Postmodern Apologetics in a Post-Postmodern Time?

So yesterday a friend writes on my Facebook wall, “Mike, is there is place for post-modern apologetics in post-post-modern times? The issue has been weighing on me for some time now.”

And since my reply would probably be too long to write on his wall, I thought I’d share it here.

“Really? That’s what’s been keeping you up at night? I guess I’ve been thinking more about the national health care debate and whether or not Threadless is going to bring back my favorite t-shirt designs, but different strokes I guess.”

Pet RockBut seriously, that’s a good question. And honestly, the word ‘apologetics’ has rubbed me the wrong way since my undergrad days – it sounds very sterile, very militant, very…propositional. And we all know that for the certifiably postmodern, ‘proposition’ is a four-letter word. If you can ‘prove’ it, I don’t wanna believe it! Okay, but that said, I’m assuming you don’t mean ‘apologetics’ in a highly-concentrated form; you simply mean the credible and persuasive means through which we might gain a ‘proper confidence’ to embark on the life of faith – yes?

But probably, at least partially, you do mean ‘apologetics,’ and how the term fell out of favor when more ‘postmodern’ approaches to finding and sharing faith began to proliferate, and now you’re wondering if those approaches now stick out like a 1970s Pet Rock or 1990s Gigapet in the wake of What’s Come After Postmodernism, if indeed anything has. Giga Pet

So my first question to you (feel free to reply in the Comments) is, what do you mean by ‘postmodern apologetics’? I think of approaches outlined in Brian McLaren‘s Finding Faith or George Hunter‘s The Celtic Way of Evangelism or Doug Pagitt‘s Church Reimagined or Rick Richardson‘s Reimagining Evangelism (yes, one of the ‘Pet Rock’ elements of the pomo epoch might be the frequent employment of ‘reimagining’ everything. At least my wife seems to think so.) or Jim Henderson‘s Evangelism Without Additives or Spencer Burke‘s Making Sense of Church. In these books – and the lives and communities they seem to attest to – ‘apologetics’ is more like creating a sweet and savory aroma of the divine, inculcating a Godward hunger. It emphasizes a multi-layered approach, the power of narrative, the authority of the community of faith and of the subversive Holy Spirit, of belonging before believing, and of faith experiments to try and validate certain spiritual notions as true (or not) in the seeker’s own life. The postmodern approach sees the Gospel as a grace-filled, centered-set journey toward Jesus, not a bounded set who’s in/who’s out delineation based on saying the right prayers or believing the right things. And faith is seen as personal, but never private – having social, political, and ecological consequences as we learn to live well together in God’s good earth. Is this what you think of as pomo-apologetics?

Fire DancersMy second question is, if the postmodern turn is in some way over, what has come after it? I’m not convinced that the above is passé, though I will acknowledge some cultural shifts since those heady days of the 1990s when Christians began discussing things that rocked the art, architecture, and literary worlds of the 1970s. I think the pop cultural advent of the New Atheists phenomenon shows us that there might be a more resilient/resurgent strata of our population who rely on science, ‘pure reason,’ and reductive thinking than we thought – they’re not likely to make metaphysical leaps of faith based on such ‘squishy’ ethos like ‘belonging’ and ‘faith experiments.’ Secondly, our increasingly cozy global village and the collaboration/voyeurism engendered by social networking has shown us that a pure pluralism or pure relativism, as advocated by some postmodern purveyors, is untenable – even in the world of ideas. Some ideas – and some forms of faith – are simply healthier (better) than others. (It’s worth noting that neither of these phenomena are un-accountable for in pure postmodern philosophy, but they do grate against some of the ways the philosophy has trickled down into both pop culture and/or the ’emerging church’ conversation.)

In light of these shifts, I’ve heard two credible proposals for what might be Coming After Postmodernity. They are…

Critical Realism

I first encountered this term around 2001 when a guest professor was in a religion class trying to debunk open theism, claiming it was too ‘postmodern,’ that we needed critical realism or a post-postmodern take on reality. I wasn’t too convinced, as his version of critical realism seemed to strangely validate modern (or even pre-modern) epistemological ideas, and static Greek/rationalist ideas about God. Thankfully, though, his wasn’t the last I’d heard of critical realism – others, like Andrew Perriman, have made good use of critical realism in reconstructing a narrative shape to the Christian story from Scripture and history, proposing provocative ways we can live today in the wake of that story. I have seen Andrew and others faithfully live out a version of Wikipedia’s definition of critical realism as “The theory that some of our sense-data (for example, those of primary qualities) can and do accurately represent external objects, properties, and events, while other of our sense-data (for example, those of secondary qualities and perceptual illusions) do not accurately represent any external objects, properties, and events” – giving proper place to both objectivity and subjectivity in our spiritual journeys.

Integral Theory

The other major contender I’ve noticed for postmodernity’s usurper is Integral theory, most popularized by philosopher, map-maker and master synthesizer Ken Wilber. Integral theory is an attempt to make sense of commonly recognized stages of human development – biological development, cognitive development, moral development – as well as normal/extra-ordinary stages of spiritual development as recognized by everyone from Christians (like ‘sanctification’ – or purgation, illumination, union) to Zen practitioners (y’know, satori and enlightenment and all that jazz). The map-making can become almost freakishly dense until you get the hang of it, much to the ire of some right-brained people – there are Levels, Lines, Quadrants, States, and Stages – to name a few. This simplified diagram depicts how Integral-ness maps reality in a nutshell.

Integral Map

Two of the other important ideas in Integral theory are that everything is a Holon – a whole/part. So an atom is both its own entity, but is part of a molecule, which is its own entity and part of an organ, all the way up to humans, families, communities, nations, psychographic groupings, planets, solar systems, dimensions, the noosphere, etc…  The other major contribution of this line of thought is that integration implies that everything belongs. It’s not simply that a human being progresses from pre-conventional moral development to conventional or post-conventional development, but that we transcend and include each stage, integrating the best (and even the shadow-side) of each previous stage into ourselves. But it isn’t a ‘flat’ egalitarian values system – Holons form a ‘nested Holarchy’ wherein we’re moving somewhere. Integral Christianity is just now blossoming. There are growing ranks of integral Christian thinkers and practitioners, including John Sylvest, Corey deVos, Zach Lind, Carl McColman, Cynthia Bourgeault, Michael Dowd, Rich VincentBruce Sanguin and Chris Dierkes – but most certainly not including Stuart Davis. 🙂

Clear as mud?

To recap: You asked me: “Is there is place for post-modern apologetics in post-post-modern times?”

And I’m asking you:

  • What does ‘postmodern apologetics’ mean to you?
  • What, in your estimation, has displaced postmodernity? Is it critical realism? Integral theory? Something else?
  • And finally, what might a critical realist or integral approach to faith (and attracting others to a life of faith) look like?

Please – everyone weigh in, not just my one friend. I might do a follow-up post looking more at these questions.

Update: Andrew Jones has some oldie-but-relevant posts pertaining to the enigma of pomo apologetics, in his dialogue with Mr. Born Again himself – see a recap here.

PS: Do you Twitter? Let’s follow each other! I’m @zoecarnate

79 Responses to “Postmodern Apologetics in a Post-Postmodern Time?”

  1. 1 Drew Tatusko September 10, 2009 at 4:31 pm

    good piece. something to keep in mind is that critical realism is a modern development rooted in the Frankfurt school. the book i commend to you regarding this, and the book that caused me to dump postmodernity by reinterpreting it as a wholly modern movement, is calvin o. schrag’s book “the resources of rationality.” this forced me to accept american pragmatism as the best corrective to postmodern abstractions in a rather critically real disposition to things (hence the subtitle of my own blog). peace.

    • 2 bruce sanguin September 11, 2009 at 3:11 am

      Despite the title of my last book, The Emerging Church, it actually wasn’t written to weigh in on the “emergent church” conversation. My denomination did this pomo thing a couple of decades ago at least. We’re now kind of stuck at the postmodernist – egalitarian, pluralistic, “uber-sensitive-everybody’s truth is equal”, and I’m looking to exit it. It’s only late postmodernism that voided the cosmos of any meaning and located it solely in the human being, and then trashed the earth for having no intrinsic value. This form of postmodernist is what some have called the myth of the framework, in reaction to the “myth of the given” of traditionalist worldviews.

      Anyway, I’m thinking that postmodernist denominations actually need to return to Jesus in a devotional practice, not as “the one and only son of God”, but as the 2nd person face of God (Great Thou) before whom our narcissistic egos approach on bended knee. This is not a regression to traditionalism or to the mythic/literal, but rather an evolution beyond the ridiculous belief that all truths are equal. All truths are partial, but some are more true than others.

