modernist ought to be fair game for criticism. In any case, not knowing that your Christian beliefs are rooted in modernity doesn’t mean that they are not.

    Also, the fact that a Christian claims to be against postmodernism, does not mean that they are not influenced by this mood. For example, I seem to have noticed Christians disregarding or attacking reason as a way of knowing. (if postmodernism is indeed anti-reason. I’m not sure.)

  4. Dr. David Mills writes a response to D.A. Carson here. I found it helpful.

    Not even Brian McLaren will discuss about post-modernism in normative terms. He discusses the “three postmodernisms” here.

    The follow McLaren quote has been most helpful in understanding what movement seems to be about:

    “merging postmodernism agrees that modern reductionistic rationalism needed to be stopped or “deconstructed,” and it sees that relativist pluralism “worked” as a chemotherapeutic agent, but it doesnÂ’t mistake this dangerous short-term medical necessity as a long-term regimen for health. It seeks to move beyond relativistic pluralism, and sees “emergent thinking” and “integralism” as better alternatives to both modern reductionistic rationalism and relativist pluralism.”

  5. I apologize for the previous links not working. I guess this comment window doesn’t accept anchor tags. Here they are in order:

    http://people.cedarville.edu/employee/millsd/mills_staley_response.pdf

    http://www.anewkindofchristian.com/archives/000071.html

  6. Gabe Bell says:

    Check out this college kid’s blog. He talks about postmodernism.

    http://danielkearns.blogspot.com/

  7. I agree with the first poster in wondering how one would define ‘modern’ Christianity, but am also very grateful for your lucid analysis, iMonk. Your posts, especially the most recent regarding Christian Humanism, always make me smile … and occasionally even get this reserved young lass to shout out “Amen, brother iMonk, preach it!” to no one in particular.

    Regarding ‘modern’ Christianity: Would the majority of the Christian movements towards excessive emotionalism and sentiment since the nineteenth century (or even earlier) not be characterized as agressively anti-modern, that is, either a retreat from excessive rationalism’s implied ‘defeat’ of the validity of faith or an outright ‘attack’ on the one-sidedness of the rationalist argument? In that regard, is ‘post-modern’ Christianity not already an attempt at integration, in terms of meeting the secular culture at a half-way point?

  8. great post, iMonk. my academic background is poststructuralism and postmodernism (degrees in literature and philosophy) and when i first encountered postmodern/emergent christians online, i couldn’t figure out what they were talking about: the way they used (and still use) words like “deconstruction” (as if it’s something one does to a text, for example) shows me they haven’t read much Derrida (which is not an insult but an observation: namely, many people are using the language of postmodernism but haven’t studied the celebrated postmodern texts and authors who gave birth to the philosophical movement).

    mclaren has written, for example, that postmodern thinkers heroically searched the past for dominating worldviews like Marxism and then “sought to undermine their dominance.” but a laundry list of the postmodern authors i read in school–Zizek, Derrida, Said, Jameson, Althusser, Eagleton, Foucault, J Hillis Miller, Cixous, Irigaray, Chomsky, Spivak, Paul de Man, et al–reads like a who’s who list of Marxists and Marxist sympathizers. thus, i just have no idea what mclaren was talking about, or which postmodern thinkers/authors he had in mind. (and if anyone here knows, please enlighten me?)

    anyway, postmodernism rests on the poststructural assumptions about language–it is, as i understand it, a linguistic argument, ultimately, and that’s precisely what “modernist” fundamentalists who attack postmodernism don’t seem to understand. even as they write essays that attack postmodernism, the text of their polemic is deconstructing.

    Raschke talks about the correspondence theory of language, or propostional (theo-) logic, and that “modernist” conception of language is precisely what poststructuralism/postmodernism undermines. i have never read a “modernist” fundamentalist who could mount a cogent attack against the best of postmodernism, and an example of that might be Lacan’s assertions here: http://www.chairetmetal.com/cm04/reli2.htm

    anyway, i love what emergent’s doing, and i love what the “modernist” fundamentalists are doing, but i can’t say i “belong” to either camp (and that’s probably an indication of postmodern influence). (lol) or better, perhaps i belong to both.

    your number 7 is “the big one” for me too. at the end of it all, i’m just someone who loves Christ and is doing the best i can with what i have. i’m trying to work out my salvation, and that is taking place in a postmodern context. does that make me a second class christian?… probably. but i’m just doing the best i can with what i have…

  9. Brian Pendell says:

    If I could paraphrase and expand on 1 Cor 9:20-22:

    “20To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22To the weak I became weak, to win the weak.

