According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals
and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Book Review: "Whose Afraid of Postmodernism?" by James Smith

Baker Academics: The Church and Postmodern Culture
About the series: The Church and Postmodern Culture series features high-profile theorists in continental philosophy and contemporary theology writing for a broad, nonspecialist audience interested in the impact of postmodern theory on the faith and practice of the church.

http://www.bakeracademic.com/ME2/Audiences/dirmod.asp?sid=0477683E4046471488BD7BAC8DCFB004&nm=&type=PubCom&mod=PubComProductCatalog&mid=BF1316AF9E334B7BA1C33CB61CF48A4E&tier=3&id=75F7292BC832431CBAA221BD8EF247D8

Who's Afraid of Postmodernism?: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church

James K. A. Smith
March 2006 pub.

"[A] provocative little book. . . . A clear and accessible introduction to postmodern thought that no doubt de-mythologizes many of the common criticisms leveled against [it], causing us to engage the issues from a new perspective."--Cynthia R. Nielsen, American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly

The philosophies of French thinkers Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault form the basis for postmodern thought and are seemingly at odds with the Christian faith. However, James K. A. Smith contends that their ideas have been misinterpreted. In an introduction and four fulsome chapters, Smith unpacks the primary philosophical impulses behind postmodernism, demythologizes its myths, and demonstrates its affinity with core Christian claims. Each of his accessible chapters includes an opening discussion of a recent representative film and a closing "tour" of a postmodern church in case study form--with particular application to the growing "emerging church" conversation.

The award-winning Who's Afraid of Postmodernism? is the first book in the Church and Postmodern Culture series. The Church and Postmodern Culture series features high-profile theorists in continental philosophy and contemporary theology writing for a broad, nonspecialist audience interested in the impact of postmodern theory on the faith and practice of the church. Contracted authors include John D. Caputo, Bruce Ellis Benson, Graham Ward, Carl Raschke, and Merold Westphal.

Endorsements

Who's Afraid of Postmodernism? will help many of us. By pointing out dangers and highlighting possibilities, it will help those who are already grappling constructively with postmodernity. And perhaps it will prompt some who seem to be afraid of postmodernism to relax a little more, critique others a little less, and 'redeem the time' a little more fruitfully."--Brian McLaren, author, lecturer, activist (anewkindofchristian.com)

"Who's Afraid of Postmodernism? will be a boon for those working in and for the churches, especially in the world of evangelicalism. It will wean them from unexamined commitments to modernity and introduce them to a world of new ideas that are perhaps more useful to Christianity than they would have ever thought possible."--Kevin Hart, University of Notre Dame

"This delightful book is a twofer. Smith first shows, through a careful reading of the texts, that central themes of three major postmodern philosophers are a threat not to biblical Christianity but only to an all too modern, all too complacent church. He then argues strongly for a church that learns from postmodernism how to revitalize its premodern heritage. The movie analyses that open each chapter render the argument at once more concrete and more powerful."--Merold Westphal, distinguished professor of philosophy, Fordham University

"I find Who's Afraid of Postmodernism? to be stunningly clear. Smith's writing is not an argument whose logic you must follow but a narrative that opens windows. I continually found myself saying 'Well, of course, why didn't I see that before? It's so obvious.' Smith helps us understand why postmodernism sets the stage for the restoration of the ancient faith."--Robert Webber, Myers Professor of Ministry, Northern Seminary; author of Ancient-Future Faith

"Who's Afraid of Postmodernism? by James K. A. Smith is a powerful and persuasive rejoinder to those in the evangelical academy who persist in pushing the now discredited canard that postmodernism is incompatible with both historical Christianity and the history of orthodoxy. Smith weaves an incredibly insightful exposition of three key postmodern philosophers--Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault--with illustrations from both popular media and culture. He concludes with a proposal for recovering liturgy and 'redeeming dogma' while rethinking the mission of 'confessing' Christianity in a global setting. Postmodernism, according to Smith, is something you not only don't need to be afraid of any longer but you can even take it to church!"--Carl Raschke, professor of religious studies and chair of the department, University of Denver; author of The Next Reformation

Praise for the series: "The proposed series is not just a good idea; it is actually essential. If mission, liturgy, and pastoral care are to be effective today, then churches need a better understanding of so-called postmodern culture as something to be reckoned with and sometimes resisted. Increasingly, there is an educated interest in religion, but there is also a need to be well-informed about postmodern thought and its very complex relation both to postmodern culture (to which it is often actually hostile) and to religion. Again the need is for a critical appreciation--not dismissal and not empty adulation. This new series aims to provide this in an accessible manner. I am convinced that the main ideas of postmodernism are actually not as 'difficult' as people suppose and that a clear and simple presentation of them actually assists wider cultural discussion. An additional purpose of the series is to introduce to a wider audience theologies that are already trying critically to assimilate the postmodern turn. Since some of these, for example Radical Orthodoxy, are intensely focused on the importance of 'church,' it is crucial that this occur. Although it is already happening, it needs to crystallize. This new series may be just the thing to bring it about."--John Milbank, University of Nottingham

