Posts Tagged postmodernism
Over at Juicy Ecumenism, I give way to my inner poetic, Emergent Church pastor, offering an alternate benediction for the upcoming inauguration, should Luis Leon be pressured out (it happens):
We lay the fears of American Arrogance before you. The first of the flock. The high, not the Lost. Now the meek and the weak, we seek to relish and embellish at your feet. Not like the carrots that Cain once cast down – fake, artificial, genetically modified — but soft as a lamb, tender and cute as I AM.
But not of the Precious-Moments cast, filled with capitalistic crass. We embrace, instead, your ancient Word. Of the ancient hills. Of an ancient world. We enter now into an eternal forest—a sanctuary of trees and stardust, tigers and badgers, bugs and bungalows.
We twinkle ever on. Illuminating. Booming with a flurry of angelic echoes. We pray that you trap the fury of this earthbound crater in the chains of its own creation.
Whisper it. Speak it. Sing a song.
Now, today, we rejoice not in some man. Some idol to our own power and self-gratification. Some President Barack Obama.
No. We pray not to the Fast Brood Nation, instead orphaning our co-dependent thumbs from the revolver of the remote control. No. We now point ourselves toward the One True Jeopardy Host. Read the rest of this entry »
I recently finished up James Davison Hunter’s book, The Death of Character: Moral Education in an Age of Good and Evil, which provides a marvelous critique of American moral education, chronicling our gradual descent from a focus on virtues and eternal truths into a modernistic abyss of slippery and subjective “values clarification.”
Hunter’s diagnosis, from the prologue:
A restoration of character as a common feature within American society and a common trait of its people will not likely occur any time soon. The social and cultural conditions that make character possible are no longer present and no amount of political rhetoric, legal maneuvering, educational policy-making, or money can change that reality. Its time has passed.
These “social and cultural conditions,” Hunter believes, have been replaced with Enlightenment-heavy, inclusivist fantasies, believing that morality is “self-evident” in and of itself and all we must do is help individuals “clarify” what is right and wrong for themselves. Anything else is too dogmatic, too sectarian, too potentially offensive.
Particularity is inherently exclusive. It is socially awkward, potentially volatile, offensive to our cosmopolitan sensibilities. By its very nature it cuts against the grain of our dominant code of inclusivity and civility. In our quest to be inclusive and tolerant of particularity, we naturally undermine it. When the particular cultures of conviction are undermined and the structures they inhabit are weakened, the possibility of character itself becomes dubious.
Indeed, there’s something about particularity that scares us, regardless of our own particular beliefs in our own particular moral philosophies. The secular progressive is afraid of the conservative Christian. The conservative Christian is afraid of the Muslim. The Muslim is afraid of the secular progressive. And so we fight for control over the monopoly on the narrative.
So if this inclusivist approach is ineffective and actually undermines the ways in which morality is formed, how is morality actually formed?
Morality is always situated—historically situated in the narrative flow of collective memory and aspiration, socially situated within distinct communities, and culturally situated within particular structures of moral reasoning and practice. Character is similarly situated. It develops in relation to moral convictions defined by specific moral, philosophical, or religious truths. Far from being free-floating abstractions, these traditions of moral reasoning are fixed in social habit and routine within social groups and communities. Grounded in this way, ethical ideals carry moral authority. Thus, it is the concrete circumstances situating moral understanding that finally animate character and make it resilient…
A morality conceptualized without basic links to a living creed and a lived community means that the morality they espouse entails few if any psychic costs; it lacks, in any case, the social and spiritual sanctions that can make morality “binding on our conscience and behavior.” What is more, without the grounding of particular creeds and communities, morality in public life can be advocated only as yawning platitudes—variations of the emotivism that now prevails everywhere. Critics who point to the absolutist quality of this moral pedagogy are not far from the point. Outside the bounds of moral community, morality cannot be authoritative, only authoritarian. In the end, these alternatives [i.e. any modernistic attempts to instill virtue] do not advocate virtue, but at the their best, it is virtue on the cheap.
