Post Modern dilemma

I was sitting in my Old Testament class yesterday. The topic of Post-modernism came up. There has been much conversation about it on campus. Our professor, Dr. Stone, was much more definitive about post-modernism than most professors on campus, which I enjoyed, but it did raise a peculiar question in my mind. Can you completely define Post-modernism and is it really an applicable to Christianity?

The ones who have studied post-modernism have seen that there can be multiple views of it and then many more reactions within it. Some completely deny any so called “meta-narrative”, some accept it even though they recognize that the meta-narrative describes a hyper-reality, and there are others who are only in the beginning phases of the philosophy and are only reacting to the mistakes of Modernism. It is all a hodgepodge of people in different areas of the philosophy. (Let’s not forget that there are those who say that Post-modernism is actually uber-Modernism, which is an entirely different view of things.)

I am going to give you an answer to one question, and then give you a different question. Post-modernism is about de-valuing and deconstructing meta-narrative on some level (deconstruction can be used either as simple critique or a view that all literature and worldview is merely a tool to bring one under that narrative). It can’t get past the fact that one has declared himself and his view as superior. All must be given a voice at the table (a good point) but only because no voice has any inherent value over another (which has potential to be a bad point).

And now I ask you, the reader, is post-modernism usable for Christianity (at least in the orthodox sense)? Before you answer, let me label a few points: 1) Christianity in the orthodox sense has a long history of interpretation and a reasoning behind that interpretation. Things like homosexuality, war, abortion, murder, rape, pornography, lust, greed, lying, disregard for plants and animals and even hateful language are opposed on certain grounds such as faith, hope, and love in light of creation, failure, redemption, and hope. 2) We believe that it is not our own declaration of authority, but the authority of one who is higher than us. The Church of the first five centuries was authoritative because they sought to listen to the Spirit, listen to the witness of Scripture, and to recognize Christ as the head of the Church. This is not like the later Church which was authoritarian, which was certain people actually saying things and using there own positions of authority to avoid confrontation on the matter (this applies to many leaders, from Catholic Popes, to Methodist Bishops, and even Baptist Deacons). 3) We believe our own way to be the standard way to God. I am careful on this point. I cannot say that this is applicable to only the orthodox side of things, because there are some I know who want to fully serve Christ by listening to the Spirit (I also must admit that the Christian faith was shared along with our Scriptures in the first five centuries of our faith, meaning that we must be more open in non-aggressive conversation with unbelievers and have dialogue among the parts of the Christian faith)

With all that said, Post-Modernism, in an extreme sense, might be a different animal apart from Christianity, but I do think that there are things to be gleaned from the different levels of Post-modern critique.

What do you think?

Grace and peace.

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6 thoughts on “Post Modern dilemma

  1. I won’t say that ‘post-modernism’ is applicable to Christianity, because frankly the word is still too fluid and I don’t really know what it means. But I will say that I have personally embraced many of the ideas of what we are calling ‘post-modernism’ and I think it’s important for Christians (as well as those of other faiths) to take note and grapple openly and honestly with these ideas that are changing our world.

    Speaking of which, as one who embraces some of these ideologies, I ask: When you ask if post-modernism is ‘usable’ for Christianity, why add ‘at least in the orthodox sense’? What is ‘orthodox’, and why? If we define ‘orthodox’ as what is clearly defined in our scriptures and nothing else, fair enough. The problem is, of course, that there isn’t a lot that is clear cut in our scriptures: in most instances interpretation is necessary to decide what they mean and how to apply them to our lives. So ‘right’ belief, and in a large sense right and wrong (i.e. what is and is not sin) becomes very personal; thus, ‘orthodoxy’ does not really fit into a post-modern framework. (‘Sola scriptura’, come to think of it, has a slight ‘post-modern’ ring to it, maybe so long as we add something like ‘sine interpretatione’ – then again, that has great potential for disaster as well.) But if the qualifier ‘in the orthodox sense’ means that we must close our eyes and ears and ignore or attack anything that appears to be incompatible with perceived ‘orthodoxy’, then I cannot accept that. What I am after is honesty, whether or not it is considered ‘orthodox’ – and honesty is, after all, a Christian virtue.

    One last comment. In the third point, you say “We believe our own way to be the standard way to God.” This is a point I’ve been forced to modify, personally. As I mentioned above, ‘belief’, in a post-modern (I really don’t like using this word) context, necessarily becomes personal rather than corporate. But also, as one who has embraced ‘post-modern’ ideas, I have to admit that I do not ‘believe’ that my way (i.e. Christianity) is the standard way to God.