Reviews

[This book] aims to make accessible the philosophical and religious contributions of three postmodern thinkers: Jacques Derrida, Jean-Francois Lyotard, and Michel Foucault. Smith . . . does this cleverly by employing illustrations and examples from such films as The Matrix; Memento; One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest; O Brother, Where Art Thou?; and, surprisingly but successfully, The Little Mermaid. Along the way, Smith also dissects the popular teachings of postmodern writers like Brian McLaren . . . Leonard Sweet and Robert Webber. . . . It's one of the most accessible introductions to postmodern thought to date, and its concluding chapter--in which Smith brilliantly employs the movie Whale Rider to explore how Christianity might be simultaneously faithful to tradition and open to change--is alone worth the price of admission. Ironically but persuasively, Smith argues that postmodern Christianity's most powerful contribution could be a return to ancient, premodern church traditions and liturgy."--Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"If you're already developing a familiarity with the broad trends in the history of thought that have led to postmodernism and are now looking for someone to guide you through some of the major 20th-century figures in postmodernism, then Smith's book should be your next read. . . . Smith is good at answering questions in a way that provokes people to think. If you've ever tried to read Derrida or Foucault, you know that they can be simply mystifying to the uninitiated. Consider Smith's book your initiation. Each chapter begins with the discussion of a popular movie that will show you what you've already begun to experience and to grasp the Derridean and Foucaultian concepts Smith then smoothly and cogently introduces."--David L. O'Hara, Prism

"Smith takes a sharp, insightful look at some of the tenets of postmodern philosophy and various Christian responses to it. In particular, I appreciate that he articulates some of the flaws in certain factions of the emergent church movement, as they adhere to postmodern thought in an attempt to be 'culturally relevant.' What's impressive is that he does all that in a very accessible, reader-friendly way."--Kris Rasmussen, Beliefnet.com

"Giving a readable summary of Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault is no small task. For this Smith should be commended."--Michael J. Vlach, Master's Seminary Journal

"[A] provocative little book. . . . Though himself a philosopher, Smith has written this book not primarily for philosophers, but rather for students, spiritual seekers, and laypersons desiring to familiarize themselves with the issues of postmodernity in order to better engage the culture in which they live. For those interested in more philosophical and scholarly discussions of the issues, Smith includes numerous resources in his footnotes and an annotated bibliography for additional reading. . . . [A] valuable aspect of the book . . . is the way in which [Smith] closes each chapter by considering how postmodern thought might shape the practice of the church in terms of cultural engagement. . . . Smith has presented a clear and accessible introduction to postmodern thought that no doubt de-mythologizes many of the common criticisms leveled against postmodern thought, causing us to engage the issues from a new perspective."--Cynthia R. Nielsen, American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly

"Leavened by references to contemporary movies and by church case studies, this accessible introduction to postmodernism points out the problems of modernity for the church's life and health and invites Christians into the space that postmodernism opens for nurturing strong confessional identities."--Amy Plantinga Pauw, Christian Century

"Making postmodernism less intimidating and recognizing its potential as an ally to Christian faith is the aim of Smith's latest book. [It is] well written and brief. . . . The book makes helpful connections with pop culture; each chapter begins with a synopsis of a contemporary film that articulates certain postmodern features launching the discussions that follow."--Chris Emerick, Religious Studies Review

"Are we to resist [postmodernism] as a demonic attack on the foundations of the faith, or are we to bow and adore as the messianic secret itself has found new form? Well, probably neither, as Smith shows with good practical examples and relevant applications. This is a well written, sensible short book defining 'postmodernism' as a school of interpretation of life and showing how it can be helpful and not hostile, how it can even chime in with what lots of Christians think about life."--Regent's Reviews

"[Smith] reveal[s] a passion for the Church and the historic Christian faith. . . . In his approach, Smith is an Evangelist, bridging the gap between those outside the Church and those who hold to the historic faith. . . . His chapters can be read as stand-alone assignments on each individual. [He] provide[s] ample footnotes for citation and offer[s] helpful explanatory text. As a result, readers who are not as familiar with the subject matter can gain additional background, and those interested in further research will find valuable leads. An added benefit of Smith's text is the review of an appropriate movie at the beginning of each chapter. . . . Smith provides readers with a greater understanding of the potential for ministry, if the foundational themes of postmodernism are correctly interpreted. . . . As it relates to use within the classroom, particularly by professors of youth ministry, Smith's book seems to have an edge. His use of film . . . provides a contemporary link to the content, and a pedagogical example our students need to see."--Doug Barcalow, Journal of Youth Ministry

