Modern Pensées

Reconsidering theology, philosophy, culture, economics, and politics

Posts Tagged ‘Post-Modernism

Best Links of the Week

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Joel Osteen or a Fortune Cookie?

Article on pay scales for different undergraduate degrees entitled:  Momma’s Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Religious Study Majors… I guess my mom didn’t read that one.

Disturbing article from WIRED on Facebook’s out of control privacy policies.

Episcopal Church in Massachusetts creates worship service for dogs.  Service includes Eucharist for the pets.  Just when I think I have heard it all, something like this comes out of left field.  Fail.

TSA employee beats up and threatens to kill other TSA employee over comments regarding his full-body scan.

Tony Reinke takes a stab at answering the question, “Does God Delight in Non-Christian Art?” (HT: JT)

The Washington Times and Bloomberg have some helpful articles explaining derivatives as an investment product and outlining some of their dangers.

Large pyschologist study shows that babies know difference from good and evil at 6 months old.  I might add that they don’t need to be taught how to sin either.

If you like statistics and books, Tim Challies has a great analysis of the book-buying habits of the readers of his website.

There are No Post-Modernists in Electric Chairs


Why Nietzsche is Helpful for the Christian

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So, I’ve been chewing on some Nietzsche for the better part of the last 8 months (I mentioned a few things I was struck by here) .  I think Nietzsche is very helpful for Christians and is worth reading/understanding.  There are at least four reasons why this is the case:

First, Nietzsche is helpful because he presents a worldview almost completely antithetical to Christianity.  From my experience, total opposites often have a lot in common and typically this is the case because opposites employ the same categories to divergent conclusions.  Nietzsche takes many of orthodox Christianities’ categories and turns them on their head.  He preaches the opposite of the Sermon on the Mount, encouraging master morality over slave morality.  He preaches that humanity has killed God through our lack of worship of God and as a result there is no such thing as good/evil, right/wrong, or black/white because all of these depended on God for their existence.  He preaches that all that humanity has is power through the assertion of one’s will.

Second, Nietzsche and Christianity have a few common assessments and aims (The Fall, Telos, and Pleasure).  In my opinion, there is definitely a sense of the brokenness of things in Nietzsche’s philosophy.  While not coming from a theistic framework, he sees that humanity needs to rise above its current pitiful state to something higher.  While he might not refer to the ubermensch as redeemer of humanity, it is certainly Nietzsche’s telos for humanity.  Nietzsche and the Christian see very eye-to-eye when it comes to a promotion of life-affirmation (given, from very different angles).  Some may accuse Christianity of being prudish or oppressive but they haven’t read C.S. Lewis on joy, Jonathan Edwards on affection, or John Piper on Christian hedonism.  Both Nietzsche, Lewis, Edwards, and Piper all put forth a very life-affirming, full-bodied, joy-filled, and pleasure-seeking vision of life.

Third, Nietzsche is correct in his assessment that the death of God necessitates nihilism (a rejection of all morality).  For Nietzsche a large portion of his philosophy was devoted to the reevaluation of everything in light of the death of God (particularly morality).  Unlike the New Atheists who want to have their cake and eat it too (atheism with some semblance of morality), Nietzsche obliterates this notion.  Nietzsche rejects all transcendence in light of the death of God, for if God is the only transcendent thing/being in existence, then the death of God also destroys anything transcendent.  The only meta-narrative (for Nietzsche) left is the assertion of power and pleasure in the face of the harsh world.

Fourth, Nietzsche’s worldview is horribly unlivable.  The unlivability of the Nietzschean worldview is probably the greatest critique of his thinking.  I won’t even delve into the fact that Nietzsche spent the last decade of his life severely mentally ill and institutionalized (as this has been abused by Nietzsche’s critics).  It is no great secret that Nietzsche’s most faithful disciple was Michel Foucault.  Foucault was an influential post-structuralist and post-modern thinker who sought to live Nietzsche’s worldview to its logical end.  Power and pleasure were at the center for Foucault and Nietzsche and as such Foucault delved deep into the world of homosexual sadomasochism.  It was not uncommon for Foucault to have 6-12 such encounters in a single night (facilitated by the bath-houses of 70s era Southern California).  He was quite open and would brag about his sexual power and prowess.  He was one of the first public figures to die of AIDS.  He wanted to die in his native Paris and upon his triumphal entry to his city, 2 million people lined either side of the Champs-Élysées.  Those celebrating his return carried posters with Foucault’s motto, “Be Cruel.”

