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

Friday, December 7, 2012

Reviewing Thomas Oord's "Revisionary Postmodernism and the Christian Faith"


The endless Nautilus of Postmodernism


After reading Thomas Jay Oord's piece on revisionary postmodernism (written 2 years ago in March 2010) I thought to myself how amazingly helpful those insights would've been to my personal journey over the past 12 years if I had had some kind of knowledge and understanding back then of the different kinds of postmodernism being banter about and promoted. However, it wasn't postmodernism that was at issue, but the knuckleheads I was paying attention to and trying to discern by their insights and decisions they were making while demanding highhandedly the immediate relinquish of all previous doctrinal commitments without communal assent and accord as allowed within the normal forums of discussion and debate.

Quizzically, those armchair philosophers had it both right and wrong. Right, in that postmodernism is a real event beginning back during the dissettling days of the Vietnam War (cf. The Day America Died & the Birth of Postmodernism) when so many teenagers and young twenty-somethings were dying by the hundreds every day for years and years. One of these kids could've been myself except that by the time I was draftable the war was in its finally year. And for the fact that my draft number just managed to be a hair's breath out-of-reach of the cutoff point (not that I didn't seriously consider accepting the Air Force Academy's offer to be trained and to fly for them a year earlier).

Wrong, in that those same quasi-philosopher's never came forward to tell us exactly what flavor, or kind, of postmodernism they were espousing (largely because I suspect they didn't know themselves - though should have. Or in the least had been more humble about their ignorance as our specially annointed enlightened ones). And as they spouted-and-touted this-way-and-that about doctrinal issues it would've been a help to people such as myself if they had just told us what they were trying to do and accomplish instead of demanding all to follow without rhyme-or-reason. But, on the other hand, there was a very good chance that the problem lay with my boneheadedness and stubborn need for a fuller explanation than the short, cryptic ones I was receiving in public. I had grown comfortable in my Christian faith and had lost sight of the fact that every now-and-again it demands new ways and means that should not be confused with heresy. For surely wasn't I ever taught in the watchwords of reproof and rebuff? In either case, an impasse had been reached, and mostly it was mine when I look back upon those very quixotic days in perplexion and alarm, assurance and wisdom.

So I had the double (or even triple) task of trying to (i) discern how church doctrine would change one theme at a time (and I could see right away that it was going to be total and comprehensive - as you've come to discover through the reading of this blog these past 18 months). While at the same time trying to (ii) retain faithfulness to Scripture and not to a movement of some kind (whatever its name or label). What I didn't realize was that there was a third task hidden amongst the rest requiring even further distillment per (iii) the kind or type of postmodernism that was being espoused (for in reality there was more than one kind, though I knew it not, thinking postmodernism was all "one-and-the-same").

And so yes, it was all very confusing and oftentimes created strong emotional, or visceral, reactions within me.... Positively, I knew they were on to something. But negatively, it was a mish-mash of eclectic posturing and positioning. And it was being preached in a high-handed, in-your-face, suck-it-up, take-it-or-hit-the-road-Jack, smug-and-inflammatory attitude. Which I suspect was occurring because of the fierce public backlash being experienced. And after a while you just get numb to criticism and simply push on as best you can. If it required austerity, then fine. If emotional withdrawal, ok, so be it. But, by one-way-or-another, the Gospel of Jesus needed to be preached. Even though this was not something you would expect to find from the pastoral, shepherding staff and supporting boards of your newly elected church when all first seemed roses and daisies.

Of course, part of the dilemma was the fact that they were all so young. And so terrifically idealistic and prideful over the "secret" truths that they themselves knew that no one else could know unless allowed into the inner sanctums of their cliche'd societies. Added to this dilemma was the fact that age and generational discrimination was rampant so that the older men and women of the church were not allowed in unless they first signed off on the teachings of the church as the church was then envisioning them (they seemed to change by the year). Added to this was the feeling that many of us "older" Christians were suspect of being unable to adapt and change, preferring the older kinds of ingrained traditions that we grew up... consequently, a younger variety of naivete reigned. Finally, added to all of this was the combative invitation that welcomed all to the show - but sadly, not to any discussion, dissent, or veto of it. To do so was to be labelled an outcast within the fellowship with little hope of input except to invite estrangement due to our previously inculcated Evangelical short-sightedness (for such I was, and glad for the title at the time). Paradoxically, this also exactly described the church's inner-circle as well... they were shortsighted and naive themselves. Though they had parts of postmodernism and Emergent Christianity right, it was still all one big giant puzzle requiring years of study and theological posturing until the miscreant pieces could fall into place - both up and down. On paper it looked good. But in public it was being received badly. And in dissemination it was a battle.