"Very readable, and has an impressive grasp of details and interconnections. . . . It represents some of the best writing that postmodernists have produced. . . . [It] is a useful introduction to postmodernist thinking and how it relates to theological issues."--John C. Poirier, Westminster Theological Journal

"In this short, engaging book, [Smith] takes on the three major thinkers of postmodernity, the Frenchmen Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault, and argues, surprisingly, that their claims about truth can have deep affinities with central Christian convictions. . . . The book is valuable in introducing contemporary French philosophy, which often baffles the neophyte with its complex, in-house language."--Mark C. Mattes, Logia

"Smith desires to engage a considerably broad audience. . . . Such a text obviously would require a writer who is conversant with the philosophical complexities of postmodernity and able to explicate them in an accessible and lucid fashion. Smith, fortunately, has proven to be such a competent source. . . . The book flows with a winsome charm as Smith keeps technical jargon to a minimum and cleverly opens each chapter with brief sketches of popular movies . . . in order to illustrate the overall points that he believes Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault were trying to assert. This strategy is so well done that most readers will be captivated by Smith's analysis and judicious flare even if they disagree with his conclusions. Also, this work is helpful because it contains a concise annotated bibliography of sources for further reading and even a short list of online resources. . . . This book is an engaging read for scholars, pastors, students, and laity alike."--Everett Berry, Southern Baptist Journal of Theology

"Supporters and critics of postmodern theology should pay attention to this little book by James K. A. Smith. . . . Smith embodies the attitude, and likely the influence, of Francis Schaeffer. Willing to tackle nuanced philosophic issues head on while remaining intelligible to the nonspecialist, Smith will introduce postmodernism to many Christians. . . . Who's Afraid of Postmodernism? is a primer. . . . It is one of the better popular introductions to the significance of postmodernism for the church."--R. J. Snell, Calvin Theological Journal

"Smith does a remarkable job in his book to offer a basic understanding of postmodernism. . . . Smith's analysis of these philosophers [Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault] and their respective ideas from a Christian perspective is eye-opening, particularly for anyone who has difficulty nailing-down the concepts of postmodernism."--Aaron Vriesman, Reformed Review

"The core chapters on Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault are the most helpful, for Smith interprets their arguments according to the principle of charity. In accessible prose, he presents the best, most persuasive aspects of their critiques without turning the three into anonymous theologians or infallible sources of truth. . . . The core chapters of Smith's book are useful to introduce philosophers associated with postmodernism to high school and college students, seminarians, religious educators, campus ministers, and preachers."--Robert A. Cathey, Interpretation

"This is a stimulating read. The presentation is lively and engaging, often built around films--from Memento to The Little Mermaid. I recommend it for anyone trying to rethink mission today--especially if you fear postmodernity!"--Tim Chester, Themelios

"Smith writes in a very readable style. . . . The strength of Smith's work is his ambitious interpretation of postmodern philosophy and how it can be used to correct modernistic tendencies at work in both the modern and emergent church ethos without throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. . . . I highly recommend this volume to seminary students, teachers, those with interest in postmodernism, the church, and postmodernity. . . . At its core it deals with academic elements and therefore is better suited to those with academic backgrounds. However, to relegate this volume to the ivory tower libraries of the strictly academic would be a great disservice to the church and the struggling minister who could glean much from these pages that would help them along this transitional ecclesiological sojourn from what has been to what will be."--David Paddick, Stone-Campbell Journal

Smith's book is balanced, patient, and gracious. What's more, it is one of the few books to speak eloquently and incisively of the giants of continental philosophy. Still, its greatest virtue is its relatively modest aim. . . . Smith simply puts three postmodern slogans under the microscope, describes them to us in a bit of detail, and suggests how they might serve the Church. . . . Helpfully and (rare in many attempts) sensitively, Smith introduces each of the five chapters with a movie. . . . He looks in turn at Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault, taking up a threatening slogan from each and showing how the claims being made in context can actually be appropriated by churches for their own good and that of the world."--Matt Jenson, Cultural Encounters