      I’m an evolutionary Christian using an integral map of reality. This conversation is important in the way it signals a longing to evolve deeper and higher toward the heart and mind of Christ.

      I spent a few years as an evangelical/born-again Christian, and spent the next 10 discovering what nuggets were worth taking with me, and what was the dross I needed to leave behind. “Emergent” for me simply means that we’re all opening to what’s next for us. I experience a kind of anxiety around the emergent conversation that I don’t really understand.

      My own experience is that we’re all being non-coercively allured toward deeper fullness and freedom of being. I’m persuaded that this allurement is the Christ.

  2. 3 Carl McColman September 10, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    So I’m an “integral Christian thinker and practitioner”? Cool!

    As an i.C.t.a.p., I’m inclined to see “post-postmodernism” in two ways: first, as an endless self-referential merry-go-round of relativistic thinking that slowly (or not so slowly) tends toward nihilism; secondly, as the recognition of the merry-go-round for what it is which hopefully could lead to an entirely new way of looking at things: what the Wilberites call, following Spiral Dynamics, “2nd tier reality.” I suspect that trying to make sense of postmodernity might begin with trying to unpack this particular distinction.

    I’m reminded of the Episcopal Bishop who talked about marriage counseling. He said that when couples with a troubled marriage came to him, often his first task was getting them to a point of clarity to discern whether what they really wanted was marriage counseling, or divorce counseling! It seems to me that we’re at a similar place of confusion that begs for discerning clarity.

  3. 4 andrew jones (tallskinnykiwi) September 10, 2009 at 5:31 pm

    well done. mike. although i cant believe you could write this post and not quote or link to any of my posts on the subject. i am gonna kick your ass next time we meet! really!

    but in the meantime, great post and well thought out. i just blogged it.

  4. 5 zoecarnate September 10, 2009 at 5:36 pm

    Andrew, a thousand pardons. I hope your blog post links to some of your most pertinent posts on it – ’cause I’ll update mine. And I look forward to seeing you again soon hopefully – with our without the requisite @$$ kicking. 🙂

  5. 6 Liz September 10, 2009 at 5:57 pm

    From someone who has no formal education to back up my opinion I believe I see our culture leaning into the thought patterns of Integral Theory which seem to include ideas that are active in Spiral Dynamics. Ofcourse I have a very shallow understanding of these things so I could be completely wrong. Still I find it interesting and hope a conversation happens here as I would love to listen in.

  6. 7 Micah Redding September 10, 2009 at 6:03 pm

    I can’t claim to having fully partitioned my modern, postmodern, and pre-modern thought-processes. I think my thinking process is actually some ghastly mix of the above. So, please enlighten me as to the validity of the following thoughts.

    Pre-modern apologetics probably looked like: “my god just beat your god in a grudge-match between our two city-states, so now you will be subject to worshipping our god, while we place dead pigs on the effigy of your god.”

    Modern apologetics seemed to look like “God is defined as the greatest being which can be imagined. Since imagination, like everything else, is subject to the laws of rationality, this God you’ve imagined is completely logically consistent, and thus can be transferred from the collection of imaginary objects to the collection of real objects by simple intellectual slight-of-hand.” But I think they were really going for A = B, B = C, and C = God. QED.

    Postmodern apologetics seemed to be about conveying appropriately vague stories, into which you could fit the story of your life, your own personal pet obsessions, and the ultimate goal of all would-be Messiahs.

    My current thought-process is as follows.

    “God” is simply a term. What we mean to imply with it is something about the ultimate nature of reality.

    Theism postulates that the ultimate nature of reality is consciousness and love.
    Atheism postulates that the ultimate nature of reality is meaninglessness.
    Agnostics don’t know what the ultimate nature of reality is like.
    Various other -isms place their own spin on ultimate reality.

    But, to me, this reduces apologetics to trying to establish whether life is meaningful or not, or whether the universe is meaningful or not.

    Science, and modern apologetics, follows inductive reasoning to its end. Science can determine the likelihood of space aliens, but cannot question your experience of the color red. Your raw experience exists before induction, before guesswork and evidence. It simply is.

    Whereas, the existence of space aliens is a matter of sophisticated conjecture.

    I’m thinking that whether meaning underlies our universe or not is something you just “see”. I’m thinking apologetics should be less similar to proving the existence of space aliens, and more similar to showing people how to see.

    That sounds horribly fluffy, but I come to this conclusion through iron-clad DEDUCTIVE logic. Which trumps inductive logic any day of the week. 😉


  7. 8 Jonathan Brink September 10, 2009 at 6:29 pm

    Mike, I think the postmodern world has given us a basis, and even forced us to talk about our own brokenness as human beings, a conversation that has been sorely lacking in our previous approaches to apologetics. I think the new sciences, especially neuroscience will begin to reveal the way our brain processes information is so limited and fickle as to validate the postmodern mindset. The trick or risk will be to not fall into the trap of solipsism, assuming that we can’t ever know anything but our own perception.

    It’s why I love the chart above. It gives us language to discuss concepts. It resonates common experience in a way that hopefully facilitates growth. The problem is when our “apologetics” says that the chart was created by “Ken Wilber” so it must be wrong. That’s bunk.

  8. 9 len September 10, 2009 at 6:51 pm

    I think I may be a little too pragmatic in bent to worry whether we call this current phase “post-post” or just “post,” but I’m more interested in the shift in posture anyway. I enjoyed Webbers take on this (The Younger Evangelicals 94ff) and I also thought his charts quite useful. The crux as he saw it was from propositional to embodiment. We ARE the argument.

    Or thru the ecclesial lens – as Wm Cavanaugh put it, “we are God’s body language.” So we are recovering the visible church and are narrowing the gap between orthodoxy and orthopraxy.. admittedly that is playing with terms because orthodoxy is “right worship” and if we are truly given to God in the full meaning of “Jesus is Lord” we are beyond the dualism that separated public and private spheres.

    Or the political lens – the anabapist conviction that we are an alternate society, or the Radical Orthodoxy conviction that we must embrace “disciplines of resistance” are about as relevant as one could hope for.

    Finally, epistemology – again I like Webber on this.. “faith is participation in the truth embodied in the community.”

  9. 10 Liz September 10, 2009 at 6:53 pm

    Where post-modernism was more about deconstruction I sense that we are approaching (or recently entered) an era when there is construction taking place again – although the construction is more fluid than linear or rigid and there does not seem to be the same obsession to make the construction stand upright – in other words, if the construction collapses the attitude is so be it, we can pick up some of the pieces and add others and construct again – and there is not so much a goal to complete the construction but more an attitude that we are constantly constructing. In my mind this requires a complete shift when it comes to apologetics. That is not to say that apologetics cannot exist but not in the way I believe it has operated in the past. If Christian apologetics is to be effective at all I believe it must be more fluid (as our constructions are becoming) and not so much argued or presented as conversed and experienced. (And btw there is a part of me that thinks maybe we are just in the second phase of post-modernism.)

  10. 11 Liz September 10, 2009 at 7:03 pm

    Len – Exactly – we are moving beyond something that has been very difficult for us to get past and beginning to understand truth in a completely new way. Whereas modernity said there is absolute truth and we can know it and explain it to you and postmodernity (or at least the first phase of it) said there is absolute truth and we are not capable of knowing it but we can know aspects of it and talk about it – now we are moving into the idea that truth is more about “being” and much less about “knowing”.

  11. 12 Heather W September 10, 2009 at 7:21 pm

    The next generation coming up are no longer questioning what is true or real like the Xers did…. I think the younger 20’s coming up are quite confident of what is true and real. Compassion and concern for what can be moved and changed to help others is the new reality.

    It’s as if the younger generation is saying that while those around them were busy questioning reality, they are busy saving the Earth that is firm beneath their feet, not really thinking there is all that much to be questioned about the reality of that…Earth..and everything on it.

