Pomo 101 [1]: Introduction

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 [1]: Introduction (this post)

Pomo 101 [2]: Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? (Smith chapter 1)

Pomo 101 [3]: 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 [4]: Postmodernism, Science, and Biblical Truth

Pomo 101 [5]: Heideger and Ontotheology

Pomo 101 [6]: Derrida and Deconstruction (Smith chapter 2)

Pomo 101 [7]: Lyotard and Metanarratives (Smith chapter 3)

Pomo 101 [8]: Foucault and Power (Smith chapter 4)

Pomo 101 [9]: Levinas and the Other

Pomo 101 [10]: Gadamer, Ricoeur, and Hermeneutics

Pomo 101 [11]: Postmodernism and the Church – part 1 (Smith chapter 5)

Pomo 101 [12]: 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.

Why DesperateTheologian – Part 1

Bad Blogger…Bad!!

I must admit I am really bad at this blogging thing. I have two main problems I think. One, I just get busy with other stuff – mainly research and writing for classes and such. And then there’s my X-box. No, not the 360 – I have the original one still on which I still love to play Madden and NCAA football. Really it’s the only way I get any “real” football during the off season. Yes, there’s Arena Football and NFL Europe but like I said I want real football (no offense to those that may like the Arena league or NFL Europe) but that’s a post for another time I suppose. Two, I just suppose that I have had trouble figuring out exactly what my purpose is for this blog. I’m not really the type that thinks anyone actually wants to read about my day to day happenings. My wife Christie (most will know here as C.C. blogs at lorelaicc and frankly is much more interesting than I am. I’m just not sure anyone would be as interested in me as they are of her. Its not that I don’t have ideas on things to blog about, I do! Its that most of the things I think of are theological in nature, and, well, I just don’t want to bore anyone to sleep! But still yet, I would love to have a place where I could “field test” some of my ideas, synthesize some of my research, get feed back and interaction from others, and explore the intersection between theology and real life (so I have already given this some thought). So, I am going try to get things really rolling with a series of blog posts under the title “Why DesperateTheologian?” to try to determine what it is I want to do here. The first one (below) gives some of the story behind why I call myself desperatetheologian…

Why call yourself desperatetheologian?

To understand the name desperatetheologian one needs to know something of my theological journey.  I first fell in love with theology as an undergraduate religion major at Wayland Baptist University.  Unlike most I really did enjoy reading and studying anything theological.  At this point I understood theology as mainly propositional in nature.  This is to say that theology to me was about what we can say about God.  Propositional theology is, in short, all about what we can know about God.  It is statements about God that we can be sure are true.  This is in essence the approach to faith that I grew up with in church.  I was taught a basic Biblicist view that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God with the primary purpose to give us timeless, propositions that we are to believe and that govern how we are live and act.  The Biblicist view simply says that we believe what the Bible tells us.  So I did not hear a lot about “theology” per se growing up because, as I was told, “we just believe what the Bible says, not man made formulations!”  But especially as a newly “surrendered” minister I was instructed in doctrines and taught that these were taken straight from the Bible.  Truth be told though, everyone has some sort of theology.  Where I grew up it was just not called “theology” but “doctrine” and it was basically a propositional approach to faith.  When I first went to WBU I had been warned by some to be careful at college and not let all that I learned at college ruin my faith (in a propositional sort of way that is).  However, those concerned really had nothing to worry about.  Like I said I fell in love with theology, especially systematic theology.  I liked that systematic theology gave me a way articulating “deep” things of the faith.  I found that this kind of impressed people.  I also liked that systematic theology was well – systematic.  Every doctrine was put in its proper place.  It was nice, neat, and well “packaged.”  And the packaged part did not bother me.  If someone had a question – well, I had an answer.  So…theology for me as an undergrad was about what we could know about God and about having all the right answers and the Bible was the inerrant source of what we needed to know in this regard.