Your thoughts?

3 Month Introspective

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So, I’ve been blogging consistently for three months.  This is the week of Christmas and I’ll be all over the place.  I thought I would briefly summarize the 3 months of blog series on here:

Blaise Pascal:  We took a look at Blaise Pascal’s thinking, its use of aphorism and its relationship to both tri-perspectivalism and presuppositionalism.  We also looked at his use of aphorism and his warnings against deism and atheism.

Thoughts on Evangelicalism Past, Present, and Future, Parts 1-7:  We defined the term evangelical.  We looked at its historical roots in the First Great Awakening, Second Great Awakening, and its ties to celebrity culture, democritization of knowledge, and modernism.  Then we looked at the roots of liberalism, the Protestant split and suburbanization, and defined and outlined evangelical populism and their game plan for reaching America.  Finally we assessed the current status of American evangelicalism and then made some predictions of future trends.

Introduction to Apologetics, Parts 1-7:  We looked in broad strokes at the various schools of apologetics.  We then took a more in-depth look at:  Classical Apologetics, Evidentialist Apologetics, Presuppositional Apologetics, and the specific apologetics of Blaise Pascal and Alvin Plantinga.  Finally, we employed the three phases football as an analogy for the different apologetic schools and I likened Tim Tebow to the presuppositionalists.

Thoughts on Evangelicalism Moving Forward, Parts 1-10:  We looked at some analysis of some shifts evangelicalism will need to make moving forward:  Doctrine, Worldview, Urbanization, Globality/Mobility, “Post-Modernism,” American Culture(s), Contextualization, Balance, and Final Analysis.

Top ~10 Books by Topic:

Top 10 Systematic Theology Texts

Top 10 Devotional Classics

Top 10 Books on the Church

Top 10 Books on Science and Christianity

Top 10 Books on Christian Biography

Top 10 Books on Culture

Top 10 Books on Eschatology

Top 5 Books on Worldview

Top 15 Books on Status of American Evangelicalism

Top 10 Books on Church History

Top 40 Books to Read While in College

Top 10 Books on Missions, Discipleship, and Evangelism

The 25 Most Destructive Books Ever Written…

Top 10 Apologetic Works

Top 10 Books on Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

Top 10 Books by John Piper

Top 5 Children’s Books

Best Creeds, Confessions, and Catechisms of the Christian Church

A Comprehensive List of Top 10 Book Lists of 2009

Up Next:  We will be looking at some thoughts on the economy and investment and then delve into the mind of Friedrich Nietzsche…

Written by Michael Graham

December 19, 2009 at 11:29 am

Top 15 Books on Status of American Evangelicalism

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No Place for Truth by David Wells

These books represent the best analysis on the present status and recent history of evangelicalism.  This list is meant to be informative and not to be alarmist or disconcerting.  I think the classic Dicken’s line, ‘it was the best of times, it was the worst of times‘ will apply the Christ’s church til He return.  It is implicit also in this list that works commending a Christian worldview, like Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth, are must reads.  I have also omitted more esoteric debates including books on open theism, federal vision, new perspectives on paul… etc.  The purpose of this list is zoomed out than those specific issues.

1.  No Place for Truth by David Wells  [e, p, s]

How modernity crept in and screwed up evangelicalism.  Absolute classic.

2.  The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind by Mark Noll  [y, l, e, p, s]

The scandal of the evangelical mind is that it is so scarce and scant.  You may also want to read Os Guinness’ Fit Bodies Fat Minds, addressing evangelicalism’s intellectual laziness and preoccupation with the temporary.

3.  The Democritization of American Christianity by Nathan Hatch  [e, p, s]

Fascinating analysis of the democritization of Christianity in America.  His historical analysis is keen and well-researched.

