Postmodern Apologetic Method

Postmodernism is a term with a rather broad semantic range carrying a variety of meanings which are dependent upon context.  It means one thing to the architect, another to the literary critic, and quite another to the philosopher.  For our purposes, the term will be used to refer to a certain worldview which has grown to be the Zeitgeist of contemporary Western culture.  Even describing the worldview presents a challenge, in that one instinctively turns to the work of a few French philosophers (Derrida, Foucault, Lyotard, et al.) in an attempt to articulate the position, yet most of those whom hold it are by and large unfamiliar with those names, much less the terminology of deconstruction, metanarrative, or the nexus of power-knowledge.

Nonetheless, these are some of the philosophical underpinnings which have come to shape the postmodern worldview, thus the Christian apologist must not only understand these seminal ideas but also recognize that it is necessary to relate to the postmodern mind with a different approach than has traditionally been used in dialogue with the modernist.  Toward that end, rather than attempting to force the postmodernist back into compliance with modernity, this study will attempt to synthesize a different rubric for apologetic discourse with postmodernity having the ultimate goal of bringing those whom hold this worldview to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and thereby advancing the kingdom of God.

Worldview Navigation

Mankind’s quest for truth can be analogized to a sea voyage.  Truth is a light in the distance which has been obscured by the dense fog of culture and competing philosophical paradigms.  In the midst of the deep, it is the helmsman’s responsibility to chart a course that will lead to that great light.  One needs to know very little about seafaring and navigation to understand that when a ship veers off course by even a single degree, the effect on the voyage is terrific.  In fact, this divergence renders it impossible to reach the intended destination.  In many respects, various worldviews function much like navigation systems as people and cultures attempt to grope for truth.  This provides a significant challenge, however, because worldviews are not fixed in form but develop dynamically from one generation to the next.

In many respects, the shift to modernism brought a badly needed course correction to the premodern worldview which was rooted in authority structures and thoroughly steeped in a feudal system that attributed status and power to a few, based on the privilege of birth.  It was a shift to modernity which allowed the founding fathers of this country to react against premodern feudalism as they made the outrageous claim, “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. –That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”  This declaration provided a sorely needed course correction to the political philosophy of the premodern world.

Modernity also challenged the authority of the church and gave birth to the watershed doctrines of sola scriptura and sola fide providing a much needed course correction to premodern theology and ecclesiology.  Premodern theologians held that only the church was entitled to interpret Scripture and that the decisions of popes and councils were on the same authoritative plane with the canon.  This belief in ecclesiastical authority spawned a power structure which was used and abused to perpetuate class oppression and create a material kingdom for the church.  The Reformers roundly rejected this authority due to its logical incoherency.  Employing the law of noncontradiction at the Diet of Worms, in true proto-modern form Luther noted, “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they contradict each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God” (qtd. in White 28).

It is quite common, however, for a steering correction to result in a divergence toward the opposite extreme.  Modernism not only rejected the authority of the church, but under the influence of Descartes’ radical doubt, Locke’s tabula rasa, etc., moderns moved beyond Luther to reject even the authority of Scripture (White 30-33).  As this trajectory continued, it resulted in the exaltation of human reason which in turn gave birth to hope in progress and the embrace of science and technology as its apparatus of delivery.

As history has unfolded however, the promise of human progress has not delivered.  Despite advances in science and technology, modernism has ushered in two world wars, the Holocaust, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and biological weaponization to name just a few.  Modernism clearly misplaced trust in the innate goodness of mankind to utilize advances in technology for benevolent purposes.  In fact, most major advances in technological benevolence have produced malevolent counterparts.

Enter postmodernism.  Cynicism regarding modernity’s doctrine of progress has given birth to much in postmodern thought.  In fact, it is in this aspect of postmodernism that N. T. Wright finds its greatest strength, “…in all sorts of ways I believe postmodernity is to be welcomed.  It offers an analysis of evil which the mainstream culture I described earlier [modernity] still resists; it deconstructs, in particular, the dangerous ideology of ‘progress’” (Evil 32).  In other words, postmodernity can be characterized by disillusionment with the modernist notion that in the end human progress will carry the day.  This incredulity toward human progress provides a significant point of contact with the biblical perspective which also finds man, left to his own devices, utterly powerless to deal with the viral expanse of evil.

