11/03/2005

Toward a Postmodern Metanarrative

Toward a Proper Christian Response to Postmodernity – 9

While a major part of postmodernity is the famous idea popularized from a Lyotard quote, that we must have "an incredulity toward metanarratives," Jamie Smith has shown that what Lyotard was saying was that we must have incredulity of metanarratives that seek to legitimate themselves with rational, objective "Reason."

Therefore, I am going to attempt to present a postmodern Christian metanarrative. How can I do this? Because I contend that the Christian faith is not a matter of "Reason" but a matter of a theological drama. And since it is a theological drama (that is, since the major player in the drama is God), it has to be a "metanarrative." In fact, if it is indeed the theological drama of God, from God, and by God, it is the only metanarrative worth believing.

A Postmodern Christian Metanarrative looks something like this, in outline form:

I. CREATION
A. Here we find humanity situated the way we were supposed to be—with each other, with the creation, and with God.
B. Communication was readily understood (until the serpent twisted communication for the first time)—so there were no equivocations, no language barriers, no selfish subtexts for what was said, no word-games.
C. We were truly known and loved—before God and fellow humans we were “naked and not ashamed.”
D. We each reflected the image of God in our diversity—thus there was a unity in diversity, with each reflecting the glory of God uniquely yet interdependently with others.

II. FALL
A. There is a “turn to the subject”—our lives became focused on ourselves.
B. This turn causes a distrust in what’s “out there” in reality, all that really matters ultimately is how it effects “me.”
C. There is an attempt to “master” rather than “serve” everyone and everything.
D. Language is twisted to mean something other than what was intended due to our sense of twisted self-importance.
E. Language becomes arbitrary and self-serving.
F. Languages become confounded due to our selfish desire to reach the divine on our personal, selfish terms (this is what the Tower of Babel story teaches us).
G. In order to describe an ever-increasing complexity of reality, we sense the need for a varieity of “vocabularies” (ways of describing reality) in order to grasp all these varying aspects of the complexities.
H. While in the original Creation humanity was situated the way we were supposed to be, the Fall situates us in a chaotic state of affairs:

  1. With each other—selfishness, the rise of ideologies and “isms,” the ever-increasing “will to power,” the rise of metanarratives that are thrust on foreign cultures and cause strife, discord, and even wars, a disunity of communities (the penchant to “hate the other,” rather than to “embrace diversity.”).
  2. With Creation—some see themselves above the creation to exploit it; others see themselves under creation as just a ‘rational animal.’ All do not see correctly our ethical place in creation correctly.
  3. With God—the rise of self as God, our smaller stories replace God’s metanarrative of redemption, we deny the “Fall” and embrace the myth of progress.

III. REDEMPTION
A. The Word Became Flesh and Dwelt Among Us (John 1:14)
The eternal has entered our situatedness in a specific time and place in history in the person of Jesus Christ.

  1. Since we are “fallen,” we need the “Word” to come into our situatedness in a way that makes sense to us—the incarnation is exactly that.
  2. The quadraphonic witness of the Gospels provide different voices of the same reality so that we can rightly interpret the Christ Event.
  3. The meaning of the Christ Event is presented in a plurality of themes, speaking into our limited ability to understand because of our limited linguistics and fallen situatedness ( i.e., Penal Substitutionary Atonement [for a legal language], Christus Victor [for a liberation language], Redemption [for an economic language], etc.)
  4. “Truth” is a person, not a concept or an objective proposition. Jesus proclaims himself as “the Truth,” and we approach truth only when we approach Jesus in his personhood.

B. The Spirit is Bequeathed Upon the People (Pentecost)

  1. Absolute Truth of God (that is, fully knowing God) cannot be understood on this side of eternity (1 Cor 13:12). However, Christ has inaugurated the age of the Holy Spirit in which a reality outside ourselves is able to increasingly break the bonds of the fall.
  2. This “Already-Not Yet” of our current existence makes for an increasing ability to truly understand and know God, others, and the creation, but not yet fully.

C. The Christian’s Work in the “Already-Not Yet” of Our Present Existence

  1. To understand truth through both reason and imagination. Reason has had its time in the spotlight; it is time to reinvigorate the imagination through the arts, through new ideas, through opening our eyes to what God can and wants to do today.
  2. To promote unity in diversity (the “catholicity” of the church) in order to stem parochialism. The way to limit a local community’s attempt at power-grabs over other groups is to nip insular “isms” in the bud by creating dialogical interaction between faith communities.
  3. To seek clearer understanding of how others articulate their faith through renouncing Babel and embracing Pentecost. The power of the Spirit can give us the ability to understand others even though they speak “other languages.” (That is, people articulate concepts and ideas in different ways. God wants us to hear these with ears wide open to understand them and maybe even embrace them instead of insisting that our faith community’s articulation of the faith is the only legitimate way to do so.) We need to embrace the plurality of languages and interpretations of revelation since they are actually needed to understand the complexity of reality.
  4. To embrace the theological drama that the apostles have handed down to us as a gift from God given to us from outside our smaller communities yet appropriate for all communities.
  5. To accept that “truth” will only be ultimately known in Christ at the eschaton. We now know God as if we are looking at him through a heavily tinted window. But there will come a time when we will fully know God, just as he fully knows.

Index of this series: Toward a Proper Christian Response to Postmodernity

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6 comments:

Brian said...

Very interesting approach to a "Postmodern Metanarrative". Here is my question though, how should a Postmodern Metanarrative be understood within a communal concept of truth? Is your Postmodern Metanarrative a universal Metanarrative for all people in all times? This isn't so much of a criticsm as it is an honest question, because as you said, this isn't a human metanarrative, but its God's.

Bob Robinson said...

Excellent question(s) Brian.

The intention of this attempt at a "Postmodern Christian Metanarrative" is to say two things: (1) The Christian Metanarrative of Creation - Fall - Redemption is indeed universal enough for all people at all times, and (2) This metanarrative can and must learn from the community that would call itself "postmodern," therefore each and every line-item in this outline is some point that postmoderns have made in their analysis of either modernity or our culture.

In other words, the C-F-R metanarrative is not foreign to a postmodern philosophy; in fact it is enhanced by it and largely affirms it.

Gary Anderson said...

I can't buy into the concept of knowing the truth only in the future, at the end of time. That is a neo hardshell baptist concept of not knowing when you are justified because to them you are only justified in heaven, and not on earth.

I believe in divine revelation and the power of the gospel to cut the heart of man. The elect will hear Christ's voice in this life and that truth will set them free.

akevangel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
akevangel said...

Excellent website/blog.

I'm passionate about evangelism and though I have a modern mindset I am trying to become post-modern ( or at least try to understand postmodernity) in order to reach post-moderns with the gospel.
Though I have started a blog myself http://authenticmission.blogspot.com I am listening to and reading blogs like your own in order to learn more of the Postmodern mindset.
I found your blog helpful.
Many thanks and keep going.

Doug Sangster said...

Terrific post Bob! You've contextualized (right word?) beautifully to make the story intelligible. Bravo.

We're learning to do the same thing within an Anglican setting, while incorporating ancient model of worship.