Monday, March 27, 2006

Postmoderns, Christians, and Worldviews

I am in the middle of reading David Well’s final book in his wonderful four-book series, Above All Earthly Pow’rs: Christ In A Postmodern World.  The book has a lot to commend about it, and though I am only just over half-way through, I thought a couple of things deserved comment.

At the top of the list is his dismay at certain circles in the church who apparently are trying to assimilate postmodernism instead of confronting it.  In a phrase interesting to those familiar with Niebuhr’s categories of cultural engagement, Wells states, “Yet confrontation is always at the heart of the relation between Christ and culture because that relation is one of light and its relation to darkness, truth to false belief, and holiness to what is fallen.” (p. 164)  That strikes me as right.  As he goes on to argue, instead of figuring our how to be relevant (in his words to “reach” our culture by becoming like it), we should be confronting postmodern culture on a worldview level.

In accord with what I have mentioned before, Wells argues in the same chapter that in spite of all its verbal wrangling to the contrary, Postmodernism is a worldview and deserves to be analyzed and critiqued as such.  A very long time ago I posted that Postmodernism contains in it the seeds of the destruction of the church if we become too Postmodern.  Wells agrees: “This casual embrace of what is postmodern has increasingly lead to an embrace of its spiritual yearning [one argument in the book is that it is individual spiritualism disconnected from truth and religion] without noticing that this embrace carries with it the seeds of destruction for evangelical faith.” (p. 158)  His specific examples of such embrace include Middleton, Walsh, and McLaren.  (A poster once remarked that if only I read Walsh I would understand how accurate the postmodern take on epistemology is.  For the record, I have read Walsh and that is why I no longer read much of Walsh.)  

One of Well’s takes on these seeds of destruction is a take on the Greek words for love, Agape and Eros.  Christian, God-like love is Agape.  It begins with God reaching down to sinful humans and their response is enabled by His grace and revelation.  We engage a Truth-something bigger than ourselves, universal, transcultural, and absolute.  Eros love is the only kind of love left when we have become postmodern.  Because there is nothing we can grasp outside of our selves, our love begins in us, looks like us, is in accord with what we want to believe, and ends with ourselves.  Given the epistemological and metaphysical nihilism inherent in Postmodernism, there is no Other with which to engage.  We are all we have access to and all we really need to have access to.


Chris Cree said...

Does the author get into actual methods of confronting postmodernism that won't be rejected out of hand by the postmodernist as "out of touch" or "irrelevant"?

Isn't some level of relevance required to get the starting of a receptive audience?

Shouldn't the goal be to connect to the ungodly audience with relatable style while holding the subtance to the truth of Christ?

I'm thinking it's more of a question of where the line should be drawn...

Thanks for making me think!

Phil Steiger said...


Thanks for the thoughtfull comment, and I think my basic approach can be summed up in your last line, "'s more of a question of where the line should be drawn."

As for Wells, his first swipe at a method of interaction is threefold. His argument is that the postmodern culture needs to be addressed on these fronts: that the self is fragmented (his phraseology for sinful) not innocent, that truth is public not private, and that reality is personal not impersonal.

Contained in these three concepts is a basic idea I have always argued for: that many basic postmodern assumptions are in direct conflict with Christian and biblical assumptions. There is always room for an appropriate relevance in communication, but I am afraid that far too often Christian thinkers and leaders are unwilling to do the critical thinking that separates the pomo wheat from the chaff and they end up swallowing a lot of chaff in the name of commonality and relevance.

The really hard work, and the work I think we are called to, is to exegete culture, try to meet people at appropriate levels, and then work at bringing them out of the parts of culture stealing their souls.

For example, pomos believe truth is private (relative). Can someone become a part of the church and continue to be a relativst about truth? Nope. Christ taught that truth is public, and Christ-followers should eventually be in-line with that epistemology and metaphysic.

James Fletcher Baxter said...

The missing element in every human 'solution' is
an accurate definition of the creature.

The way we define 'human' determines our view
of self, others, relationships, institutions, life, and
future. Important? Only the Creator who made us
in His own image is qualified to define us accurately.
Choose wisely...there are results.

Many problems in human experience are the result of
false and inaccurate definitions of humankind premised
in man-made religions and humanistic philosophies.

Each individual human being possesses a unique, highly
developed, and sensitive perception of diversity. Thus
aware, man is endowed with a natural capability for enact-
ing internal mental and external physical selectivity.
Quantitative and qualitative choice-making thus lends
itself as the superior basis of an active intelligence.

Human is earth's Choicemaker. His title describes
his definitive and typifying characteristic. Recall
that his other features are but vehicles of experi-
ence intent on the development of perceptive
awareness and the following acts of decision and
choice. Note that the products of man cannot define
him for they are the fruit of the discerning choice-
making process and include the cognition of self,
the utility of experience, the development of value-
measuring systems and language, and the accultur-
ation of civilization.

The arts and the sciences of man, as with his habits,
customs, and traditions, are the creative harvest of
his perceptive and selective powers. Creativity, the
creative process, is a choice-making process. His
articles, constructs, and commodities, however
marvelous to behold, deserve neither awe nor idol-
atry, for man, not his contrivance, is earth's own
highest expression of the creative process.

Human is earth's Choicemaker. The sublime and
significant act of choosing is, itself, the Archimedean
fulcrum upon which man levers and redirects the
forces of cause and effect to an elected level of qual-
ity and diversity. Further, it orients him toward a
natural environmental opportunity, freedom, and
bestows earth's title, The Choicemaker, on his
singular and plural brow.

Human is earth's Choicemaker. Psalm 25:12 He is by
nature and nature's God a creature of Choice - and of
Criteria. Psalm 119:30,173 His unique and definitive
characteristic is, and of Right ought to be, the natural
foundation of his environments, institutions, and re-
spectful relations to his fellow-man. Thus, he is orien-
ted to a Freedom whose roots are in the Order of the

Let us proclaim it. Behold!
The Season of Generation-Choicemaker Joel 3:14 KJV