Sunday, January 11, 2004

What is PoMo?...

Welcome to the Planet links to Joe at EO and myself with regards to our opinions on Post Modernism. He also links to an article by Brian McLaren at who wrote an open letter to Chuck Colson as a result of a Breakpoint Colson did on the Post Modern movement. Well I’ve read McLaren’s letter. I’ve also read his article titled An Open Letter to Worship Songwriters. On I’ve read the What is Emergent? page, and an article by Neil Livingstone titled How Can You Trust The Bible?. I also Googled on Post Modernism and read a bit about it via the University of Colorado at Denver’s English Department at a site titled Contemporary Philosophy, Critical Theory and Postmodern Thought. In addition, I’ve had discussions on this subject with people I consider to be mature Christians, I’ve read a few other Blog sites that are either pro or con with regards to PoMo, and I’ve visited as well as Blog comments I’ve either received at my site or read on other sites. With that, I’ve come to four basic conclusions: 1) McLaren and Livingstone appear to be solid, mature, well-grounded Christians. I’ve found their material to have solid teaching. 2) PoMo adherents, with regards to Christianity, not only want to avoid being defined… they relish in the apparent fact that theirs is a complex psyche. It is interesting to note that McLaren asserts that PoMos don’t really believe in anything as stupid as moral relativism. This leads in to conclusion #3… 3) The issue of PoMo Christianity may be as simple as people not being able to live consistent to their Worldview. 4) The general populace of the PoMo movement don’t seem to be listening to the likes of McLaren and Livingstone. 1: McLaren’s article on worship songs is good. Consider the following, “Too many of our lyrics are embarrassingly personalistic, about Jesus and me. Personal intimacy with God is such a wonderful step above a cold, abstract, wooden recitation of dogma. But it isn’t the whole story. In fact – this might shock you – it isn’t, in the emerging new postmodern world, necessarily the main point of the story. A popular worship song I’ve heard in many venues in the last few years (and which we sing at Cedar Ridge, where I pastor) says that worship is “all about You, Jesus,” but apart from that line, it really feels like worship, and Christianity in general, has become “all about me, me, me.”” I agree! In fact, this is one of my main complaints about PoMo but, don’t forget this, I don’t limit this narcissism to PoMo exclusively. Livingstone, in his article, states, “First, as a believer, I am involved in honoring and carrying on the mission of the communities to whom the word of God first came, and who preserved these records for me. I should not ignore or forget my "roots", the heritage in history of the family of faith from which I have come. To forget the history of which I am a part would be to forget a large part of who I am. That would give me a false picture of myself, as I imagine that I read the Bible as a solitary individual. So, on the one hand I have to agree that as I read the Bible it is part of my direct relationship with God through Christ, but it is also a gift which has come to be by many hands down through the ages.” In a culture that is rampantly a-historical, this is a refreshing pronouncement. 2: McLaren, in his open letter to Colson, essentially accuses Colson of over-simplifying the PoMo movement. He claims that only fanatics would, and have, made claims of moral relativism, and that Christian adherents to PoMo do not think that way. He states, “I can agree with you that the “no transcendent truth” kind of postmodernism is dead, because as I said, it never was very alive. At most, it was an early, reactionary phase in a yet-embryonic movement that has much more mature, constructive, and positive voices emerging. Like you, I’ve spent a lot of time talking with college students and other thoughtful postmoderns. In fact, before entering pastoral ministry, I was a college English instructor – and as you know, English departments were the hotbed of postmodern thought back in the 70’s and 80’s. But I must tell you: I’ve never heard anyone articulate as their belief what you consistently assert that postmoderns believe. Sure, many college freshmen will resort to extreme statements when they’re approached by an angry Christian waving the sword of “absolute truth,” but if you (and George Barna and others) understood what they think you mean by “absolute truth,” you’d understand why they react as they do. Nobody likes having a sword waved at them!” At this point let me interject a piece from the University of Colorado at Denver’s English Department’s web site regarding Post Modernism. In Postmodernism, by Dr. Mary Klages, she writes, “Lyotard argues that all aspects of modern societies, including science as the primary form of knowledge, depend on these grand narratives. Postmodernism then is the critique of grand narratives, the awareness that such narratives serve to mask the contradictions and instabilities that are inherent in any social organization or practice. In other words, every attempt to create "order" always demands the creation of an equal amount of "disorder," but a "grand narrative" masks the constructedness of these categories by explaining that "disorder" REALLY IS chaotic and bad, and that "order" REALLY IS rational and good. Postmodernism, in rejecting grand narratives, favors "mini-narratives," stories that explain small practices, local events, rather than large-scale universal or global concepts. Postmodern "mini-narratives" are always situational, provisional, contingent, and temporary, making no claim to universality, truth, reason, or stability.