John Piper in a Postmodern World

I have never met John Piper but some of his parishioners joined a church i was pastoring in USA and they spoke well of him. Piper has just written on William Tyndale who gave up his homeland (and his life) so that the English speaking world might read the Bible in their heart language (a fan of contextualization long before the term was coined).

John Piper and Desiring God are hosting a conference on postmodernism called “The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World” Sounds like the conferences we used to do back in the 90’s. Despite what might be the longest and most commented on protest ever on emergentno.blogspot.com, I think its a good move, even though its a decade too late. I kinda wish they were tackling something more immediate – like the “Supremacy of Christ in a COMPLEX world” but that would mean their speakers would have to read some new books and deal with a subject that, although more timely, does not yet have a recognized canon of published works or recognized experts (or critics). And despite incredible leaps of understanding in the last few years, we still don’t have a general theory of complexity. But that shouldn’t stop us from bringing the wisdom of Scripture to bear on our present condition. Hey . . . maybe next year???

Speakers this year include Don Carson AND Mark Driscoll on the same stage – two people passing each other like sailing ships travelling (respectively) to and away from the Brave New World of Emerging-Missional Church. I just listened to a recording of Carson’s message (Evanglelizing in a Postmodern World) from his visit to Scotland. Its long, and I cant say i didn’t drift off, but what he said was good. I think Driscoll and Carson would probably share a similar understanding of the “postmodernism” although Driscoll would tend towards the cultural understanding and Carson towards the epistemological and academic.

Personally, I think the word “postmodern” has been dead and buried in Christian circles and using it opens a different can of worms for every audience who cannot tell the difference between ‘postmodernity’ (cultural, historical, experiential, sensual, ie., of the senses) and ‘postmodernism’ the hermeneutical debate. And i know because i am still getting flack. And more flack for saying the word “”postmodern sensibility’ is coming in a few months when John Hammett publishes his updated critique on the Emerging Church [which btw is far better than the first one].

Here’s someone else who has buried the word:

“So we say “adios” to the word ‘postmodern’. We never felt like you were a demographic anyway, but more of a mindset. But we certainly didn’t define you as having a certain theological stand. But now, every pastor, church, or publishing/media exec wants to identify with your “too cool for school” self. We’re sorry you got thrown under the bus by warring theological factions.”

Michael DiMarco of Hungry Planet bids Adios to “Postmodern”

However, if Carson and others think there is more milage in the word ‘postmodern’ then more power to them. Maybe the long tail of the postmodernism conversaton will give the American church a window to a deeper understanding of their culture and their church and what God is desiring of them. I certainly hope so.

Interesting: Last month’s paper issue of Computer Arts magazine mentioned “postmodernity” and globalisation as the two key factors related to the future of computer graphics.

“For predictions on the themes that will affect design, we turn to a bigger idea; postmodernity. The apogee of the modern project that began with renaissance art, the term ‘postmodernity’ describes the condition of the accelerated, played out and media saturated times we live in. Dont confuse it with Postmodernism, the short lived collage-based design and literary movement prevalent in the 90’s.

Computers are key in the cultural shift to postmodernity . . .”


Karl Hodge, New Horizons, Computer Arts, Christmas 2005, page 37-38

This is what i mean’t when i talked about ‘postmodern sensibility’.

Related: John Piper is under some criticism for a more openness towards new members and their particular form of baptism. I support the decision of Bethlehem Baptist Church to allow non-plunged applicants (sprinkled Prebyterians?) into membership, despite their baptism-lite experience being a far cry from the traditional Baptist slam-dunk. Good move, in my opinion, towards the heart of Jesus’ prayer for unity (John 17). A church can still hold to what it believes but be generous in its dealings with those who see things differently, even though convinced from the same Bible . Colossians316 has the skinny, although the writer takes issue with Piper’s new policy.

But in my opinion, John Piper is figuring out how to let Christ be supreme in a postmodern world.

As for the other thoughts and deeds of John Piper, are they not written in the annals of Justin Taylor?

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" :-)

30 Comments

  • Andrew–You are right about postmodern being a fast-fading term. Did you see that at the University of Chicago in 1997 there was a a major conference held called ‘After Post-modernism’. It posed the question: “If we absorb postmodernism…but do not want to stop in arbitrariness, relativism, or aphoria, what comes after postmodernism?” You can find the papers from the conference at http://www.focusing.org/apm.htm. That was almost 10 years ago! Word spreads slowly.