Which is what I've been attempting to correct in Relevancy22 as I sift through the maze-like portions of this blog working out what had become of my past 35 years of church history and its more recent postmodern regeneration of itself to the ill-knowledge and tardy recognition of its faithful flocks and congregants. Nor was this task made any easier when turning to my more conservative brethren who had no clues as to what was going on... nor did they wish to. It was all too easy to leave behind while casting stones backwards in our direction and making very loud, vociferous, statements of self-righteous denial and condemning anathemas.

And so, there I was. Caught in between. Standing in the middle unable to turn right-or-left, and finding no knowledgeable help at hand to guide me. First, I didn't know the questions I needed to ask. Second, I didn't know who to listen too (apparently neither! LOL). And thirdly, it was all so new that what appeared to be cultic in fact turned into a rebirth of the Gospel quite unlike what was found during the past 2000 years of the church. And because no one could find "any instance of postmodernism previously occurring in church history" (pun intended) than it was assumed that this new Emergent movement had to be cultic - or at the least an aberrant sect of some doubtful kind. But never to vie in form and operation as a progenitor of mainline Christian orthodoxy! "Oh! How wrong I was!" What it was lacking was absorption into the public purview. A process that would require exactly the kinds of feelings and emotions I was going through over so many long years from dissent to amazement. My awakening and final sealing only awaited its much maligned reception upon the publication of an obscure book entitled Love Wins, by Rob Bell, which immediately relived my own previous spiritual journey publically. From that point forward I began to make my choices and thus, began writing of mine own evolving journey (for isn't an emergent faith exactly that? Intensely personal with intensely personal responses and repercussions?).

What few Emergent Christian books I could find at the time were not particularly enlightening - at least at first. Nor was the Internet in 1999-2006 at the stage of information delivery that it has now become (which is now my primary medium for help and content). On the plus side, the Emergents that I knew were all saying the right things but it just wasn't sitting right to its newest inductees (fellow knuckleheads like myself. LOL) unused to criticizing their beloved church through the positive language of faith renewal held under the guise of criticizing one's roots of Evangelicalism or Denominationalism. Though truly, I little realized how much the Evangelical church (and progressive denominational churches) had changed over its past 35 years. Espousing not the Gospel of Jesus, but some form of its own subcultural values and dogmas ("conservatism" or "progressive liberalism") though couched within that same Gospel of Jesus. And on the minus side, all non-Emergents had come to find themselves judging Christianity's newest fellowship with a severely critical eye which resulted in saying all kinds of things that were not true and unkind about the body of Christ. The rhetoric on both sides was both deafening and defeating. Peace was not in the air amongst God's children. And it hurt to watch it being played out publically.

Postmodernism has many varieties

But this newest segment of Christianity (described as Emergent Christianity) had staying power - evidencing the mighty work and protection of the Holy Spirit who somehow kept it moving forward - incredible as it seemed. If ever a peaceful sit-in, or demonstrable protest by good deeds, ever led so willfully and successfully, so it was with Emergence Christianity. Leading by prayer, grace, mercy and forgiveness to the forgotten, the neglected, the abandoned, found along the highways and byways of life's 2-laned, dirt roads. Jesus fellowships began to minister their way into their own rebirthed version of themselves. Showing little regard to the rigid observance of Evangelic or Denominational decorum as they marched forth on servant's knees to the unwashed masses of humanity. The spirit and temperament was awesome to behold.

And it is only now, years later (as this blog can testify to), that in hindsight the issues confronting the postmodern day church have become better understood and received. That a calm is beginning to settle into it through a latent repentant recognition of the larger-than-life issues that were being missed when squabbling about for our subcultural religious planks and platforms. Whether churches are Emergent or not, those churches and fellowship groups that are listening and praying are following in like suit of humility and obedience - even some of our Evangelic brethren, in one aspect or another, that were so loud at first in their protestations. Perhaps not to the degree one would wish. Nor at the quickening pace desired. But I suspect that in time (or by the roll calls of death and societal irrelevance) the fellowship of God's body will repent one-community-at-a-time until the Spirit of God has leavened the people of God with the gospel of Jesus just as yeast leavens itself throughout a loaf of bread. Or as a mustard seed grows to great height and breadth, starting out tiny at first and becoming a place where the many varieties of the birds of the air may settle into its branches. Or as a mountain of trouble may be removed by the apportionment of a loving and gracious faith. God will not be defeated. This is the mystery and the majesty of His glorious Name.

