Posts Tagged 'postmodernism'

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

Narcissism & the True Self: Deliver Us From Me-Ville

Ah, self. Such a wonderful, complicated idea. Does the ‘self’ even exist? Descartes says yes; many postmodern deconstructors say ‘no.’ Even amongst spiritual people, who in the main affirm the idea of ‘self,’ there is much dissonance as to its overall value – is it something to be ‘denied,’ or celebrated, or transcended to reach what Thomas Merton and others call the ‘true self.’
IVP’s Likewise editor Dave Zimmerman pulled a crossover special and published a book with David C. Cook (One way to separate public vocational and personal life, I suppose) addressing this enigma head-on, in what should take the prize as 2008’s funnest title – Deliver Us from Me-Ville.
In it Zimmerman (a heck of a nice guy, by the way) takes a sympathetic look at western culture’s paradoxical obsession with and loathing of Self. As he recently said on his personal blog,
In writing Deliver Us from Me-Ville I took great encouragement from Dietrich Bonhoeffer´s description of Christ as pro-me. It´s a nice foundation on which to build a critique of self-absorption: Jesus is for us enough to become us and join with us, then separate our sin from us and die for us, then resurrect to us and go on ahead of us to prepare a place for us.
Honoring God’s view of human selves as created in the imago dei but in need of maturation puts us at odds with prevailing culture’s praise of the individual, ambivalent virtues like pride and self-esteem.

How are we best supposed to function? Can we peer throough the mystery into God’s heart? Zimmerman takes readers on a guided tour through Scripture to show how God has changed people who thought it was all about them. Throughout the book he shares practical steps to help us take the focus off of our ‘false self’ and onto others, as a lens pointing to God as subtext and context of a grounded self-with-others.

Here’s a great video intro of the book, by Zimmerman. In it he tells the story of how he married his niece – oh my!

Jesus is the Way, Truth & Life: What I Mean

Years ago in my early 20s, I came in my unsophistication to an understanding of the relationship between Jesus and ‘orthodoxy’ that has served me well. Every five years or so what I believe tends to undergo some rather dramatic shifts, either in actual content or emphasis. So much so that the me of 15 years ago would scarcely recognize me as a “Christian,” in the way that ‘he’ would understand such a term. And yet, I still consider myself a friend and follower of God in the way of Jesus. Why is that, if the actual ‘beliefs’ (or ‘way of believing’) is so fluid?

Because Jesus is the Way, Truth, and Life. What do I mean? Jesus is the Path, for one thing. It’s about becoming, not being. But even as ‘Destination,’ Jesus is Truth – not a set of propositions about Jesus, God, life, or reality. And this is a way of Life God invites us on, again, not a set of propositions.

Propositions aren’t the enemy here. To some degree, they’re unavoidable. We all hold images of God in our hearts. For my part, I try to have the best darn images I can – informed by Scripture, the best of our shared story (Tradition), my own life and lives of those around me, and, well, reality. I want a true-to-life picture of God, and a story-honoring Story to live by. But where Pete Rollins is so helpful (and him, taking a cue from Derrida, Levinas and others) is he won’t let us rest here…and I never let myself rest there. Because by my early 20s I realized that beliefs are like snake’s skin – they protect and keep clean and fit for a season, but then they get old, scaly, and slide right off – to reveal new and supple skin beneath. A snake trying to carry around old skin would be ludicrous…as would living in denial of the natural life-cycle of beliefs. Because Jesus is Truth, I can safely navigate provisional truths that lead me closer to Truth. Because Jesus is also Way – lived in the context of Life.

For this reason, “Orthodoxy” has never been a very helpful idea to me – in the popular understanding, not in terms of “right praise” which really resonates. Not because I’m hell-bent on being unorthodox – no, most of my beliefs might well be pretty staid by most people’s standards – but because of the sheer varieties of religious orthodoxies (with apologies to William James). Even within the Christian family, there are just so many to choose from. I think as we enter postmodernity and postchristendom, we’re realizing that it’s absurd to think we have to choose between ‘Orthodoxy A’ and ‘Orthodoxy X’ out of whole cloth; rather, we can, in the apostle Paul’s words, hold fast to what is good and helpful, and disregard the rest.

The Becoming of G-d: What the Trinitarian nature of God has to do with Church and a deep Spirituality for the Twenty First Century

Doesn’t this look fascinating? I know the Trinity isn’t always the most comprehensible of Christian spirituality ideas, but the older I get the more I’m drawn to it. Ian Mobsby’s newest literary offering looks like a must-read; let’s see if we can get it more widely published in the U.S. while we’re at it. In the meantime LuLu has it here.

Related, Ian has a U.S. & Canada book tour gearing up; try and see him here.

PS: Ian is part of Westminster, London’s Moot Community. You should listen to their podcast and read their blog if you don’t already.

Maybe ‘Emergent’ Is Not So Complicated

Sez early Emergent Village inspiration Brad Cecil:

“I hear comments like: Defining emergent is like “nailing Jell-O to the wall” and “postmodernism means a hundred different things”, I disagree – it isn’t all that hard to describe if you are listening and reading. Here are the simple basic ideas of what fueled the emergent conversation and friendships:
1. Post modern refers to the period after modernity. It appears to “us” that a significant epistemological shift is occurring – the likes of which we haven’t seen in 400 years.
2. Language is limited
3. Human concepts are limited
4. There is no place of irreducible certainty (foundation)
5. Considering the above it would be very difficult to convey absolute meaning using language and human concepts
6. Christian theology has become enslaved to the 1st order assumptions of modernity and is far more Cartesian than Christian and has become ashamed of faith
7. A Reformation of recognition and repentance is needed
8. New theological thought is needed to free Christian theology from the enslavement of modernity and enlightenment assumptions and conversation and friendships would be more productive than developing imperatives.
9. This is just the beginning of the transition and a great deal of work and theological thought lay ahead for those who desire to join the conversation.”

Read more in his review of Why We’re Not Emergent. (By the way, I don’t see this as backing down in my vow to Wayne, as I’m just quoting! 🙂 )

HT: Steve Knight in the EV Weblog


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