Pastors and Christian leaders need good tools to teach the things we need to know to be able to speak intelligibly to our postmodern listeners and give us a comprehensive view of the often unfamiliar context in which we live and work. Here is a book, which provides this knowledge as well as informs our practice. . . . Smith persuasively suggests that postmodernism presents the church with an opportunity to confidently move forward with change. . . . Who's Afraid of Postmodernism? asks a bold and intriguing question. Smith's book is a welcome challenge to the church, encouraging, and perhaps, imploring us to engage the postmodern world in which we find ourselves, and which we cannot escape. His use of popular movies to begin each chapter provides a touchstone for the lay reader to begin to grasp some of the more sophisticated and nuanced points found in postmodern philosophy. They also show how immediately visible the ideas which drive postmodernism are in the world around us. For the scholar, Smith's work provides an accurate context for Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault, allowing for further understanding of how their influence is so pervasive across academic disciplines. This reader gladly recommends Smith's work to both the interested layperson and scholar alike."--Chad Lakies, Missio Apostolica

"Smith is a philosopher who works hard at staying accessible, effectively mining such films as Memento, The Little Mermaid and Whale Rider to expound ideas. . . . Smith has done a tremendous job of getting the ideas of postmodernism on the table for a wide audience to interact with. Even if one might disagree with some of Smith's applications, his expositions of Derrida, Lyotard and Foucault are very helpful for understanding the relationship between postmodern thought and Christianity."--Rob Haskell, Evangelical Review of Theology

"Thankfully, Christian thinkers, writers, and philosophers are deciphering postmodernism in ways that reject its errors and embrace its insights. [A] helpful [book is] Who's Afraid of Postmodernism? . . . [It] approach[es] postmodernism with intellectual and theological honesty, sorting through its claims and thinking about its interaction with Christianity. . . . Reading books such as Smith's . . . alongside the work of postmodern theorists helps us to gain skill in evaluating the claims of postmodernism while not throwing the baby out with the bathwater, especially when postmodernists criticize the church."--Alissa Wilkinson, Comment

"The true strength of the [Church and Postmodern Culture] series [is that it] has something to say and it demands response. It preaches and it stirs me to preach. . . . [It] both draws Christians into the postmodern conversation and provides space for readers to think about their own vocations. . . . [Smith's] work can embolden preachers in their proclamation and encourage pastors in their discipleship, thereby facilitating the call of more preachers, pastors, and professional thinkers."--Aaron Perry, Asbury Journal

Book Review: Graham Ward's Becoming Postmaterial Citizens

Here is a book for those who lean to the left in American politics; for myself and those who lean right you'll struggle throughout Ward's unfair politicalization of the American right. And this I think is the conundrum in American religion, to separate ourselves from as much of politics as we can as part of a "kingdom not of this world" found in Jesus. And yet, we live in the tension of the here-and-now, and must necessarily speak of money and commerce, government and power, social institutions and communities, education and welfare, health care and jobs. The Russian emigrant and popular American writer from the 1940-50s argued for limited government and the altruistic responsibility of society in its parts (and not within its state functions). Ayn had left ruthless, dictorial, communistic/socialistic regimes for America's free democratic lands of individual rights and liberties. But I digress....

And so, I get a sense in postmodernistic Christianity that the church seeks a globalization of its message to the pluralistic masses, a de-nationalisation of its American message, and the de-westernization of its cultural message. All well and good, and this we must do, but does one smell the encroachment of a one world governement ripe for an antichrist to someday arise and take over? Whether as a figurehead or as a group of empowered tyrants? Thus, might I suggest that we work for the globalization/pluralization of the church's message while at the same time seek to maintain the nationalization of its seperate governments and resist the urge to re-build a modern day Babel. It didn't work the first time and the book of Revelation says it won't work the second time. We live in a sinful world requiring checks and balances as everything runs downhill when "man" is in power. Let's all agree to be citizens of the universal, postmodern church while working to maintain the best (and not the worst) of nationalism.

skinhead



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Baker Academics: The Church and Postmodern Culture
About the series: The Church and Postmodern Culture series features high-profile theorists in continental philosophy and contemporary theology writing for a broad, nonspecialist audience interested in the impact of postmodern theory on the faith and practice of the church.

http://www.bakeracademic.com/ME2/Audiences/dirmod.asp?sid=0477683E4046471488BD7BAC8DCFB004&nm=&type=PubCom&mod=PubComProductCatalog&mid=BF1316AF9E334B7BA1C33CB61CF48A4E&tier=3&id=C5E01AF419374641BEA3063DB0415D7D

Politics of Discipleship, The: Becoming Postmaterial Citizens

by Graham Ward
September 2009 pub. date

"The quality of [Ward's] diagnoses, the energy of his writing, and the vigour of his engagement make this a rewarding manifesto for the agenda of political theology and ethics today."--Samuel Wells, Theology

In this fourth volume in the Church and Postmodern Culture series, internationally acclaimed theologian Graham Ward examines the political side of postmodernism in order to discern the contemporary context of the church and describe the characteristics of a faithful, political discipleship. His study falls neatly into two sections. The first, which is the more theoretical section, considers "the signs of the times." Ward names this section "The World," noting that the church must always frame its vision and mission within its worldly context. In the second section, "The Church," he turns to constructive application, providing an account of the Christian practices of hope that engage the world from within yet always act as messengers of God's kingdom.

