Postmodernism is an easy target, especially if you treat it as just another form of relativism—the old "what's true for you may not be true for me" dodge.But postmodernism is many other things, and many young believers must swim in its currents as they study, work, watch current movies, and relate to friends—especially in university contexts. A growing number of these Christians are embracing some postmodern ideas—not uncritically, but believing they offer an authentic context for Christian living and fresh avenues of evangelism. This openness to postmodern ideas makes many conservative Christians nervous. Indeed, the postmodern set often criticizes aspects of evangelical culture, and the pomo vocabulary sounds impenetrable to evangelicals' ears. At CT we thought it was important to find out just what these Christians are saying—and what they mean by what they say. We thought it important to find out just what limits these Christians place on postmodern influences.At a recent conference in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, we asked five rising Christian thinkers to talk about how they cope with postmodern ideas and what opportunities they find in those ideas. Many CT readers will disagree with some of their statements, while cheering other insights.Before taping this forum, the six participated in an open panel at The Vine, a conference primarily for Gen-Xers. Some of their contributions to the panel are included as sidebars. The participants were:
- Carlos Aguilar, an M.A. student at Talbot School of Theology.
- Vincent Bacote, visiting assistant professor of theology at Wheaton College.
- Andy Crouch, editor-in-chief of re:generation quarterly.
- Catherine Crouch, a research associate in applied physics at Harvard University.
- Sherri King, a Ph.D. candidate in literature at the University of Dallas.
- Chris Simmons, a Ph.D. candidate in the film/history of culture program at the University of Chicago.
If the terrain and vocabulary seem unfamiliar, we urge you to first read Andy Crouch's brief explanation (above) of that slipperiest of terms, postmodernism.
Christianity Today: What is particularly new about postmodernism? For example, the concern for the marginalized has been a theme throughout Christian history, a recent example being 19th-century English and American evangelicalism; both movements are famous for their concern for social justice. Another example: in the preceding seminar, one of you said that postmodernist Christians are trying to redefine the relation of faith and knowledge, that "instead of coming at the faith rationally, true knowledge requires the Holy Spirit to work an ontological change in the human heart." That sounds like classic Augustine. So what is so new about postmodernism?
Sherri King: These things are not so much new as they are a reaction against the modern, the era beginning with the enlightenment that privileged rationality. So it's not just postmodern, but it is also antimodern and, for Christians, a return to previous orthodox theologies.
Andy Crouch: A prophetic critique of a dominating, totalizing worldview is obviously not new. Jesus did that to Caesar. Augustine had to do it after the fall of Rome. Aquinas had to do it in the face of Islam, which was threatening the foundations of Christendom. At other times in history, there have been "totalizing metanarratives," to use the jargon, that seemed plausible for a while. And then someone came along and said the emperor has no clothes. In some ways, postmodern critics are informed by the Judeo-Christian prophetic tradition.