And so, when reading through Oord's March 2010 article (below) I quickly realized that nearly every one of the themes of revisionary postmodernism had in some way been heavy on my heart and soul. So much so that as bread requires kneading and pounding to form and rise, so too did I feel the same confluences under the Holy Spirit (at least I'm pretty sure I felt the "pounding" part!). Since the inception of this blog, I have unwittingly worked through as many of these themes as possible not realizing that what I was doing was fleshing out the much larger framework of "Revisionary Postmodernism" (well, admittedly I kinda did as we've explored postmodernism more than once here within this blog's postings. Just not revisionary postmodernism... until now). While at the same time we've investigated (amongst others) the juxtapositioned extremes of deconstructivist, liberal, or relativistic postmodernism. (It should also be mentioned that David Ray Griffin had coined the earlier term "Reconstructive Postmodernism." Which theme Thomas Jay Oord takes up in his "Revisionary Postmodernism" explorations).

For apparently, most of my real-life, experiential postmodernism seems to have  come under the requisite deconstructivist  kind (though never the relevatistic kind). One that I admitted but never liked. And largely chaffed under it. Not that I don't believe that every new system must have a deconstructive element within it to identify the why's and wherefore's of its separation from its previous contemporaries. Deconstruction is necessary for any ideology to grow and expand just as it is necessary in the believer's life when first becoming a Christian and examining our lives and finding ourselves wanting in the flesh and devoid of God's Spirit... separated as we were, from the will, and fellowship, of the living God. Whose redemption draws nigh to us through Jesus His Son, the very Incarnate Personage of the Triune Trinity. Savior. Redeemer. Immanuel. And King of Kings both now and forevermore.

That said, by nature I'm a reconstructivist that is willing to deconstruct where necessary, but not so as to linger overlong in abject unknowing, or in  over harsh criticism of God's faithful remnant and spell bound brotherhood. Likewise, I have always considered the apophatic tag forced on Emergent Christianity as unfair. Under revisionary postmodernism I find that I can be gladly rid of that label while keeping my Emergent Christianity healthily intact. And since philosophy isn't my bag, I've been very glad for the level-headedness shown by our perceptive process theologians who have done a yeoman's job standing in the vanguard for us. True, I may not exactly be a devotee of theirs, but they have convinced me enough to move towards a kind of benevolent process thought and away from the guarded stoicism found in classical theism. Towards something of a middling ground (or synthetic position) we've been describing as relational theism (but not of the panentheistic kind, though I more-or-less understand the usage of that appendage both rightly and wrongly as we've examined the quantum physics claims of creational inception).

So, please enjoy this article on postmodernism's features and warrants. Because I have found it to be a very enlightening declaration of just what kind of postmodernist we might strive towards that seems to fit - at least for myself - a good many of the theological platforms that we have been declaring here at Relevancy22. For me, postmodernism was never the issue. However, its type and portrayal was. Along with all the rhetoric that therein occurred. My journey has ended - I am glad to say. And a new one now begins. One that requires telling of my evolving (or emerging) journey hopefully to the benefit of many others as similarly confused as I was once myself.

And with that, I believe we'll be able to use these thoughts for some directional guidance and Christian level-headedness. Please enjoy. And please receive my sincere apologies for this overlong introduction. But when confronted by deeply significant, and foundational pieces of thought, I many times find it helpful to provide a little personality into the academic words less we miss their deep, foundational importance. Humbling as they are. Thank you again for following along. And to all those fellow knuckleheads out there be thankful for our God's all gracious, and loving patience, towards us. And for delivering us from our religious pride and zeal. A sad reality that continues even unto this day as it did in Jesus' day of ministry and reform. We are all in this together. And must never loose sight of the value of community couched within individual well being and sustenance. May God's peace and mercy be upon all His children and upon humanity in general this day. Amen.

R.E. Slater
December 7, 2012




Reclaiming the Past. Imagining a Future:
Revisionary Postmodernism

by Thomas Jay Oord
March 15, 2012
The final postmodern tradition of the four I identify as most prominent may prove
most helpful for Christians in our emerging world. It revisions reality by drawing
from a wide spectrum of resources.