Evangelicals have long winced with suspicion toward contributions from intellectual arenas. Whether faced with critiques about the legitimacy of the Flood, the coherency of the Trinity, or the plausibility of God himself, we are well known for responding with the “faith-that-doesn’t-need-answers” refrain. Rather than confronting intellectual challenges and engaging our minds as an act of faith, we twist such faith into a shield to be held over heads, protecting us from such conflicts as we close our eyes and mumble, “I’m not listening.”
In turn, intellectuals are quick to exploit such a response, claiming that evangelicals are nothing but a bunch of mindless zombies, brainwashed by cult leaders and clouded by happy thoughts. As Mark Noll put in his book on the subject, “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”
Oddly enough, such a scandal is evident even among those who evangelicals assume comprise their intellectual front (i.e. the postmodernists). A good example of this can be found in the ongoing Rob Bell controversy, in which supposedly “anti-intellectual” conservative evangelicals are being derided left and right for engaging Bell in an intellectual challenge. Meanwhile, the supposedly brainy and overly nuanced Bell is being defended not on intellectual grounds, but on warm-and-fuzzy, “don’t-judge-me” togetherness. In one quick swoop of a Justin Taylor post and a simple John Piper tweet, Bell was quickly diminished by his defenders to being a mere “artist” rather than an impressive mind or a “serious theologian.” He is just “asking questions” we are told — having a bit of creative fun with the Scriptures in the same way a child might draw fanciful whatchamacallits on his driveway with sidewalk chalk. (“Don’t be hatin’ on the beauty, bro!”)
Making such a topic even more timely has been the entirely different (and far healthier) discussion launched by Matthew Lee Anderson on evangelicalism and natural law. This particular discussion, however, doesn’t indicate a lack of intellectualism in evangelicalism as much as it illuminates that the movement has its own unique view of the mind itself, bringing us back to the original challenge. For the evangelical, there is a transcendental tension between our supernatural understanding and our natural reason, and as is only natural (harty har), it can be hard for us to wrap our minds around it.
(Making this yet more timely still is Donald Miller’s recent post, which argues that the church’s problem is too much intellectual engagement instead of a lack thereof. Seriously.)
To cut through such tensions and offer some clarity, John Piper has released a helpful new book, Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God (also the topic to last year’s Desiring God conference). For Piper, the supposed faith-reason dichotomy need not be a dichotomy at all. All we need is the proper Read the rest of this entry »
Today at Ethika Politika, I discuss the value that division and conflict can bring to our pursuits of moral truth.
The problem, however, is that divisiveness is particularly out of fashion these days. Indeed, many seek to force “unity” on others from the top down — a feature of modern society that Kenneth Minogue likes to call “Western ambivalence.”
Here’s an excerpt from the post:
We are told to “soften our rhetoric,” to “reach across the aisle,” and to “find common ground.” We are reprimanded for framing matters of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in moral terms. No longer should our debates be about the merits of this vs. that, but rather, we are to concern ourselves with the supremacy of neither. Not surprisingly, this doesn’t get us too excited about anything.
The consequences of this appear quite clear. Without a drive toward engaging ideological struggles (and the ability to do so), how will the moral life ever flourish?
Here’s another excerpt:
The danger of today’s widespread ambivalence, therefore, is not necessarily that everyone might pretend to submit to a single, unified “truth” (although they certainly might), but rather that they would be too ambivalent to know it. As with our competitive endeavors in economics, a retreat from the active, heightened struggle of what Minogue calls the “moral life” will lead to an unauthentic, untried society in which ambivalence equals unity, and unity trumps morality.
As already indicated, Minogue’s views provide some valuable insights on this matter; thus, I found it helpful to leverage a few ideas from his recent book, The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life.
To read the full post, which contains more of my thoughts on Minogue’s book, click here.
In a previous post, I used John Piper’s 2010 Desiring God Conference as a launching point for asking whether Christianity has properly engaged intellectualism. The conference took place a few weeks ago and Piper has a new book out by the same name, Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God. Although I was unable to attend the conference, I have been catching up online, and I encourage you to do the same.