Now, some may read this and think to themselves, “What’s wrong with this?  Having answers is not bad and we do need to know about God, right?”  And to this I would answer a definite affirmative.  But a solely propositional theology simply does not do justice to who God is.  He is always so much bigger than any single proposition or list of propositions that we can come up with and systematize.  Now, I need to be clear here.  It is true that I was brought up in the faith with a basically propositional view of faith but I would be remiss not to add that those who brought me up in the faith also had a deep faith and loved God deeply and taught me to do the same.  And at Wayland none of my professors ever taught me to simply be content with a solely propositional faith.  I am thankful to Dr. Paul Sadler who taught me the importance and depth of our Baptist heritage and the importance of historical theology – though I did not realize his full impact on me as an undergrad.  I am thankful to Dr. Fred Meeks, who was/is my theological mentor (and now Dr. Dan Stiver at Logsdon Seminary) who always emphasized to me that it was not enough to know about God if one does not come to actually know God, Himself – though I again did not realize his full impact on me as an undergrad.

My wife, Christie (again, most know her as C.C.), and I moved to Ft. Worth and I entered Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary the fall after graduating from WBU with my degree in religion and what I felt was a firm grasp on theology.  However, before long C.C. and I would be faced with something that would shake the seemingly firm grasp I had on theology.  During my first semester of seminary we lost our first child to miscarriage.  I plan on sharing more in future posts so it will suffice to say that in the midst of our loss and heartache, to be honest, my propositions, the things I felt I knew about God really did very little to relieve my grief.  And the propositions of other Christians we knew at school and church really did little to help them minister to us in the midst of our grief.  Most other Christians did not want to talk about our experience…our story…our grief.  Those that did just said that we should just trust that God knows best and that He is in sovereign control of all things.  Some even suggested that Christie and I were lacking in faith because we were so shaken over the loss of our babies.  It was as if we should just be able to say to ourselves, “God is sovereign” and everything would just be O.K.

In the midst of my grief I must be honest that my propositions did not stand up.  This is not to say that they were no longer true.  That God IS sovereign remains true.  That God is holy remains true.  That Christ is LORD remains true.  Well, you get the point.  But my grief remained…our grief remained.  Sure I could comprehend the propositions I was supposed to believe in my head, but it was not my head that hurt…it was my heart.  It was here that I became, well…desperate.  I was desperate for something to help me make it though this grief and help my wife make it through – because there did not seem to be any going around it.  I was desperate for something to keep us in church when we felt so isolated and when so few seemed equipped to respond with anything that did not sound like a cliché to someone in profound grief.  I was desperate for others, anyone, to be willing to walk with is in our grief, to share our story with us.  I was desperate for a theology that could help me/us make sense of our loss and grief, a theology that could make room for our experience, a theology that would enable me/us to keep believing.  But I was also desperate for a theology that could transcend what we were experiencing, for something that was true and real despite our pain; that could hold on to us because we could not hold on by ourselves.  In short I became a desperate theologian.

25 Random Things About Me

I confess…I am a really bad blogger.  But due to pressure from numerous people on facebook here are 25 Random things about me.  I’m warning you…boredom may result from reading this.

1. I have been married for 11 years to Christie. Most people know her now as C.C. However, I met and fell in love with her as Christie and I have not caught up yet. This causes some confusion at times since people think I am married to Christie but live with a girl named C.C. (or vice versa), but I promise they are the same person. She will be doing her CPE residency at Covenant Hospital in Lubbock starting in August. She is far smarter than I am as well as being the most beautiful woman in the world.

2. I have a daughter named Damaris (from Acts 17:34) who is beautiful like her mommy and also smarter than me.

3. Christie and I have lost three children to miscarriage (Jordan Taylor, Micah Jayden, and Noah Avery) and have had a failed adoption. I still miss our babies. I have noticed that talking about this tends to make some people uncomfortable. However, our loss here is a big part of our story of God’s faithfulness to us. We thank our friends who journeyed with us during these years.

4. I love theology! My aim is developing a comprehensive theology of community that can find application within church, life, and mission in the postmodern context grounded in a Trinitarian framework. Theology should not be static but should be an ongoing conversation that is grounded in the past, gives us wisdom for the present, and prepares us for the future. Theology is not only about doctrine but also about praxis – not just theory but also theatre. It is not only about the answers we have but also about the questions we ask. Ok, sorry for the mini-sermon.