In this respect, postmodernism provides a needed course correction to modernity. However, as we have seen with modernism, as postmodernism develops toward the extreme, it goes too far.  Finding evil indissoluble, postmodernity impotently degrades into nihilism.  As Wright put it, “Postmodernity may be correct to say that evil is real, powerful and important, but it gives us no clue as to what we should do about it.  It is therefore vital that we look elsewhere, and broaden the categories of the problem from the shallow modernist puzzles on the one hand and the nihilistic deconstructive analyses on the other” (Evil 33-34).

Reaction to Philosophical Paradigm Shifts

As the modern worldview began to take root and develop, the initial reaction of the Catholic church was very adverse and more than mildly resistant.  When their work proved contradictory to interpretations of Scripture held to be authoritative, Enlightenment thinkers such as Galileo and Copernicus received severe censure by the church and their views were condemned as heresy.  The Catholic church had much invested in an Aristotelian worldview which they had imbued with authority (White 29).  If shown to be false, the resulting loss of credibility would pose a significant threat to the existing power structure.  Attacking ideas they were unwilling or unable to comprehend, the establishment clung to the traditional hermeneutic handed to them by their fathers.  Nonetheless, the flaws of premodernism had been exposed and the damage was done; the turn was inevitable. The religious establishment was brought kicking and screaming into the stark reality of modernity with an epic struggle.

Likewise, on the threshold of an historic shift in worldview, many Evangelicals have attacked postmodernism in a kneejerk response to something they see as wholly antithetical to the Christian faith.  In The Truth War, John MacArthur cites an article about Rob Bell and Brian McLaren which appeared in Christianity Today Magazine entitled The Emergent Mystique, as proof positive of the rejection of truth by postmodern Christians.  In the introduction MacArthur writes, “One dominant theme pervades the whole article: in the Emerging Church movement, truth (to whatever degree such a concept is even recognized) is assumed to be inherently hazy, indistinct, and uncertain – perhaps even ultimately unknowable” (x).

Interestingly, the word truth appears in the article only once, “[McLaren] cites Dallas Willard and Richard Foster, with their emphasis on spiritual disciplines, as key mentors for the emerging church.  None of these thinkers has any inclination to throw out the baby of truth with the bathwater of modernity.”  Rather than a rejection of truth per se, in the context of the article McLaren seems to be reacting against the categorical, empirical, hierarchical schema of the modern worldview.

Likewise, in an article entitled Postmodernism and Truth, J. P. Moreland launches a particularly vitriolic attack on postmodernism in general.  Although Moreland grudgingly concedes that language can be problematic as he affirms, “…the language/world hookup is arbitrary,” he ultimately concludes that postmodernism “is an immoral, coward’s way out that is not worthy of a movement born out of the martyr’s blood” (126).

While there is certainly biblical support for the need to defend sound doctrine from attack (cf. 1Pet 3:15), it is first necessary to discern whether an idea is clearly and wholly antithetical to biblical truth before one flies to a defensive posture.  In other words, while evaluating postmodern philosophy, we must be sure we have a clear comprehension of the ideas before we snap to judgment and defense.  Once the ideas are clearly understood, we then need to distinguish which aspects of those ideas indeed require defense and counterattack through apologetics, and which aspects should be embraced and applied to our own understanding of the world in general and faith in particular.  Most importantly, this must all be done with the ultimate goal of engaging those who hold a postmodern worldview in constructive dialogue which is circumscribed by gentleness and respect (1Pet 3:16).  Bludgeoning those whose worldview has been shaped by postmodern philosophy with a reaffirmation of the modern worldview coupled with insult is likely to be an ineffective strategy in disciple making.

