Ridiculous Christianity

I recently made an interesting discovery. I am a postmodernist.

This was something of a surprise for me because I had been told many times over that the basis of postmodernism is the belief that there is no absolute truth, and that all “truth” is relative. That simply does not describe me at all. But, while that may characterize some postmodernists it is really only a result of what truly is foundational to postmodernism: the questioning of everything established.

Now, if so far you either have no idea what I am talking about, or if you are about to give up reading because this subject gives you uncontrollable fits of yawning…well, please bear with me anyway…

The postmodern “movement” really began as just an art and literature thing. Creative minds began questioning what made art art, or what constituted “good” literature. So, ideas began to fly. And, so did paint. Artists like Jackson Pollock and Marcel Duchamp questioned classical views of art. Admittedly they went about it in different ways and produced different results (Pollocks paintings were large canvases full of paint splatters, whereas Duchamp exhibited a slightly modified urinal as a “sculpture”), but their basic premises were the same: to challenge established views of art.

And that, in a nutshell, is what characterizes postmodernism: challenging what is established. That is why younger generations today are suspicious of religion. That is why (at least from my limited perspective) the political scene is so divided and partisan (not the congressmen and women, but the population itself…partisanship in Congress is another story).

The postmodern view has resulted in some pretty ridiculous creations in the art world, and some crazy views in the Western world, but I think it has something to teach us in the Christian world.

Paul told a group of Christians deeply embedded in Greco-Roman society, a society full of traditions, philosophies, religion, and politics (a society very similar to our own in many aspects), to “test everything; hold fast to what is good.” (1Thessalonians 5:21) That is a postmodern view. Question everything. Challenge what is established. Doubt traditions and practices and long-held interpretations. Push until you get some answers.

That is something that I can get behind, and the main reason I no longer have a problem considering myself postmodern. We have nothing to lose from questioning what we believe…even the most fundamental, strongly held beliefs we can come up with. We have nothing to lose because if we are wrong then we will have discovered our error, if we put some serious time and study into examining our beliefs. If we are right, then we have only more firmly established our faith.

Although postmodernism may produce some pretty ridiculous art, it can also produce a ridiculously true and devoted faith: the kind of faith that set the world against Jesus, and Jesus on a cross. That’s the kind of faith we need.

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12 thoughts on “Ridiculous Christianity

  1. Right on. I even heard about a book recently published called “What Would Jesus Deconstruct?” I haven’t read it, so I can’t vouch for anything about it, but when you think about Jesus’s teachings and his parables–a lot of his teaching really is deconstructing the religious views of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

  2. Good point, Jon. That is the primary thing Jesus did in His interactions with established religion. He questioned their traditions, even to the point of calling them “hypocrites.” Interesting that that is a favorite term of the postmoderns today when they describe Christians. In the very least that tells me we have some work to do rebuilding relationships.

    Let me know if you pick up that book.

    • My first introduction to the world of postmodern thought was when I was in Dr. Camp’s class in college. We read a book by Middleton and Walsh called ‘The Truth is Stranger Than it Used to Be’. I kind of started to realize then that we are all postmodern whether we know it or not. . .even my grandmother. It is the air we breathe. The question is not, ‘How do we get back to modernism (or as I would argue the CoC wants to get back to pre-modernism) so that we can be sure of things?’ The question to me, seems to be ‘What does faith in Jesus look like, given the postmodern world we live in?’

  3. Mark,
    I believe you are right about many wanting to change the postmodern worldview back to modernity or pre-modernity…the problem is that is cannot be done. Whatever cultural worldview we find ourselves immersed in is what we are stuck with (for the time being). We have to make the best of it.

    But postmodernism, I would argue, has some advantages over modernity. Maybe it’s just because I am more thoroughly postmodern, but I find the concepts of skepticism and deconstruction to be refreshing. Modernity allowed us to easily get stuck in traditions and traditional views, but postmodernism provides a refinement by questioning everything and sorting out what doesn’t hold water.

    Of course there is a down-side…many people (Christians) are willing to challenge and question, but are unwilling to put in the work necessary to truly test and refine; to not only weed out was is questionable, but to find out what is true. They get stuck in the process and just end up cynical and suspicious. That’s why many today characterize postmodernism as the belief that there is no absolute truth…because so many people are unwilling to work through the whole process that they get stuck in the questioning mode, and stuck believing there must be no real truth since all is suspect. So, it is very important that we keep moving people along the refining process until they find the answers.

    I think you hit on something important…that many Christians want to get back to modernity because they “want to be sure of things.” But, what modernity provided in them was a trust of establishment…they didn’t doubt the preacher, and they felt firm because they believed it when he told them they were ok…but that trust led to (I believe) the lack of personal study and reflection that we see among Christians today. I hope postmodernism turns that around somewhat for us.

    By the way…you might be interested in a website with many many links to lectures, articles, and essays by NT Wright: http://www.ntwrightpage.com. I happen to be reading a transcript of a lecture on postmodernism from the perspective of Jesus’ encounter with Pilate…where Pilate asks, “What is truth?”, but Jesus does not respond. Interesting reading.

    • The N.T. Wright page is one of the best sites around in my opinion. I’ve listened to probably all the lectures on there and read a lot of the essays and sermons. He’s probably my favorite author at this point.

      I guess there are some radical postmodernists (philosophers such as Rorty and others) who would say that there is no way to know truth or that there is no such thing as truth. The ironic thing though, is that those same people write books and expect people to read, understand, and believe them.

      Everybody is postmodern but nobody can take it practically all the way to complete subjectivity. In other words, everybody demands that they get the correct change at the grocery store.

