August 23, 2014

iMonk: Post-Stupid?

the-long-journey

“I am on a post-evangelical journey, discovering what it means to be vitally connected to Jesus.”

* * *

A classic Michael Spencer post from March 2008.

A truly prominent, not-post anything blogger has put forward the following theory:

Those who use the prefix “post” to describe themselves are claiming to be smarter than those who don’t.

Example: A “post-modernist” is saying “I used to be mired in the darkness of modernism, but now, through my superior intellect, I have arisen from the tomb of modernism and ascended to the higher plane of post-modernism.”

Or: A post-conservative is saying, “Once I lived in the dark swamps of conservatism, but now I’ve finally used my brains and looked at what Neanderthals inhabit conservatism. I’ve packed my bags and left for the sunshine and springtime of post-conservatism.”
And, of course: A post-evangelical — such as yours truly — is saying “Those stupid, sheep-like evangelicals can’t hold an intellectual candle to the brightness of my post-evangelical insights. How truly significant and wonderful it is that I have emerged, under the power of my stupendous brain, into post-evangelicalism.

You may send your best examples in to the Internet Monk research department.

I have three responses.

ladybug upFirst, I don’t think that’s a completely wrong analysis. Intellectual arrogance is a common sin, and I’m sure I’m guilty of it. There are other reasons a person might take pride in being “post” whatever. There’s certainly a social dimension, as people “join up” with groups and movements they feel have moved beyond other groups and movements or just have an image they want to identify with. Pride comes in many different forms and some of them are quite subtle.

But intellectual pride goes both ways. There are those who take intellectual pride in their “old fashioned” legalism and their King James Onlyism. It’s no less potentially sinful to say “I’ve never changed and never will” than to say “I’ve changed and that makes me better.” It’s prideful to say “I’m smarter than those _________ Christians, who can’t see their own flaws and apostasy in comparison to my group.”

While I agree with the prominent blogger that being “post” whatever may be evidence of intellectual arrogance, I can’t say that’s automatically true or that there isn’t just as much arrogance in the other options of where we position ourselves in relationship to other Christians. It’s all a version of “My way of looking at things amounts to a kind of righteousness.” I think not.

Secondly, the process of thinking, learning and discovery, by its very nature, takes us in the direction of being “post”-whatever we were before we thought, learned or discovered. There’s nothing wrong with being “post-ignorant” or “post-uninformed.”

It seems that some Christians want to present themselves as being “keepers of the foundational” truths, and that their “progress” has always been “back to the truth,” but not “post” anything. Ahem. So Calvinists, for example, don’t call themselves post-evangelicals, but in actual fact that’s precisely what many of them are. They are people whose journey of discovery has taken then into the world of reformation Christianity POST their sojourn among generic evangelicals.

Charismatics are usually post-cessationists. Catholic converts are post-protestants. Many reformed Christians are post-revivalists or post-Arminians. I don’t think anyone is making a claim the other camp is stupid. Just wrong, from the learner’s perspective.

If the purpose of learning, study, inquiry and discovery isn’t to transcend your previous ignorance and to move forward in your experience of truth, then what are we doing pursuing so many books. sermons, lectures and classes?

Why are we reading prominent blogs, if not to be “post” something in our own knowledge of the truth?

Third and finally, my own “post-evangelical” journey isn’t a triumphant parade of intellectual triumph over the stupid. That isn’t to say that there isn’t plenty that’s stupid, worthless and even spiritually dangerous going on among evangelicals. It’s to say that I’m intentionally moving past where evangelicals are going, to take a broader, deeper examination of their roots, their valuable contributions and their diverse options for the future. I believe that evangelicalism’s current directions are dire and portend an end to the movement as classically defined, but I believe evangelicalism “deep and wide” has hope worth stirring up and content worth keeping.

I have far more respect for evangelicals in general than those who typically criticize me for being “post evangelical.” Their pessimism exceeds mine by far. I believe there is much about evangelicalism that can be salvaged and much about it that reaches into the broader experience of truly “catholic” Christianity. My prominent critics typically find evangelicalism a train-wreck with only one hope: a wholesale rejection of all things Charismatic and catholic in favor of a kind of reformed Baptist/independent Baptist fundamentalism.

If there’s a competition for who is the most pessimistic “post-evangelical,” I can’t really run with the big dogs. Look up the people who think Rick Warren is a new age guru and Tim Keller is a mystic.

My intention is to discover what in evangelicalism presents a “Jesus-shaped spirituality.” I do not adopt the post-evangelical label as a way to say I am smarter or others are stupid. I adopt it to say that living among evangelicals must be an intentional, deconstructive journey, sorting through tradition and trend, looking to scripture for authority and being open to the work of the Spirit, even among people very different from me…and maybe even not as “smart” as me.

The warning that “post” anything can be intellectual arrogance is a good word, well heard and hopefully heeded. But at the same time, drawing a caricature of other Christians who may use the label “post” may be another version of the same thing.

There’s no immunity for any of us; just a constant need for humility, mutual respect and careful consideration of what God may be doing in those different from ourselves.

Comments

  1. Wow. A lot of great insights in this classic post.

    We humans, self included, tend to take offence at the drop of a hat. Maybe an element of Michael’s “Jesus-shaped spirituality” is a death to our easily-offended selves. As he said in his last line, “There’s no immunity for any of us; just a constant need for humility, mutual respect and careful consideration of what God may be doing in those different from ourselves.”

  2. Another Mary says:

    There’s no immunity for any of us; just a constant need for humility, mutual respect and careful consideration of what God may be doing in those different from ourselves.

    Amen

  3. tyler mase says:

    I’m a post-imonk