Monday, November 07, 2011

The Postmodern Critique: Possible Christian Take Aways

I'm trying to write a textbox that captures the take-away for Christians from the postmodern critique of knowledge.  What do you think about the following?
1. None of us have a God's eye view of the world.
Perhaps the most important Christian take-away from postmodernism is the strong reminder that we are not God.  It is not only that our finite minds have a partial understanding of the world.  Even the partial view of the world we have is filled with blind spots and skew of which we are not aware.  Our minds cannot see the world as it is for we inevitably see it from the perspective of where we sit in our localized contexts.  This situation calls for an "epistemological humility" on our part, a humility about what we think we know for certain.

2. Faith is far more fundamental than reason.
The evidence does not demand a verdict, but what we believe as Christians is far more a matter of faith than of proof.  That is not to say that faith is irrational.  It is to say that even the most fundamental elements of Christian belief are more a matter of faith than of evidence.  It pushes us to see God as far more interested in our attitudes than in the specifics of what we believe.

3. The Bible as a text is polyvalent (susceptible to multiple interpretations).
No matter how perfect a truth the Bible might represent in God's mind, we as finite, contextualized humans can never escape our situation in order to know it as God does.  We cannot arrive at a God's eye view of truth from the Bible because we are incapable of having one.  We see the Bible through our partial, skewed lenses just as we see the rest of the world.

Further, as texts encapsulated in human language, the words of the Bible are susceptible to a multitude of interpretations and configurations of meaning.  Even more, reading the Bible in context reveals that God actually intended to speak to its individual audiences in their own context-dependent categories.  The result is that we as readers of the Bible are inevitably forced not only to interpret individual texts but also to organize their particular meanings into a coherent whole.  This situation calls for a more robust sense of the role of the Holy Spirit and God's speaking through the church than many Christians have.

4. The larger a system of ideas is, the more likely the skew.
The more particular data we try to sweep up into a generalized system or "worldview," the more likely we are oversimplifying and in the process omitting or skewing individual bits of data.  This is true of our generalizations about the Bible ("the Bible says..."), and it is true of our theological systems.  Given #1 above, this is even true of systems that are largely deductive (e.g., Calvinism) because it is likely that our starting premises are already somewhat figurative in ways we could not comprehend. This situation calls for increased Christian conversation between believers who come from different Christian traditions with different theological systems.

5. Power plays a role in what we call truth.
We should acknowledge it openly so that it does not play out secretly.  What is considered true at any time and place, not to mention how ideas are policed, involves a significant element of power.  The best ideas are not always the most popular, nor can we trust those in authority to police ideas with justice.  Once again, we are pushed toward seeing the attitudes of others far more significant than the specifics of what they believe.


Dick Norton said...

Seems like this set of "take aways" posits a weak God rather than an almighty one. Poor God! He just couldn't find a way to communicate His truth in ways we could understand and thus be held accountable for.

Ken Schenck said...

It's rather for me a weak humanity in a fallen state. In any case, I think it is also the unavoidable conclusion from observation of our situation.

John Mark said...

My first reaction to this was that this kind of thinking is what makes some Baptists accuse Wesleyans of being closet Catholics. Maybe that won't seem obvious to others.
John Ortberg suggests that God gives enough light to feed our faith, but allows enough darkness to permit our doubts, or even our unbelief. The Calvinist position appeals to many of us because we find it 'comforting' I think; if pretty much everything can be blithely explained...or even thoughtfully explained by looking at the world through the hermeneutic of God's Sovereignty we don't have to deal with some of the ambiguities of life. My 2 cents anyway.

Henry Imler said...

Ken, thanks for posting this. As an anti-realist liguistic pragmatist, I agree completely with you points, both in the post and the comments.

Ken Schenck said...

In the chapter, I actually fall down more on the side of Hilary Putnam, who does not consider himself anti-realist. For my Christian context, I have adopted the label "critical realist" as a potential equivalent to Putnam's perspective. Thanks!

Mobius Trip said...

Perhaps we are not to have a rational God’s Eye view of the world; maybe we are to relish our limited, empirical perspective as a part of God’s completeness. Perhaps the living desire is more important than the completeness of a view. If so, there would be more unity in our "epistemological humility" and less arbitrary, postmortem division. In terms of power, from some perspectives, power is merely a sign of a cultivated desire: thus, the possibility of cultivating people with epistemological limitations, and thus stoking the fire in the heart. In this sense we are “Keepers of the Flame,” and to fail to recognize the theme of fire in the Bible is truly to fragment its narrative unity, thus limiting our view.