Talkin’ Postmodernity at other Blogs

I’ve been commenting at other blogs about postmodernity lately.

Over at Every Thought Captive, Phil Steiger takes on Myron Penner’s post on Postmodern Apologetics at the blog-book, A New Kind of Conversation. I interact with him on things like the role of Reason in our apologetic, false dichotomies, and whether or not the modern philosophical paradigm has lead to evils. Phil is thoughtful and our disussions are always very good.

Over at that book-blog (A New Kind of Conversation), I’ve submitted my “Emmanuel Apologetic” as comments to that Myron Penner post on apologetics. Someone not yet convinced of the authenticity of postmodern philosophy named “Al” has taken some of my thoughts to task, which I appreciate. So, we've been dialoguing back and forth.

Here’s an excerpt:

Al Sunday, November 20, 2005 09:50 AM
RE:An Emmanuel Apologetic

Can anyone help me from an Emmanuel Apologetic or Postmodern Evangelical perspective to address the following three current apologetic issues:

1. The Jesus Seminar and Dan Brown's "DaVinci Code." Both of these have captured the allegiance of millions of enthusiasts in our midst who are fleeing from Christian communities with their very unorthodox view of Jesus, including my niece an nephew.

2. The naturalist materialism that has sucha firm grip on our educational and scientific establishments that they seem to be uterly unwilling to consider any evidence that suggest intelligent design in the cosmos and the biosphere.

3. The anti-heterosexist crusade that seeks to ban from public education, media government, and anywhere in the public square all expressions of preference for heterosexual marriage. My grand-kids are being taught this in books and class in public school.

How do Emmanuel Apologetics or Postmodern Evangelical perspectives address these current issues in our midst?


Bob Robinson Sunday, November 20, 2005 12:05 PM [11.13]
RE:An Emmanuel Apologetic


To the Jesus Seminar and DaVinci Code apologists, I’d say that of course there are reasoned arguments that clearly refute them. But our intellectual and reasoned arguments mean little to nothing if we are not displaying the true Jesus before them as a community of believers. To merely have “better arguments” reduces the situation to bantering and who has better debating skills. But to have a kerygma that projects “this is the real Christ-—compassion and love and a resurrection life filled with hope” gives credence to our reasoned statements that simply cannot be argued with. I submit that the reason Crossan and Brown get a hearing is because the Christian community has done such a poor job in being Emmanuel in this world. The plausibility of their counter to Christianity exists because the Christian “God With Us” witness has been so implausible (it has been so poorly lived out).

To the naturalist/materialist that cannot accept an intelligent designer, we simply dismiss them as too modern and unable to accept the mysterious and supernatural. Modern Darwinist theory will die under the weight of postmodernity, since it is so dependent on naturalist/materialist causes. Darwinism is the epitome of modern thought—the idea that we can arrive at “Truth” through objective science. It does not allow for a “subject” to exist that cannot be examined objectively, that is, a Creator who made the world out of his love. This "Truth" cannot be found through objective science alone; it is found in the story He reveals to us (both in the Scriptures and in the very Creation we study). When we counter with nothing more than another scientific debate, appealing to “Reason” instead of the wonder of the story, then it again is reduced to bantering and who has better debating skills. Not that we cannot appeal to the wonder of the design in Creation, but that cannot be the primary apologetic; it is the secondary apologetic.

To the "anti-heterosexist crusaders," we must live out a loving marital heterosexual life that shows that traditional marriage models true love more than any other kind of “love” that people presume exists. Any other argument without that primary proclamation sounds hallow. By the way, we evangelicals have done a VERY POOR job of doing this, since our divorce rate is as high, if not higher, than the general public. No wonder people scoff at our attempts to tell them that God’s preference is heterosexuality, since we have not portrayed a very good “Emmanuel Apologetic” in that regard!

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Bob said...


On the evolution/intelligent design stuff. I agree with you philsophically but more generaly, do you think science is a place for "the mysterious and supernatural"? Science is based on theory, experiment, observation and measurement of the physical world. If it cannot be measured/predicted, it is not science.

I think we'd be better off all elements of the origin of the universe/life be moved from the realm of science to the realm of philosophy. Then it is clear that these are concepts, not facts--on all sides of the debate.

Bob Robinson said...