Ward's study accomplishes two related goals. First, he provides an accessible guide to contemporary postmodernism and its wide-ranging implications. Second, he elaborates a discipleship that informs a faith seeking understanding, which Ward describes as "the substance of the church's political life."

Ward is well known for his thoughtful engagement with postmodernism and contemporary critical theology. Here he provides a broader audience with an engaging account of the inherently political nature of postmodernity and thoughts on what it means to live the Christian faith within that setting.

About the series: The Church and Postmodern Culture series features high-profile theorists in continental philosophy and contemporary theology writing for a broad, nonspecialist audience interested in the impact of postmodern theory on the faith and practice of the church.

Endorsements

"Extraordinary! Graham Ward's The Politics of Discipleship is an extraordinary book. Ward does nothing less than help us see how 'world' and 'church' implicate each other by providing an insightful and learned account of the transformation of democracy, the perversities of globalization, and the ambiguities of secularization. Perhaps even more significant is his theological proposal for the difference the church can make in the world so described. This is an extraordinary book."--Stanley Hauerwas, Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics, Duke University

"In this book, Graham Ward boldly offers a fresh description of the consumer economy and the processes of globalization, examining the illusions they generate, the states of amnesia they call us into, and the slavery they impose. In the process, he constructs a counter-narrative of a Christian discipleship in the service of postmaterial values that is founded on an eschatological humanism and ecclesiology. The result is a new political theology, powerfully presented, rooted in Scripture and tradition, and fully engaged in reading the postsecular signs of the times."--Peter Manley Scott, senior lecturer in Christian social thought and director of the Lincoln Theological Institute, University of Manchester

"For some time now, Graham Ward has blended orthodox theology, biblical study, and cultural theory with an independent originality. Now he has added politics to this mix. The result is simultaneously a greater edge to his own theology and an imbuing of contemporary political theology with more realistic depth and practical prescience than it usually exhibits. An extremely significant volume in the present time."--John Milbank, professor of religion, politics, and ethics, University of Nottingham

"With erudition, insight, and sheer imaginative power, Graham Ward examines the complexities and tasks of Christian discipleship in a globalized world. There is no surer guide than Ward to the enticements and dangers of postmodern, postmaterial life--where values themselves have become virtual, adopted for a day--or to the hope of finding the true meaning of our still-present materiality in the practices of church and in the ecclesiality of the body of Christ. Yet Ward's encyclopedic grasp of political theory; his detailed, often dazzling readings of Scripture; and his profound inhabitation of theology are deployed with a humor and lightness of touch that renders this book both challenging and immensely readable. It is political theology but also a page-turner: impressive, provocative, and impossible to put down."--Gerard Loughlin, professor of theology and religion, Durham University

Praise for the series: "The proposed series is not just a good idea; it is actually essential. If mission, liturgy, and pastoral care are to be effective today, then churches need a better understanding of so-called postmodern culture as something to be reckoned with and sometimes resisted. Increasingly, there is an educated interest in religion, but there is also a need to be well-informed about postmodern thought and its very complex relation both to postmodern culture (to which it is often actually hostile) and to religion. Again the need is for a critical appreciation--not dismissal and not empty adulation. This new series aims to provide this in an accessible manner. I am convinced that the main ideas of postmodernism are actually not as 'difficult' as people suppose and that a clear and simple presentation of them actually assists wider cultural discussion. An additional purpose of the series is to introduce to a wider audience theologies that are already trying critically to assimilate the postmodern turn. Since some of these, for example Radical Orthodoxy, are intensely focused on the importance of 'church,' it is crucial that this occur. Although it is already happening, it needs to crystallize. This new series may be just the thing to bring it about."--John Milbank, University of Nottingham

Reviews

"[Ward] attempts to reconcile the challenges of a postmodern world with the call to discipleship. First, this rich but densely argued book addresses the postmodern nature and definition of democracy, global culture, and religious practice. The second portion asks how contemporary thinking Christians are to deal with the postmodern world in which they live. Ward's answer seems to be, somewhat shockingly, a renewed embrace of theocracy. . . . Ward's provocative notions call for a wide readership. . . . His best audience will be seasoned scholars."--Library Journal

"This is a superior book in the lively field of political theology. . . . Ward goes behind the news to give readers a philosophical and sociological analysis of our current situation. He acknowledges its complexity, and wisely does not reduce his diagnosis to clichés about the evils of the market/state. . . . He follows this with his theological response to our predicament."--Richard A. Davis, Theological Book Review