The final postmodern tradition of the four I identify as most prominent may prove most helpful for Christians in our emerging world. It revisions reality by drawing from a wide spectrum of resources.
 
Growing a beautiful garden is an art. Exceptional gardeners draw from a wealth of wisdom to nurture their plants to survive and thrive. Some elements of garden growing are nonnegotiable: seeds, water, nutrients, sunlight. Other elements arise from tried and true methods that, while not necessary, have been proven time and again to produce beautiful gardens. And the best gardeners seek novel gardening insights and resources that enhance their horticultural husbandry. After all, even the art of gardening changes.

Similar to good gardeners, revisionary postmodernists identify the nonnegotiables of life, draw from past wisdom, and incorporate novel ideas as they propose a credible postmodern worldview.

Like other postmodern traditions, revisionary postmodernism overcomes or transcends features of modernism.

But revisionary postmodernism also criticizes other postmodern traditions.

The remainder of this essay sketches out some features of revisionary postmodernism.


Constructing a New Worldview -

Revisionary postmodernists accept the project of constructing a worldview adequate for our time. In this, they distinguish themselves from deconstructionists. Espousing some worldview or another is inescapable. Instead of fooling ourselves, say revisionists, we should propose a worldview that seems best to account for life in all its dimensions.

Revisionary postmodernists reject, however, the idea that we have a certain center or sure foundation upon which to build. Our worldviews will always be "on the way," partial, and in need of further revision. We must always be prepared to recast, generalize, and adapt a postmodern worldview to new experiences and information. Revisionary postmodernist seek to do so with humility. Know-it-alls need not apply.


Embracing those at the Margins -

Modernity failed to consider the experiences of those at the margins (e.g., women, ethnic minorities). It failed to account for animal experience. And it failed to consider the essential role of divine action or providence. These and other modern failures resulted in the loss of a holistic perspective on realit

The worldview revisionary postmodernists offer is intended to account for the voices of those at the margins and the mainstream. Revisionists seek to account for a variety of sensibilities, including religious, scientific, ecological, liberationist, economic, and aesthetic.

They seek a story big enough and adequate enough to include everyone. This story appreciates and promotes diversity and difference.

The “other” is not reduced to the self. Discerning tolerance is a moral imperative, and wisdom with regard to difference is crucial.


The Limits of Language -

Revisionary postmodernists share to a large degree the deconstructionist’s suspicion of language. Language is slippery, even if often helpful and necessary.

Revisionary postmodernists argue, however, that language is not the only or even the most important lens on reality. Rather, experience is prior to and more basic than language. In fact, most experience is nonlinguistic.


Experiential Nonnegotiables -

When constructing a worldview, we should privilege those beliefs that we inevitably presuppose in our experience. These beliefs are the bottom layer of experience we all share. These beliefs include the idea that some things are better than others, the notion that we are free to some degree, the notion that an external world exists beyond us, the idea that some events are caused by others, etc. We inevitably presuppose various beliefs in our day-to-day living. I call these beliefs “experiential nonnegotiables.”

Revisionary postmodernist, David Ray Griffin, calls these inevitable beliefs, “hard-core commonsense notions.” We cannot help presupposing these notions in the way we live our lives, he says. We are guilty of self-contradiction if we adopt a theory or worldview that denies them. Any scientific, philosophical, or theological theory is irrational to the extent that it contradicts whatever notions we inevitably presuppose in practice.[1] Common sense counts.


Overcoming Relativism -

I noted in earlier blog posts that some postmodern traditions result in radical relativism – either individual or communal. Deconstructive postmodernism is most prone to extreme relativism. Some postmodern traditions reject any basis for believing that one worldview corresponds to all of reality better than others do.

The experiential nonnegotiables of revisionary postmodernism, however, allow one to overcome radical relativism. These notions are features of existence we all share. In affirming this, revisionary postmodernism continues the premodern and modern conviction that at least some universal standards exist.


Ways of Knowing -

Revisionary postmodernists join feminists in arguing that knowledge is not confined to logic or facts obtained through our five senses. It affirms the view of Michael Polanyi that personal knowledge must play a role in our attempts to make sense of the world.

Knowledge in revisionary postmodernism typically resides between certainty about absolutes and the disarray of relativism. Catherine Keller suggests that the middle ground between absolute and relative is the postmodern virtue of being resolute.


