Postmodern Truth 1.0 The Official Skinny Response

In the most recent hard copy edition of Christianity Today, Charles Colson tackles the postmodern challenge. The article is called “The Postmodern Crackup: From soccer moms to college campuses, signs of the end” (December 2003, p. 72). It is published by Christianity Today. The web version is now up.

Brian McLaren’s response is posted here at Emergent Village.
Here is a snippet:
“In your article, you pronounced “postmodernism” dead, or on life support, or at least losing strength. You’re kind of right, because the kind of postmodernism you describe – “the philosophy that claims there is no transcendent truth” – was never really alive. It’s a straw man, Chuck, a bugaboo not unlike Hillary Clinton’s “vast right-wing conspiracy” used to create fear, galvanize sympathy and support, and perhaps raise money. (Everyone knows how a good enemy is a fundraiser’s best friend.)
What you describe as postmodernism – a claim that “there is no such thing as truth,” a rejection of all moral values, or their reduction to mere preferences – may have been purported by a few crazed graduate students for a few minutes at a late-night drinking party. But to paint the whole movement with that brush is just plain irresponsible. . .”

The Skinny Response:

My wife and I wish to announce . . . wait . . .thats the wrong one . . . ahhh, here it is . .

As a Senior Fellow of Emergent, and one who has been discussing this with Brian and the Emergent team for a week, I say:
1. We love Christianity Today. They have published my articles once or twice, not because they were good (they were just ok) but because [in my opinion] they want to speak for the wider Body of Christ.
2. We love Charles Colson. In EmergentYS’s latest book, Stories of Emergence, Spencer Burke (of The Ooze) credits Charles Colson’s pipe as a significant turning point in his own journey towards being a holistic and less legalistic Christian. Way to go Chuck!
3. If the word means what Chuck says it does, we need to trash it. But maybe what Chuck and many church leaders have been fighting is an incorrect understanding of the construct known as “postmodernism” and they are missing something important.
4. If the word “postmodern” has more value than Chuck admits, trashing it would be a hasty move and we may miss out on an extended opportunity to see ourselves, see the world, from a perspective that might be helpful in gaining understanding our opportune time in human history. An understanding that has already been helpful for other disciplines as varied as fashion, cuisine, banking and physics, as well as for more religious enterprises such as missions in a post-colonial world, and church leadership in a decentralized environment.
5. I feel that the word postmodern applies more to the 1980’s than to the today of my world. It therefore does not adequately identify my present paradigm, but rather a stepping stone in my journey so far. I might be happy to ditch the term, but believe that others who have not yet walked down my road, but desire to, would miss out greatly on seeing what I have seen with the set of glasses that the word “postmodern” has offered.

Andrew

Andrew Jones has been blogging since 1997. He is based in San Francisco with his two daughters but also travels the globe to find compelling stories of early stage entrepreneurs changing their world. Sometimes he talks in the third person. Sometimes he even talks to himself and has been heard uttering the name “Precious” :-)

13 Comments

  • Nice stuff on postmodern truth…
    Raising eyebrows with the false-start Skinny response…
    Good thing post-moderns believe in playfulness.
    Peace to you and yours.

  • Thank you for helping me get a fuller picture. I was wondering what the big deal was about.
    Matt, if post-moderns believe in playfulness, they’ll enjoy this. But what if moderns just don’t see what’s so funny?
    I suppose they’ll just not be so amused.
    I love
    the
    pace in the
    third
    version…

  • Postmodernism is dead, thank God

    Uh-oh, another tempest in a teapot is boiling over with Chuck Colson’s recently-published Christianity Today column in which, according to the tall skinny kiwi, Andrew Jones, he declares “postmodernism is dead”.

  • this crisis in understanding seems to be at the crux of the church’s transformation at our time in history. this misunderstanding is what may polarize christians and pit them against one another. i find it sad, frightening and exciting all at once. may God and his spirit lead us into all wisdom and truth.

  • I long to believe that it can happen, that there won’t be polarization in the church, that Christians won’t be pitted against one another, but if history gives us any indication, if the people who I know and call friends aren’t able to see beyond their traditional constructs…unfortunately we’re in for more of what we’ve known.
    Having said that, my prayer, that we would be one in faith, hope and in love.

  • postmodernity is ready to be eaten up by something. It already has become something else which I already see and feel – global faith, convergence, many words come to mind. But until we get there completely, we’re still at the ‘train station’ (see: Matrix Revolutions).

  • fascinating response: the healthy wheat side of my brain was confounded while the sweet frosty side simply chuckled at the beautiful confusion (yes, my brain is a frosted mini-wheat).
    would love to read colson’s response.

  • Thank you Brian, Andrew and others for helping respond lovingly but clearly to Chuck’s article. It seems that the very nature of the discussion – and particularly, Brian’s response, begs for a kind of Postmodern Primer that could help a wider audience understand the nuances and development of postmodern dialogue over the last 20 years. Brian and Andrew rightly plead with Chuck and a wider audience that they “don’t get it” as far as what postmodernity is, is becoming, and how it is changing the world we want to “reach”. Why not write a digestible, approachable, written-for-the-modernist book (with pictures and less than 199 pages) (oh, and self-deprecating jokes), using real life situations for examples. Help the one who is tempted to “dumb-down” postmodernity to understand what we are trying to understand. (Brian, you’ve mentioned a possible book on mentoring the “next” generation – a book targeted at folks in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, could this include an effort to build understanding?)
    Sorry for the broken record (old metaphor) Brian.

  • Another term for “postmodern”?
    I hate you guys. You rile me. (I’m working on it with my Lord.) But I’m sure it’s deliberate on your part. Because I’m one of those hopelessly old-fashioned “modernists”. That’s OK.
    But do you see the problem? I know, etymology is no longer fashionable, but when I grew up “modern” meant something like “new”, the opposite of “old-fashioned”. Now I’m both: you derogatively call me “modern” and my 16-yr old foster-daughter begs me to be a bit more “modern”, because I’m so old-fashioned. Now you are already inventing terms like “post-post-modernism”. Could we not have labels that describe instead of judge? Yet after all, according to Brian MacLaren, there have been other things than “modern” and “pomo”. And probably there will be more coming. Would it be wrong to call modernism “rationalism” and postmodernism “experientialism”, for instance? Or if that smacks too much of Descartes and Sartre, then suggest something else. Perhaps “blue” and “red”, which would have the advantage of automatically suggesting “purple” or “infrared” for other philosophical flavours. Perhaps we’d understand each other a bit better.

  • Trying to explain post-modernism in propositions…hmmm…I think if bright and Spirit-filled men like Brian MacLaren would redirect even just a few of the propositions that he leveled at Chuck Colson…redirect Biblical propositions toward the post-modern souls who are thirsting for answers, not merely images and wonder, then the Kingdom would come and His will would be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

Leave a Reply