    So no, I don’t think the younger generation coming up is PoMo at all…. they don’t question everything. They just question things that don’t seem to be functioning or giving life or love to those around them…

  12. 13 John Sobert Sylvest September 10, 2009 at 7:51 pm

    Mike, I could enjoy and profit from a steady diet of musings like yours. Very entertaining & evocative. In my view, epistemology is epistemology is epistemology, such that, for example, there is no religious epistemology per se. So, too, re: anthropology & any so-called theological anthropology. Any postmodernISM, which aspires to the status of a philosophical system, inexorably, gets radically deconstructive, tending toward a litany of epistemic perjoratives: practical nihilism, moral relativism, essential pragmatism, facile syncretism, insidious indifferentism, false irenicism, ad nauseum and self-subversively sawing off the epistemological limb where its ontological eggs were nested. The postmodern CRITIQUE, on the other hand, was serious and deserving of a response by an excessively rationalistic and a prioristic foundationalism, which aspired to apodictic certainties, whether via the empirical demonstrability of a scientism informed by an Enlightenment fundamentalism or via the medieval metaphysical proofs argued by a sterile scholasticism. As I wrote last week, there has been some tendency 1) in evangelical & Arminian traditions to overemphasize the evidential (evidence that demands a verdict) 2) in reformed & Calvinist traditions – the presuppositional (belief as philosophically basic) 3) in fideist, Lutheran & neoevangelical traditions – the existential (faith as experience) and 4) in Catholic, both Roman & Anglican, the rational (logical argument). In all of these traditions, a more holistic approach is EMERGING. This approach is best articulated, in my view, by the American Pragmatist Tradition, particularly the pragmaticism of Charles Sanders Peirce, wherein pragmatic criteria are truth-indicative, which is to say pragmatism is a TEST of truth & not a THEORY of truth. In this sense, then, we still affirm a metaphysical realism, even a moral realism, even as we embrace a contrite fallibilism, recognizing our apprehension of values is somewhat problematical. This nonfoundational approach is not too different, for all practical purposes, from those critical realists who still embrace a weakened foundationalism. Peirce’s approach combined with that of Bernard Lonergan makes for a very integral perspective. It is not too very different from Wilber’s AQAL with the notable exception being that AQAL must be better nuanced as AQALST, where the ST=same time, otherwise what is being affirmed as transrational becomes, instead, an arational gnosticism. Lonergan’s protege’, Daniel Helminiak, takes Wilber to task on this, but their differences might resolve with more nuance. Finally, all value realizations involve both propositional knowledge (epistemic duality) & participatory understanding (epistemic nonduality), involves the empirical, logical, practical & moral aspects of our descriptive & normative approaches to reality, cosmologically, as well as the relational & social imaginary aspects of our interpretive & evaluative approaches to reality, axiologically. The medievals have a name for this type of AQALST openness, contemplation. This contemplative stance, which goes beyond but not without the dualistic mind, is what I advocate as Christian Nonduality and what Richard Rohr considers to be the third of four pillars of Emerging Christianity.

  13. 14 zoecarnate September 10, 2009 at 8:05 pm

    Carl, Liz, Jonathan, Len, Heather – I think you’re onto something. You each bring an important piece to this pickle.

    Micah – you’re brilliant.

    John – you’re even more brilliant. (It’s okay Micah; he’s older than us) Could you please give me a short (3-6 book) reading list for exploring the best of the American Pragmatist/critical realist/nondual perspective(s) you’re advocating?

  14. 15 zoecarnate September 10, 2009 at 8:05 pm

    Oh, and Drew – I will check out Schrag’s book.

  15. 16 Irritable September 10, 2009 at 8:52 pm

    John — if we spent any amount of time talking, I would either want to buy you a beer or punch you in the mouth. I’m afraid I don’t have the time to figure out which.


    I can give you my impression of postmodern apologetics, which all too often seems glad to embrace postfoundationalism to get out of having to defend a foundation, but without really embracing the ramifications of not having one. Pomo can be a great foil against modernist excess, but it can also be a handy way to avoid critical thinking.

    I think it’s way too soon to speak of what comes after pomo, on a cultural level. I think the very fact there are so many contenders speaks to our current condition. Postmodernity has not replaced modernism in exactly the same way the modernism eclipsed premodern thought. Instead, it pushes back against modernism and tempers its claims to certitude — but I think those who would seek to entirely discard the modern perspective are being hopeless naive.

    Newton’s universe replaced Ptolemy’s, in large part. Einstein’s universe is more complex than Newton’s, but Newton’s formulas, while inadequate at the atomic level or at near-light speeds, still work just fine for big, slow things like bullets.

    As for what a post-pomo faith might look like, I have no right to speculate. I would hope for it to be characterized by epistemological humility.

    • 17 John Sobert Sylvest September 11, 2009 at 7:46 pm

      re: Ptolemy, Copernicus, Newton & Einstein, a cautionary note

      The consensus view in science employs an emergentist heuristic, which does not aspire to an exhaustive explanatory adequacy but does provide some very helpful conceptual placeholders. As Ursula Goodenough says, emergence means we get “something more from nothing but.”

      We recognize that in this far from equilibrium environment in which we live, novel (but dissipative) structures arise. Some semiotic (info-conveying & meaning-making) realities arise which, apparently, transcend but do not violate physical causal closure. The take-away is that even reality’s laws are dynamic and emergent, with some continuity to be sure but also some undeniable discontinuities (one could call them ontological and vaguely refer to them even when unable to robustly describe them).

      There is, then, a certain danger in extrapolating universal laws from a reality that, for all theoretical & practical purposes vis a vis Primal Reality, might be as local (and recent) as the by-laws of your neighborhood condominium association. Another correspondent mentioned string & quantum theory, which interest me more so because any enhanced modeling power of reality will provide us with richer metaphors that will last longer before collapsing and more taut tautologies from which we can better navigate our ways from IS to OUGHT, but much less so because they might somehow better facilitate our so-called metaphysical grasp of reality’s essential nature or (much less) improve our God-concepts. This is why I have some misgivings about any temporal critical realism & various (speculative, propositional) cosmological positions as related to theology and emphasize, instead, our (participatory) axiological dispositions.

      When it comes to humanity’s ultimate concerns, our evidential, rational and presuppositional apologetics are not unimportant. They are, in my view, necessary but not sufficient because they cannot, whether alone or together, coerce a belief, or maybe better a stance, whether of nihilism or panentheism (or whatever existential flavah Irritable’s stealing du jour). We all end up falling back on our existential orientations with an attitude of gratitude & what Kung calls a justified fundamental trust in uncertain reality or with any number of other dispositions people indulge from time to time and in the course of a lifetime (sometimes even a day). And, as Richard Rohr said in the emerging church conference (convened with Brian McLaren), there’s no sense in spending the next 20 years of one’s life raging and railing against other approaches, just go ahead and do it better. I think that’s the most effective apologetic. So, even as we go BEYOND the evidential, rational & presuppositional apologetics of yesteryear, we do not want, in my view, to go wholly WITHOUT them and we certainly need to temper our reliance on them (BIG TIME).

      Below is a quote from Wim Drees:

      Critical realists such as Barbour, Peacocke and Polkinghorne have been careful to avoid theological speculations about t=0, recognizing that its status is controversial and subject to the shift in theories. However, they have not been equally attentive to the challenge to temporality per se by special relativity and general relativity, let alone by quantum cosmology and quantum gravity. Moreover, Drees claims the latter ought not be dismissed merely because they are speculative. Such a strategy to insulate temporal critical realism is ad hoc, since temporal critical realists are already committed epistemologically to a hierarchical unity of the sciences, and thus changes – even if only potential ones – at the fundamental level of the hierarchy carry enormous epistemic leverage. For its part, the timeless character of physics and cosmology leads us to view God in more Platonic terms. Drees explores this option in some detail, including the problem of divine action, the arguments for viewing God as an explanation of the universe, and the constructivist view of science as myth. He concludes by suggesting that axiology may be a more apt focus for theology than cosmology, and this in turn would lessen the impact science has on theology.

  16. 18 Philly Truman Endiointmente September 10, 2009 at 9:18 pm


    3 Words: Paragraphbreak.

  17. 20 ron cole September 10, 2009 at 9:28 pm

    Hey Mike, man the old coffee pot must have really been percolating over time with some great thought bubbling to the surface. Whether pomo thinking has evolved to the place of critical realism, and integral theory as a mass shift is doubtful. On the brainwave of pomo culture these are likely just blips. I think it is also very debatable that on the radar that we are in the space of post-post modernism. I think we are still in the shift where apologetics is something that can’t be defended by argument through critical thought…faith in Jesus is far more believable when it is lived out. Where as modernity had to defend faith because it was far more static and more difficult to see. One does not have to defend something you can see…a faith lived out. For me, postmodern apologetics is not a verbal discourse…it is see the complexity of faith lived out. I think it is still evolving for many communities to the place you mentioned here…

    it’s more like creating a sweet and savory aroma of the divine, inculcating a Godward hunger. It emphasizes a multi-layered approach, the power of narrative, the authority of the community of faith and of the subversive Holy Spirit, of belonging before believing, and of faith experiments to try and validate certain spiritual notions as true (or not) in the seeker’s own life. The postmodern approach sees the Gospel as a grace-filled, centered-set journey toward Jesus, not a bounded set who’s in/who’s out delineation based on saying the right prayers or believing the right things. And faith is seen as personal, but never private – having social, political, and ecological consequences as we learn to live well together in God’s good earth.