    Now, before you shit your pants, let me nuance this statement: I do not and cannot possibly _know_ that Christianity is the standard way to God. Indeed, when one considers the number of other faiths in the world whose adherents are equally convinced that they are correct, what, honestly, are the chances that I’ve got it right? I am a Christian because it is my heritage and because my faith has meaningfully and profoundly enriched my life. I don’t assume that I’m correct; in fact, in a very real sense I doubt that I am. But because of the inward and intangible effects of my faith – because I think I’ve come to know the God of the Bible – I choose to πιστειν in this God. That is, I choose to ‘trust in’ the testimony of those who have written our scriptures. I don’t like to say that I ‘believe’, but I’m happy to say that I choose to trust and have faith, acknowledging that there’s just as much chance that I’m wrong as anyone else.

    All this is to say that post-modern ideas, in my own experience, is not incompatible with Christianity, but it will challenge, stretch, and force one to rethink one’s faith. And that is, frankly, more than many Christians are able to handle. And that’s okay with me.

    I hope the above is coherent. These are things that I’m still grappling with and teasing out.

    • I appreciate your post, Benji. I’ll begin by saying that the only thing that initially made me shit my pants was the length of this comment. Of course, I’m sure that since you’re aiming to acquire your doctorate, I should have seen it coming when I saw your name. 🙂

      As to the particulars of your comment, I want to emphasize first that the description of Post-modernism I gave is one of multiple descriptions. I may have been too definitive on Post-modernism in the 4th paragraph, which I’ll admit I have a tendency to do. My main focus was really to work with the view that Post-modernist is completely Deconstructionist when taken to its final conclusion. As for the basis for orthodoxy, I think it would be safe to say that the creeds and maybe the first five centuries of Christianity might not be a terrible basis for defining orthodoxy. It may be difficult to do that, but not even Luther (who used sola scriptura) was without commentaries and tradition.

      You’re second paragraph is one point I still grapple with and I admit that I may not ever have an answer until our Lord returns.

      Your use of πιστειν is quite welcomed. I do think that there is an element where you and I exist outside of seeing to believe and have to, by faith, credit God with faithfulness. “Believe” will always be a tough word for us to use considering Modern Christian-ese. Maybe one day we’ll use the word comfortably again, but for now we must clarify our words exhaustively.

      I can put it two ways, if Post-modernism is in the end completely deconstructionist towards Scripture, I might not be completely on board. However, if it merely is a challenger, stretcher, and inquirer like you propose, then I could welcome it as a brother.

      All this is hard to label and define. Thanks for posting legitimate questions, despite the awe-inspiring length. This post is just a working out of thoughts and we’ll see how it turns out.

  2. I think that in terms of Christianity, we need to not look at how to apply Postmodernity into faith, but instead to look at how it influences our culture.

    Usually when something is “walmart-ized” we can agree that it has reached a level of influence that has invaded the common cultural norm. While I have been hearing about postmodernity for the last 10 years in an academic setting, I have spent the last year or so looking for how it has entered the common vernacular.

    This means imposing a few rules. a) if you have read “blue like jazz” you are automatically discounted from any analysis and b.)the farther you are away from expression of organized religion the more I am going to look at you.

    The most post-modern person I know is a set of 16 year old twins from Pikeville, Ky. The outpost of Appalachian poverty in Kentucky is likely to breed the type of people that are so far in cultural and genetic despair that the issues regarding the individual and truth. These two boys evidence a complete non-academic example of postmodernity in that they are their own markers of what is considered good, and everything is measured as to benefit to them. They are willingly outside of any philosophical narrative, because one has yet to prove good enough for them.

    I think the questions we need to ask in the church shouldn’t be pragmatic (such as how we can use postmodernity) but rather missional, pointed towards understanding the cultures that we live in.

    • I see you’re point, Chad. We should always see things missionally. My attempt was to try to think on the level “in house” discussion. Within the Church we may ask what we are to do with Post-modernism, but in external interactions, that question probably should not be brought up unless the person asks.

      Good thoughts.

  3. That list of sins that put homosexuality and amorphously-defined “lust” in with war, murder, and rape is just the kind of thing that alienates people from the church. Other than that, interesting essay.

    • Good point, vaguelyhumanoid. I do find this a difficult piece. Homosexuality in this case is very elusive for us, since you have to define if you’re talking about the lifestyle, the actual mental orientation, or the act of “sleeping with” someone of the same sex. Simply excluding anyone from even interacting with the faith on all of these counts is just wrong. According to Christian Scriptures, although we Christians cannot take part in a homosexual act, we must show kindness to everyone, and be what Christ wanted us to be.

      As far as your “lust” comment, I am unsure as to what you mean by “amorphously-defined”

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