In "theory," modern science is supposed to be how you define it. And I am thankful for modern scientific discovery and the advances that have been made because of it.

But there is the underlying reality of modern science that is often brushed under the rug--the fact that there are matters of "faith" (theories that are so overwhelmingly accepted though they remain theories--like Darwinism) that ultimately moves science out of that narrow definition.

Darwinism is a metanarrative as much as any other metanarrative, perpetuated by the same power-grabs and word-games that are evident in other metanarratives. While pretending to be merely "scientists," Darwinists have a stake in keeping their power and perpetuating this over-arching story that seeks to explain all things, including things that should be in the realm of philosophy and theology (like "How did we get here?" "Why do we act the way we do?" "What does the future hold?").

Phil Steiger said...

Bob-A wonderful example of thoughtful and respectful interaction. I would agree wholeheartedly that our lives have acted as stumbling blocks to our "arguments" for Christ and to Christ Himself. 1 John 2:10 is a great commentary on neighbor-love removing stumbling blocks.

Just so I can maintain my reputation as a Modernist of sorts ;), I believe we can assert all the lifestyle issues you list while in a non-postmodern spiritual and intellectual mileu and avoid all the deleterious consequences of pomo philosophy.

Have a great Thanksgiving!

Blind Beggar said...

To merely have “better arguments” reduces the situation to bantering and who has better debating skills. But to have a kerygma that projects “this is the real Christ -— compassion and love and a resurrection life filled with hope” gives credence to our reasoned statements that simply cannot be argued with.

Bob, it is so refreshing to see such a positive and respectful dialog. I particularly like this line of reasoning. Well done.

I found your blog from JesusCreed.org.

Bob Robinson said...

Thanks, Phil and Blind Beggar, for your kind words. I find it sometimes difficult, in this medium, to show grace in what I say--especially if I disagree with someone. I haven't been as tactful as I should have been at times in the past (as YOU know Phil!!).

Steve Cornell said...

Understanding the times:
-A strange postmodern world-
by Steve Cornell

Those who desire to be effective in ministry must be aware of the cultural contexts of their ministries. They must understand the underlying ways people think and especially the way people view truth and reality. Missionaries have known this for many years. Those who minister in western cultures have fairly recently recognized some significant shifts in the way people view truth and reality. This shift has been identified as movement from a modern to a postmodern culture. Is this shift as significant as some profess it to be? If it is, what does it look like and how should we respond to it?
In his book, The Ruins of the Church: Sustaining Faith in an age of Diminished Christianity, R. R. Reno wisely recommended, “If we care about evangelism, then surely we need to get our bearings in this strange postmodern world. If we wish to preach and teach effectively, than we must be clear about where the sharp and double-edged sword of the gospel cuts into the spirit of the age. This is especially important because our churches are awash with disorienting analysis. Some are eager to convince us that our sophisticated scientific culture just cannot accept the simplistic mythological worldview of traditional Christianity. Others are certain that the new global communication makes us so aware of cultural and religious diversity that the traditional exclusivist claims of Christianity are untenable. Still others drink deeply at the well of literary theory and in an intoxicated reverie announce that old ideas of meaning and truth have been transcended. …Most however, offer a straight forward assessment: our postmodern world is so very, very, complex that the traditional forms of Christian preaching and teaching must be updated and revised” (From: Mars Hill Audio Resource, "Postmodern Irony and Petronian Humanism," www.marshillaudio.org, p.1).
Admittedly, there is widespread misunderstanding and disagreement about the label ‘postmodern’. In his article, The Dangers & Delights of Postmodernism, D. A. Carson wrote, “The meaning of postmodernism is not transparent. Moreover, its range of application (it has been applied to literature, art, communication theory, architecture, epistemology, jurisprudence, the philosophy of science, and more) means that its associations for one person may be very different from its associations for someone else. (From: Modern Reformation Magazine, 2003, July / August Issue, Vol. 12.4).
In his book, The Way of the (modern) world Or, why It’s tempting to Live as if God doesn’t Exist, Craig M. Gay, observed that, “There is very little agreement as yet as to what ‘postmodernity’ means. While the term occasionally simply denotes dissatisfaction with modernity, it is increasingly used to suggest that we have entered into an entirely new cultural situation in which none of the old ‘modern’ rules and habits of mind need be taken seriously anymore. All such suggestions are mistaken and misleading. …the ideals of the modern project are still very firmly embedded in the central institutional realities of contemporary society. Although modernity may well be passé in certain intellectual circles, typically modern ideas and assumptions are still quite effectively communicated within contemporary culture by many of the institutional realities that surround us and by many of the ways we do things today. …postmodernity represents only a kind of extension of modernity, a kind of ‘hyper-modernity’” (pp.17-18).