"Ward offers a stirring call to engaged discipleship. . . . The quality of his diagnoses, the energy of his writing, and the vigour of his engagement make this a rewarding manifesto for the agenda of political theology and ethics today."--Samuel Wells, Theology

"[Ward's] oeuvre is characterized by a provocative engagement with contemporary urban culture from the perspective of a radical theologian steeped in continental philosophy. . . . Insightful cultural references to the Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings books and movies as well as other cultural phenomena abound. . . . Reflecting expertly on a range of texts from the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, he creatively re-imagines political authority from an explicitly theological perspective. . . . It is difficult to see how students or scholars of political theology at any level, or graduate theology students generally, could fail to find The Politics of Discipleship anything other than bracing and rewarding--even if they disagree with some of the author's fundamental premises. Seminarians, priests, and pastors interested in the intersection between culture and theology will also find Ward engaging and insightful on some of the baleful contradictions of contemporary social and economic life. As a contribution to Christian political theology, The Politics of Discipleship is a work of estimable quality."--Greg Walker, Journal of Markets & Morality

"I am quite certain the ideas and information contained in this book will make their way down through seminary classes and undergraduate courses and eventually the church laity. This would be an excellent book for upper level graduate courses and doctoral work. . . . On an academic level, [Ward's] ideas do speak, if only generally, to the future of ministry to adolescents and their families as the church continues to adapt to the changing cultural milieu. This book would be an excellent in depth reading companion with other books that deal with cultural engagement and hermeneutics."--Steven Bonner, Journal of Youth Ministry


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More politics than discipleship, July 27, 2010

By Joseph M. Hennessey - I had higher hopes for this book than it delivered. The title made me think of "Gaudium et Spes," the document of the Catholic Ecumenical Vatican II Council, regarding the Church in the Modern World. But The Politics of Discipleship divided World from Church, not interweaving the two, as much as Gaudium et Spes did.

When I hear or read the word 'Politics,' even when it claims to be about the Aristotelian notion of politics, humans acting to govern their city (polis), or nation, I reach for my wallet, and I'm glad i did in the case of this book.

From the title, one would expect that the author would be equally congratulatory, or equally severe, on every human political party (in this case, American) orientation. But one would be wrong. By my count, there are at least 7 or 8 references to US President George W. Bush, and each one of those are derogatory. Now, it is fine for one to deplore the presidency of George W. Bush, but do not make him into paradigm of all evil. Also, the first half of the book, and many places in the second half, on the Church, are very hard on "laissez faire" capitalism, and not nearly as hard on the much more materialistic Marxism--the words 'Soviet Union' are not found in the book.

But no one I know is in favor of laissez faire, completely unregulated capitalism, so Ward is arguing against the proverbial straw man. Indeed, the word 'capitalism' is most reminiscent of Marx' Das Kapital, which hardly qualifies as a reputable source in our day.

Regarding both capitalism (which Pope John Paul II would rather call the 'market economy) and democracy, everyone would agree that they are the worst economic and political systems, except for all the others. Thus, Ward's book comes across as a brief for the Left.

On the other hand, I found in Chapter 7, the last chapter, much good Biblical exegesis.

Take this book 'cum grano salis.'


Book Review: Merold Westphal's Philosophical Hermeneutics for the Church

Baker Academics: The Church and Postmodern Culture
About the series: The Church and Postmodern Culture series features high-profile theorists in continental philosophy and contemporary theology writing for a broad, nonspecialist audience interested in the impact of postmodern theory on the faith and practice of the church.

September 2009 pub. date

"Masterfully appropriating the insights of postmodern hermeneuticists, Westphal brings greater honesty to the interpretive practice of Christianity. . . . This book . . . should be disseminated at the threshold of every church and seminary."--Christopher Benson, Christian Scholar's Review

In this volume, renowned philosopher Merold Westphal introduces current philosophical thinking related to interpreting the Bible. Recognizing that no theology is completely free of philosophical "contamination," he engages and mines contemporary hermeneutical theory in service of the church. After providing a historical overview of contemporary theories of interpretation, Westphal addresses postmodern hermeneutical theory, arguing that the relativity embraced there is not the same as the relativism in which "anything goes." Rather, Westphal encourages us to embrace the proliferation of interpretations based on different perspectives as a way to get at the richness of the biblical text.