The Dark Side of Absolute Truth

One well deserved criticism of the modernist worldview is that it neglects to take into account the “dark side” of absolute truth.  Of course this is not to suggest that truth as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ or in Scripture has a dark side, but to acknowledge the fact that absolute truth, insomuch as it is popularly conceived, can prove to be more than a little problematic for at least two reasons.  First, as it is affirmed by the various denominations and sects of the Judeo-Christian traditions, there seem to be competing versions of absolute truth, something which is clearly a logical fallacy in light of the law of noncontradiction.  Yet, while appealing to the same canon of Scripture, first century Jews and Christians held to very different ideas of absolute truth.  Indeed today, Evangelical Protestants and the Roman Catholics affirm very different views of what is affirmed by Christians to be the purest expression of truth: the gospel.

Second, as Michel Foucault has pointed out, conceptually, “absolute truth” has a tendency to morph into an implement of power and control when handled improperly; a fact which has been horrifically borne out in church history (Greer 15-46).  Sadly, one needs to look no further than the slaying of the Anabaptists during the tumultuous period of the Reformation to find evidence of the inherent dangers of the systems of power and control which can spawn from a misguided attempt to wield “absolute truth” and defend its corruption from the supposed infidel (Shelley 247-55).

Language, and Interpretation

Truth is communicated in propositions which are constructed using language.  Language is a form of semiotic communication which makes use of symbols (signa, i.e., words) to point to, or describe reality (res) (Greer 27-28).  For communication to take place, a speaker must symbolically encode a message which is subsequently decoded and interpreted by the listener.  As Greer explains, “Semiotic communication, by definition, requires distortion due to the use of symbols that only partially represent reality and thereby imply imperfection” (27).  In other words, while absolute truth exists, due to the inherent weaknesses of language, it is not feasible to employ language (a finite abstraction) to absolutely, comprehensively define infinite absolute truth.

While the law of noncontradiction is a useful tool in demonstrating that objective truth exists, it is of little value in defining exactly what truth is.  To put it another way, A ≠ ~A, but how do we get to A in the first place?  Additionally, the correspondence theory of truth is effective in proving truths that can be empirically verified, yet it falls short in attempts to validate transcendent truths such as moral or theological absolutes.

In his critique of Grenz and Franke, John Wilsey charges the men with abandoning the correspondence theory of truth and then rightly affirms that truth proper is independent of human observation.  To illustrate this point he employs the age old playground question: “if a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?”  He goes on to say, “…since the laws of the universe are the same everywhere and are not dependent upon any creature inhabiting it, we know this question to be nothing more than an amusing one from the school playground” (10-11).  There is, however, more value to this question than mere amusement.

First, the correspondence theory of truth cannot be employed to prove or disprove the claim that the tree indeed makes a sound, due to the fact that an observer is inherently necessary to evaluate the correspondence to reality.[1] Secondly, even with an observer on hand to establish the truth of the event, the event itself is entirely meaningless unless it is interpreted.  To look at it another way, while we can establish that the existence of a particular tree is objectively true so long as it corresponds to reality, unless that truth is interpreted and applied by an individual or community, the objective truth of the tree’s existence has very little, if any, value.  For interpretation to take place we must resort to linguistics and linguistics are culturally bound.

People in different cultures may interpret the tree in very different ways.  One community may see it as holy or an object of worship; another may see it as useful for firewood, building materials, or shade; yet another more technically advanced community may see its value in the manufacture of paper, erosion control, or even in its ability to convert carbon dioxide to oxygen.  Regardless of how the tree is interpreted within a particular cultural-linguistic system, it must be interpreted to have any value whatsoever.  It follows then, for truth to have meaning and value to an individual, it must be interpreted; if it is to have value within a community it must be communicable within a cultural-linguistic system.