  18. 21 John Sobert Sylvest September 10, 2009 at 9:31 pm

    Mike, I’ll post a concise bibliography shortly. Let me make a clarifying remark. The most succinct statement of this position is that the normative mediates between the descriptive & interpretive to effect the evaluative. I derived this from Don Gelpi, SJ’s Peircean take: The normative sciences (logic, aesthetics, ethics) mediate between phenomenology & metaphysics. This left the question begging: Toward what end? And I added the evaluative aspect based on the work of Robert Cummings Neville. The incoming editor of Zygon (Institute on Religion in an Age of Science), Wim Drees, draws a distinction between the cosmological and axiological, which overlays nicely on my Peircean-Nevillean derived scheme. Once fleshed out, which is what is about, we recognize familiar distinctions such as between doing and being, propositional knowledge & participatory understanding, conceptual map-making and the social imaginary, and, following Jacques Maritain: We distinguish in order to unite, which is to say that we needn’t introduce false dichotomies or to place these value-realizations in an over against/versus dynamism (necessarily). Rather, we can affirm how all of these different aspects of human rationality (incl pre-, non- and trans-) are integrally-related. This is not some wimpy perspectivalism, however. When we say that none of these human rationalities is AUTONOMOUS, this is NOT to suggest that we are, at the same time, denying that any given aspect of human rationality may not be enjoying a certain PRIMACY, or “its moment,” so to speak, during this or that human value-realization. These various aspects tend to wax and wane, to now come in to sharper relief and to now fade into a background context. For example, life’s lesser goods, which we tend to enjoy only in moderation and as extrinsic rewards of a dualistic mindset, are most often PURSUED via our propositional, problem-solving knowledge. Life’s greater goods, such transcendentals as truth, beauty, goodness and unity, which are intrinsically-rewarding and can be enjoyed w/o measure, most often seem to ENSUE from our relational, participatory understanding. During our empirical and logical and moral and practical value-realizations, then, our problem-solving mind is enjoying a certain primacy, even though noticably transvalued and conditioned by our participatory understandings (incl evaluative dispositions). These value-pursuits mostly involve getting the answers right. When we are pursuing the intrinsically rewarding existential orientations of our transcendental imperatives to relationship w/others & God/de, in truth, beauty, goodness & unity, our participatory understanding is enjoying its moment, a certain primacy, even though noticably transvalued and conditioned by our propositional knowledge. In each case, we go BEYOND but not WITHOUT. It does seem, then, that in the life of one who’s adopted a contemplative stance, who’s given the nondual perspective its moment, habitually, that orthoPATHOS will enjoy a certain primacy, even if not autonomously, as it mediates between orthodoxy and orthopraxy to effect orthocommunio. This is an acknowledgement that the existential enjoys a certain primacy over the evidential & rational & presuppositional even as it in no way can be considered autonomous. Balance and moderation, then, in such a perspectivalism, is not achieved by given equal place and equal time, as through some a priori rational schema, but is something that requires a posteriori empirical discernment in community as orthopraxis authenticates orthodoxy. IOW, this is problematical, as one might expect our richly textured existence to require. The most important value-pursuits in life more so involve, then, less so getting the answers right as in getting the right questions, which will retain, if truly wise, an element of mystagogia. Enough of this; let me get those book titles.

  19. 22 Truman September 10, 2009 at 9:35 pm

    Good luck with that. It’s still all a bunch of crap.

  20. 23 christopher September 10, 2009 at 9:37 pm

    In a very strong sense, I have to disagree here…not because I don’t like what you’ve written but that I hold to the claim from some corners of continental philosophy that we have not reached ‘postmodern’ yet, let alone ‘post-postmodern’ (to play on Bruno Latour’s We Have Never Been Modern). To answer the question of ‘what next’, however, I do think we’ll see a rise in hermeneutical theologies. Philosophically speaking, I think the Speculative Realism brand will be a major influence in the philosophy of the future, especially as it crosses the divide between science and (continental) philosophy without falling into ‘analytic philosophy’. For now, however, I think we shouldn’t be looking to what’s next, especially when it comes to ‘apologetics’, as an eschatological focus sometimes leads to really bad theology (ahem, Hal Lindsay!).

  21. 24 Irritable September 10, 2009 at 9:47 pm

    John — Can you dumb that down to the cultural studies level?

    • 25 John Sobert Sylvest September 10, 2009 at 10:52 pm

      Irritable, I love your (alter?)ego. When I say descriptive, it is jargon mostly for science, falsification, positivism and such, which, in the simplest of terms, asks: What is THAT? Or, Is that a FACT? When I say normative, it stands for philosophy, mostly, especially logic, aesthetics and ethics & epistemology (How do we know what we know?) and asks: How can I best acquire/avoid IT (or THAT)? Taken together, this is what Wim Drees seems to be calling cosmology. In my view, this is Everybody’s Story and we should not go around wily-nily just making this stuff up. It is mostly given. And this includes morality (is to ought, given to normative), which I and some others hold is something anyone can figure out without the benefit of any special revelation.

      When I say evaluative (Drees’ axiological), I am talking about our posits regarding values, or in the simplest terms, asking the question: What’s IT to me? What does THAT mean to me? The interpretive refers to the question: How does all of this TIE-BACK-TOGETHER? = re-ligate = religious.

      Lonergan-Gelpi talk about conversions – intellectual, moral & social and affective & religious. One might think of these in terms of developmental stages (think Piaget, Kohlberg, Fowler et al – the stage theorists in psychology).

      It so happens that the axiological concerns are our deepest and most insistent and that, in large measure, when it comes to life’s most important concerns (our ultimate concerns), well, from a cosmological perspective, we’re totally screwed. There is a certain amount of epistemic parity here, which is to say, even after our best empirical investigations and rational demonstrations, the best verdict we can offer, cosmologically, is the Scottish verdict = unproven. So, while we cannot go around fashioning a cosmology to suit our tastes, we do have a great deal of freedom in choosing our axiological stance = What’s it to me? and How does this all hold together? As Wm James noted, such a choice is vital (it matters a lot), forced (we pretty much have to choose & not choosing is a choice) and a live option (follow your heart but don’t betray your head).

      So, while I do not accept that there are competing cosmologies, I do recognize competing axiologies and I do believe we can successfully adjudicate between those that are good, better and best, within many constraints, by looking at how well any given tradition or religion or denomination or cohort has institutionalized conversion (Lonergan-Gelpi not Evangelical-style), which is to ask how its people have developed intellectually, morally and socially (cosmologically, propositional knowledge) and also affectively and religiously (axiologically, participatory understanding).

      I hope this helps. Not familiar w/the participants here, just guaging their interests on the fly & this doesn’t seem to be a general forum.

  22. 26 John Sobert Sylvest September 10, 2009 at 10:11 pm

    SEE Suggested Reading where I have placed links to these books/authors

    Richard Rohr
    The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See (Paperback)

    Amos Yong
    the books, chapters and journal articles of Professor Amos Yong

    James K.A. Smith
    Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Cultural Liturgies) (Paperback)

    Donald L. Gelpi
    Varieties of Transcendental Experience: A Study in Constructive Postmodernism (Theology) (Paperback)

    The Gracing of Human Experience: Rethinking the Relationship Between Nature and Grace (Paperback)

    Daniel A. Helminiak
    The Human Core of Spirituality: Mind As Psyche and Spirit (Paperback)

    Religion and the Human Sciences: An Approach Via Spirituality (Paperback)

    Robert Cummings Neville
    Reconstruction of Thinking (Axiology of Thinking Series, V. 1) (Paperback)

    Recovery of the Measure: Interpretation and Nature (Axiology of Thinking, Vol 2) (Paperback)

    Normative Cultures (Axiology of Thinking Series) (Hardcover)

  23. 27 Irritable September 11, 2009 at 12:52 am

    I love my ego, too.

    Since Mike is Facebook friends with everyone on the planet, this is about as general a forum as you’ll find.

    I was half-joking about dumbing things down, but you are, in spots, about as hard to read as Mark C. Taylor. Or Milbank. Sometimes even Zizek, but you’re not as much fun (no offense). But I digress.

    I’m not following the bit where you make a distinction between the axiological and the cosmological. From a practical standpoint, if I can use that word, I’m not sure what good it does us to posit a single (univocal?) cosmology — “this is Everybody’s Story and we should not go around wily-nily just making this stuff up” — while at the same time admitting the epistemic parity surrounding our axiological considerations: “even after our best empirical investigations and rational demonstrations, the best verdict we can offer, cosmologically, is the Scottish verdict = unproven.”

