Postmodernism…

Much of A Primer on Postmodernism was, in effect, a reunion of much of previous readings. Roxburgh’s ideas of the “loss of center” in postmodern society (expounded in The Missionary Congregation, Leadership, & Liminality) extends not only to society, but to reality. Grenz’s identification of bricolage as the way postmodernity encourages the formation of knowledge and belief (juxtaposition in art, fashion, religion) ties nicely into Vincent Miller’s Consuming Religion. Like Miller, Grenz does not cast judgment on bricolage but simply notes it as an identifying mark of postmodernism. Also like Miller, Grenz strongly believes that beliefs should not be an end to themselves. They do not exist for our fanciful thinking, but for the shaping of our conduct, our behavior. Miller and Grenz agree that for too long beliefs and behavior have been noticeably distant.

The most interesting bridge I noticed in my reading, though, was with Grenz’s treatment of faith in the final chapter. For Grenz, Christian truth is more than just assent to “correct doctrine or doctrinal truth.” (170) While beliefs are important, the goal in proclaiming the gospel is not bringing people to simply affirm a set of doctrinal proposition, but to encounter the God behind those propositions. That is powerful. It is not enough to believe that we are sinful or that we need grace or healing or reconciliation. The goal is to recognize these “theological propositions” and employ them in order to experience the God (in Christ) behind them”. (170-171) Marcus Borg, in The Heart of Christianity has much to say on the depth of what faith really should entail (trust, loyalty, vision, and assent/belief), contrasted with what we are content to accept: faith only as belief/assent. He says that “Do you believe in the Bible?” is the wrong question. The call is to have faith in the God to whom the Bible points.

In Grenz’s book, I am focusing on a few major tenents of Postmodernity and how the Church relates, or should relate: holism, the loss of center and the rejection of the metanarrative.

Postmodernity is holistic. Postmoderns “dethrone” human intellect as the only “arbiter of truth.” It is but one way of knowing; other ways of knowing include emotions and intuition (p.7). In other words, there is more to life than what can be known by thinking – through rational thought. As a result, postmoderns tend to be holistic in all of life: they are concerned for emotions, intuition, intellect, politics, environment, community problems, etc. Present in all of these concerns are viable ways to finding truth.

Postmodernity also insists that we are not unbiased or passive observers. Everyone is an interpreter (for instance of a text) because we all bring things to along with us which we ‘read’ into the text. There is no ultimate meaning; meaning is all relative to the community in which it is understood. There is no grand narrative (metanarrative) that arches over all of life and the outside world. There is no center to reality that we can ‘find’. Since there is no center, the world is made up of disjoined communities and cultures which decide truth for their own culture.

Christianity, in Postmodernity, must speak to the culture from within the culture. Just as it accommodated itself to the modern era – especially through the elevation of rational explanations of faith – Christianity must evolve. And it must be willing to both engage and critique postmodernism.

Christianity has much more in common with postmodernism than is first evident on the surface. Just as postmoderns tend to be holistic, so does essential Christianity. The Church has for too long been stuck in a dualistic slumber. I saw a church sign on my way home from work today: “Jesus came to earth to take us to heaven.” This encapsulates the majority of modern evangelical belief. Such primacy is given to the state of one’s soul that the rest of our being (the ‘being’ here on earth) is downgraded to a much lesser importance.

But if we are honest with ourselves, the Bible and the traditions of the Church, we find that the gospel “speaks to human beings in their entirety.” (171) Wholeness is important. Jesus ministered to the whole person. His concern was not in ‘getting to heaven’ but in bringing people into right relationships with God and each other. His words focused the masses on their everyday lives and everyday neighbors, not their mansion in the sweet by and by. The Kingdom was reality for Jesus; it was not something to look forward to in the afterlife. The Kingdom in the postmodern world is the same: we are part of it and are called to bring others (in our culture) to share in the living of the Kingdom.

Even as the Church engages postmodernism on common ground (and even allows Postmodernity to call Christianity back to its roots!), it must critique it as well. The Church must stand against the lack of center and the rejection of all metanarratives. The Church is not called to become the center of society or reality, but to allow Christ to be our center and to bring others into ‘kingdom orbit’. There is an ultimate truth. There is a grand narrative and it does connect our world together. It is the metanarrative of the Kingdom, the Gospel of Jesus. Christianity is not simply one of many religions (165); it is the bearer of grace to the world. God is reconciling the world to himself through Christ, and Christ’s body is the Church.

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One response to “Postmodernism…

  1. Hi Josh, that was a superb synopsis, thank you.

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