4.  Christianity and Liberalism by J. Greshem Machen  [e, p, s]

This classic work delineates the liberalism of the early 20th century as being a completely other faith than the historic orthodox Christian faith.  86 years later it is still relevant.

5.  God in the Wasteland by David Wells  [e, p, s]

Wells continues where he left off in No Place for Truth, by challenging evidenced consumerism in evangelicalism.

6.  The Courage to Be Protestant by David Wells  [e, p, s]

The title is a play on Paul Tillich’s The Courage to Be.  Tillich’s work was a classic in early 20th century Protestant liberalism.  Wells draws connections between the emergent movement as really being a form of rehashed 20th century era liberalism.  Wells is also scathing on the level and abuse of marketing in modern evangelicalism.  As far as Wells goes, his Above All Earthly Pow’rs s also a worthwhile read:  in terms of analysis Pow’rs is to post-modernity what No Place for Truth was to modernity.

7.  The New Shape of World Christianity:  How American Experience Reflects Global Faith by Mark Noll  [e, p, s]

I am surprised by the lack of press for this book.  Noll examines the history of Christianity in America and draws parallels in key growth areas (Southern hemisphere and the East).  Noll is actually rather positive amid the torrent of bad press on what American Christians are exporting.  This is an important work because we are good to be reminded that American evangelicalism is not the height of church history.  Further, the church is Christ’s and she will prevail.  I think Noll has his fingers on the pulse of what is going on and what is next, we would be wise to listen to what he has to say.

8.  Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism by George Marsden  [e, p, s]

This is a must read if you seek to understand our history.  Also an important work is Revival and Revivalism by Iain Murray.

9.  Reclaiming the Center:  Confronting Evangelical Accomodation to Postmodern Times by Various Authors  [y, l, e, p, s]

Various heavyweights chime in on the necessity of remaining faithful to the preaching of the Word and to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  If you like this work, I suggest also Os Guinness’, Prophetic Untimeliness:  Challenging the Idol of Relevance.

10.  Christless Christianity by Michael Horton  [y, l, e, p, s]

This books has caused a bit of a stir.  You can read John Frame’s book review here.  I have yet to read the book, but I thought it a worthwhile mention to engage in present dialogue over the status of the Gospel in evangelicalism.  From what I gather, Horton has guys like Joel Osteen in view when he speaks of a Christianity without Christ.

11.  Young, Restless, and Reformed by Colin Hansen  [y, l, e, p, s]

This book is an important first look at the growing demographic of young Reformed folk.  This is an area that needs further analysis and hopefully a good work will come soon.

12.  Respectable Sins:  Confronting the Sins We Tolerate by Jerry Bridges  [y, l, e, p, s]

Bridges is 100% right when he highlights several sins that evangelicals strangely tolerate:  gossip, anger, pride, jealousy, anxiety, and selfishness to name a few.

13.  Why Johnny Can’t Preach:  The Media Have Shaped the Messengers by T. David Gordon  [e, p, s]

Gordon applies Marshall McLuhan’s keen insights to shed light on the dearth of serious bible teaching in evangelicalism.

14.  Confessions of a Reformission Rev by Mark Driscoll  [y, l, e, p, s]

I think Mark Driscoll is a very important voice in evangelicalism, moreso than many of my fellow Reformed brethren.  This book is a humorous yet insightful look into the story of the planting of Mars Hill Church in Seattle.  There are many lessons weaved into the narrative that are wise and memorable.

15.  Why We’re Not Emergent:  From Two Guys That Should Be and Why We Love the Church:  In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck  [y, l, e, p, s]

The first book is a solid book on the emergent church.  I also wanted to end this list with on a positive note with Why We Love the Church.  Many times we can get so bogged down in self-criticism that we forget to praise God for all the truly good things he is doing in and through the church in America.

What we need is always adherence to the same three things:  orthodoxy, orthopathos, and orthopraxis.

(c=children; y=young adult; l=lay leader; e=elder; p=pastor; s=scholar)

Thoughts on Evangelicalism Moving Forward, Part 7: No Cultural Center

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Is there really a cultural center to America?