Noting the inherent subjectivity of interpretation, McKnight says, “Even when we recognize intellectually the inevitability of some type of relativism, we attempt to ignore or refute it because relativism seems to mean that all of our facts are false or at least that no important fact can be verified” (59).  This is not to suggest that truth is unknowable or unverifiable in that there seems to be an intuitive recognition of truth when one encounters it, “There is a validation of meaning and significance but this validation – just as the determination of meaning and significance – takes into account the total nexus of dynamic signifying systems” (McKnight 61).  Here, however, we must proceed with caution, for it would be quite easy to slip into a pluralistic view of truth if this line of reasoning were carried too far.  It is not truth but interpretation that exists in plurality.

This leads us to the fact that Scripture itself must be interpreted in order to arrive at meaning and application.  All too often, interpreters of Scripture fail to take note of the fact that their interpretations are inescapably subjective (due to the fact that Scripture is usually interpreted within a given community setting, many interpreters are blind to the fact that their interpretations are ipso facto culturally relative).  Believing they have arrived at objective absolute truth they tend to wield it like a club, smashing any suggestion of disagreement with their position with the claim that their views are “derived from Scripture.”  This phenomenon can be seen in the plethora of Christian denominations and their dogmatic adherence to systematic theology.  After all, whose interpretations of Scripture shall we say convey absolute truth, Calvin’s or Arminius’?

Narrative

The importance of narrative in human cognitive process cannot be overstated.  According to Coon, “We creatively build our self-concepts out of daily experiences. Then we slowly revise them as we have new experiences” (414).  The mental record of our experiences is usually recorded in narrative form, complete with interpretation.  As Stephen Crites puts it, “…the formal quality of experience through time is inherently narrative” (Hauerwas and Jones 66).  To a large extent, one’s self-concept is simply a collection of stories and their associated interpretations, and these stories play a significant role in the way human beings experience, perceive, and thus interpret reality.

As noted above, the modernist meets the biblical narrative with skepticism due to the fact that the quintessential claims of the narrative cannot be empirically verified.  Traditional evidential apologetics attempts to work within the modernist framework rooted in Cartesian anxiety.  Here again, postmodernism proves to be an ally to those who hold a biblical worldview by exposing the significant epistemological flaws in modernity.

In The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, Jean-Françios Lyotard, an influential postmodern philosopher, wrote “I define postmodern as incredulity toward metanarratives” (qtd. in Smith 63).  At first blush, this would seem to suggest that postmodernity would meet the grandest story of all, the biblical narrative, with incredulity.  This, however, is not how he used the term metanarrative.  As Smith explains, “For Lyotard, metanarratives are a distinctly modern phenomenon: they are stories that not only tell a grand story… but also claim to be able to legitimate or prove the story’s claim by an appeal to universal reason” (Smith 65).  In other words, postmodernism exposes the fact that the modern scientistic views of the world are far from the alleged purity of empiricism; in fact they are themselves rooted in narrative and thus ultimately reduce to philosophy.

Therefore the kerygma of the church falls outside the scope of this polemic in that, in its purest form, the proclamation of the gospel makes no appeal to universal reason in an attempt to legitimate.  When the Apostle Paul was before the Areopagus, his proclamation was rooted in the Scriptures.  Some met the proclamation of the resurrected Christ with ridicule while others recognized truth.  Paul made no attempt at a rational defense of the resurrection, offered no evidence or appeal to universal reason; instead he “went out from their midst” (Acts 17:33).[2]

Postmodernism then does not reject narrative per se, but the self-legitimating claims of metanarratives.  Narrative itself has value to the postmodern.  Timothy Keel notes, “…most [postmoderns] would settle for a good story.  Part of the rub with post-evangelicals is that most evangelicals rely on apologetics to explain their faith.  But apologetics can’t satisfy the postmodern appetite for mystery, paradox, and imagination.  People are desperate for myth, art, and story” (qtd. in Tomlinson 83).  In many respects, the modern approach to apologetics has sterilized the kerygma by removing the mystery from the proclamation.

