- Paperback: 240 pages
- Publisher: Brazos Press (1 July 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1587431084
- ISBN-13: 978-1587431081
- Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.5 x 22.9 cm
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,104,662 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Christianity and the Postmodern Turn: Six Views Paperback – 1 Jul 2005
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About the Author
Myron Penner is professor of philosophy and theology at Prairie College and Graduate School in Alberta, Canada. He earned his Ph.D. from University of Edinburgh. Penner has also been a research fellow of the Hong Kierkegaard Library and director of the graduate program in philosophy of religion and religious studies at Liberty University. He lives in Three Hills, Alberta.
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This last approach, the one I find most appealing, comes from Kevin Vanhoozer, and his essay alone is worth the price of the book. While many (perhaps most) evangelicals are not taking postmodernism seriously enough and some are taking it way too seriously, Vanhoozer is at just the right level of not taking it seriously. Here's a sample:
"Why do I prefer a disputational rather than a conversational model of dialogue? Dispute better captures the seriousness of the encounter; something important is at stake in this discussion. Dispute also suggests that I am contending for my position, not simply sharing it. Better: I am contending for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints (Jude 3). Finally, "disputation" has the merit of being a venerable genre of theology, dating from the medieval period. Part of my purpose in the present essay, however, is to revise the notion of disputation so that the focus is on a whole person witness to concrete Christian wisdom rather than a wholly intellectual demonstration of an abstract truth. On this latter point--the necessity of going beyond analysis--I do not dispute with postmodernity but say "amen." To dispute with postmodernity is also to engage it. Christian thinkers cannot go around postmodernity; we have to go through it."
You seminary students should go to the library and make yourself a copy of this article entitled, "Pilgrim's Digress: Christian Thinking on and about the Post/Modern Way." There's a lot of wisdom here for Christians who want to outgrow the individualistic, rationalistic, anti-ecclesial faith of 20th century evangelicalism without becoming stupid.
R. Douglas Geivett's essay helpfully identifies foundationalism but then goes on to prove postmodern critiques of its tendency to universal domination all too correct. Likewise, R. Scott Smith's defense of realism ignores the possibility of aesthetic or ethical appeals to truth (as several of the comments in Part II observe). Kevin Vanhoozer does his usual job of lovely postmodernish writing to defend essentially evangelical claims, using C.S. Lewis' Pilgrim's Regress as a starting point for his observations. Of the other essays, James K. A. Smith's careful explication of what Lyotard meant by a metanarrative - and why Christianity is not one - is perhaps the strongest essay in the book. Recommended for evangelical thinkers and theologians as a resource for how the conversation goes - but nobody is likely to be induced to switch to "the other side."
Despite being short, I was amazed how much some authors could cover in the pages.
After reading a dozen books on postmodernity and Christianity, however, I am continually finding out that far more attention should go towards modernism than post-modernism, since that really explains the post-modern "turn." Because most Christians are clueless about the meaning, influence, and trajectories of Modernity, post-modernity is naturally a mystery. It need not be and shouldn't be.
Consider reading first, David Hart's "Atheist Delusions," Kuhn's classic "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions," Van Til's "Christian Apologetics," and Rothbard's "America's Great Depression" for a multi-pronged look at some problems with Modernity - aspirations and epistemology.
The contributors all write as Christians, but represent quite a range of attitudes towards Postmodernism in regard to how Christians should relate to this broad movement. Four of the contributors are philosophers and two are theologians. The editor is a professor of both Philosophy and Theology. All seven are professors in Canadian or US universities or seminaries.
Characteristics of Postmodernism
This collection represents an excellent set of perspectives and serious critical reflections on the characteristics of the current cultural and philosophical movement called Postmodernism. In the process of their critical presentations and criticisms of each other, they present a good review of the serious philosophical roots and trends on modern European and American philosophy and popular culture.
This is a challenging presentation of ideas and themes that few in the churches will be consciously aware of, but that many are dealing with in various ways.
These articles tend toward the philosophical, rather than the practical. Some of the writers offer some really practical insights and suggestions for actually adapting or communication in the new setting we find ourselves in at this era of history. They are not esoteric; they are thoughtful, reflective, and in general, constructive. Some are more accepting, accommodating or sympathetic to the mind-set that is called "postmodern."