5. My favorite area of theology is the doctrine of God and more specifically Trinitarian theology.

6. I have a BA and a MA in Religion from Wayland Baptist University and I am now getting a MDiv from Logsdon Seminary but I am not done yet. One of my goals is to do a PhD in theology and be a professor of theology. But the realization that I have to learn German for my PhD sends chills down my spine. German scares me!

7. Another one of my goals is to start a church. I believe whatever theological reflection we do must be for the church.

8. I am a terribly slow reader but I love books. I am trying to discipline myself to read faster but most stuff I like to read is just not a fast read. I like to read books having to do with the emerging church, missional theology, postmodern philosophy and theology, and Trinitarian theology.

9. Christie says that I have WAY too many books but I don’t think you could ever have too many books. Currently the list of books that I want to get has around 300 books on it. It wasn’t that big always but I took an interest in theological hermeneutics and narrative theology so it grew a bit…ok, a lot. While adding books for that I added some others in other areas as well. I can be found perusing amazon.com frequently looking for books I might want. My excuse: “I will need these for my PhD dissertation.”

10. Stanley Grenz is my favorite theologian. If you know anything about Grenz you will realize that #5 and #10 go together. Other favorites of mine are Miroslav Volf, Jurgen Moltmann, Scott McKnight, N.T. Wright, John Zizioulas and Dan Stiver! The list could go on but that’s enough for now.

11. I don’t like the way theological labels are used most of the time – as straw men to discount rather than for understanding. I do, however, like to see the looks on people’s faces when I call myself a “Postmodern Calvinist.”

12. I can grow more hair on my face than I can on the top of my head. However, I never get self conscious about being bald unless other people tell me I don’t need to be self conscious about being bald. Seriously though, I don’t remember the last time I actually paid for a haircut.

13. I have had facial hair of some sort since 1995 when I grew my beard out for a beard growing contest in college. My mom didn’t like it but apparently a certain girl liked my facial hair. We got married and she thinks my goatee is sexy! I am just looking for an excuse to grow a big, bushy mountain man beard…or at the very least to grow out my goatee.

14. I love the beauty of the mountains and would love to live in the mountains. I also get really jealous of people who live in the mountains.

15. I really want to live in Colorado, which is understandable since it has mountains. To this end I am considering applying to a PhD school in Denver. Colorado…mountains…theology…PhD…it just might be heaven! Plus if I lived in Colorado I would have an excuse to grow a big, bushy mountain man beard.

16. I have always feared that I am not smart enough. I had to take remedial reading and speech classes in elementary school because I my teachers thought I read to slow and I stuttered. They thought I might be “challenged.” I still read slow and sometimes evidence of my stuttering comes out in one to one conversations but not often. Interestingly I don’t stutter when I preach, teach, lecture a class, or talk about theological stuff.

17. My favorite two college football teams are the Nebraska Cornhuskers and the Colorado Buffaloes. Yes, I know they are rivals and that it’s not proper practice to be fans of both, but I am OK with the tension.

18. My two favorite NFL teams are the Dallas Cowboys and the Denver Broncos. Neither one of them did any good this year. I think that probably Denver shouldn’t have fired their head coach but it may be an opportunity for Dallas since they can now fire their head coach and pick up Denver’s old coach.

19. I work at Wal-Mart to pay the bills and can’t wait till the day comes when working there will no longer be necessary.

20. I love Siberian Huskies. If I lived in Colorado I would have an excuse to have one. In the meantime I’ll just have to be content with my Siberian Husky Beanie Babies and Webkinz (don’t laugh!).

21. I love sci fi shows. I am a fan of all the Star Treks (except the first one!), Stargate SG1, Stargate Atlantis, Heroes, and LOST. The Sci-Fi channel rocks! I also like shows like NCIS, CSI, and Numbers. I don’t really like “The Office” and never understood what all the fuss was about.

22. Christie and I are both being ordained by our church, Crosspoint Fellowship, March 22nd. We’re being ordained in the same service, at the same time, TOGETHER! Is that not the coolest thing?!?!

23. I can totally rock out to old school DC Talk. Yo…luv is a verb!

24. I have a tattoo. It is a triquetra (or a Trinity knot) with YHWH overlaid on top of it. It was my Christmas present from my wife. So far only one person has thought it was a satanic symbol.

25. I think that Dr. Pepper has to be the most perfect drink ever. 23 flavors of heaven!!