Another particularly troubling outgrowth of modernism’s relentless pursuit of systematizing all aspects of human experience has been the dogmatic espousal of systematic theology.  In recent years, biblical theology has provided a refreshing alternative. Confined to the text, biblical theology seeks the locus of meaning in the overarching biblical narrative.  Thus, rather than employing philosophy to resolve the tension between seemingly contradictory doctrines (e.g., predestination vs. free will), biblical theology focuses on the theological principles which can be extracted from the epic itself.

Finally, modern apologetics tends to focus on rational, evidential methodology which seems in many respects to preclude the power of personal testimony (read “personal narrative”) in the apologetic effort, presumably due to the subjective nature of testimony.  We must acknowledge, however, that personal testimony was the traditional nexus of the apologetic endeavors of antiquity.  At bottom, the most powerful apologetic is delivered when the apologist relates the story of an encounter with God from personal experience.

Jesus’ Use of Parables

From His use of parables, it would appear that Jesus had an appreciation for the use of narrative in apologetic discourse.  The word parable makes its way into English from the Greek παραβολή which literally means “a placing of one thing by the side of another” implying a comparison or juxtaposition (Thayer 479).  Jewish parables were rooted in a Hebrew form know as mashal which “employs a short narrative fiction to reference a transcendent symbol” (Bailey and Vander Broek 106).

For the most part, Jesus’ parables were amazingly dense and deliberately vague.  Bailey and Vander Broek explain,

As metaphorical language, Jesus parables are narratives that seek to encourage listeners to widen and deepen their notion of the kingdom of God, a symbol that points to divine reality and cannot be reduced to an abstract concept… [which] speaks of a mysterious reality so rich and so new that the parable cannot be reduced to clear language (110)

Due to this phenomenon, the parables are polysemous, containing rich layers of meaning which invite the listener to step into the timeless nature of the parable and experience the transcendent reality of the kingdom of God through concrete, mundane scenes of daily life.  While the parables point the way to the absolute truth of the kingdom, they are irreducible in comprehensive, absolute terms.

While some modern scholars in reaction to Augustine’s extreme allegorical interpretations of the parables in premodern times have asserted that meaning in parables must be singular, it seems this declaration fails to recognize the Sitz im Leben of the parabolic form and its usefulness as an vehicle of signa.  Bailey and Vander Broek rightly determine that, “Contrary to the conclusion of earlier scholars, these metaphorical stories do not have just one legitimate point but sponsor multiple interpretations” (111).  Due to their intrinsic polysemy, the parables are ideally suited to a community hermeneutical effort as each individual’s interaction with the parable may assist in elucidating a more complete picture of the transcendent reality of the kingdom.

Consider the parable of the grain of mustard (Mt. 13:31-32) as a case in point.  A typical way to interpret this parable has been to see the kingdom of God as something that has inauspicious beginnings (a grain of mustard) but grows exponentially into something capable of supporting, sheltering, and nurturing life as the seed grows into a tree which provides a nesting place for the birds of the air.  This is a perfectly legitimate way to interpret this parable; in fact, it appears prima facie to be the proper interpretation.

Consider, however, that for a grain of mustard to grow into a tree is something quite abnormal as a normal mature mustard plant is actually a sparse bush at best.  Also, in the parable of the sower (Mt 13:1-8), the birds were symbolic of the evil one.  Given the context then, the grain of mustard could be representative of evil (possibly the legalism of the Pharisees) and the abnormal growth of the plant illustrates the system and viral expansion of evil which becomes a fortress for the enemy even in the midst of God’s people.  Likewise, this is a legitimate interpretation.

Most narratives move through stages of exposition, complication, rising action, discriminated occasion, climax, and then reach a point of resolution, or denouement, where the story is detangled and the moral or meaning becomes clear.  A parable, however, is a form of story which has no dénouement; it doesn’t resolve.  Jesus seems to adequately complicate the plot and the drop it into the listener’s lap to do the hard work of detangling and interpreting.  As Geisler notes, “Jesus’ use of parables demonstrates the value of stories to convey a message and persuade an audience which cannot always be achieved by direct discourse” (qtd. in Meister 8).

