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Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

Filtering by Tag: postmodernism

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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How Deconstruction and Postmodern Philosophy Saved My Faith

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I know that sounds strange to many of you when you hear it coming from the perspective of a Christian Pastor.  However, I think in some ways it’s true.  I actually could’ve written, “My Conversion, Thanks to Deconstructionism”.  I’ve been playing around with an article on this topic, but just haven’t gotten to really writing it, yet.  However, I’ve gotten a little start.  So, I thought I’d drop a little of it here. Let me just begin by saying that in the evangelical church in general, deconstructionism is pretty much a bad word.  It smacks of relativism, the loss of truth, and a philosophy that pushes against the God of the Bible.  That may be descriptively true of some versions of deconstruction and of the potential of some forms, but it certainly was not true in my case.  In fact, this is why this post is written with this particular title.  A couple things are important in relationship to this issue for me:

  1. Deconstructionism (and some other philosophy that could be considered related or prefiguring deconstructionism) really did help create a faith crisis for me back in about 1991.  In fact, it helped me to walk away from the faith I learned as a child.
  2. Deconstructionism helped me to see the world in a whole different light.  It “stripped the emperor,” if you will, on so many “faiths” that people put their trust and hope in – including my own.  This combined with the push on diversity in college campuses in the early 90’s was palpable.  My introduction to postmodern philosophy at this time opened my eyes to the many “framing stories” that people were living from, and caused me to seriously question the possibility of a grand narrative tying them all together.  At that point, I seriously questioned any viability of “one God” or “one reality.”
  3. Deconstruction for me was followed by an encounter with the living Christ.  This encounter was, of course, on a personal level, within my own cultural setting, and in the language I could understand.  Christ also spoke very directly to me in that conversion experience about the issue of diversity and pluralism, and spoke through it in a way that I found deeply troubling and beautiful all at the same time.
  4. My conversion through deconstruction, my immersion in postmodern philosophy, and my reintroduction to Christ created in me a deep passion that was deeply evangelical and yet still, interestingly, postmodern.

Ok, for many of you that sounds like a serious contradiction.  And here’s the trouble.  Since 1993 when I both came to know Christ and inhaled much postmodern philosophy, I began to develop an understanding of faith in Jesus Christ that I felt was still evangelical, still deeply committed to One God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), still committed to issues of truth, and yet I still considered myself both postmodern and in some ways, a deconstructionist.  And yet, I sensed no necessary contradiction.  In fact, in my own mind, I was able to work out an understanding of my Christian faith that was still biblical, faithful, evangelical, and still in many ways postmodern.  But what I heard from so many Christians was that this wasn’t possible, that postmodernity inevitably lead to relativism and the loss of truth, and that deconstructionists were truth haters undermining the faith.  I just didn’t see it that way.  But I felt quite alone.  It's one of the reasons that I've often felt like I didn't "fit".

Times have changed.  I’m 35 now (still not very old, or wise for that matter), and I’m a lot more comfortable in my own skin.  I have had some unbelievable breakthroughs in understanding more clearly how and why I was not so uncomfortable with postmodern philosophy or deconstruction even as a deeply committed evangelical Christian.  I’m not afraid of the labels anymore… partly because many of the people who like to put labels on a) don’t understand what we’re talking about and are only derivatively dismissive out of fear or some other external driving force or b) won’t take the time to listen what I (and/ or others) really think.  So, if you’re tempted after this post to label me, be slow to label until you listen a bit more.


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