Endorsements

"In this beautiful little book, Merold Westphal brings to bear on the interpretation of Scripture his life-long interest in hermeneutics. With his customary clarity of analysis and style, the author debunks the common equation of interpretation with relativism, showing theologians, pastors, and laypeople what the church can learn from philosophical hermeneutics about reading and performing God's word. Besides showing how 'Athens can be helpful to Jerusalem,' this book provides an excellent introduction to Gadamer's hermeneutics and to the most-central issues and thinkers surrounding interpretation theory, including the important aspects of community and politics. This book is a gift not only to the church but also to anyone looking for a clear and thoughtful introduction to contemporary interpretation theory."--Jens Zimmermann, professor of English and Canada Research Chair for Interpretation, Religion, and Culture, Trinity Western University

"Westphal deftly navigates between hermeneutical despair and hermeneutical arrogance to arrive at a hermeneutic that affirms the vital importance of interpretation and yet insists that Scripture itself truly speaks. The result is not only a judicious and correct theory of interpretation but also a striking demonstration of what such a humble and respectful hermeneutic looks like in practice."--Bruce Ellis Benson, professor and chair of the philosophy department, Wheaton College

"Merold Westphal is a clear, insightful, and astute interpreter of philosophers for Christian understanding and of Christianity for philosophical understanding. A faithful and learned churchman, Westphal here mines his deep philosophical learning but wears it lightly, enabling beginners to access important insights while inviting others to probe significant issues. This book deserves a wide readership."--L. Gregory Jones, dean of the divinity school and professor of theology, Duke University

Praise for the series: "The proposed series is not just a good idea; it is actually essential. If mission, liturgy, and pastoral care are to be effective today, then churches need a better understanding of so-called postmodern culture as something to be reckoned with and sometimes resisted. Increasingly, there is an educated interest in religion, but there is also a need to be well-informed about postmodern thought and its very complex relation both to postmodern culture (to which it is often actually hostile) and to religion. Again the need is for a critical appreciation--not dismissal and not empty adulation. This new series aims to provide this in an accessible manner. I am convinced that the main ideas of postmodernism are actually not as 'difficult' as people suppose and that a clear and simple presentation of them actually assists wider cultural discussion. An additional purpose of the series is to introduce to a wider audience theologies that are already trying critically to assimilate the postmodern turn. Since some of these, for example Radical Orthodoxy, are intensely focused on the importance of 'church,' it is crucial that this occur. Although it is already happening, it needs to crystallize. This new series may be just the thing to bring it about."--John Milbank, University of Nottingham

Reviews

"Aimed at academic, pastoral, and lay theologians, [this] book fights against the hermeneutics of violence in the church, proposing instead a hermeneutics of peace. . . . Masterfully appropriating the insights of postmodern hermeneuticists, Westphal brings greater honesty to the interpretive practice of Christians. . . . This book . . . should be disseminated at the threshold of every church and seminary because the reader is not likely to read in the same way again."--Christopher Benson, Christian Scholar's Review

"In clear, accessible prose, Westphal orients the reader to major voices in hermeneutical theory, most centrally that of Gadamer. He argues that the relativity and dependence intrinsic to our creaturehood must be acknowledged in all our efforts to interpret scripture, but that this 'relativist hermeneutics' does not imply an 'anything goes' relativism."--Christian Century

"Even though the authors who write in the [Church and Postmodern Culture] series are specialists in continental philosophy and contemporary theology, their aim is to communicate to nonspecialists, especially pastors and lay people. This work admirably accomplishes this goal by introducing its readers to the study of philosophical hermeneutics. Over the space of twelve chapters, Westphal nicely traverses basic hermeneutical issues . . . [and] various hermeneutical thinkers . . . while constructively arguing a middle viewpoint between the extremes of an 'anything goes' and a 'we have the interpretation' attitude. . . . The book provides some helpful insights for the church on how to read and perform scripture better."--Stephen J. Wellum, Religious Studies Review

"Westphal's superb little treatise is . . . intended for everyone in the Church and delivers on that intention by careful tailoring for a wider readership. That the book retains theoretical sophistication while avoiding specialized jargon and sweeping generalization that so frequently tarnish books for 'wide audiences' only further evinces the author's proven literary talent. The general flow and order of the book is sensible and easily understood. . . . . When the material takes a more technical turn, Westphal organizes central concepts and questions into lists that are then elaborated on and made to fit within the broader function and work of interpretation itself. Charts, diagrams, and lucid examples are employed regularly throughout the text, bringing concrete shape to otherwise wholly abstract and perhaps unsettling philosophical ideas. As a review of philosophical hermeneutics for the Church, there are perhaps no better introductions so easily accessible to ministers or interested lay people. . . . The book is warmly recommended for those interested in the twentieth-century crisis of textual authority."--Matthew Arbo, Expository Times
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Amazon Reviews
http://www.amazon.com/Whose-Community-Which-Interpretation-Philosophical/dp/0801031478/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1301819678&sr=8-1

Westphal on Gadamer's "Relativist Hermeneutics", September 16, 2009
By Seth Thomas - In his "Whose Community? Which Interpretation?" Westphal has - as he so often does - written a lucid, masterfully organized and beautifully styled book. Those who are familiar with Westphal's (prodigious) body of previous work know that this is about as surprising as hearing that the sun rose again today; those who are not familiar with Westphal, should be.

