I have a confession to make…but you may already know this. But I still feel like I need to get this off my chest.
Here goes: I’m…a…postmodern.
OK, I feel better now and that wasn’t so bad but I understand the reader may have some questions. For instance, why would anyone, much less myself (someone who claims to be a historically orthodox Christian of the Baptist family), claim the label ‘postmodern’. A common conception is that postmodernism does not mix well at all with Baptist identity and can having nothing to do with a biblical, historically orthodox faith. Those who are of this opinion can tend to get wildly apologetic concerning postmodernism and I have more than one of these types of conversations. But then there are also those who see that perhaps…maybe…postmodernism is not the anti-gospel and are willing to listen for a bit. However, as commonly occurs, having been reared in modern, Western Christianity (in my context some part of evangelicalism) the hearing is limited and there remains a sort of mild to moderate allergic reaction to postmodernism (call it epistemic sneezing and coughing). And then there are those who might think with Moe, from the Simpsons, as he explains to Homer that being postmodern simply means “weird for the sake of weird.”
Given the general conceptions (or misconceptions) of postmodernism in the church, especially that of evangelicalism, I can see why some would be concerned about not only me calling myself ‘postmodern’ but also my use of postmodern insights and ideas in theology. I know for a fact that (sadly) some have seen the study and use of postmodernism as a reason to break fellowship with me. (Just recently I became aware that a facebook friend of mine from my days at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary saw it as reason enough to ‘defriend’ me. And it’s possible that many church ministerial search committees may see this and mark me off their list as well.) Still others out there may be wondering what’s up with me, why am I playing with fire, so to speak? Still others (though far more rare perhaps) might inquire in sincerity about what positives a postmodern perspective might offer. I don’t know where whoever is reading this at this point in time falls in this spectrum, but whatever your present opinions about postmodernism, if you are one of the sincere ones, you have my thanks. But even if you are inclined to write postmodernism off from the start I would ask that you be willing to entertain the possibility that all may not be as it seems (or as you may have been told). My aim here is to embark on series of posts concerning the subject of postmodernism and what possibilities it may offer the church in its incarnational presence in the world.
This post is intended as a simple introduction to the series. Thus we won’t get into anything too deep right now. Before I give a general, tentative outline of how I have the series outlined at this point let’s visit some points about the discussion over postmodernism that Myron Penner notes in his introductory chapter to Christianity and the Postmodern Turn. Penner suggests that in the discussion over the pros and cons and the good and bad of postmodernism there are some things that become evident. The first of these is that there are generally two polar opposite positions when it comes to postmodernism. There are those for it and see value in the postmodern turn for articulating a more robust gospel. And there are those (as I already mentioned) against it who see the postmodern turn as a clear and present danger to the integrity of the Christian faith. Penner notes that the first group (those for pomo) tend to believe that the detractors just don’t get it and are too blinded by their modern prejudices to engage postmodernism meaningfully. The critics of pomo, however, tend to suggest that the champions of postmodernism are sliding down the slippery slope of heresy and relativism with even the mere mention of so called postmodern ‘insights’.
The second thing that becomes clear is that Penner says both sides are like ships passing in the night – they do not seem to refer to the same thing as postmodernism. What this means of course is that what is rejected as postmodern and anathema to the gospel may not be at all what those described as postmodern actually subscribe too. A third and final thing that becomes clear is that despite the fact that Christian responses to postmodernism occurs in the form of a dichotomy (one is either for or against it) the actual reality is actually more complex than the dichotomy of opinions does justice too. The fact of the matter is that the postmodern turn itself is varied and complex such that it defies any sort of reductionist description. In fact, just as N.T. Wright notes (for example in The New Testament and the People of God, pg 244) that in terms of the historical context of the New Testament and first century Judaism, that there really wasn’t a monolithic first century Judaism, but ‘Judaisms’ (pl)…it may more correct to speak not of postmodernism as a singular monolith, but of ‘postmodernisms’ (pl) in many different expressions and dimensions (and indeed, as we may discover, some of these varieties may actually be more hyper-modern than properly post-modern).
A major discussion partner on the way will be James K. A. Smith and his book, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? I highly recommend this book as a very accessible introduction to postmodernism that isn’t too long (only 152 pages). Smith describes the book as “French lessons” for the church in which he discusses three of the major postmodern philosophers – Jacques Derrida, Jean-Francois Lyotard, and Michel Foucault. One of the positives (I think) is that Smith approaches postmodernism critically, but yet as an opportunity to rethink the shape of the church as well as recover many of the ancient sources lost in modernity. However, I want to extend the conversation beyond Smith’s discussion of Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault. Therefore, I am also including discussions of Martin Heideger, Emmanuel Levinas, Hans Georg Gadamer, and Paul Ricoeur to broaden out the conversation.
Here is a tentative outline of how the posts are scheduled at this point:
Pomo 101 : Introduction (this post)
Pomo 101 : Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? (Smith chapter 1)
Pomo 101 : As the (Postmodern) World Turns (a discussion of the general philosophical ‘turns’ of postmodernism along with the premodern and modern philosophical backdrop – if I’m brave enough I’ll attempt a ‘definition’ of postmodernism)
Pomo 101 : Postmodernism, Science, and Biblical Truth
Pomo 101 : Heideger and Ontotheology
Pomo 101 : Derrida and Deconstruction (Smith chapter 2)
Pomo 101 : Lyotard and Metanarratives (Smith chapter 3)
Pomo 101 : Foucault and Power (Smith chapter 4)
Pomo 101 : Levinas and the Other
Pomo 101 : Gadamer, Ricoeur, and Hermeneutics
Pomo 101 : Postmodernism and the Church – part 1 (Smith chapter 5)
Pomo 101 : Postmodernism and the Church – part 2
You might think that postmodernism is just weird, but maybe it also holds some potential…some possibilities…some promise. My invitation is to all who are willing to make the journey together and see what happens and where this will take us.