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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

PROPM--Part 3

Pointless Ramblings on PostModernism--Part 3, "Different Similarities"

It seems that everywhere I've turned recently, the issue of Postmodernism is right before me. It's been the focus of some books, lectures and conversations I've had lately. As I've stated here before, I've struggled to understand the entire movement, and thought I'd take the next couple days to hammer out some of my observations. The observations don't mean a whole lot, remember, because I probably don't have a clue what I'm talking about.

Different Similarities

With the pursuit of absolute truth in modernism, also came the conviction that the modernist possessed absolute truth. Gray was a four letter word, as black and white were the only true ways to describe things. Even issues that were subjective became controversies in absolute.

Postmodernism countered with a scepticism toward absolutes. The postmodernist acknowledged that everything I view is through my eyes, and that my eyes may distort the picture. Absolutes become a tricky thing, and they must be handled delicately.

At least in theory.

Tolerance, in some ways, is too easy a target. Our instinct is to desire everyone to be tolerant of our views. It's more difficult to be tolerant of the views of others. Modernism, with its passion for objectivity certainly scores low on tolerance. But I'm not sure postmodernism does much better.

It seems that in much of the exposure I have had lately, I have detected as much objectivity as before. We may be more tolerant of races, sexuality and appearances, but I don't know if there is more tolerance when it comes to beliefs. I understand that believers who have felt wrongly condemned by modernist practices are going to have some pain and frustration. Lately, however, it seems that I also sense a lot of venom in their responses. To me, it seems it is very postmodern to talk down about the church, how we've failed, how we're failing, how we've hurt others. The comments, at times, not by all, are also often filled with anger, hurt or condemnation. However, it also seems quite postmodern that when the very same questions are turned to personal responsibility, it's comfortable to rest in "none of us are perfect" and "I know there's a problem, but every question doesn't have to have an answer." To me, this appears every bit as condemning as modernism.

I understand that few truly believe all truth is relative. They may claim that, but practice says another thing. Most believe there is a subjective nature in our understanding of absolute truth. Instead, we become somewhat agnostic about the truth; I believe it's out there, I just don't think we can know it. However, this is impossible in practice as well.

By nature of postmodernism being a reaction to modernism, isn't it stating there are problems with modernism? Isn't it in essense saying, "Modernism got it wrong." And if we're declaring right and wrong, are we really that far from where we began?

Again, I just wonder if maybe we're right back where the Reformers and those of the Renaissance started. If postmodernism, when clearly stated and willing to look at itself in the mirror isn't just a slight reformation of modernism? If that in the end, the differences prove that the two are quite similar?


  • At 1:40 PM, Blogger Gary Underwood said…

    Wow, Danny, you are quite a wordsmith.

    Seriously, I enjoy reading your writing.

    A few thoughts on postmodernism...

    (1) I think that some of postmodernism is reactionary, but NOT all of it. That's why it's called "post"modern and not "counter" or "anti"modernism.

    (2) I also think that postmodernism is a context, not an agenda.

    Maybe modernists think that this no-agenda, no absolute answers aspect of postmodernism is what makes it so dangerous.

    On the other hand, postmodern thinkers view this as open-minded and beautiful.

    Why not encourage ourselves to revisit the search for truth? Why not affirm the asking of questions that ultimately each soul must ask?

    Modernism was all about the destination.
    Postmodernism is all about the journey.

    The postmodern mind sets out looking to explore, to learn, and to redefine.

    (3) Like it or not, postmodernism is a reality that we all must begin to reckon with, question, and learn from. We must learn how to swim in this new reality, rather than deny its existence or validity.

    The ministries or leaders who seek to know and thrive in this new reality will grow. The teachers who seek to communicate truth in this new reality will be heard.

    (4) We cannot assume that modernist = sound theologian ... or that postmodernist = relativist.

    That takes the whole conversation out of context.

    (5) Unfortunately, the modernist environment has taught us to "pick sides."

    Please, Danny, do not pick a side. Learn from both (as you are), and learn to love the nuances of both.

    If the church (any church) appears to pick a side (postmodern vs. modern; democrat vs. republican; old vs. new)... the church loses its voice in culture and the ability to make effective disciples for this (and future) generations.

  • At 2:17 PM, Blogger danny2 said…

    thanks for the compliment gary. i consider your comments iron sharpening iron. hopefully, the help us each grow.

    5) i agree, side picking is counter productive. that's sort of my point to the series. i think some disciples and churches are choosing to abadon modernists in the pursuit of postmodernists. we need to see both as lost (apart from Christ) and strive to reach both.

    as i said in this post too, i wonder if those who chose sides are in a pointless endeavor. that ultimately, we'll realize we are saying similar things.

    we should pick sides, but that side should always be CHRIST. we've got to be very careful to make sure we aren't choosing battles He may not.

    4) i hope you don't think i believe "modernist = sound theologian and postmodernist = relativist." i would agree that is an inappropriate leap.

    however, while we're on this, i have run into a ton of postmodernists who have told me that there is no place for systematic theology. their answer is that it was an invention of the modernist movement (and they therefore make the assumption it's an evil). isn't penicillin a discovery of the modernist era? wasn't much of globalization formed during the modernist era? we don't abandon those things, do we?

    systematic simply means that it works together in conformity. any good biblical theologian should agree that Scripture is systematic. maybe a postmodernist wants to tweak the method a bit, but i would think he would still need to acknowledge that systematic theology is a wonderful process that helps us see the heart of God on certain issues.

    3) New reality, or new perspective? I know, you think I'm splitting hairs here. Reality is reality, it is not determined by me or modified by me. I can think I'm Lebron James, but that does not help me dunk. The Word of God teaches reality. That's what people need to hear, whether they want to listen or not.

    Please don't hear me say I believe in stale preaching. This is the Word of God! How dare I present it without passion! My presentation better be creative too. However, I better not get creative about the meaning of the Scriptures. My presentation is always in need of change. That which I am presenting will never fade.

    (And I only say this because I know you believe it too. Any growth or thriving that a ministry or leader experiences is strictly by the hand of God. No mode can control that.)

    2) A journey with no destination is not fun. You may drive around the city aimlessly while listening to music, but if you didn't eventually end up at your own home, or a friend's or a mall (or whatever) that drive would become quite laborious.

    I appreciate the call to see the beauty in the journey. I totally used to ignore it. It's important to think about the here and now. But Scripture is full of passages that tell us to fix our eyes on the destination (Heb 12:1-3, Col 3, John 14).

    We shouldn't do one without the other.

    1) It's called Postmodernism because it follows Modernism and no one has any idea what to call it right now. (Incidently, if the Lord waits 1,000 more years, I seriously doubt scholars will refer to this age as postmodernism, but will probably have found a distinguishing feature.)

    Every era is a reaction. Otherwise, you'd continue in previous era.

  • At 5:17 PM, Blogger Gary Underwood said…

    Good discussion.

    I would just add that I still disagree with your statement, "every era is a reaction."

    Some are just "innovations" and have little to do with the former way.


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