      • I am liking the Wright stuff I have read so far. I can definitely hear the British humor as I read…especially in those lecture transcripts. I still don’t have any of his books, but have a read a few of the articles/essays/transcripts. I will be interested to find out what he thinks, practically speaking, about how we engage government. He talks quite a bit about how it is our kingdom responsibility to show governments how to properly order the public world. That seems to indicate that he thinks we ought to rally, protest, vote, use media, and do whatever else we can politically to get their attention. But, then, he also said that Jesus did this with the cross, and martyrs with their lives. So, that would indicate that he thinks how we live, serve, and die is the primary way we show government its faults. I guess I’ll just have to wait to find out…unless you have some insight?

        Your last sentence sounded a little like C.S. Lewis. He makes a similar argument for the universal nature of morality, though he references the fact that nobody likes to have someone cut in front of them in line…

      • You’ll eventually get to his comments on that sort of thing as you dig through his website. There’s a good article on God in Public and the Public Meaning of the Kingdom.

        One thing that’s not available on his website is a lecture he gave on God in Public. You can find down-loadable here.

        http://www.andyrowell.net/andy_rowell/2007/11/audio-from-a-fe.html

        There’s also some good stuff on the emerging church with Tony Jones and Scot McKnight (who I’ve recently been introduced to). Don’t know how much emerging church stuff you’ve gotten into (Brian McClaren, etc.) but I think its really good too. They have a lot of discussion about how to be the church in a postmodern world. A lot of fundamentalists don’t like them of course.

        http://emergentvillage.org/

    • Clint, your reply to Mark is great!! I especially like this part:
      “…what modernity provided in them was a trust of establishment…they didn’t doubt the preacher, and they felt firm because they believed it when he told them they were ok…but that trust led to (I believe) the lack of personal study and reflection that we see among Christians today. I hope postmodernism turns that around somewhat for us.”
      I have noticed this spiritual complacency at Bible studies, where the word of God is not studied or reflected upon it individually or in a group in a way that will truly transform us and affect our lives. I see routine and duty, and many talking about their spiritual walk emphasize “their duty” as Christians. Everyone sits, listens, and accepts whatever is said. In addition, so many are just faithful to traditions which do not represent what the word of God tells us. I grew up saying that I was a Catholic just to make the Jehovah Witnesses run away from me; but I did not have a real personal study of the Bible or attended summer Bible camp’s to study and reflect on what God really wanted and wants from me. When I attend these Bible studies I want more; it is as if I was saying; give me real food, do not talk as if everyone grew up attending the church of Christ and will accept what you believe only because you believe it. At my university, even though I do not agree with some of their beliefs, I studied theology, apologetics, ethics, hermeneutics, etc. and I am thirsty for more. I believe that the body of Christ in general, has an opportunity to reach out to many like me including the ones who do not know God at all and are not baptized or, even sadder, are baptized and believe they fulfilled “their duty.” The church needs to be more mission oriented in everywhere, not only in short mission trips or during the traditional Gospel meetings. I am saying these things as an outsider (even though I am inside now) who sees and hears more about the work of the church as an internal affair than an external outreach of people who are different to them and that also need God. It is very frustrating and wasteful to listen to monotonous narrations of history and archeology extracted from the Bible instead of the teachings and thoughts of God and their application to our lives every day. Postmodernism as it used to be would be great, if it were utilized and applied to have a real study of God’s word and to share with others through discussions as this one.
      Reina

      • Hey Reina,

        Thanks for these comments. I agree that it is so important that we move past performing Christian “duties” to true service to God…and especially to a more mission-oriented Christianity. Our communities are lost and hurting and need Christ.

        I also agree that much Bible study has been spent studying history and facts without any effort in making application. We must have present-day application taught and discussed or all the Bible study in the world will do us no good.

        I think postmodernists can help us with this because they tend to ask the important question, “So, what?”

  4. I sometimes question things too much, which fog my thinking a bit too much as well. Do you think a postmodernist can over-analyze or perhaps ask too many questions? Can someone be an ultra- postmodernist?

    I see nothing wrong with taking a philosophical approach even to the point one questions what they believe. I think this can be beneficial and even strengthen ones faith.

    However, some postmodernist say that it’s impossible for any single belief to be held by all people in all cultures. Most postmodernist reject the theory of truth. Some of them even refuse to talk about truth at all.

    The “true for you but not for me” vocabulary often is held by Postmodernist and can send a message that there in no absolute truth. Basically, truth becomes whatever I believe. In one sense, I consider myself postmodern yet in another sense I do not. I think there is absolute truth that all should adhere to, I just struggle with understanding truth, thus I am constantly questioning things.

    Randy

    • Hey Randy,

      Yes, I do believe postmodernism can be taken too far (just as any worldview can be…we saw that with modernism, especially in the churches of Christ). Or maybe, as I tried to indicate in my comments to Mark, the problem is that postmoderns who reject the theory of truth have not taken postmodernism far enough. I think the problem is they begin questioning and deconstructing, but they never play it out to a conclusion. They stop in the middle of questioning and conclude that since all is subject to skepticism then all must be relative. Our human weakness only add to the problem because we have made a mess of even things that are good and true. No wonder postmoderns think truth is a false ideal when they see those of us who claim to have truth living hypocritically and contrary to the very truth we claim.

      But, that all is not necessarily a problem with postmodernism as a worldview, but a problem with us as postmodernists.

      Of course, we must move on from all secular worldviews to a Christian worldview. But this means taking what is good from the prevailing worldview around us, and adopting it into our thinking and ministry. And I believe the most important thing we can learn from postmodernism is that we cannot get comfortable…the truth is out there (sounds like a good slogan for a 90s tv show), but it is unlikely that you or I have fully discovered it. So, the questioning mindset of postmodernism can push us to better and deeper understandings of God and His will.

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