    To the hippies, I became a Jesus people, that I might win hippies.

    To the pointy-headed intellectuals, I became a pointy-headed intellectual like St. Augustine or C.S. Lewis, that I might win intellectuals.

    To the homosexual offenders, I became a broken and compassionate person, an outcast that I might win homosexual offenders.

    To the postmodernists, I became a postmodernist, that I might win postmodernists.

    …I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.

    —-

    Respectfully,

    Brian P.

  10. “…condemnation of postmodernists for their use of the concept of story and narrative…”

    Huh? A bit of caricature, you think? Hey, if EC folks want to open their Bibles up and read a story, please, ***BY ALL MEANS, DO SO!*** It seems the *individual’s narrative* and *culture’s narrative* are what is being preached as gospel, not the primary one we’ve already been given.

    I haven’t heard anyone (including D.A. Carson) complain, “Gosh, those EC folks won’t stop reading Bible stories!” The complaint is that expository preaching has overwhelmingly been abandoned. People aren’t getting much Bible intake.

  11. Brian Pendell says:

    “People aren’t getting much Bible intake.”

    Speaking as a veteran of 30 years of church, I can’t remember a time when people did get a lot of Bible teaching. There were bad church services with lots of froth before EC and there will be bad church services afterwards.

    The problem is not EC. The problem is human nature. Even the author of Hebrews berated his congregation for still being infants when by this time they should be teachers, clinging to milk when they should be on solid food. It’s a fundamental human trait that we insist on neglecting our studies, or worse, depend on teachers to tell us things rather than learning to read the Bible for ourselves. We have one mediator between God and man, Jesus, yet we humans insist on trying to make pastors or others our intermediaries.

    EC is neither the cure nor the disease. Rather, the cure is the Holy Spirit which grants diligence. The HS can work in an EC church or through a non-EC church, becoming, as Paul said, all things to all men.

    Respectfully,

    Brian P.

  12. “There were bad church services with lots of froth before EC and there will be bad church services afterwards…. The problem is not EC. The problem is human nature… EC is neither the cure nor the disease.”

    I totally, totally agree. And you’re right, “the cure is the Holy Spirit which grants diligence”. The thing is, the Holy Spirit loves to honor the Son by illuminated his word (and that goes for the apolostic witness, not just the gospels). Any movement that minimizes the the word out of the congregation deserves reproof (and prayer).

  13. aaron… i don’t know what you’re reading that makes you think that EC as a collective body (or whatever it is you’re thinking) disregards the scripture. with all respect and humility, bro, wild accusations do little to move a discussion along. and BTW, someone might also respond to you by saying that anyone who mistakes scripture for the dynamic personal relationship with Jesus Christ that scripture points us toward is also missing the point. i read a lot of EC blogs and a few books… i’ve never seen any evidence that EC seeks to eliminate or minimize scripture. they’re reading the same bible you are, bro, and they’re reading to different conclusions. that shouldn’t make you nervous, it should make you excited that other believers are also, like you, reading the word.

    : )

  14. Michael,
    Thanks so much for these words and insights. #4 is something critics do indeed miss, especially those at the Emergent No blogsite. Also, I wish critics would come to the realization that we are entering (or have entered, as some would say) into one of the most transitional period of time philosophically, culturally, politically, and economically in over 500 years. That is what some of us postmoderns are recognizing, and we are doing our damnedest to grapple with these implications as they relate to communicating the message of Jesus to this dark, hurting world. I guess emergent is an alternative that allows for this grappling…

    But we do need to be careful on relying upon any “sweet frame” other than the person of Christ, whether those frames are of Calvin, Carson, McLaren, or Burke…I think that’s what the old hymnist was talking about in “The Solid Rock”. I blogged some thoughts about this very thing a few weekends ago:

    http://novushomo.blogspot.com/2005/06/sweet-frames.html

    Anyway, thanks again for your words and I hope those scared of postmodernism and emergent will chomp on them a bit for some wisdom…

    Be His,
    -jeremy

  15. Good clarifications, especially 5 and 8. I’ve been reading about this stuff for a while and hadn’t seen anything nearly so clear cut.

  16. Aaron,

    Could you name, specifically, an “Emerging, postmodern” church of your knowledge- other than McLaren’s- where the Bible has been demoted and preaching replaced with “the search?” Please be specific.

