Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? (Part 2)

I’m in the midst of a 5-part series, particularly walking through Jamie Smith’s book, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism: Taking Derrida, Lyotard and Foucault to Church. I am engaging with the 5 chapters of the book over 5 articles. My first post can be found here where I lay out some of Smith’s introductory comments, ones that exhort the church to realise we could actually utilise healthy bits of postmodern thought for the glory of God and the expansion of his kingdom.

But, from Smith’s perspective, the problem remains two-fold: a) much of the writings of postmodern giants (such as Derrida, Lyotard and Foucault) has been gravely misunderstood, taken out of the context in which they were given and b) a commitment to a modernist, Enlightenment approach to truth.

In their place, Smith advocates that we can learn from these postmodern thinkers and that our approach to truth should be grounded in a more practical postmodern approach (which will be explained in this article).

In an effort to combat wrong perspectives of postmodernism, Smith begins by assessing Jacques Derrida himself. Continue reading

Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? (Part 1)

At my core, I consider myself a shepherd-teacher. And, hence, I would not classify myself a historian, biologist, political scientist, nor a philosopher. Still, at times, I try to engage in some of these areas at some simple level. I think a thoughtful Christian, at least within western confines, would do well to consider points of interest coming out of these fields. Of course, it is probably of no great consequence if all do not. And, again, I only do so sparingly. But it might be worth it as we look to be salt and light within the context God has placed us.

With philosophy, well, I suppose I took a Philosophy 101 class in my first year at university. But I don’t remember much about it, other than it was one of the easiest classes I ever took, as the teacher gave pretty much open space for discussion around varying relevant topics of the day. But more of a thoughtful engagement with philosophy has only come recently. And that involvement was mainly ‘on the side’ with the books I’ve read recently.

One of the primary opportunities came in the lengthy first chapter of Kenton Sparks’ work, God’s Word in Human Words (he also does an even more simplified intro in his newest work, Sacred Word, Broken Word). In both works, he distinguishes between the perspectives of the premodern, modern and postmodern eras. You can see some brief thoughts in this article.

I’ve also read Peter Rollins’ work, How (Not) To Speak of God, one in which you see a very Derridean postmodern perspective coming through his thoughts on theology. But I’ll leave this text to the side for now.

But my most recent reading has brought me to James K.A. Smith’s text, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism: Taking Derrida, Lyotard and Foucault to Church. Smith is a philosophy and ministry studies professor at the well-known, reformed school, Calvin College (see his page here). I have a few friends that have raved of his many books, including this text on understanding postmodern thought. Thus, following my entrance into the shallow waters of philosophical thought, I decided to purchase a copy of Smith’s book assessing postmodern thought and culture.

The book is not long at all, being 160 pages in total. It basically stands as a lay text for the non-philosopher, like myself. I still have one final chapter to read, but what I want to do is to take 5 articles to look at the 5 chapters – introductory thoughts, assessment of Derrida, assessment of Lyotard, assessment of Foucault, and the conclusion thoughts. Continue reading