A final noteworthy feature of Jesus’ parables is that they tend to be iconoclastic.  The Pharisees of Jesus day were convinced of the absolute truth of theological positions which they believed to be firmly rooted in the Torah.  Many times Jesus utilized parables when relating a view of the kingdom which was incongruous with the Pharisaical view.  Jesus exploited the power of this fascinating form to smash through popular misconceptions of reality, upset the tranquil status quo of the religious establishment, and cast new provocative images of the kingdom of God.

Reengaging the Ancient

“Thus says the LORD: ‘Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls’” (Jer 6:16).  It seems that many modern Evangelicals have lost sight of the fact that Christianity was a growing, thriving concern for 1500 years before the advent of Descartes, the Enlightenment, and modernity.  Perhaps a more effective way of relating to the postmodern mind may be found in a return to certain aspects of the ancient, to premodernism.  H. Richard Niebuhr explains, “The preaching of the early Christian church was not an argument for the existence of God nor an admonition to follow the dictates of some common human conscience, unhistorical and super-social in character.  It was primarily a simple recital of the great events connected with the historical appearance of Jesus Christ and a confession of what had happened to the community of disciples” (Hauerwas and Jones 21).

A return to the ancient acknowledges the indispensability of an experiential encounter with God.  The Apostle Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ was not rooted in rational certainty but in special, particular revelation which was the result of Peter’s seeking after God; a fact which is evidenced by Jesus’ response to Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 16:17).  Peter’s confession then is foundationally existential and rooted in divine revelation. [3] No matter how well it is crafted, no logical argument can replace a first-hand encounter with God.

Here, however, one may point out that Peter had the good fortune of living in an historical period when Jesus walked the earth; ergo he was in a unique position to have this personal encounter through direct contact with Christ.  It is important to note, however, that Peter’s revelation did not come from his physical contact with Christ, but from the Father who is in heaven and Scripture clearly affirms the availability of this encounter to all who would earnestly seek after it, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” (Jer 29:13; cf. Dt 4:29), but how are people today to go about achieving such an encounter?

One possibility may be found in the resurrection of ancient spiritual practices such as Luther’s theologia crucis (contemplation of the cross), lectio divina, fasting, solitude, meditation scriptura, etc.  While modernism has categorized these practices as antiquated “mysticism” and thus relegated them to something tantamount to superstition, the ancients, not to mention the biblical record, stand opposed to such a reduction.  Scripture bears witness to experiences in the life of Paul which could be categorized on no other way than mystical (e.g., 2Co 12:1-10), not he least of which being his conversion experience (Acts 9:1-19).

Synthesis

It is a challenging (an admittedly overambitious) endeavor to synthesize a systematic rubric for apologetic discourse with those holding a postmodern worldview.  The enterprise proves problematic for a variety of reasons.  Due to the breadth and nebulous nature of postmodernity, those who have been influenced by it are quite often unaware of any formal arguments of the philosophy, let alone its esoteric vocabulary.  Moreover, a phenomenon has developed in the public education system of the United States which embraces a thoroughly modern worldview in disciplines such as science and mathematics, but shifts to postmodern relativism in the humanities (especially in the fields of philosophy and ethics).  This teetering between worldviews has resulted in a form of epistemological schizophrenia in those whose thinking has been shaped in the caldron of public education.

Furthermore, if, as Lyotard has suggested, postmodernity can be defined as incredulity toward metanarrative, it is ipso facto vehemently resistant to all things systematic.  Thus, to even make suggestion of a system or method for dealing with postmoderns is paradoxical at best.  Nonetheless, there are a variety of tactics which can be employed to assist the postmodern mind in making a critical steering correction without compelling one to jettison all postmodern philosophy and forcing the adoption of an entirely modern posture.