    Keep in mind, this is not terminology with which I am fluent; I am more likely to use “ontology” and “epistemology,” perhaps rather crudely, to cover the same conversational ground. Nevertheless, please unpack the idea that there is some sort of definitive cosmology with which we should not tamper.

    I’m not convinced we haven’t been making it up willy-nilly all along — but we might mean different things by that.

    • 28 John Sobert Sylvest September 11, 2009 at 1:37 am

      I am talking about epistemology here. My references to both cosmology and axiology address methods not systems, questions not conclusions. It is my view that methods precede systems, fallibilistic systems at that. Metaphysically, then, I am agnostic on such “ontological” matters as philosophy of mind, the essential nature of reality, various root metaphors such as substance, process or semiotic approaches and so on. If someone put a gun to my head, on philosophy of mind, I’d probably choose a nonreductive physicalism but without losing sleep over the possibility of some type of spooky, ghost-in-the-machine, Cartesian dualism. I affirm metaphysics as a project but feel that it is WAY too early on humankind’s journey to come to even a good provisional closure, ERGO, we had best move along without a definitive view vis a vis our other human value-realizations.

      While some emphasize the existential approach to our ultimate concerns and dismiss evidential, rational and presuppositional arguments, I say not so fast. Our religious interpretive approaches are constrained by the best that scientific-descriptive and normative-philosophic approaches have to offer, such knowledge as has advanced slowly but inexorably. A good interpretive approach, or religion, when it is busy TYING IT ALL together, cannot fabricate its own scientific facts and philosophic norms but must incorporate same within its perspective. A religion, like Christianity, may not be able to empirically investigate or logically demonstrate in a conclusive manner its entire stance toward reality, but any evidence it does muster must be historically accurate and any arguments it does fashion must be valid if not demonstrably sound per extant scientific methods and coherent philosophical norms. It must be reasonable and it must be as reasonable as other competing stances, which is to say that it must, minimally, not be disproved even if not proved. Any faith is going to require some epistemic risk and any such risk demands some type of reward in terms of human value-realizations. We amplify such risks to augment values but these risks must be dutifully “managed.”

      • 29 Jonathan Brink September 11, 2009 at 2:14 am

        John, I agree with Irritable. I’m sure what you are saying warrants listening to but you lost me at hello.

      • 30 John Sobert Sylvest September 11, 2009 at 2:21 am

        In Phyllis Tickle’s writings, I noted with interest her use of a cable metaphor, a cable of meaning with various strands. I have not inquired further, but it is interesting that Charles Sanders Peirce employed a cable metaphor, also, in a not wholly unrelated way, epistemologically. Peirce’s pragmatism, more appropriately pragmaticism, employs a nonfoundational approach, to be sure, but it is a constructive postmodernism, a semiotic realism, which affirms metaphysical and moral realisms along with its contrite fallibilism.

        There are many things in life we cannot empirically investigate or rationally demonstrate: 1) belief in other minds over against solipsism 2) belief in reality’s intelligibility over against nihilism 3) belief in first principles like identity, excluded middle and noncontradiction. We take risks and are rewarded when we believe in realities like truth, beauty, goodness and unity. Hopefully, when we amplify these risks into creed, cult, code and community, we augment such value-realizations. The strands of the Peircean cable could be said to include the descriptive, normative, interpretive and evaluative, as well as abduction (hypothesizing), induction (empirical testing) and deduction (logical argument). It is nonfoundational epistemologically, only questioning the nature of our grasp of reality, which is not the same thing as denying either reality, itself, or the fact that we can apprehend reality, partially, even if we do not comprehend it, wholly. It recognizes that our systems are tautological but it also recognizes that just because something is a tautology does not mean it is not true. Further, it suggests that not all systems are equally taut and we can devise tests to see which best comport with reality, fostering authentic value-realizations like intellectual, affective, social, moral and religious development. It eschews the epistemic hubris of modernism and the excessive epistemic humility of postmodernism, embracing an epistemic holism that is more akin to weakened foundationalisms than wimpy pomos.

  24. 31 John Sobert Sylvest September 11, 2009 at 2:27 am

    Jonathan and Irritable, I apologize for the jargon and idiosyncratic prose. I am trying to squeeze too much in to too little space and lack the pedagogical and writing skills to do so. So, I’m going to leave this thread alone and hope I have stimulated some thoughts for some folks. To some extent, the complexity inheres in the subject matter, which doesn’t lend itself to casual Internet forums and facile labeling exercises.
    Be well and thanks, Mike!

  25. 32 Irritable September 11, 2009 at 12:00 pm


    I appreciate the apology, though it bears a touch of melodrama. Your last two posts were much more lucid. And I think, in broad strokes, we agree, though of course there are always hairs to split. In “irritable” rather than Sylvestrian parlance, I would say that while we cannot escape the charge that our constructions are really just cast over the void, so to speak, this need not leave us bereft of criteria by which to compare and evaluate rival constructions, nor does it render any such constructive endeavors pointless.

    I can also see, in your ruminations, steps toward being able to explain why moving beyond the epistemic hubris of modernism does not automatically mean that we can go back to believing in a six-day literal creation (for example, and a potentially touchy one) simply because scientific truth is, like other truths, a construction.

    I completely respect the idea that you probably have better things to do with your time than try to explain yourself in a series of blog comments. If you’ll forgive my being forward, however, your stated reasons are rubbish and a bit of a cop-out. The ability to thumbnail sketch even the most grandiose of ideas in a forum such as this one can be cultivated, and can serve as a test of the accessibility of your work. I’m no genius, but I feel confident suggesting that if you lose someone like me, your audience is pretty small.

    It may be that your gift really is to that small audience, which will trickle down to people like me for whom pedagogy is stock-in-trade. And I can appreciate that. But I see no harm in coming out of the cave from time to time to see if the rest of us are ready to hear your tales of the shadows.

    • 33 John Sobert Sylvest September 11, 2009 at 3:19 pm

      Irritable, your critique is generous and on-the-mark. While I do struggle with accessibility, I do have some lucid moments. And I welcome the help of folks like you who have helped me improve my writing skills and also in discerning what my gift is or is not. I think part of my problem is that I lack any formal academic background in the humanities, in general, and philosophy, in particular. Without classroom interchanges and face to face dialogue there are many words I employ without knowing how to pronounce and without good audience awareness. Reading a LOT of folks like Milbank & Peirce in my post-retirement years probably has a tendency to make me write like them with dense prose and idiosyncratic language. Coming into forums like this from time to time does help me sort out phrases that connect and those that cause glazed-over eyes. While their IS truth in what I say about this subject matter and general forums, your point is well-taken, too. Most of all, I don’t want to offend charity or have a great thread derailed by my communication deficiencies. If you or anyone else does have an active interest in those parts of my vision you have been able to gather, I will certainly try to respond and even re-respond!

  26. 34 Sue September 11, 2009 at 12:38 pm

    What the hell are all you people are talking about? (I still haven’t finished my degree at 38) I see Richard Rohr’s name in here enough to breathe easy 😉

    Perhaps if I’d stop stumbling over the word “pomo” thinking it’s “porno”, I would have been able to keep up 😉

  27. 35 Irritable September 11, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    On the other hand, Sue, it might be more fun to keep reading it as “porno.”

  28. 36 azotuscafe September 11, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    I was trained as a professional apologist in the early 80s and was good at it. I find now that 90% of that is a distraction in a post-modern context, so I stow it. The only regualr issues have to do with biblie reliability and transmission down through the centuries…that and hermeneutics.

    I ahve argued elsewhere that since Postmodernism is a reaction to Modernity the real question is what comes next. My answer is “Relationalism”. It embraces both current science (quantum mechanics, string theory) to some extent, is environmentally sound, matches the essential relational themes of both Testaments and is core for community and communication.

  29. 37 Michael Dowd September 11, 2009 at 3:56 pm

    Great piece, Mike! I especially enjoyed your brief treatment of critical realism and quickie intro to integral theory. Schweet!

    Personally, I find the whole notion of apologetics to be terribly uninspiring. Most approaches to apologetics perpetuate the mistaken notion that what its all about is believing the right things. If you believe correctly, you’re in! Yet as most of us know from experience, beliefs are a booby prize if they don’t lead to radical trust and gratitude. I mean, didn’t Jesus condemned the religious leaders of his day for precisely that: thinking that being right with God meant being in the right tradition or having the right beliefs or practices?

