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Grand Rapids, MI

Embarking Blog

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The Future of Evangelicalism 12: Who's Afraid?

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As I'm mentioning some things about evangelicalism again, let me talk about another.  I recently read and finished James KA Smith's book Who's Afraid of Postmodernism: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church.  If you read my blog, you can see why I'm interested in this book.  Actually, I read it in a very busy week, but got it done.  I really liked it in a lot of ways because Smith was able to put to words many of the things I've talked about in this blog and thought about but haven't been able to articulate in the way that he does.  Smith is kind of an alter ego for me.  He reminds me of what I might have been like had I chosen the philosophy route rather than the ministry route.  Smith is just a tad older than me, did some study at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto, did his PHD under John Caputo, and understands a lot about the postmodern philosophy and Christianity.  He's confessionally reformed and teaches philosophy as an Associate Professor at Calvin College.  He's also the editor of The Church and Postmodern Culture series through Baker Academic, the same series that published John Caputos What Would Jesus Deconstruct.  He appears to have some sort of friendship with the likes of John Franke, Kevin VanHoozer, Brian McLaren, and of course, John Caputo.   (Smith's blog can be found here.) Quick overview and minor review:  This book basicly takes a look at the popular Christian (mis)understandings of the philosophy of Jacques Derrida, Jean-Francois Lyotard, and Michel Foucault.  I'm interested because these three have had a significant effect upon my own thinking since my study of them in the early 1990's.  What Smith does mirrors my own journey of trying understand what these thinkers really are saying, and how it might actually be - not destructive - but constructive to our Christian faith, particularly in our culture shift away from modernity.  Many of Smith's conclusions are also my own, and that was very affirming because he's way smarter than I am.  Anyway, Smith basically does three things:  First he debunks the pop-understanding.  Second, he explicates a clear understanding of a core piece of their philosophy that could be helpful to Christian theology, faith, and practice.  Thirdly, he ends each section with prescriptive ideas for what a postmodern church would really look like if we took these thinkers seriously and often compares such ideas with the emerging or emergent church as well as the modern and or mega-church.  He elevates his own version which through him and others has been labeled "Radical Orthodoxy."  I loved parts one and two of each section, and found myself disappointed and sometimes disagreeing with the third.  In any case, since he's close by (in age, geography, and thought), I figured I probably need to invite him to lunch.  If it happens, I'll let you know.

Anyway, he obviously gets at what potentially the evangelical postmodern church could and should look like in the future.  Good stuff to think about.  But there was one little phrase that I found particularly interesting in light of some of the "evangelical center" which I've spoken about.  Two things:

  1. He was more critical of Stanley Grenz than I had anticipated.
  2. He raises the issue of what he calls the "correlationalist apologetic," which is the attempt to make Christianity no only intelligible, but also rational to the wider culture.  He criticizes this as a particularly modernistic approach.  (I once started a book on this idea, but haven't finished it.)  I agree with his perceptions here, but this is what he says in the footnote:  "The same correlational method lies... behind the Wesleyan quadrilateral... which has been widely recovered as of late." [p. 124]

I thought that I had mentioned the Wesleyan Quadrilateral in my previous post on the future of evangelicalism when I talked about Beggington's 4 points of basic evangelicalism, Stackhouse's 5 characteristics, and Kenneth Collins' 4 enduring emphases.  The Wesleyan Quadrilateral isn't as much a "center" of belief, but sources of theology or of knowledge.  They are:

  1. Scripture
  2. Tradition
  3. Reason
  4. Experience

John Franke interacts with these in his book The Character of Theology as well as in collaboration with Grenz in Beyond Foundationalism as they talk about how we come up with or even settle upon a "center" of belief.

In any case, this was a new insight to me... that the WQ would be a an example of an attempt to rationalize and justify evangelical beliefs to a modern world.  What do you think?  Do you think that's necessary?  Is it necessary, for instance, to prove to the world outside of Christianity, for instance, the historical reliability of the Scripture, or justification for the decisions of a group of men who decided the canon was closed?  Do we need to justify those to an outside world, or is that falling into correlationism and becoming merely defensive to modernity in a way that isn't necessary?  It's got me thinking...

 


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