First, while refusing to compromise the reality of absolute truth, the apologist should honestly recognize and acknowledge the inescapable subjectivity of interpretation, rather than attempting to wield absolute truth in absolute terms.  Second, the narrative kerygma (rather than Cartesian anxiety) should be the foundation of the apologetic effort.  Third, discussion of the parables of Jesus should be employed to point the seeker to the transcendent reality of the kingdom.  Fourth, ancient spiritual practices should be recommended as a medium for a personal, existential encounter with God.  Fifth, the personal narrative of the apologist (or testimony of one’s personal encounter with God) should be a thread that runs through the entire apologetic effort.  Finally, one should engage the postmodern with biblical rather than systematic theology.

Conclusion

To be sure, many of the ideas to grow out of postmodern philosophy will in fact prove to be antithetical to the Christian worldview, however, some may bear out to advance certain aspects of theological study.  After all, one does not simply discard the entirety of the Reformation simply because some reformers went too far in their radicalism.  We do not, for instance, discard the watershed doctrines of sola scriptura and sola fide simply because Luther was anti-Semitic.  We intuitively understand that he went too far, that he slipped into extremism, thus we retain what is good and valuable and discard the rest.

The purpose here has not been to devalue the modern approach of evidential apologetics, but to suggest an alternative which may better serve the apologist who wishes to engage those holding a postmodern worldview.  The present author’s perspective has been shaped by both modern and postmodern philosophy and in some respects, he holds certain opinions that may be identified as distinctively premodern, at least so far as the embrace of Scripture as holistically authoritative (sola scriptura!), not only in matters of faith and practice, but in the domains of cosmology, philosophy, epistemology, etc.  Ultimately, everything essentially reduces to theology.

Postmodernism should be engaged as a welcome course correction for the modern worldview, and for that matter, the church as a whole.  However, as is the case with all steering corrections, the goal should be to adjust early and often, avoiding extremes by constantly keeping a watchful eye on the true compass: the Word of God.  Only when this compass sets our bearings are we able to navigate the deep and often turbulent waters of life and safely reach our destination.

Works Cited

Bailey, James L. and Lyle D. Vander Broek. Literary Forms in the New Testament: A Handbook. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1992.

Coon, Dennis. Psychology: A Modular Approach to Mind and Behavior, 10th ed. Belmont: Wadsworth, 2006.

Crouch, Andy. “The Emergent Mystique.” Christianity Today Magazine 1 Nov. 2004 Oct. 2008 <http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/article_print.html?id=11430>.

Geisler, Norman L. Journal of the International Society of Christian Apologetics 1.1 (2008): 1-24.

Geisler, Norman L. and Chad V. Meister, eds. Reasons for Faith: Making a Case for the Christian Faith. Wheaton: Crossway, 2007.

Hauerwas, Stanley and L. Gregory Jones. Why Narrative?: Readings in Narrative Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989.

MacArthur, John. The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception. Nashville: Nelson, 2007.

McKnight, Edgar V. Postmodern Use of the Bible: The Emergence of Reader-oriented Criticism. Nashville: Abingdon, 1988.

Shelley, Bruce L. Church History in Plain Language. Grand Rapids: Family Christian Press, 1982.

Smith, James K. A. Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006.

Thayer, Joseph H. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 4th ed. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1896.

Tomlinson, Dave. The Post-Evangelical (Revised North American Edition). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003.

White, Heath. Postmodernism 101: A First Course for the Curious Christian. Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2006.

Wilsey, John D. Postmodern Epistemology: A Critique of Stanley J Grenz and John R. Franke. International Society of Christian Apologetics. 5 Nov. 2008. <http://isca-apologetics.org/wilsey-critique.pdf>

Wright, N. T. Evil and the Justice of God. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2006.

Wright, N. T. Surprised by Hope: Rethinking the Resurrection and the Mission of the Church. New York: Harper Collins, 2008.


[1] This is not to suggest that the claim is not true, but to demonstrate the futility of the correspondence theory in this particular case.  Some other epistemological model would need to be employed, presumably an a priori experiential model.

[2] This is not to suggest that a rational defense is inappropriate but to point out that the kerygma is just that: a proclamation.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Holy Bible.

[3] “Existential” is used here to refer to the experiential essence of revelation, not in the philosophical sense of Sartre, et al.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.