Along similar lines, British sociologist Anthony Giddens suggested that, “rather than entering a period of post-modernity, we are moving into one in which the consequences of modernity are becoming more radicalized and universalized than before” (The Consequences of Modernity, p. 3). Accordingly, it could be said that we are living in most-modern times instead of post-modern.
Whatever label one chooses, western culture in particular has experienced some significant changes that effect gospel ministry. For the purpose of this article, these changes will be explored in relation to modernity.

Understanding the shift:
pre-modern to modern to post-modern

1. Pre-modern: Religion is the source of truth and reality (God’s existence, attributes and revelation were givens in the culture)
2. Modern: Science is the source for truth and reality (religion and morality are moved to the subjective realm)
3. Postmodern: There is no single defining source for truth and reality beyond the individual—not even science or history.

Modernism brought relativism and individualism into the realm of religion and morality. Science (and to a degree, history) remained bastions of objectivity.
Postmodernism radicalized relativism and individualism and applied it to all spheres of knowing—even science. In relation to this shift, a mood change has settled into western culture.
A mood change: from optimism to pessimism

Postmodernity has brought with it a shift from human optimism (based on scientific certainty and technological progress), to a pessimistic mood of skepticism, uncertainty and even angst. The people who fill our Churches have been affected by this shift---especially the young people. The postmodern mood is basically one of disbelief.

Contrasting modern and postmodern

The following contrasts between modern and postmodern offer another way to consider the mood change.
Modernity was confident.
Postmodernity is anxious.
Modernity had all the answers.
Postmodernity is full of questions.
Modernity reveled in reason, science and human ability.
Postmodernity wallows (with apparent contentment or nihilistic angst) in mysticism, relativism, and the incapacity to know anything with certainty.
(Graham Johnston, “Preaching to a Postmodern World” Baker,2001)

Postmoderns on truth and reality

Postmodernity rejects individual autonomy, universal reason and absolute truth. Truth (under postmodernity) is completely perspectival and situational. History, social class, gender, culture, and religion all control the way we understand truth and reality. They shape the narratives and meanings of our lives as culturally embedded, localized social constructions without any universal application. Claims of universal meaning are viewed as efforts to marginalize and oppress the rights of others.
The most important value of postmodernity is the inadmissibility of all totalizing ways of viewing any dimension of life. Postmodernity, as a theory, refuses to allow any single defining source for truth and reality.
Kevin Vanhoozer illustrates the way postmoderns understand reality: “We do not simply look at a rose and evaluate its intrinsic beauty, fragrance and design, we consider ourselves as we look at the rose. The temptation is to think that the color of the rose is a product of our optical nerve, and its scent of our noses, so that in the end there is no rose left.” (emphasis mine) (pp. 75-76, Christianity and the Postmodern Turn: six views, ed., Myron B. Penner).

Challenge to gospel ministry

Applying this shift to gospel ministry, D. A. Carson wrote, “Initially, the removal of transcendent truth or values led to a restlessness that was seized for the gospel. Now, the restlessness is moving toward a carefree attitude. Postmoderns seem to have a striking capacity to endure groundlessness and incoherence calmly –to live as ironists with equanimity.” (From: Telling the Truth, ed., D. A. Carson, p. 86).
Kevin Vanhoozer believes that many of the people we desire to reach with the gospel “reject unifying, totalizing, and universal schemes in favor of a new emphasis on difference, plurality, fragmentation and complexity. Postmoderns are suspicious of truth claims, of ‘getting it right.’” (The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology).
The ethic of pluralistic civility is the social expectation. Tolerance is required of all. Lessons on good arguments and detecting error are unnecessary. Those who promote such things are suspected of imperialistic motives aimed at oppressing the weak and less fortunate.
R. R. Reno, perceptively observed the spirit of this age when he wrote, “Anxieties about the closed circuit of dogma, the exhausting weight of tradition, and the crushing force of institutional authority lead our postmodern culture to the extreme of denying the authority of truth itself.” (Ibid. p. 5)