Evangelicalism’s Strategy

Last time we examined how hasty evangelicals sought to lump an entire country into one philosophical category:  post-modernism.   Evangelicals like to do this – we like shortcuts, we like other people to think for us.  Evangelicals want someone to:

A.  tell them what is at the center of culture

B.  give them a brief definition of that thing

C.  give them some brief answers for why this thing is wrong

D.  make assembly line material on the wrong cultural belief

The Strategies Fundamental Flaw

The problem with this strategy is that it assumes that there is a center to American culture.  I wholeheartedly believe that there is no cultural center to the United States.  There may have been at some point in time, even so, that time is long gone.  In my view, there are at best several sub-cultures some of which overlap with other sub-cultures and some that do not.

Consider the following thought exercise:  Post in the comments section any adjectives that can describe all of American culture.  (I forbid the use of “consumer,” “sensate,” or “democratic.”)

We are not a melting pot, this would presume homogeneity.   We are at best a stew, and even this analogy seriously breaks down.

So What?

What are the consequences of America having no cultural center to the mission of the church?  Moving forward, evangelicalism needs to do what some missiologists have been saying for a little while:  Evangelicals need to acquire the skills of the cross-cultural missionary.  We need to be able to communicate the Gospel in ways that people understand and do it in a manner that does not compromise it’s message.

Every believer is sent by Jesus, with the message of the cross, from a community, to every culture, for the King and His Kingdom.

Moving forward, evangelicals need to avoid oversimplifying both individual people and the many (sub)culture(s) of America.  The evangelical strategy of trying to change America through politics alone is/was a dismal failure, as if politics was the center of an American mono-culture.  I have tried to show the fallacy of America also being a “post-modern” culture in the previous post.  I am trying to help us think beyond insulting misunderstanding in the evangelical mission to North America.

If we are to become more active in understanding the (sub)culture(s)-at-large we need to properly contextualize the Gospel.  Up next we will look at the twin dangers of over-contextualization and under-contextualization.

Thoughts on Evangelicalism Moving Forward, Part 6: “Post-Modernism”

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Richard Rorty

Richard Rorty: If you don't understand him, you probably don't understand "post-modernism" either...

Perhaps you have had an experience like this one:  You are talking with someone about your personal beliefs.   After explaining your story and worldview they respond with something to the effect of, “that is so good for you,” or “I am glad you have that.”

Perhaps you have had another experience like this one:  You are at a church, or a conference, or some other Christian meeting and the speaker has talked about the importance of understanding “post-modernism.”  I have heard some form of this talk probably a dozen times and never has the speaker ever hit the nail on the head.

This blog post will attempt to sort out Evangelicalism’s imprecise analysis of culture and philosophy on the matter of “post-modernism”

Post-modernism “explained”

Post-modernism is a reaction against the arrogance of modernism and the Enlightenment Project.  Modernism and the Enlightenment Project attempted to create a perfect worldview through pure reason alone.  Suffice to say this project was a dismal failure and imploded in the late 19th century.  This created an intellectual vacuum in Western thinking and the main thing that replaced it was an equal and opposite reaction to modernisms’s hubris.  Post-modern thought rejects foundations;  it is skeptical of overarching stories and worldviews; it says that truths are merely local and not universal.  The problem with post-modernism and defining the term is that  post-modernity rejects definitions, rejects categories, rejects foundations, and rejects Truth.  Hence, the philosophy is best understood as a reaction against modernism and requires modernism to exist in the same way a tick requires a host.

All to common example

One such example was a kind 70+ year old professor during my time at seminary.  The man had incredible ministry experience yet was sorely off in his cultural and philosophical analysis.  For several weeks he used modern categories and terms to describe post-modern thought.  The underlying irony was that he was attempting to explain as a slightly modernistic outside observer what an entire class of slightly post-modern inside participants had experienced their whole lives.

What is wrong with the analysis [Besides the face that almost every time anyone says, “Post-modernism is ________,” they are being reductionistic… ]

I do not believe we are in a post-modern culture!

