Postmodern Christianity: A Primer

My experience investigating the General Assembly’s approval of same gender marriage has confirmed the presence of postmodern Christianity as a power to be reckoned with in the PCUSA.  This issue will be the focus of the next two month’s posts.  The discussion will be organized into three sequential phases:

  1. Review and comment on the means utilized to advance the same gender marriage position at the 2014 PCUSA General Assembly
  2. An analysis of the apparent ends sought by postmodern Christians based on analysis of their utilized means
  3. Discussion of the theological crisis that has been a key enabler of postmodern Christianity’s development and success

Finally, note that the issue of same gender marriage is by no means settled in the PCUSA. Presbyteries are currently in the process of debate and voting on inclusion of this modification of marriage’s definition in our Book of Order (The authoritative interpretation of W-4.9000).


The following background information on postmodernism and postmodern Christianity is from HONORING CHRIST IN OUR RELATIONSHIPS.  Thus, the references can be found on this page.  My conclusion from “Honoring Christ” was that the influence of postmodern Christianity best explained the means utilized and ends sought in this Overture.

Postmodernism

The Encyclopedia Britannica’s [3] top-level definition is as follows.

“Postmodernism, also spelled post-modernism, in Western philosophy, a late 20th-century movement characterized by broad skepticism, subjectivism, or relativism; a general suspicion of reason; and an acute sensitivity to the role of ideology in asserting and maintaining political and economic power.”

Specific sentences in the accompanying short article have a strong correlation to issues at the center of this inquiry, including:

  • “the rejection of an objective natural reality—is sometimes expressed by saying that there is no such thing as Truth.”
  • “For postmodernists, reason and logic too are merely conceptual constructs and are therefore valid only within the established intellectual traditions in which they are used.”
  • “postmodernists claim that language is semantically self-contained, or self-referential: the meaning of a word is not a static thing in the world or even an idea in the mind but rather a range of contrasts and differences with the meanings of other words.”
  • “Postmodernists deny that there are aspects of reality that are objective; that there are statements about reality that are objectively true or false; that it is possible to have knowledge of such statements (objective knowledge); that it is possible for human beings to know some things with certainty; and that there are objective, or absolute, moral values.”
  • “Thus postmodernists regard their theoretical position as uniquely inclusive and democratic, because it allows them to recognize the unjust hegemony of Enlightenment discourses over the equally valid perspectives of nonelite groups.”

Additional highly correlated statements can be found in the much longer article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy [4]:

  • “In this regard, the modern paradigm of progress as new moves under established rules gives way to the postmodern paradigm of inventing new rules and changing the game.”
  • “Justice, then, would not be a definable rule, but an ability to move and judge among rules in their heterogeneity and multiplicity. In this respect, it would be more akin to the production of art than a moral judgment in Kant’s sense.”
  • “The Nietzschean sense of overcoming modernity is “to dissolve modernity through a radicalization of its own innate tendencies,” says Vattimo (Vattimo 1988, 166). These include the production of “the new” as a value and the drive for critical overcoming in the sense of appropriating foundations and origins.”

The above postmodern concepts are generalized by the Encyclopedia Britannica as “the straightforward denial of the general philosophical viewpoints that were taken for granted during the 18th-century Enlightenment.”

Postmodernism and Christianity

What happens when Christianity and postmodernism are merged? On its face this appears to be an absurd combination, requiring a faith based on the absolute Word of God be combined with a philosophy that denies the possibility of truth and the objective meaning of language. However, this merging has indeed occurred, with radical consequences. The best summation of these consequences found to date is in a Masters of Theology thesis [5].

  • “The rejection of metanarratives, which appear to suggest that orthodox Christian philosophy and epistemology appears to be under threat (Adams 1998: 522). The traditional coherent presentation of the orthodox system of belief, developed through the centuries, based on deductive reasoning and the interaction of the Bible, have to give way to relativistic theology (Guarino 1993: 37-40). Relativistic theology appears to be the theology of liberation and numerous socio-political systems. The core Christian message is no longer normative; instead, truth is subjective and relevant only to the culture and society of the day (Grenz 2001: 40).”
  • “Foundationalism seems to be replaced by nihilism (Nietzsche 1968:1). Christian foundation such as scripture, creeds and confessions, and ecclesiastical traditions appear to be no longer meaningful. Biblical text cannot be understood with certainty since the “postmodern condition” concerning the theory and practice of interpretation is “incredulity towards meaning” (Lyotard1984: xxiii). In this respect, Lyotard claimed that the model of knowledge, as a progressive development of consensus, is also outmoded.”
  • “Absolutism seems to be replaced by relativism. Christian morality and theology are relative to the people who embrace them (Carson 2005: 31-32). Hence the rise of moral and theological plurality, assuming that no one perspective has the dominant position in church, and no single unique outlook on reality accounts for the world we live in.”
  • “The concept of truth, including biblical truth, seems to have no correspondence to objective reality (Moreland 2004: np). Hence, the search for truth appears to be a vain exercise and the reader should be content with individual/personal interpretation. Systematic theology should be replaced by “edifying” theology, which aims at a continuing conversation between the reader and scriptures, rather than discovering truth.”

Additional information on this topic can be found at this site.

This finishes the necessary prerequisite information for our exploration of same gender marriage in the PCUSA.

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