    To my mind, Christian leaders that future generations will look back on with deepest admiration and gratitude are those promoting various versions of Evolutionary Christianity, Integral Christianity, Post Postmodern Christianity, 2nd Tier Christianity, Christian Naturalism and the like.

    The church of the 21st Century and beyond is indeed emerging. Thanks for playing your role in its unfolding, Mike.

    Co-evolutionary blessings,
    in Christ,

    ~ Michael

    PS. Pray for me, brother, if you would. I have a large tumor in my spleen and was just last week diagnosed with “diffuse large B cell lymphoma”. I’ll be beginning chemotherapy next week.

    Life is precious. Cherish it!

  30. 38 Jim Henderson September 11, 2009 at 4:30 pm


    Im honored to have something I wrote rise to the level of you and your friends attention. While I think I mostly get what you are talking about I’m not philosophically articulate enough to engage with the big ideas.

    I do have a colleague I may send by this blog who could interact and would really enjoy learning from all of you. I use him to help me keep up intellectually. Lately he (Jeff) and I have been talking about Wilbers work and I am slowly getting it. While it comes off sounding like soemthing I smoked in the 60s at times I think I resonate with the honesty and human integrity his model provides as a framework for trying to anticipate reality.

    In order to not get slowed down in my thinking I have extricated Jesus from religion, Christianity and Church. He is much to big for those containers and they are constantly needing to check with each other to see if its ok to talk about nerw ideas- At 60 + I dont have time to play in that pond anymore.

    I would like to see the ideas you are working with broken down to the human and doable level – that is pond Off The Map plays in.

  31. 39 Brian September 11, 2009 at 6:26 pm

    MIke – you attract a good quality of friends, and much better dialogue than I’ve seen online in a LONG time! I don’t really have much to add – my definition of postmodern involves an early phase that is more reactionary and deconstructive, followed by a later phase that is more constructive. My hunch is we’re just beginning to begin to begin to enter that later phase … A lot of people define the word only in terms of my early phase.

  32. 41 Tim September 11, 2009 at 11:07 pm

    Ahhh, I see two of my buds have met on yet a third buds post!
    Irritable, meet my good friend John. John, meet my good friend Irritable (though he’s really not THAT irritable… just a healthy dose of pissed at all that is conventional:-)

    Perhaps I can broker that beer for both of you at some point.

    As per your Post, Mike — good stuff — hope you’ll check out the book I recommended earlier “In Praise of Doubt” (How to have convictions without becoming a Fanatic). I don’t doubt the book is great. I just might become fanatical over it.

    • 42 John Sobert Sylvest September 11, 2009 at 11:37 pm

      Tim, aren’t you being a little presumptuous? I mean, after all, Irritable hasn’t yet indicated whether it’s going to be a beer or a punch in the mouth 😉

      Will definitely check out “In Praise of Doubt.” Without being a fanatic, that’s good. I’m going to start using that epistemic pejorative in place of my old favorite, “fetish.”

      In all seriousness, Tim, I will be forever grateful for your introducing me to ALL of these new beer-drinking buds! Thanks, man. I owe you a cigar.

  33. 43 Andrew September 12, 2009 at 12:47 am

    What does ‘postmodern apologetics’ mean to you?
    I tend to resonate far more with a critical realist mode of thinking than with the strictly postmodern so I’m not sure I could charitably articulate a postmodern apologetic. There is an approach, however, that I think is a good one – postmodern or not – that I am blogging about very soon.

    In his book called On Christian Theology Rowan Williams articulates something akin to critical realism when he talks about theological integrity. By “integrity” he means arguments or rhetorical strategies which do not conceal (as much as possible) external motives and / or agendas. I think a “postmodern” apologetic (or, at least a very good one) is one that has this sort of integrity.

    Whereas apologetics – as previously understood – reared its ugly head more as a barrage of rhetorical flourish – an attempt to verbally beat one’s “opponent” into submission (and, hopefully, conversion) – a postmodern (or even critically realist) apologetic might do more to make clear that the desired end is transformation (even conversion). Such an apologetic would be clear and open about what it is trying to “do” to others.

    What’s more, an apologetic with theological integrity would also affirm the inherent subjectivity of knowledge – especially “meta-knowledge” of things like systems of morality, or “the way the world works.” As humans we cannot have total knowledge of anything – not even ourselves – so it would be foolish to make an apologetic for Christianity (either as a system of belief or as a life of practice) in such a way that we do not acknowledge the “limitedness” inherent in being human. Such an apologetic could do no other than invite conversation, rebuttal and critique. Genuine conversion does not come without genuine conversation. Complete transformation does not come without the free transfer of ideas, practices and modes of thinking between persons and communities who are freely aware of their own limitations as well as those of others.

    Maybe I’m just rambling but it seems to me that regardless of whether a given apologetic is postmodern, critical realist, etc., it must always have integrity to be transformative – to represent with any degree of truthfulness the mission of the Triune God in the world.

  34. 44 Bert September 12, 2009 at 3:44 am

    What an awesome discussion. I obsess over so much of this stuff daily. If anyone is interested, there’s a great Robert Browning poem concerning faith and apologetics. It’s called “A Death in the Desert” and it’s written from the perspective of the beloved disciple in his dying hours. I got referenced to it reading a speech by Rowan Williams, and liked it so much I put it as my religious views on facebook. “What first were guessed as points I know new stars.”

  35. 45 Irritable September 12, 2009 at 3:44 am

    A beer it is, then. And a cigar — as long as it’s only a cigar.

    • 46 John Sobert Sylvest September 12, 2009 at 4:38 am

      When I first clicked on the link to Tim’s Facebook Wall, I thought I’d arrived at Mafia Wars by mistake (due to his profile pic). I knew these folks marched to the beat of a different drum & I’m pleased to make the acquaintance of one of the drummers.

  36. 47 brambonius September 12, 2009 at 11:25 am

    I need to find the time to read all of this…

  37. 48 John Sobert Sylvest September 12, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    Richard Rohr speaks of the four pillars of the Emerging Church 1) honest Jesus scholarship 2) peace & social justice 3) contemplation & nonduality and 4) noninstitutional vehicles.

    I would like to unpack this a little because I think it speaks directly to his approach to apologetics, which is merely “doing it better,” this over against any overt proselytizing or critiquing of others (putting them down, maybe, to preserve our own sick identity structures). This fits well with the approach to evangelism articulated by the founder of Richard’s order, the little man from Assisi, whom I’ll roughly paraphrase: Take every opportunity to evangelize and, only if absolutely necessary, use words.

    There is clearly a self-subversive reform underway in the Emerging Church. The first pillar of honest Jesus scholarship, in its efforts to articulate the truth we have encountered, addresses an orthodoxy that eschews dogmatism . The second pillar of peace & social justice, in its efforts to preserve the goodness we have encountered, addresses an orthopraxy that eschews legalism . The third pillar of contemplation & nonduality, in its efforts to celebrate the beauty we have encountered, eschews ritualism. The fourth pillar of noninstitutional vehicles, in its efforts to enjoy the fellowship we have encountered, eschews institutionalism.

    So, in some sense, the great traditions have always been about the articulation of truth in creed, preservation of goodness in code, celebration of beauty in cult (or ritual) and enjoyment of fellowship in community.

    An authentically integralist approach, then, will recognize Wilber’s quadrants such that the objective enjoys its moment of primacy in our pursuit of truth, the interobjective in our pursuit of goodness, the subjective in our pursuit of beauty and the intersubjective in our pursuit of community. In what I have called 1) the descriptive focus of human concern, we pursue truth in asking What is it? 2) the normative focus, we pursue goodness in asking How do I acquire/avoid it? 3) the evaluative focus, we pursue beauty in asking What’s it to me? and 4) interpretive focus, we pursue unity in asking How does all this tie-together (re-ligate)?

    Each focus is a distinctly different value-pursuit and entails distinctly autonomous methodologies, which is only to recognize that science, philosophy, culture and religion are, indeed, autonomous disciplines, methodologically. What relates them integrally is that they are anything but autonomous, axiologically, which is only to recognize that none of these value-pursuits, alone, can effect a value-realization without some involvement of the other foci of human concern, each which
    presupposes the others, each which nests within the others, holonically. We can say that they are intellectually-related but not logically-related; this is a vague heuristic and not some purely formal system.