  • I might briefly add that the term “postmodernism” died out in academia even before the 90’s in many circles. The church always seems to be behind the times, though, when it comes to the academic and cultural tides. But this is, of course, changing. Especially with us: the extremely hip and culturally relevant Christians in the blogosphere!
    Blessings.

  • yes – absolutely.
    and for a lot of people, dipping their heads in the postmodern conversation for will be good thing and worthwhile.
    and Mr. Erdman (r u related to the Erdman’s publishing family??) my sincerest apologies for the cool/hip factor of blogging [medium is the message] – something that certainly was NOT there back in 1998 when many of us were just journaling what God was doing (as people have done for centuries) without the stigma of “blogging” coolness.
    cant tell you how many times i have wanted to quit blogging and go back to journaling on paper like i used to do in the 80’s and 90’s
    even though those journals are all lost and my writings online remain forever
    but even though my thoughts are occuring in the hip blogosphere, they are also being preached from the pulpits of very uncool churches and even uncooler christian conferences.
    i hope you can overlook the blogging thing and see my heart and message.

  • I have a friend who recently received a phd in postmodernism and phenomenology. How can something be over when history has shown us that things don’t die over a short period of time?

  • i gave up on the whole “postmodern” debate a while ago (i hate debates, anyway). now i’m just convinced it doesn’t exist. too often people say postmodern but they really mean antimodern. and a whole slew of them think it’s something new (or at least recent, or recently recent, or other rediculous pairings of words). but every ‘era’ is always ‘modern’. the thing we call ‘modernity’ just finally coined all the catch phrases. and so in a sense every era is postmodern…by labeling things modern and postmodern (meaning after modern) we put ourselves in a cycle we can never get out of! we need new language (don’t you love derrida). to end, i quote my pastor – ‘if you say you’re postmodern, you aren’t’

  • dang! i just got introduced to the whole postmodern thing, i haven’t even had a chance to figure out what it is or make fun of it yet. and it’s already over…stupid academic and cultural tides.

  • Not to change the subject, but…
    beautiful photo on your header. Please leave it up for a while? Stromness, I take it…
    Dana

  • After-modernism is a lasting condition I think. It’s the end of the belief that detached scientific Reason is the only arbiter of what counts as knowledge. That view will never dominate again, and the implications are huge. Its clear to many now that secular reason is really a confessional tradition with all sorts of prior faith-commitments in it. But the 1997 Chicago conference indicated that what was ‘over’ was the early response to the death of trust in secular reason–namely “arbitrariness, relativism, or aphoria.” Some people thought that was where we would go, but many people see you can’t live in that. Many are looking beyond the pure ‘indeterminacy of texts’ that Derrida, Foucault and others were pushing. So after-modernism is not over but I think the first try at a post-modern sensibility (the joy of indeterminacy ‘all the way down’) is fading.

  • Wasn’t it Os Guiness who argued that post-modernism is (or was), in essence, a negative philosophy contingent upon a reaction to, and rejection of, modern philosophy, and therefore doomed to be short-lived?
    Tim – you mentioned that “after-modernism is not over but I think the first try at a post-modern sensibility (the joy of indeterminacy ‘all the way down’) is fading.” Could you flesh that out? Are you talking of a kind of post-post-modernism? (trans-modernism??) I’m especially curious as to the ministry implications.

  • Stew-I can’t ‘flesh out’ all that here. But I’m a NYTimes reader, and for the last 4 years the ‘culture beat’ reporters have been talking about the demise of postmodern critical Theory because it didn’t give anyone a basis for political action. No one knows what this means for the future. After all it took 25 years of high postmodern theory in academia (from the late 60s to the early 90s) before it filtered down into popular culture and the general media and the church began to be conscious of it. Who knows what the academy will cook up next? There’s a real vacuum up their, from what I can tell. But I’m no expert. Not at all.

  • I don’t know that Piper would agree that he is figuring out how to “let” Christ be supreme in a post-modern world. Sounds a little too Arminian for his taste. I haven’t heard his thoughts, so I reserve the right to be completely wrong on this, but my guess is he will discuss how Christ IS supreme in a post-modern world.
    PS. I don’t really have anything good to say. I really just wanted my thoughts to be posted in the hip blogosphere. And there is no better site for that.