  17. Question: Whatever negative trends/thinking people presume comes from postmodernism, does that by law make it wrong or bad? What has this thinking and cultural trend done that is positive, especially in our church circles and lives? I think that the desire to be “authentic” is a great thing… yes it can be a marketing tool, and yes it can be all image based. But do we throw this (or the whole postmodern thinking) out with the bath water? I am more inclined to think that redemption should be our way of embracing and healing cultural trends, instead of bashing and thus alienating an entire subculture that is quickly (if not already) becoming the majority.

  18. You guys, lighten up already.

    So Aaron S. takes a witty shot at Pomos and the great EC. Take his comments for what they’re worth, and BTW if the shoe fits…

    Didn’t Solomon, who had more wisdom than most of us, say there is nothing new under the sun? Well that goes for moderns, pomos, EC, and anything else coming down the pipeline.

    Have we lost our sense of humour? As for the Church: the gates of hell will not prevail. The Holy Spirit is a force to be reckoned with; woe to those who mess with His Church.

  19. What comes to mind:

    Ginghamsburg Church, Tipp City, Ohio

    They’re not EC, but I list them because their pastor has significantly abandoned preaching from the bible with the staple excuse of “Jesus preached narratively.”

    Great exception to the EC stereotype:

    http://www.theopedia.com/Mark_Driscoll

    Grace and peace in Christ,

    Aaron

  20. anon christian says:

    Meg wrote:

    “Didn’t Solomon, who had more wisdom than most of us, say there is nothing new under the sun? Well that goes for moderns, pomos, EC, and anything else coming down the pipeline.”

    Some comments are like a person walking into a room and opening a window and letting fresh air and sunlight in.

    There are no new heresies, and fallen human nature hasn’t developed any new traits or demands or motivations in its battle against God.

    The truth of God and His Word, though, stand as a Rock against the waves and the wind.

  21. Am I the only one who has noticed a major censorship, uh, I mean editing of this end of the blogosphere?

    Guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but how disappointing.

  22. Meg…the posts between Aaron and myself were edited by mutual consent.

  23. Benjamin Nitu says:

    imonk – ” 2) Postmodernism is not a coherent “school” of philosophy ”
    you are right in pointing this out, it can’t be coherent, there is no objective reality in pomo
    imonk – “How can these critics condemn “postmodernism” without embracing the errors of modernity?”
    this is a fallacy… false dichotomy … there are not just modernism and postmodernism out there
    they can both be false
    http://www.internetmonk.com/archives/2005/06/019918.html#more
    imonk – “There is not a single sentence in existence on the internet where I reject Calvinism in favor of postmodernism”
    can I at least doubt that now that you wrote this article?
    imonk – “The condemnation of postmodernism comes most strongly from communities and individuals that fear they are losing their ability to make meaningful pronouncements about truth”
    what is at stake here? it is the truth itself
    JJ Packer wrote in his preface to Knowing God:
    ” For more than three centuries the naturalistic leaven in the Renaissance outlook has been working like a cancer in Western thought. Seventeenth-century Arminiams and deists, like sixteenth-century Socinians, came to deny, as against Reformation theology, that God’s control of his world was either direct or complete, and theology, philosophy and science have for the most part combined to maintain that denial ever since. As a result, the Bible has come under heavy fire, and many landmarks in historical Christianity with it … ”

    imonk – “Some of us have taken note of this situation and- like Kierkegaard- changed the way we write, talk, preach and communicate. That doesn’t make us “postmodern.” It makes us people willing to listen to the Holy Spirit and make some attempt to respond.”
    CS Lewis said: “Those like myself, whose imagination far exceeds their obedience are subject to a just penalty; we easily imagine conditions far higher than any we have really reached. If we describe what we have imagined we may make others, and make ourselves, believe that we have really been there – and so fool both them and ourselves”
    what is new is not true and what is true is not new … nothing wrong with using our imagination but we have to be careful, obedience is much more valuable.

    God bless you Michael,
    I hope my criticism will generate a good dialogue, not a fight 🙂
    I realize also that this dialogue might be of no use to you, but let the ignorant ( me ) learn from it.
    Thank you

  24. >”There is not a single sentence in existence on the internet where I reject Calvinism in favor of postmodernism”

    And there still isn’t. Is there a sentence on the net where I discuss postmodernism and find some possible positive aspects of it for some aspects of being missional in the 21st century? Absolutely. Most certainly.

    But where do I reject Calvinism and embrace Postmodernism? NOT where do I discuss postmodernism, but where do I embrace it? By saying some of us, like Kierkegaard, have reconsidered how we communicate based on some pomo insights?

    I am an ordinary Christian. I am confessional. The Bible is my authority. I embrace the Christian faith and reject philosophical substitutes.

    And I’m amazed I have to say so.