I have talked to hundreds of people who have many different worldviews.  I have talked to people in several countries, on three continents (including Western Europe).  Christians love to label “Post-modern” as some kind of catch all.  It is dangerous to assume that post-modernism can be considered a “worldview.”   It is dangerous because it can be best seen as a rejection of worldviews, even though Christians continue to call it a worldview.  Lots of people I talk to are scientific rationalists.  Lots of people I talk to are pragmatists.  Lots of people I talk to are inspired by Eastern thought.  Some of the people I talk to borrow from all of the above – these are the people that we have incorrectly labeled “post-moderns.”  Let me repeat:

Post-modernism is not a stand alone philosophy. Christians have completely mislabeled and misunderstood this philosophical undercurrent.

What you need to be studying is the philosophy of Richard Rorty.

Post-modernism is a critique of modernism and is not a standalone worldview.  However, Richard Rorty took the post-modern skepticism and married it to another philosophy:  pragmatism.  Rorty was a philosophy professor at Yale (1956-57), Army (57-58), Wellesley (58-61), Princeton (61-82), Virginia (82-98), and Stanford (98-2005).  Here is a brief outline of Rorty’s thought:

1.  Propositions are true if they are helpful, and not because they have a one-to-one relationship with facts.

2.  Language is a game, because words are defined by other words, which are defined by other words, which are often defined by the original word in question (heavily borrowing from later Wittgenstein and post-structuralism)

3.  All language is contingent.  There is no link between language and reality.

4.  Therefore, Truth is incoherent and pointless.  No Final Vocabulary exists (Rorty’s way of denying the existence of absolute truth)

5.  The ideal person is the ironist – a person who:  1. skeptical of final vocabulary  2. Argument within ones current vocabulary cannot dissolve such skepticism  3.  As they philosophize about their situation they do not think that their vocabulary is somehow closer to reality than others.  People that have exhibited these traits according to Rorty – Nietzsche, Foucault, Heidegger, Proust, and Derrida.

6.  Final vocabulary leads to cruelty, therefore it must be rejected.

7.  What is true is what works.  What works is what is true.

Richard Rorty has blended post-modernism with pragmatism, in what I call post-modern-pragmatism.    This is what well-meaning Christians have been trying to explain but been unable to have the correct taxonomy.  Is everyone in America a post-modern-pragmatist?  absolutely not (and I am not sure why so many call ‘our culture’ post-modern).  Is there a trend towards the ideas of Rorty in Western Europe and the United States?  In my view, yes.

The tricky thing about post-modern-pragmatism is that it does not need to be true for people to desire it and adhere to it – it merely needs to “work for them.”  Revisiting the conversation I have had countless times from the beginning of this post – these people are espousing the ideas of Richard Rorty.  The whatever-works-for-you worldview is post-modern-pragmatism and not post-modern thought.

Christians have been unable to deconstruct post-modern-pragmatism because they have mislabeled it and been applying the wrong arguments against it.  The glaring weakness in Rorty’s (and any post-structuralist) thinking is that it is still subversively is appealing to Final Vocabulary in order to deconstruct Final Vocabulary.  In other words, his argument is still essentially:

There is no truth, besides this one.

Post-modern-pragmatism is essentially a bait-and-switch.  Worldviews have always been judged on two criteria:  is it true?  AND  does it work?  Rorty attempted to make those two separate questions, one single question by defining the two terms circularly as being synonymous with the other.  It is a diabolical yet ultimately silly philosophy.  The reason it is so powerful is that people employ this philosophy to justify their mutually exclusive beliefs and sin.  When confronted with the fact that they hold mutually exclusive beliefs they respond, “that’s ok, it works for me.”

I believe the central reason why evangelicals have missed the target by so far on “post-modernism” is because evangelicals are intellectually lazy.  Further, this laziness is always seeking to pigeon hole the many ideas and many cultures of a massive country into a really small box that they can then apply assembly line tools to fix (modernism still rears its ugly head in the evangelical).  Moving forward, evangelicals need to be more precise and more rigorous in understanding cultural and philosophical trends and ideas.  Up next  we will examine how evangelicals have done this, why they have done it, and what we need to do instead.

(if you care to read Rorty for yourself, the best summary of his thought is his book Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity)

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