    Where we are headed, ecclesiologically, in my view then, is toward a model of church that, respectively, vis a vis Rohr’s pillars, is 1) pneumatological, which is to say that it will primarily engage in interreligious dialogue from the perspective of the Spirit, this over against any ecclesiocentric approach and perhaps even bracketing our various Christological approaches 2) servant, which is to actively grapple with the questions of social justice & peace 3) herald, which is to recognize the orthopathic efficacies of the contemplative, nondual stance, inviting others to transformation via a shared social imaginary as cultivated by authentically transformative liturgical approaches, this participatory approach emphasized over against the sterile and stale propositional apologetics of yesteryear and 4) mystical body, a visible manifestation of an invisible reality, to be sure, but dropping our old and insidious overemphases on the manifold and varied institutional structures. (cf. Dulles’ models of church)

  38. 49 Heather W September 12, 2009 at 4:07 pm

    First of all, let me admit my total ignorance of where this discussion has come and gone thus far. I know if I spent a few hours seriously researching everything John has put forth I could make some sense of it all, but I just don’t have that time at the moment and so I’m taking the plunge of adding to a discussion that I really am not totally able to follow without that sort of investment. But my guess is that there are also several other people who no longer can comment on this thread meaningfully because they also don’t have the time to reasonably decode and translate all that John is saying, and so many we can have a slightly different thread running simultaneously here, and maybe if someone can give a more readily-understood layman’s version of John’s propositions, we could merge the two threads together as well….

    But anyway, yesterday was September 11th, which at least for Americans is a day which has undoubtedly and massively affected the culture of our society and the church, in ways that maybe we could only guess at when it first happened but 8 years later I think we can reasonably start to look back and identify how this affected us as a nation. If you are not from the US, don’t check out of this discussion just yet – because some of the principles may just as easily apply to your nation as well…or you may also be being affected by cultural drift from the US….

    But I couldn’t help but think last night as I watched the reruns on TV of the twin towers crash into rubble for about the 100th time in an evening, that this day really may have some serious culture-epistemological ramifications. Up until September 11, 2001, the mantra in the US was something along the lines of “Your truth is your truth, my truth is my truth.” But on Sept 11, no one was talking like that. Why? Because in the venue of a nation-wide trauma, everyone in our country had some semblance of a “shared and common experience” for a day – and with common experience, is something approaching a momentary common truth. I know there are those who would disagree with me, and say that everyone experienced this trauma differently and came away with different conclusions and feelings and so forth, and while that is true, I think there is still something in this – that September 11th awoke a common national altruism, social action, concern over safety, and a sense of the interconnectedness of the world that has not gone away since. Once again, up until September 11th the US felt insulated from the rest of the world. Sure, we could go start wars in places and hear of wars in other places, but they weren’t on our soil so our world was still somehow distinct from all other realities… but on September 11th the world of the US suddenly became inextricably connected to all other worlds and all other realities… and everyone felt it and wondered what to do next. Suddenly the “you have your truth, I have my truth” thing didn’t work anymore. Suddenly “my truth can’t afford to ignore the fact that you have your truth, so I better take it into consideration when trying to figure out what is my truth …” became more the reality. So how to put that sort of a statement into terms that work in John’s world, I don’t know 🙂 But the awareness that all truths somehow are connected whether for good or evil – and that as a nation we all experienced this truth together – suddenly replaced the previous viewpoint on Sept 11, 2001, and has been growing ever since.

    • 50 Jonathan Brink September 12, 2009 at 4:25 pm

      Heather, many have called 9/11 one of the greatest examples of Emergence theory played out. In deep chaos, there was a grand sense of creativity and organization that arose to address the issue. People dropped their ideologies and fixations and found out we’re all human.

    • 51 John Sobert Sylvest September 12, 2009 at 5:31 pm

      Heather, excellent reflection and thanks for reigniting the flames of inquiry, which I may have come close to smothering. This thread needs another direction, which you have taken it, and that is more of a concrete, narrative, practical trajectory, which per my own thesis, can contribute FAR more to breaking open this theme than my abstract, conceptual, theoretical trajectory. Paradoxically, one of my major theses is the need to better emphasize the participatory experience over the propositional knowledge. What I have been about is not unimportant but it is not nearly as important as what YOU just did in eliciting our shared experiences and telling your part of our shared story. In fact, that is what is missing in my missives (along with clarity & brevity it seems), which would help them to convey more meaning — storytelling, myth-making and narrative. And coming out of my cave has helped me to better realize that. This is how our perspectives can be merged. I’m an introverted, intuitive thinker, which makes up about 1% of the population, and have practiced my particular strength to a fault, teaching best what I need to learn the most, which I reckon is how it is for many of us. And what Jonathan replied makes a lot of sense to me. So, let me back of and give this fire more oxygen via your breath of fresh air!

      • 52 Irritable September 13, 2009 at 1:00 am

        We need a beer summit for intuitive introverts.

      • 53 Jonathan Brink September 13, 2009 at 1:05 am

        Actually we just need a beer summit.

      • 54 Irritable September 13, 2009 at 2:46 am

        Not so fast, Jonathan. Not to rebuff your offer of company, but we intuitive introverts are a skittish lot, and I don’t want to scare John away. I’m hoping if I can get a few beers in him he’ll actually answer my questions instead of allowing someone else to change the topic (regardless of the earnestness and poetry with which she has done so).

        Oh, and hey John — did I catch a reference to Catherine Albanese (creed, code, cultus, community)?

  39. 55 Sue September 13, 2009 at 2:53 am

    John SS, the thoughts you have been sharing are excellent. Don’t stop 🙂

    • 56 John Sobert Sylvest September 13, 2009 at 5:06 am

      Let me shift into storytelling mode and share some things of a more practical nature. I raised four children. One of the things that I taught them and that I hope they caught from me in many other ways was that, for all practical purposes, there is no hell. My version of Pascal’s Wager has nothing whatsoever to do with hellfire and brimstone. We do take all sorts of risks seeking all sorts of rewards.

      Regarding risks, I was a bank CEO and followed the axiom that profits do not come from taking risks but, instead, from superior skill at managing risks. This applies across a wide spectrum of human activities. I have also taught my children that one does not need religion to lead a meaningful, even abundant, life. Truth, beauty, goodness and unity are there for the taking by anyone with or without this or that grand metanarrative.

      So, not only did I not teach my children that they needed religion to get “saved,” I did not teach them that religion, conventionally understood, was even necessary to live a life of abundance. Rather, I taught them what I believe, and time will tell whether they have also caught this from my manner of living, which is that I have risked a stance toward reality of unconditional surrender, unconditional trust and unconditional gratitude, such an unconditionality as not only needs no formal apologetic but which, in principle, could not coherently rely on same.

      Why such a risk? I have stared, not unflinchingly, into the abyss, and have wagered on Jesus of Nazareth and have practiced with the Buddha, seeking enlightenment out of compassion for those whom I love so much, that they would not have to suffer my unenlightened self, and seeking a superabundance of truth, beauty, goodness and unity for us all, values which are intrinsically rewarding, which is to say are rewards in and of themselves. Thus it is that my journey became my destination and the quest became my grail.

      If I am living a life of superabundance, well that should be a lot like being able to fly. The way I see it, if I was at a neighborhood BBQ and flew over my neighbors from one rooftop to the next before coming down to the ground to join them for a beer, and if, when I did join them to pop a top, no one inquired of me as to how in the world did I just do what I did, flying angel-like over the neighborhood, what possible good would it do or what possible reason would I have to ask them if they’d like to know how I did it? They say that, in those days, ten men from every nation will come and take you by the sleeve and say that they would go with you for they have seen & heard that God is with you? Hmmmm …

      • 57 Jonathan Brink September 13, 2009 at 5:16 am

        See, when all is said and done…it all comes down to having a beer together. I like it.

      • 58 Irritable September 13, 2009 at 11:00 am

        I make no claim to be an earnest part of the emerging church conversation, not out of disdain for the conversation (but see this), but because my self-proclaimed role is less one of helping to decide where Christianity should go than it is one of trying to understand where it happens to be going — which, if we’re honest, is a lot of different places, variations of “emerg*” being but one family of possibilities.

        Having said that, I do think John’s personal narrative touches on an aspect of the original post, which is apologetics. As a kind of participant/observer, I can tell you that I am more intrigued by the possibility that a life framed by the biblical story is one that is worth living than I am by arguments for the existence of God, which I never find compelling (though I am not an atheist). Or arguments for revelation, or the historicity of the Resurrection, etc. Of course God and revelation and Resurrection are important elements of that story. But in and of themselves, as abstractions, they’re not worth a bucket of warm spit.

        If John were flitting about my neighborhood and chose to alight somewhere near my grill, I’d hand him a cold one and ask, not how he does it, but what kind of community he belongs to where flying was normal.