(emphasis added) Just as a point of clarification, that was written by Dr. Mary Klages… not a college freshman. I must state that I was disappointed with McLaren’s letter to Colson. Not for his opinion but for the lack of information it ultimately provided. He never really gets around to defining Post Modernism except to say that it isn’t what Colson says it is. It appears as if he’s tap dancing around the issue by claiming that PoMo is so complex that it defies definition. He continues, “But try to understand this parallel reality: In the late 20th century, postmodern thinkers looked back at regimes like Stalin’s and Hitler’s. (One must never forget how postmodern thought developed in the aftermath of the Holocaust, as deeply ethical European intellectuals like Michael Polanyi reflected on the atrocities their peers had perpetuated or acquiesced to.) Postmodern thinkers realized that these megalomaniacs used grand systems of belief to justify their atrocities. Those systems of belief – which the postmodern thinkers called “metanarratives,” but which also could have been called “world views” or “ideologies” – were so powerful they could transform good European intellectuals into killers or accomplices. They thought back over European history and realized (as C. S. Lewis did) that those who have passionate commitment to a system of belief will be most willing, not only to die for it, but to kill for it. They looked at powerful belief systems of the twentieth century – world views (extreme Marxism is one such world view), grand stories (anti-Semitism is one such story, White Supremacy is another, American manifest destiny is another), ideologies (such as the industrialist ideology that the earth and its resources are not God’s creation deserving care through reverential stewardship, but rather, are simply natural resources there for the taking by secular industrialists), and they were horrified. These dominating belief systems were responsible for so many millions of deaths, so much torture, so much loss of freedom and dignity, so much damage to the planet, that they sought to undermine their dominance. They advocated incredulity or skepticism toward such stories or belief systems.” That sure sounds like relativism to me. McLaren then attempts to link Colson’s concern about Post Modernism’s moral relativism with Post Modernity’s concern about Modernity’s absolutism. “Anyway, Chuck, you’re legitimately worried that “postmoderns” will use their relativism as an excuse to do anything they want. But they’re worried that you and other “moderns” will use your absolutism as an excuse to do anything you want. (If you can’t see any validity to their concern, then I’m truly speechless, and it’s hardly worth your reading the rest of my letter.) From where I stand, I’m afraid both of you are seeing a valid danger in one another. Postmodern people like me – you can call us post-postmoderns if you want to continue asserting postmodernity is dead, but please don’t call us truth-denying relativists, because we’re not, even though we don’t like your unreflective use of words like “absolute truth” – people like me want neither the self-indulgent narcissism of the one nor the unreflective absolutism of the other. You’re against their supposed denial of truth in the interest of self-indulgence, and they’re against your apparent monopolization of truth in the interest of political domination, and you’ve convinced some of the rest of us that you’re both at least partly right about each other.” (emphasis added) I just said this, but I’ll have to say it again… that sure sounds like relativism to me. McLaren concludes the letter with 7 definitions of “truth” and a plea for Colson’s prayers as he, and others, deal with the Post Modern world out there. I’ll be praying for you Brian. 3: Consistently living your Worldview. Ron Nash, in Faith & Reason, posits that one of the tests of a Worldview’s validity is the test of Practice, “Can the people who profess that world-view in theory also practice what they believe in their daily lives? Can the person consistently live the system he professes?” (emphasis in original) Carl Sagan failed the test. He was a Naturalist… believing that matter was all there was. Remember his COSMOS opening line, “Nature is all there is, all there was, and all there ever will be.” Being a professed believer in Naturalism, he was forced to conclude that we are, essentially, no different from the animal kingdom. As such, violence against animals was tantamount to violence against humans… a no-no. Yet, when his life was threatened with illness, treatments existed that depended on animal-testing. The dilemma of his Worldview conflict was resolved with his inconsistently living out his Worldview – he accepted the treatment. McLaren attempts to tell us that Post Moderns do not really believe in moral relativism. Yet a short search on Google showed otherwise. His claims that those who make such radical statements are simply fanatics falls short. But his claim that Post Moderns do not really believe in moral relativism rings true. Say what? Yes. It rings true because, in the world of Absolute Truth, moral relativism fails. He knows this because he appears to be a solid, mature Christian. As with the example of Carl Sagan, Post Modernists, if they don’t admit to it to themselves, will eventually do so as they face the impossibility of consistently living out their Worldview. 4: Simply said, read the posts of the various PoMo or Emergent Church sites. Read the comments posted. These people, for the most part, don’t seem to be partaking of the meat that the likes of McLaren and Livingstone are feeding them. Keep the faith Brian and Neil. I applaud your efforts, but I disagree with your conclusions.

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