Ecology and Purpose -

Revisionary postmodernists agree with ecological postmodernists that living things are more than mindless machines. Creaturely freedom, purpose, and intentionality are real. All creatures possess intrinsic value.

Many revisionary postmodernists also adopt the theory of theistic evolution, because it affirms a necessary place both God and evolution in an adequate explanation of creation. One can affirm both the main contours of contemporary science and the belief that God originally and continually creates.


Centrality of Community –

Revisionary postmodernists agree with narrative postmodernists that creatures are not isolated individuals. Community is essential. An adequate postmodern worldview speculates that all creatures -- both human and nonhuman -- are interrelated. We live in a relational world, and who we are is largely determined by our relations with others. With the Apostle Paul, revisionists argue that we are members of one body.

We must affirm a necessary role both for the individual and community, argue revisionists. Humans might best be called “community-created-individuals” or “individuals-in-community.” Bono of U2 says it well: “We’re one, but we’re not the same.”

Revisionary postmodernists agree with the conclusion Bono draws from this insight: “We’ve got to carry each other.” We are designed for community, and our individual well-being is caught up in - and largely dependent upon - the well-being of the whole.


Progress is Possible but not Inevitable -

Modernists celebrated what they thought would be the triumphant march of science to make the world a better place. They often equated advances in technology with overall progress in making the world better. Full-speed-ahead is always right, say modernists.

Modern “progress” has caused so much unnecessary destruction, however. E. E. Cummings called progress a “comfortable disease.” It’s a disease wreaking havoc on humans, nonhumans, and all of planet earth.

Like other postmodern traditions, revisionary postmodernism denies that progress is inevitable or that technology always results in good.

Revisionists believe that genuine progress is possible, however. We are not doomed to the same old self-destructive rut. Transformation can occur.

Revisionary postmodernists join narrative postmodernists by looking to ancient resources for wisdom about how best to proceed into the future.

But they are also open to emergent insights that might help facilitate the experience of abundant life. John Wesley’s optimism of grace fits the revisionary mindset: “the best is yet to be.”

Progress toward a better world is possible by divine grace and proper creaturely responses.


God –

An important plank in revisionary postmodernism is its doctrine of God. Revisionary postmodernists reject the modern tendency to think God could be completely comprehended. We see through a glass darkly.

But it also rejects absolute negative theology and the utter silence of apophatic theology. We know in part.

Revisionists are in many ways pre-modern in their beliefs, because they affirm that God is actual, active, and interacting in the world. God really lives and truly loves.

Revisionary postmodernists often call God “relational” to account for the give-and-receive relationships God enjoys with others. The invisible Spirit works in all creation, and we have direct access to this Spirit. Our non-sensory interaction with God and sensory inferences from nature provide awareness of right and wrong, true and false, beautiful and ugly. For in God we live and move and have our being.

Many revisionary postmodernists look to doctrines of the Trinity to ground their emphasis upon divine relatedness.

Others focus upon the relational God who by nature relates with all creation. God is not unmoved.

Revisionary postmodernists argue that beliefs about God should not be relegated to their own domain while beliefs about the world function without reference to God. We cannot neatly separate the secular and the sacred. A revisionary postmodern worldview reserves an essential place for both creatures and the Creator.

The interaction of God and creation is central to understanding reality. Some call this view “panentheism.” Others call it “participation” or “cooperation.” I like the word “theocosmocentrism.”


Conclusion

We live in a new world. Postmodernism reminds us of that. Revisionary postmodernism promotes the task of constructing a new worldview to account for truths in the widest range of experience. It places God and creation front and center.

The philosopher-poet-environmentalist, Wendell Berry, warns that in this new world...

we have reached a point at which we must either consciously desire and choose and determine the future of the earth or submit to such an involvement in our destructiveness that the earth, and ourselves with it, must certainly be destroyed.”[2]

Berry’s prophetic words beckon us to reckon with our past, our present, and our possible future.

Many revisionary postmodernists agree with Berry. Some dare to hope that a better way of thinking and acting is now possible. But this better way must involve being, acting, and thinking differently.



[1] David Ray Griffin, Reenchantment Without Supernaturalism: A Process Philosophy of Religion (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2001).

[2] Wendell Berry, “The Loss of the Future,” in The Long-Legged House (New York: Harcourt, 1969), 46.


Wisdom, Choices and Temptations

 
 
 
Here is Wisdom...