    • 59 John Sobert Sylvest September 13, 2009 at 5:41 pm

      Every now and then a Sue comes along … and I thank you, Sue. Irritable was not joking or tongue-in-cheek about the skittishness of our temperamental ilk.

  40. 60 tripp fuller September 13, 2009 at 5:57 am

    Geeez Mike. This is one sweet post followed by a great discussion with a ton of people I respect. I don’t have much to add other than echoing Drew that critical realism is quite a modern perspective. I am not sure what part about critical realism you were attracted too but integral theory is quite different when it comes to the part of critical realism you describe. Integral theory has experience go all the way down the biological chain and not dependent or confined to our sensory experience. In addition in integral thought we have experience that is not part of our conscious awareness. This makes it quite different from all things that come out of Frankfurt.

  41. 61 heather w September 13, 2009 at 3:40 pm

    Really interesting proposition. If I saw John fly, I’m not sure my first thought would be to wonder about his community. In fact I’d be pretty shocked to discover he learned that trick in community. I’d assume he was just some sort of prodigy. But I’d certainly be enthralled that he’d be extending himself to me in community by dropping into my backyard, had he done so. If he only dropped into Irritable’s yard, I’d be trying to get myself invited over there so I could find out how to get into their community. But maybe my real interest is motivated by the fact that I might have some other x-man-esque quality and I suddenly caught a glimpse of another of my tribe…. or not. At any rate, my immediate interest would be John himself – discovering community hidden behind him would definitely be an added bonus. Which begs the question – where are you amazing people finding community with all your unique perspectives intact? 😉

  42. 62 John Sobert Sylvest September 13, 2009 at 4:07 pm

    Irritable, I had read and immensely enjoyed that particular blog post and others. I’m quite the newbie to this Emergent Conversation and only became aware of it via the rants of my friends of a more fundamentalistic bent, those who are always filling my in-box with those epistles du jour as had been debunked at snopes months, sometimes years, ago.

    You draw the distinction between where Christianity happens to be going and should be going, the old is/ought or fact/value or given/normative or ontology/deontology distinction, which some claim is a dichotomy, a road one can’t travel. And if we are honest, as you suggest, we will recognize (or discern) that the Holy Spirit is going and has always gone a lot of different places. In some sense, the emergent conversation is the acting out of just such an honesty as has come to just such a conclusion.

    If the postmodern critique has taught us anything, it is that our grasps of what we have long-considered reality’s IS or givens or facts or ontologies is somewhat tentative. It follows then, that our journeys from is to ought, given to normative, ontology to deontology, descriptive to prescriptive, are going to be a tad more problematical. My aphorism has been that our deontologies should be as modest as our ontologies are speculative (or tentative). In non-philosophy-speak, it is to say that, if you don’t know where you are, then you can’t really know where you are going. A radically deconstructive pomo asserts that we can’t know where we are, which is a self-subverting incoherent assertion. Our (re)constructive approach says that we can approximate where we are and triangulate (and sometimes kedge) our way forward.

    This emergent conversation seems to be taking place between a plurality of positions and dispositions that have recently awakened to the value of self-criticism, to epistemic humility. It would be a sad and ultimate irony if it took on a de novo epistemic hubris and ushered forth with a new form of dogmatism (this IS it) that leads to a new type of legalism (ergo, all OUGHT to do this), which sets forth rigid norms in the form of doctrines & disciplines.

    It makes some sense to me, in our triangulation attempts, to use tradition as one of our points of reference. We can retrieve from our tradition those flexible norms that recognize, affirm and foster a multiplicity of spiritualities and a diversity if pieties; I’m thinking of such a catholicity as has place for eremitic (hermit), monastic & parochial lifestyles, where all enjoy equal-opportunity approaches to the priest, prophet & queen/king in each of us, where folks with the same charisms can nurture each other in communities like Franciscans or Benedictines or Dominicans or Jesuits or what have ya. Most of all I’m dreaming of a community that is not intent on taking me as an INTP, introverted intuitive thinking perceiver, and remaking me into the much more common type of ESFJ, extroverted sensing feeling judger, which most seem to think Jesus was. This lemme, lemme upgrade ya schtuff has got to stop 😦

  43. 65 John Sobert Sylvest September 13, 2009 at 5:06 pm

    Heather, I have found my community by seeking out and joining different dysfunctional families, by hanging out with brokenness. Somehow, when I gather with others who, like me, are also finite, dysfunctional and broken, I feel more whole and experience more healing and glimpse, even, the Infinite. Not to be pollyannish about this, it’s not like we’re all necessarily nurturing each other or that we enjoy some fleeting moments of being more than the sum of our parts; that’s not the dynamic at all. Rather, it’s that in this dough we encounter leaven, salt & mustard seeds, folks who are a light in this darkness, a city on this rocky hill, a saving remnant; I imagine this is because the most transformed & compassionate people among us are hanging out on the margins and with the marginalized, with those in poverty (and I mean poverty broadly conceived)?

    When I was in a poverty think tank, I sought out what was called the 4th World Movement, folks who minister to the poorest of the poor. Honestly, I came away from that experience with the belief that I was already hanging out with folks who were spiritually & emotionally poorer and ostensibly more miserable. I found such misery in corporate boardrooms and family living-rooms of America.

    It’s not the many but the few who help me keep my perspective intact. It’s not so much unique as it is uncommon. One of my dysfunctional family memberships is Roman Catholicism. What has kept me sane is a lot of solitude and an immersion in Thomas Merton. When Marc Ambinder announced during the POTUS primaries that I was the co-founder and co-owner of , I was inundated with hate mail, mostly by my co-religionists, too many e-mails to read and requiring an auto-responder. Still, three days before Senator Kennedy had had his first seizure, then undiagnosed cancer, I received an encouraging e-mail from his wife, Vickie, a fellow Louisianian, telling me how much they appreciated and admired my effort. That one affirmation weighed more in the balance of keeping my perspective than the thousands of condemnations. I get wacky e-mail at also, but every so often a Tim King comes along, I understand at the prompting of Mike Morrell, and encourages me to keep going. That’s Who the Holy Spirit is — the en-courage-er and, let me tell you, we all sorely need it. To Whom else can we go?

    • 66 Jonathan Brink September 13, 2009 at 5:19 pm

      John, I want to say that when you share your mind, you are fascinating. But when you share your heart in story, it allows me to get to know you. And it like it. Much love to you and your story.

      • 67 John Sobert Sylvest September 13, 2009 at 6:06 pm

        Jonathan, thanks to you, Irritable, Sue, Heather et al for gently coaxing & coaching me. My experience in online forums, as you do not even need to imagine, has not really been rewarding, so I just do not do this sort of thing. Leading a quasi-eremitic existence with my liturgies and books and having very little face-to-face interaction, and no in-person dialogical exchanges that otherwise take place in both formal academic and informal sharing settings, likely has a tendency to form very eccentric individuals w/ writing idiosyncrasies and esoteric vocabularies. I come into forums like this with no audience awareness and no real background to be able to know what other people there know or do not know, should or should not know, have familiarity with or no familiarity whatsoever. It’s like landing on Mars, I tell you. It’s like being an alien curiosity. So, I have been translating all of my insights from over the years into letters to my children and then posting those to my website. That seems to help a lot. I don’t enjoy having threads devolve or digress into discussions ABOUT me and my style but I accept the pain in the service of my own transformation, for that pain that we do not allow to transform us is pain that we will continue to transmit.

  44. 68 John Sobert Sylvest September 13, 2009 at 6:20 pm

    Friends, all, thanks for the wonderful exchanges (and for any long-suffering). I REALLY need to tend to other of life’s exigencies and to return to silence and solitude to ground the new insights you have gifted me.
    Deep peace that surpasses understanding to all,

  45. 69 brambonius April 3, 2010 at 5:51 pm

    this may be late, but if you want the best beers in the world, please come to belgium all of you…

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  1. 1 zoecarnate · Sharing Our Faith in a Post-Postmodern Time Trackback on September 10, 2009 at 5:05 pm
  2. 2 NextReformation » post-?? apologetics.. Trackback on September 10, 2009 at 6:59 pm
  3. 3 Links for September 10th | jonathan stegall: creative tension Trackback on September 11, 2009 at 4:02 am
  4. 4 Odds and Ends « The Website of Unknowing Trackback on September 11, 2009 at 11:16 am
  5. 5 Postmodern Apologetics – Part One « Community of the Risen Trackback on September 12, 2009 at 6:47 am
  6. 6 Joshua Case | Dang good conversation! Trackback on September 21, 2009 at 2:03 am
  7. 7 axzz3AlU7y3PY Trackback on August 21, 2014 at 1:45 am

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