Elements of absurdity in postmodernity

Although people entrenched in a postmodern outlook profess to care little about consistency, it is wise to expose the significant logical inconsistencies in postmodern theory. Consider the following:

Postmodernity is the worldview that says no worldview exists.
Postmodernity is an anti-theory that uses theoretical tools to neutralize all theories.
Postmodernity demands an imposed uniformity in an effort to resist uniformity.
Postmoderns often use propositional statements to negate truth based on propositional statements.

Discovering and exposing these kinds of logical contradiction often invites the postmodern smirk that says—“poor soul, you are so bound by modernity.” It is perhaps best to express these concerns as sincere questions. Our goal in evangelism is never to win an argument. It is always to lead a person to truth and freedom.
Effective ministry requires us to see through and gently expose the smokescreens people use to avoid truth. Many years ago, Blaise Pascal described what we observe in people today, “Being unable to cure death, wretchedness and ignorance, men have decided, in order to be happy, not to think about such things.” The gospel, however, calls us to think about these things and to turn from death to life.

Postmodernity: A benefit and a danger

“The introduction of postmodernity has proved of some benefit to Christian faith. The Enlightenment sought to relegate matters of faith to the rear of the bus as either insignificant or nonexistent. Postmodernity returns value to faith and affirms the nurturing of our spiritual being as vital to humankind. Unfortunately, with the loss of truth, people will now seek faith without boundaries, categories, or definition. The old parameters of belief do not exist. As a result, people will be increasingly open to knowing God, but on their own terms.” (Preaching to a Postmodern World,” Graham Johnston, p.31).
“The willing conformity that characterizes so much postmodern life can give the evangelist hope that the prideful self-sufficiency of modernity has finally exhausted itself. These are, however, deceptions made possible by a fixation on pride as the primary barrier to faith. Sloth and cowardice in reality are just as deadly. Both slink away from the urgency of conviction. Both fear the sharp edge of demand and expectation. Both have a vested interest in cynicism, irony and outward conformity. These vices, not pride, now dominate our culture.” (R. R. Reno, Ibid, p. 8).


Understanding the shift to postmodernity will become increasingly important for those called to minister in Western culture. In changing times, we must be willing to make changes in the way we do evangelism and ministry. But we must never make concessions to postmodernity that compromise the integrity of the gospel or diminish Scripture as the authoritative, univocal divine revelation for humanity. Any moderation of the demands of the gospel to accommodate the postmodern spirit will drain it of the power of God unto salvation. If the gospel is held hostage to the restrictions of postmodernity, it ceases to be the good news that humans so desperately need.

Eight truths for postmodern times

1. We are all sinners who receive the penalty of death (Romans 3:10, 23; 5:12)
2. God has demonstrated His love for all (John 3:16;Romans 5:8).
3. God desires salvation for all (I Timothy 2:3-4;II Peter 3:9).
4. God has made provision for salvation (I Timothy 2:5-6;4:9-10; Titus 2:11; I John 2:2).
5. God commands all people to repent (Acts 17:30).
6. God will hold all accountable for their response to His provision (Romans 2:4-11;14:11;Acts 17:31).
7. God takes no pleasure in the rejection of His provision (Ezekiel 18:23,32).
8. God will save all who place faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (John 3:16;11:26; Romans 10:13).

Steven W. Cornell
Senior pastor
Millersville Bible Church
Millersville, Pa 17551

Bob Robinson said...

Thanks for the well-prepared mini-treatise on postmodernism (was it a sermon?).
My only challenges to it would be these:
(1) Postmodernity has a LOT to do with the falibility of language - that language can be troublesome in relaying "truth." You do not address this central claim of postmodern philosophy.
(2) Postmodernity not the era of radicalized individualism; that was Modernity. Postmodernity is more of a radicalized commuitarianism.

I'd suggest (since you quote him) reading more from Kevin Vanhoozer on postmodernity. I interact a lot with his thoughts in my series, Toward a Proper Christian Response to Postmodernity.