Speakers included Rick Warren, R.C. Sproul, Thabiti Anyabwile, Albert Mohler, Francis Chan, and, of course, John Piper. I enjoyed each session thoroughly, but Mohler’s talk was perhaps my favorite, titled, “The Way the World Thinks: Meeting the Natural Mind in the Mirror and in the Marketplace.”
You can watch it here:
Mohler’s primary goal is to simply get Christians thinking about thinking, but more specifically, he calls us to grasp the difference between a “regenerate mind” and an “unregenerate mind.” Additionally, Mohler believes that we need to fully understand the “mind of the age” in order to preach the Gospel effectively.
He structures his argument around what he calls a “knowledge crisis” — a struggle that has engaged humanity since the Fall of Man. As far as what kind of crisis this is, and how we are supposed to overcome it, thinks the fundamental problem is that “we suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (pointing specifically to Romans 1).
Indeed, although overall human knowledge has come a long way since the Fall, we are still largely presumptuous about Read the rest of this entry »
Douglas Wilson recently posted a great critique of a speech given by Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on the threat of Islamic fundamentalism (read “The Last Dregs of Christendom”). The speech itself is well worth listening to, but Wilson directs his critique at one specific piece, namely Gingrich’s claim that our struggle with Islam is primarily about preserving “Western values.”
“So?” Wilson asks. “Who cares about that?”
Such indifference to Western values is bound to perplex a few readers. What about the Enlightenment? Scientific progress? Democracy? Capitalism? What do you mean, “so what”?
The West certainly has plenty to offer in the realm of societal order, economic efficiency, and overall justice — and these are fine things to preserve — but when we’re talking about a serious and persuasive religious ideology (i.e. a spiritual force), engaging a struggle in the name of Western values is a bit risky, if not futile.
As Wilson says:
Western values only have value if they are a coded way of referring to something else. And that something else cannot be another horizontal fact, like representative government, or womens’ rights, or anything like that. That just pushes the question back a step. Why should we prefer those? And if we say that Western values simply means “our values,” then why should those outrank “their values”? In the ebb and flow of Darwinian struggle, ours sometimes loses to theirs.
In other words:
“Western values” as an appeal works only if it is a coded references to Christendom, and that only works if Christ is still there. Anything else is Read the rest of this entry »
“Thinking is one of the most hazardous things we do,” says John Piper in a new video. “The Apostle Paul warns, ‘knowledge puffs up,’ but he also commands, ‘In your thinking be mature.’ The use of our mind is absolutely necessary for being human and worshipful. So do this dangerous thing, but do it well.”
In the video, which is a trailer for the upcoming Desiring God Conference, John Piper notes that the Church, and especially the American church, has a “long history of anti-intellectualism.” Although such sentiments are understandable, Piper worries that “this does not end well.”
I am frequently turned off by how debased much of today’s “Christian culture” has become. From books to music to movies to plain old theology, many Christians seem adamant in their love for Christ, but mindless in how Read the rest of this entry »
Is the emerging church coming to an end?
The conversation seems to be picking up across the Web.
In a recent article in WORLD Magazine, Anthony Bradley provides a good summation of some of the indications of decline, including this post by Andrew Jones and Rob Bell’s recent admission that his once cutting-edge church has begun to “mimic” many of the things the movement set out to counter.
I do think Bradley is a bit off on some of his analysis and predictions. For instance, he claims that postmodernism is dead and Christians are simply moving on to confront other more prevalent philosophies.
I wholeheartedly disagree that postmodernism is dying off, but it seems as though Christians never really confronted postmodernism in the first place (at least not effectively). When I survey the emerging church movement in particular, it seems like it was far more successful at incorporating postmodernism than it was at confronting it.
That’s not always a bad thing. It all comes down to whether we are tailoring the message to the culture or reconstructing the message for the culture.
Many emerging church leaders have been able to successfully integrate postmodernistic thought and language with the Gospel, but so many others have floundered and gone off course in their efforts to be “relevant.” Plenty of emerging church leaders seem lost in their own Read the rest of this entry »