C. Stephen Evans was not expecting to encounter the subject he teaches at Calvin College—philosophy—when he flipped on a country radio station. In this excerpt from the May/June 1997 issue of Books & Culture: A Christian Review, a sister publication of Christianity Today, Evans invites us to wake up with him to the pervasive influence of postmodernism. Evans is author of The Historical Christ and the Jesus of Faith (Oxford University Press).

My work requires frequent trips from southwest Michigan to the Chicago area. Driving I-94 around the southern tip of Lake Michigan does not rank high on my list of favorite things to do. Recently I found myself dodging semis and potholes once again. Drowsiness prompted me to switch from a soporific clarinet concerto and begin station surfing. An oldies station is my stimulant of choice on the highway. Nothing gets us baby boomers cranked like the Beatles, the Beach Boys, or Motown. Alas, no oldies station was in range. But my attention was suddenly riveted by a powerful surge from a country-and-western station.

"It's all interpretation. To find the truth you gotta read between the lines." The singer blared those lines in a typically nasal but not unpleasant voice. I was instantly wide awake. I had always thought there was probably more truth in your typical country-and-western song than in your average philosophical treatise. However, I had not counted on a group of good ole boys from Nashville latching onto the latest French fashions designed by Foucault and Derrida.

Recently I had helped organize a seminar on "Postmodernism and Christianity" led by philosopher Merold Westphal. On Westphal's reading, postmodernism emphasizes two great themes. One is what Nicholas Wolterstorff has called interpretation-universalism, the claim that reality cannot be known as it is in itself, but only as it appears to us humans. We only know things relative to our human conceptual systems, and such systems are irreducibly plural and contingent. Derrida had never said it better: It's all interpretation.

The other major theme is the hermeneutics of suspicion, the attitude of people like Nietzsche, Freud, and Marx that the claims humans make to truth always reflect some hidden agenda, usually one involving power over others. Step aside, Foucault: To find the truth you gotta read between the lines.

I knew, of course, that postmodernism was all the rage in academic circles; I had even seen a reference or two in Newsweek. But had postmodernism penetrated the world of country-and-western music? Images of Tammy Wynette and George Jones struggling to comprehend Derrida rocketed wildly through my head. Had Lacan replaced the Bible and hard living as the source of country lyrics? Surely, I thought, if there is a world where the old verities are secure, it is the world of country-and-western music, a world where cheating always brings heartbreak, boozing leads to losing, and prisoners mournfully contemplate their just punishment for their crimes. Yet there it was: It's all interpretation. To find the truth you gotta read between the lines.

On the return journey I heard it again, this time in its entirety, and I was astounded to learn that the song, titled "It's All in Your Head" and sung by a group named Diamond Rio, was giving a Christian version of postmodernism. The speaker in the song is a sidewalk preacher's son, passing on the philosophy of his father, who was always "looking forward to the end of the world." Such an eschatology surely implied the end of modernity, though I am not sure whether postmodernity really is a sign that the end times are upon us. But the preacher's refrain embodied the deep-seated mistrust of all authority that lies at the heart of postmodernism:

Don't ever trust what the government say
We never walked on the moon
Elvis ain't dead
You ain't going crazy
It's all in your head.

Later the preacher confirmed his postmodernist bent by informing the listeners that "heaven's more than a place—it's a state of mind." There it is in a nutshell: Religious doctrines express human experiences rather than describe objective reality. To the singer, this is all a reminder that each of us must somehow "work out our own salvation."

The ending of the song placed my whole interpretation in doubt, however. The son sadly explains that his preacher father, in a quest for his own personal truth, had handled a snake whose "venom turned out to be stronger than Daddy's faith." Could the song be an ironic affirmation of objective reality after all? We ignore the real world at our peril since it is only too ready to turn and bite us you-know-where. Perhaps. In any case, the preacher has the last word. "With his dying breath" he repeats his claims about Elvis and the moon.

It's all interpretation. To find the truth you gotta read between the lines. Heaven is a "state of mind. State of mind." Amen?

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