The Spectrum of Responses
Before we get started, I wanted to note what seems to be a spectrum of reactions to the postmodern turn. Very helpful in my delineating these was Kevin Vanhoozer’s essay, “Pilgrim’s Digress” in the book, Christianity and the Postmodern Turn.
Deny- Some Christians simply deny that postmodernity either exists or that it’s important. Some may see postmodernity as “just a phase,” as Brian McLaren has refuted. We have a tendency, in our humanity, to decide that the way we see the world is the only possible way to do so, and we get emotionally attached to it as a source of security. That is why we have trouble talking politics or religion with people—each of us are “set in our ways,” and to change is paramount to “conversion.” Much is the same with this—to say that we are moving out of one era and into another (from the “modern” to the “postmodern”) is a bit too much for some to swallow.
Defy- Some Christians (especially evangelicals) define themselves as much by what they are against (we are called “protestants,” after all!) as what they are for. Constantly on the hunt for heresy and those dreaded “liberals,” they are ready to demonize the next threat to the canonized way of thinking about their faith. Many Christians have been so thoroughly inculcated with a Platonic worldview and/or the “reasonableness” of the faith (i.e., the “Evidence that Demands a Verdict” kind of apologetics), that they see any threat to these as a threat to the faith as well. So, postmodernity is seen as the next evil coming down the road that threatens the orthodoxy of our faith—something to resist at all costs. Some Christians simply presume that postmodernity and Christianity are mutually exclusive—and with that attitude, there is little room for understanding and getting beyond the defiance.
Deify- Some Christians are always looking for the latest fad or trend that will enliven their faith and move the church toward a more missional focus. Postmodernity is new and exciting and offers new ways of thinking about our faith and for doing ecclesiology, so it is often embraced without enough criticism and discernment. We see some in the “emerging church” (certainly not the all, but some) either grab hold of superficial postmodern ideas or let a more informed postmodern philosophy set the agenda for their theology. We must not deify any philosophy (be it Derrida or Plato!); we must yield to Deity as we seek to understand our faith.
Debate- Some Christians think that the best route is to stake their ground and do their research in order to articulate their stand over against the other. Some who oppose postmodernity read the relevant books and then they speak at lectures and write books refuting the other side. This is the impulse for Christians who are sympathetic to postmodernity as well. The value is that there is information being researched and people are writing interesting stuff; what’s missing, however, is a real dialogue in order to understand. Reading this stuff makes me feel like I’m attending a college debate—both sides present their cases and try to find faults in the other’s arguments, but we arrive at no real conclusions; we never mover forward. All that matters is, “Who won the debate?”
Discuss- Some Christians (especially those in the “Emergent Conversation”) have, because of a predilection toward the postmodern, encouraged a more conversant approach. They create a more open forum in which all views are welcome and given equal voice—especially newer, fresher voices that articulate postmodern ideas. While this has the virtue of listening to ideas on their own terms, it does not necessarily always have the apostolic Christian faith as its starting point. Sometimes, in our zeal to be in tune with the culture, we can allow the culture to be our starting point rather than the faith. We have a “faith that seeks understanding,” not the other way around.
Dialogical Dispute- Vanhoozer calls this just “Dispute,” but I think that has the connotation (which he does not mean) of a heated confrontation. What he means, and that I agree with, is that the best possible response to postmodernity is to listen to and engage postmodernity on its own grounds while at the same time to “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3). He writes, “Christian thinkers cannot go around postmodernity; we have to go through it.” This will mean that we will must be willing to agree with postmodern theses while in this dialogical dispute so that we will may arrive at different conclusions due to our distinctly Christian World View. For instance, we can agree with postmodernity that we should have an incredulity toward metanarratives, for we agree that every metanarrative is limited by linguistics and the situatedness of each community from which it springs. However, we can also contend that there is an exception—a metanarrative that came from outside any individual community and has invaded our time and place situatedness in language that had to accommodate to an individual community (the metanarrative of “Creation, Fall, Redemption”—which will be my next post).
Index of this series: Toward a Proper Christian Response to Postmodernity
technorati: emerging church postmodernity