In order to disagree with someone, you have to agree on the content of the subject of disagreement, i.e. if we disagree on the existence of God, we have to be able to agree on the meaning behind the word, “God.” If you agree with me on the topic of disagreement then you might also find some clarity on the idea that so many arguments are simply two respective parties talking past one another. As we all know, a good debate is one where everyone can benefit from both sides because we agree on the central content. In this blog post, I am seeking to help my friends who are unfamiliar with what I mean by “post-modern” in Christian culture better understand where we can agree and thus have a helpful disagreement.
This is not a work of scholarship, but simply a bunch of thoughts reflecting my own experience; therefore, this is by no means a full treatment of post-modernity within Christianity. It is simply a fire starter meant to stoke the flame of conversation in order to accomplish my ultimate goal: reveal the Kingdom to the decaying world in order to repair and heal everything.
Read this post as a friendly gesture…
Now, allow me set the scene for you:
I am approached by a student who loves Jesus with all of his heart, and has calmly walked over in order to acquire some “wisdom” for speaking to their “lost” peers. When I ask them what sort of questions they have been dealing with, what is usually conveyed to me is the sense that they are not hearing questions, but intent on asking the questions of their unbelieving interlocutor. And what are the questions?
Do you believe in objective truth?
Do you think that living a moral life is impossible without God?
If you lie, what does that make you?
Now, once I hear some of these questions, they will eventually put their hand on my arm and — by making an attempt to solicit my agreement — tell me of the horrors that post-modernity has wrought upon the minds of these students. Their view is simply that the greatest stumbling block in this generation has been wrought upon them by the likes of Derrida, Heidegger and Foucault. In other words, the Devil has been unleashed from Paris!
Oh, the utter shock on their faces when I tell them I thank God for post-modernity every day. These questions are a mere sliver of the types of things young christian students are trained to deal with their peers.
Why would I say something like this? Well, I am an adherent (philosophically) to the Continental (Post-modern) tradition, which does not sign me up for any substantive claims. When you tell people you lean towards post-modernity, they automatically speak what their youth pastors have told them is the problem: “Oh, you don’t believe there is a such thing as objective truth or the authority of truth over human affairs!” Time out. At the very foundation of post-modernity is a pivot point more than an argument; chiefly that post-modernity is parasitic on modernity, hence the “post” part of that phrase. This is why whenever I have friends who post graphs that enumerate the claims of each worldview beginning with the Greeks, through the medieval period, into the enlightenment and finally into the culture of truth obliteration: post-modernity, I feel confused because post-moderns aren’t a category of propositions but a people of seeking and mystical openness.
I do not emphasize or speak of “truth” as if it is a floating reality that these people do not have access to. Rather, I do believe there is a Reality they have yet to access, and this is what the New Testament calls “Kingdom of God.” The Kingdom is Ultimate reality, and that reality inhabited the particular of Jesus and through the mediation of the church it invades the modern world.
So, I have some good news: Many post-moderns may not believe in the Judeo-Christian God, but they will be open to mystical experiences and the offer of a conversion of what it means to flourish.
As a follower of Jesus, I do think that the best kind of life and the only way to live what Philosophers called “the good life,” is life in Jesus Christ. But what I refute is that the best way to interact in the world is trying to get everyone to see the value of objective reality. Rather, I see the value of helping people see the value of Kingdom reality, which necessarily invades the particulars of all of life.
When Jesus arrived to earth, he stirred the hearts of men by walking as God as man as God. This is why I tell people I believe the Truth is subjective (in the Kierkegaardian sense), like most existentialists or post-modern thinkers would say, because the ultimate reality inhabited the particular of man in Jesus Christ. Truth is subjective, but it is totalizing. So many former moderns struggle with the idea of a God outside of time, therefore when I tell them they can encounter that God in the here and now, it becomes recognizable. Which is what the gospel is, a recognizable goodness! The view of relativism espoused by so many freshman who only have an intro class under their belts are not true reflections of what the post-modern philosophers mean by “relativism.” This is not the issue and an unhelpful and boorish way of introducing people to the Messiah of Cosmic renewal.
Post-modernity sees the faulty claims of modernity and its utter distrust of the mystical. We see that it is precisely the privileging of reason that had made the 20th century the most technologically advanced and yet most morally corrupt century to date. If you thought great horrors were wrought in the name of Christianity in the medieval ages, it surely pales in comparison to the evils of the holocaust, Mao’s Chinese revolution, Stalin’s Soviet empire and the dropping of the atom bomb! This is one of the reasons I am a Christian who values post-modernity: we criticize the myth of progress with the doctrine of the fall in order to set reality in its proper place.
What if the majority of Christian apologetics today is a product of modernity, not of the scriptures? There are those in our midst who are gifted with the ability to summarize the beliefs of Buddhism, Islam and compare them to Christianity, but however eloquent we must reckon that it only works for Christians. The post-modern christian recognizes that people rarely come to faith by clever propositional claims, but by the proclamation of the narrative of Jesus. This narrative necessarily includes propositions and amazing arguments, but it is the partial of the greater whole of a story. The point can not be overstated that Christians in the 21st century are in the midst of a renaissance that is re-connecting people to the story of Jesus.
Those in the camp of modernity declare they are simply revealing the legitimacy of Jesus in a reasonable country by showing how much more reasonable Jesus is. It wasn’t that long ago that Marshall McLuhan said this famous line: “The medium is the message.” As it relates to moderns is that they use the same medium as those they claim to refute, with the same lines of reasoning and defensive posturing. And this is the benefit of adopting some post-modern posturing: allowing your life to reflect what you believe. Another way of putting it is that the way you live reflects what you believe, not what you necessarily speak what you believe.
I recently connected with an atheist friend who, after a few minutes of me telling him about Jesus, stopped the discussion to let me know that his best friend is obsessed with Christian apologetics. Caught off guard, I waited for his final thought: “Jon, we talk about ethics and truth, but we never get to this part.” Confused, I said, “Well, which part are you talking about?”
“The part when we talk about Jesus.”
If someone believes in the story, then they are going to find themselves in the service of that stories vocation.
I have no doubt that Christians entrenched within the framework of propositional truth want the people they speak with the cling to Jesus and live the life of a disciple. My only push back is to say, “where is your story?” I have no doubt that my friends who love apologetics will tell me they are simply speaking truth and allowing the Spirit to guide the soul. My only push back would say, “Where is your fruit?”
The kind of disciple you make is based on the kind of Gospel you proclaim. Is it one filled with propositions and clever reasoning? Well, then they will see what you are doing as an attempt at comparison game, which conflicts with the progress post-moderns have made: rightfully seeing the world as a dynamic thing and what you are doing as a static thing. Fortunately, the Kingdom of God is dynamic and full of life.
How will they know how to interact and live that story if you do not lead them in the way they are to walk?
Is there problem really with objective truth, or simply the lack of compassion and power they don’t see in Christians?
Is our message a result of the transformed life or the need to be smart?
I believe with all my heart that if one understands what the writers and thinkers of post-modernity are trying to say, they would see that a new opening has been revealed to us in the form of a distrust for the failures of fulfillment the enlightenment has attempted and for the most part, failed. There has been a rupture of faith. Do you see it?