I can't really think of any work by Westphal that I don't find to be of commendable quality, so I must say at the outset that I was quite favorably inclined toward it from the beginning. What I found within it as I read, however, is a particularly unique variegation of focus that I think it deserves a special explanation of and advocation for its ample merit.

I'm a 26 year old philosophy student who, after over 15 individual philosophy classes over the last 7 years - each of which had us reading a glut of "primers," "introductions" or "companions" to this philosopher, that philosophy, or these philosophical movements - has come to realize that most of the works in this book's genre fall into one of two categories:

1) Overly simplistic, reductionistic to the point of misrepresentation or plain error, and able to do little but create or propogate a false understanding of good philosophical thinking in undergraduate minds, especially those non-majors who, outside of having - hopefully! - taken Philosophy 101 their freshman year will probably never again think about Plato aside from inadvertent contact occasioned by, say, a fortuitous spelling goof while googling certain pieces of dinnerware for their new apartment, or...

2) Books which are primarily, quite possibly entirely, composed of sentences like this: "Considerable historiographical scrutiny, especially within certain veins of later French post-structuralism which exhibit a latent and sure-to-be-protested proclivity for phenomenological approach and methodological syntax, has been given to what have come to be seen as the 'pre-post-modernist' rumblings of 19th century thinkers like..." No joke - this is a real sentence in one of my "primers."

This book, however, is among those rare few that actually manages to walk the line between reductionism and academic drivel, and it does so better than most of the rest of this already elite class of "popular-level" scholarship.

Anyway, enough prefatory praise. What makes this book so unique is that although there are no official groupings of chapters in the table of contents to signify this, it addresses three very different issues or concepts over the course of the course of its content - each of which is roughly a third of the book - but does each of them WELL. The first part of the book, chapters 1-5, is an introduction to the hermeneutical issues and questions germane to the relativism inherent to postmodernism as well as a history of the (failed) attempts to formulate an objectivist methodology which guarantees certainty and universality in interpretation, particularly biblical interpretation, with brief but informative discussions of greats like Schleiermacher, Ricoeur, Foucault, Derrida, et. al.

The focus of chapters 6-9 is an extremely well-written overview and exploration of the hermeneutical theory of Hans-Georg Gadamer, with an eye towards his hugely influential "Truth and Method," which somehow manages to fit most of the salient questions and issues into 4 measly chapters while still diving well beyond the surface level of this (extremely) difficult thinker. At the risk of using up all of my hyperbole credit (if I haven't done so already) these 4 chapters alone are worth double the price of the book: there are not many readable, clear guides to Gadamer out there, and those who have tried to read him alone without any prefatory context or learned guidance know that unless one possesses a Gadamerian intellect oneself it can feel about as difficult (and successful) as, say, trying to create a glassblown exact replica of the statue of David while underwater and in the dark. Without arms.

The last part of the book, chapters 10-12, are Westphal's own ideas as to how to analyze, appropriate, and apply Gadamerian insights into these hermeneutical issues to Christian church praxis. I won't give away the details, but this part is no less helpful or worth reading than either of the other two parts.

So, there you have it - Westphal packs it into 12 chapters but unpacks each chapter's ideas in a way that is informative and just difficult enough to be challenging without being discouraging, making this book a proverbial diamond in the rough, indeed. Given the glut of books on hermeneutial theory out there, I hope this helps persuade you to steer your wallet Westphal's way. You won't regret it.

Awesome, January 24, 2010
By Dean Chia - For Christians who are dissatisfied with the way some Christians handle truth and meaning and biblical interpretation/hermeneutics, this is awesome. Showing us how the tables have changed with Postmodernism (while not giving into an "anything goes" mentality/attitude). Awesome read. Very accessible and well-written.

Inspiring, January 24, 2011
By Charles Wenzel "Sold Out For Truth" - I thought of giving this a a 4-star rating but this would have been unfair. For, in effect, I would have been punishing Westphal for taking me on an exhilarating intellectual-imagination flight in his first 9 chapters while bringing me back in the last 3.

His exceptional writing, clarity of thought and deftness in opening Gadamer's writings on hermeneutics were so stimulating that the insights generated caused me to write a small book upon his book's margins.

When reading--especially my KJV Bible--I will no longer look for THE {object} writer's meaning but rather the exchange/interchange {communication} between the 2 living, subjective beings which--I now understand--could only ever be a writer's objective: creation {writing} and re-creation {reading} [remove the hyphen and note that term's 2 senses.]

Oh, we are "fearfully and wonderfully made"! The very fact that we can comprehend i.e. grasp meaning, should be proof enough of God.