In general they point out that the Postmodern concepts are closer to the tone and approach of the biblical writings and eastern culture these came out of. I find that also. I find the postmodern post-literate, relational, group-oriented, modern western culture is more like the traditional tribal, family-oriented focus on relationships, group identity and caring. African cultures are event-oriented, not task oriented, they are concrete and practical in thought, dealing more with immediate life matters. Not so abstract, not like the west, which values ideas over people, principle over unity.
I was surprised that some of the writers, seemingly the more philosophically oriented, tried to tell us why Postmodernism is wrong, or inadequate. This is OK for a discussion at the level of philosophy, defining possibilities and dealing with metaphysics. But it is never going to help church leaders or Christians in everyday life learn how to communicate with their neighbours who are outside some Christian tradition. We cannot determine the thought of the age. That is what it is, and there are complex factors sub-consciously guiding or interacting and stirring, interacting in an unguided manner through the stream of history.
If the church, -- or any other "Modernist" thought-structure -- wants to communicate, they will have to learn how to communicate to people -- and the culture(s) at large -- where those people and cultures are. It is ludicrous to follow the old-timey traditional "missionary" methods of teaching people to think like they do, so that what they want to tell them will then make sense and they can then convert them! Haa! It never did actually work. The primary result of all that kind of thinking -- making the "converts" into little Europeans -- has resulted in much of the syncretism that those same missionaries or their successive agencies now decry.
Indigenize the Message
If the message is not indigenized from the beginning, the task is doomed already. Do they want to communicate, or re-mold the underlying worldview of the culture they want to address? Why can't the church talk like regular people? The Communicator will analyze, learn, become competent in the forms of thought and communication available in the modern media-visual-action culture. The Communicator will creatively recast the meaning of the message into those terms.
In short the Communicator will try to make sense in the context of the hearers. Otherwise communication definitely will not occur. the message will be lost, rejected or twisted by misunderstanding in the miscommunication that focuses on the form rather than the meaning.
These essays are pretty technical. They address academics, reflective pastors, and educated teachers or laity. But they provide a good reflection of the uncertainty, perhaps confusion, tentative progress or other attempts to recognize, define and deal with the world that some are just now waking up to, realizing it has changed in the last half-century while the church was having fun and busy with its institutional activities and denominational infighting.
Wake up and get with the program, people! These essays can help you get a clue!
After reading these essays, no one can claim that "postmodernism" is suimply a passing cultural fad. The forces that have led to the characteristics now identified as Postmodernism do indeed appear to represent a new era in cultural worldview for the western world. These characteristics did not just suddenly show up in popular culture and the term did not just suddenly start appearing in popular publications.
More and more commentators since the 1950s, both popular and academic, identified to various degrees and in various ways the developing shift from the Modernist characteristics of the Enlightenment and the resulting assumptions of an ultimate knowledge based on objective external facts that assumed the human reason could somehow step outside its own bounds to see beyond and analyze without becoming part of the analysis.
This prideful arrogance was shown in some ways to be at least inadequate, if not totally fallacious. In the world of science, quantum physics was a great reality check on the objectiveness of our knowledge. Heisenberg's Principle of Uncertainty concerning Observation warns us that at certain minute levels of reality, the observer and her limitations actually introduce verifiable differences in what is being observed.
Dr. Heisenberg showed that the information would be partial, because specifying position would result in the uncertainty of our measurement of speed of a particle, and vice versa. The measurement, our observation, become a new factor in what we are observing. Human awareness was at least misleading, and the great burst in objective factual knowledge produced ironically by this scientistic worldview, in itself highlighted the limitations of perspective that constitute the human condition.
There is too much to know, for anyone to be sure they know it all. But the question is when do you know enough to make absolute definitive statements and come to inalterable conclusions on any topic, idea, concept, or principle?
This certainly leads to the need for humility in our ongoing attempts to understand ourselves, our universe and the Ultimate reality called God or other names. Likewise it would seem to advise caution in judgement of others and their motives. Perhaps this is involved in what Jesus meant about not judging others?
"Postmodernism" sums up the growing dissatisfaction with such absolutist views that have characterized the Modernist worldview, whether liberal or conservative.
The term Postmodernism is used to identify consistent lines of development and change through the 20th century in every sphere of human endeavour and artistic expression as well as academic thought and philosophy. This set of essays will provide insight on to the shift of perspective that has gradual but surely occurred in the past two to three generations of western society.