Being the Church in a Not-Quite-Yet Postmodern Era of Today

churchA couple of months back, I posted an article reviewing a new book entitled Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus. I claimed it was one of the best books I had read in my nearly 18-years of following Jesus. I believe it offers much for the church to consider on how to be the local church in our western, 21st century world today.

Postmodern has been emerging for the past few decades – but we’re not there quite yet in America. We are still driven my a more modernist approach, especially within the church. Continue reading

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

Modernism & Scripture

I love Scripture. Dearly love it. I love to read it, love to study it, love to reflect on it, love to teach it, love to hear God speak in and through it. I was drawn to this book just over 15 years ago, on that radical day of transformation when I entered into new creation in Christ. And from the beginning I have been a part of God’s people who also hold Scripture with the highest regard. In one sense, I would be somewhat baffled if one says they love Jesus and did not love Scripture.

As a side caveat, and as I have mentioned before, I am no philosopher (nor historian or scientist). I function mainly in a shepherding-teaching role within the local church context. I touch somewhat deeply into theology. But my goal is to, in some way or fashion, help God’s people build a biblical framework to help them engage in their world today. Not the word of the first century or the 16th century or the 20th century. The world of today.

Having said that, I think the best way to engage our world today with biblical teaching is to read it with a first century understanding (as best we can!) and then appropriate such teaching within a 21st century framework. No, this is not about letting culture dictate to us. Rather, it’s simply about letting God’s dynamic and organic revelation become real today.

Moving forward in my just over 15 years of Christian life, while my love for Scripture has remained very strong, my general theological and philosophical perspective of how to engage with Scripture has gone through a paradigm shift. I’ve become less and less committed to the more modernistic, Cartesian, empirical approach to knowing truth and have begun to slowly embrace a more postmodern, practical realist approach to knowing truth.

A modern approach centres everything in objectivity. Subjective truth is not a firm foundation. Objective, verifiable, evidence-based truth is firm.

Sounds good, right?

I mean, God is absolute truth and Scripture is his word. Thus, Scripture must be absolute, or objective, truth.

Well, I’m not so sure it works out that way. Continue reading

Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?

I am no philosopher, nor historian, nor scientist. I am simply a teacher-shepherd looking to help people understand God and his kingdom, especially within our world today. Still, at times, I find it interesting to engage with these fields. So this week, I have begun reading James K. A. (or Jamie) Smith’s work, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church. And I have appreciated the little I have read concerning postmodern thought in these two books: God’s Word in Human Words by Kenton Sparks and How (Not) to Speak of God by Peter Rollins.

This whole discussion around postmodernism is and has been a touchy subject within the church for the past decade, with not a few evangelicals identifying postmodernism as inherently evil.

But is it?

Jamie Smith comes from a very strong reformed background, teaching philosophy at Calvin College. Yet, as a philosopher, and still knowing his theological roots, Smith takes up the challenge to show how postmodern thought is not intrinsically wrong and can actually be helpful for the church as we move forward more and more in the 21st century. Continue reading