  • Andrew hope all is well…
    I am asked all the time to revive the “postmodern church list” on TheOoze.com. In the nineties it grew to over a thousand links in a few short months (user submitted links to their church homepage). The main reason for its popularity was, “the church” found one more way to market a new shrink wrapped “purpose” or “seeker audience”. As I survey most of what is emerging as church today, I believe it is only a re-packaging of old institutional forms, theologies and pendulum swinging practices (mainline adopting alpha and evangelical awaking a social conscience).
    What I have come to believe is – there is not a postmodern church (I contend there is not a modern church either) but THE CHURCH that seeks to live “in and out” the gospel in what ever cultural, political or theological vapor it finds her self in at any one moment. The church will see the affects of postmodernism on every aspect of her life – not a postmodern church but a church in postmodern times…
    To put it another way (Andrew we were together at Fuller this past year when I said this to the gathering) when we think of the church as “the light of the world” we need to move beyond the notion of matches, wood and flames. Now is the time to contemplate what we have defined as the “absolute way of being light” and experiment with the possibilities of electricity, vacuums and filaments…
    The church can continue to “fight against” the culture and claim they are on higher ground for not wandering beyond the boundaries of the “village” (thanks M. Knight). Or we can look for a path lit by imagination, evolution and the lives of heretics…

  • Postmodernism Says: The Reports of My Death Have B

    The Church, the Gospel, the words of Christ, the very Word itself – all have to do with language and power. What we have seen develop in the emerging church and responses to it are about language and power. Who owns the Good News? Who controls how we…

  • I hope you can understand why many look at this emergent conversation as quite humorous when “postmodern”, “postmodernism”, “postmodernity”, “postmodern sensibilities”, etc are all portrayed as misunderstood and subtely nuanced terms all of which defy any comprehensible definition, yet are supposed to be important in the Church’s contexualization of the Gospel. I know, I know. To expect such clarity just shows a modern Enlightenment mindset. 🙂

  • Perhaps I could suggest that the rise of the Emerging Church, particularly in the US has helped encourage the mainstream church to move on in it’s understanding and engagement with the “evangelistic task” (ok I know we call it mission now).
    Are these discussions a decade too late. In my view probably not. The Emerging Church has trailblaized in a prophetic way, and for that the mainstream can be grateful. Andrew you so often steer the conversation away from “those bunch of lazy good-for-nothings that don’t understand the bible or the times” but this post seems to be sweeping dangerously close to that genre.
    I understand that thinking in the academic world generally taken many years to filter into mainstream culture. There is no doubt that discussion including the terms post modern, post modernity etc are still current in academic thought and writing. Our understanding may well have moved on, but I suspect ditching the term will take more than a few blog posts and academic articles!

  • thanks Graham
    sorry if i sound extreme
    i am saying in the Christian circles (i guess i mean American evangelical circles) i stopped using the word “postmodern” because of the many missrepresentations, political alignments, links to relativism, and other unpleasant baggage.
    In the other world in which i live, the word postmodern is still functional but, like in the computer arts magazine i quoted, still comes with a few provisos and tweaks to make it workable.
    if the speaker from the front is recommended a large investment in time studying the postmodern philosophers from the 80’s AT THE EXPENSE of current thought in emergence theory, complexity, network theory, new media dynamics .. . then i would have to say – hey -lets take a look at our present condition and how we name it before we all go back a few decades into French deconstructionism.
    not saying its not important nor that it doesnt relate to our current thought – because it all connects.
    and practically speaking, as one who tries not to create misunderstanding from the pulpit, i usually ditch the postmodern word when i come over to speak in USA because it just takes sooooo much explanation to dance around the misconceptions.

  • Hey,
    I just discovered that I can practise didgeridu and comment on blogs at the same time! (I’ve got a nice “d” drone going as I type.)
    Anyway, Is it just me or does the word “pomo” (in this font) look remarkably like the word “porno”? Maybe it’s some kind of freudian thing, or maybe it’s my subconscious commenting on the nature of the pomo debate?
    (I stopped playing my didge for that last bit)

  • For me, I guess I’d like to see us get over the whole modern, hyper-modern, postmodern, emergent, “complex” positions and just focus on doing the ministry Christ has called us to in our particular contexts. Having been involved, somewhat, in this whole journey I must confess my disappointment in those associated with the whole emergent thing…When this thing got started, it wasn’t an “us” versus “them” sort of thing. But, lately, that’s what it appears to be.

  • interesting thoughts all around. In the spirit of Spencer’s comment check out:
    http://www.integralnaked.org
    For me, Ken Wilber’s work has begun to shine a bit of light on what MAY be beyond pomo. he is off of even the academic radar for his absolute attack on postmodern thought; however, his ideas and concepts have filtered into many christian arenas through The Matrix.

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