Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Postmodernity and the Emerging Church

BWolf30--otherwise known as the 7-foot ninja and the golfer-who-wishes-he-could-beat-me posted a response to my entry. I thought I would create a new discussion on his thoughts.

7-foot ninja is extremely brilliant, probably too much so for his own good. And that's my first response to his post--this blog is much more (for me) about pop issues among Jesus followers and their impact on the world than it is about intellectual arguments for or against postmodernity. Personally, as much as I hate to admit it, I am probably not a great thinker or philosopher at the top level, the level that BWolf likes to read. As I've admitted before, I have only dabbled in the academic readings of postmodernity (sometimes referred to below as "pomo"), and BWolf is far more down that road than I am. So, even though he hates it when I don't argue with him, there are times where I just need to defer to his wider reading at the academic/philosophic level.

But having said that, he asks some great questions, which I want to take a few posts to discuss. I'll try to break them up enough that each post isn't massively long-winded, a trait that both BWolf and I have a propensity for. Let me start with his quote:

you start out ambiguously by saying "Did the writers of the Bible follow the stories and worldviews and cultural values of their time?" This needs some serious clarification before further discussion - does this mean that the Bible is inevitably written in the current language and with reference to contemporary cultural understandings, which in and of itself is not a profound or threatening position? or does it mean the much stronger (and currently trendy) claim that all expressions of meaning are internal to their specific cultural situation and can't be adequately expressed or transmitted to other times or places, which is a subtle cultural relativism? or that the Bible is basically unoriginal and arose simultaneously with contemporary religions through borrowing, modifying, etc., which is basically a postmodernized historicism?

Yes, I believe that the Bible was written "in the current language and with reference to contemporary cultural understandings" of the writer. I don't think that inspiration requires the overcoming of cultural inaccuracies in the biblical writers. Christian scholars of most stripes have long recognized the importance of understanding culture to understand the Bible, something BWolf says later. I would not dispute that. His second question asks if I mean that (in light of my leaning to postmodern thought) do I think that the meanings and expressions of the biblical writers cannot be "adequately expressed or transmitted" in today's language and culture. No way! I do still believe that the message of the Bible is primarily the message that God intended to convey in that time and place, and there isn't this freedom of reinterpreting everything that many in the pomo and emergent church (EC) crowds can be guilty of.

The truth is that each of us has the propensity to make the Bible mean what we think it means, whether we are modern, postmodern, premodern, unmodern, antimodern, hypermodern, whatever. So modern Evangelicals (whatever that animal is--I'm obviously generalizing) take their interpretation of the Bible and evaluate all other interpretations and philosophies and theologies next to their own. EC believers do the same. We all fall into the same trap of comparing everything to our own beliefs and rejecting anything that is different, sometimes without consideration.

There is some value to this. No one wants to fall down the slippery slope of saying that all viewpoints are valid. But we are usually most blind (by definition) to our own blind spots. There should be a healthy self-critique of our own theology and practice. Have some EC/pomo christians taken this too far? Absolutely. Have some Evangelicals not considered their own positions adequately enough in light of EC/pomo criticism? Absolutely.

As to BWolf's final question in the quote above--if the Bible borrowed certain stories from the culture at large, is that a problem? In the days described in the early Bible books, most things weren't written down, they were told. The creation and flood stories were told for centuries before someone wrote them down. Does that mean they were uninspired or plagiarized when the biblical writer wrote them the first time? I don't think so. God inspired the writers to write down the oral histories that he wanted to use to convey his message to them, and eventually to us. I believe wholeheartedly that that message is still the same message for us as it was 4,000+ years ago, which makes me out of step with pomo thinking. I also believe that many believers today have missed parts of that message because they canonize the interpretation of their favorite pop Christian leaders and turn it into a rote, homogenized, pasteurized theology that lacks some of the life God intended.

More to come.

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