Thoughts on Post-Modernism

I have been doing some significant work on the topic of postmodernity and its application to the current theological scenario. Since the blog world has been largely important in shaping my thinking on these matters, I have here posted Doug Wilson’s blog on the current discussions on Postmodern thinking. It is a superfluous task to engage on such issues with an unfounded approach. Postmodernity is much more than a period in the corridors of history, but it is a life view. It cannot be diminished to “subjectivity” or “abstract art.”

In order to build an articulate worldview we must engage as many ideas as possible. It may even be that in the end of the day our worldview spectacles (Calvin used this language to describe worldview thinking) may be slightly blurred because of the dust from other forms of thinking that have crept into our world. Nevertheless, the only way to construct an appropriate view of life is to be willing to explore a variety of ideologies which at first may be contrary to your system of thought. At least in my tradition (Reformed) I know my limits. In my case, anything that in any way betrays a Triune foundation falls short of what I need to enhance and beautify my worldview. Without a doubt, any worldview that seeks to deny any tenet in the Apostle or Nicene Creed has already suffered considerable damage. Since thought and meaning cannot exist without divine truth, any worldview that lacks these tenets is doomed.

I do realize that in modern societas Christiana the role of experience has been diminished to a powerful indication of knowing God’s will. Something similar to “pray real hard and if you cry real hard then EUREKA!” Of course, this approach to experience is far from Biblical truth. However, on the other hand, we do not want to make experience simply a faulty didactic tool; we want to make experience a part of the wholeness of our worldview. Our fault has been in assuming that only our understanding of the text or culture is the only source of knowledge, but I propose that it is only one source of knowledge. Hence, a thoroughly Biblical worldview encompasses all forms of thinking, emotions and practices.

I believe a truly post-modern (post-modern here is used as a current phase in history, not necessarily the movement per se, though it is almost impossible to define postmodernism as a movement) dogmatic (or construction) must be tri-perspectival to borrow Frame and Poythress’ language. It should encompass right thinking (doctrine), right behavior (practice), and right experience (emotions etc.).

One last point is that a worldview formulation is not made to be individualistic, but applicational. As John Frame puts it: “Theology is only theology when it is applied.” In this sense I applaud Abraham Kuyper (Dutch thinker) in that he sought to build a Biblical worldview that could be applied to all areas of life and society. Most of the Westminster professors in the 70’s took Kline’s position on “intrusion” and assumed that society, culture and the political sphere were matters of secondary importance and the church and family should take preeminence. Kuyper, on the other hand, saw that education, politics and all aspects of society were under the lordship of Christ and, therefore, should submit to His Lordship. That is, Kuyper saw family and the church inextricably related to education and all facets of society. To him Calvinism (by that he meant much more than TULIP, but the wholeness of Calvinistic worldview thinking) was the source of all knowledge, meaning God is the foundation of history to which all of created kosmos must submit.

Though I find much Dutch apologetics nearly fideistic, I do concur with Kuyper’s application of ethics to all of life. As Bahnsen once stated: “If something is considered moral, then it must be universal.” In other words, if it is not universal it cannot be moral. Morality in America must be the same morality in Africa. All aspects of life including the government, church, and family must follow one code of law. Of course, the outworking of law and ethics to the civil magistrate and other facets are not always cut and dry, but the point still stands. Anyway, I think this is a good place to start building a proper view of life.

Knowledge and Blood by Douglas Wilson

Topic: Postmodernism

I mentioned a few days ago that we have to avoid all forms of unbelief, whether in modernist or postmodernist guise. This requires a distinctive Trinitarian epistemology. Consider this some preliminary doodling.

One of the problems with this kind of discussion is that it tends to be limited to academics, and epistemic certainty becomes something you can demonstrate (or not) in a classroom. Reduced to this, certainty becomes a function of personality, logical acumen, bombast, and so on. But what about epistemology in the Bible? While it is lawful to discuss such things in a classroom, and (with direct permission from the Holy Spirit) it might be okay to write a book on it, things look very different in Scripture.

In the Bible, when the Word comes, the faithful are described as receiving it, or as believing it, or as bearing witness to it. And certainty is measured in these life terms, measured in blood, and most emphatically not measured in terms of haunting self-doubts. When we begin with the problems of interpretation, we often never get to what the Bible presents so breezily, which is faith. When we begin with faith, we come to understanding. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, not the end of it.

How certain am I that in the observance of the Lord’s Supper, the bread and wine do not turn into the literal flesh and blood of Jesus? In a classroom discussion, how can I answer this question? I could hold my hands apart six inches and say, “This much,” or perhaps, in a rhetorical flourish, I could stretch my arms all the way out and say, “This much.” But the martyrs who suffered under Bloody Mary had a different calculus entirely (and a far more biblical one). They sealed their testimony with their blood.

Related to this (the flip side of it, really) concerns what you are willing to kill for. A number of years ago, I served on a jury in a murder trial. We convicted the accused man, and the biblical standard we were operating with was that we had to be convinced “beyond a reasonable doubt.” But note how loaded with epistemological concerns that phrase is. Beyond a reasonable doubt — what is that? But since this was a jury room, and not a classroom, we were dealing, in principle, with a man’s life. How certain must we be then? The same principles are involved in going to war, drafting certain kinds of legislation, and so on.

We are called to believe, receive, bear witness, and act. When we act, there will be costs (at least in the real world). The issues of certainty are always issues that always revolve around cost. The problem with modernism is that it was willing to act on false principles and a false foundation, not bearing witness to Christ, and therefore it has been convicted of epistemic arrogance. But the problem with postmodernism is an identical one — it is also not willing to believe the story of Christ’s actual resurrection from the dead, a story that therefore defines and subordinates all other stories. To use the jargon, if Christ’s resurrection is not a metanarrative, a reigning metanarrative, then we are all still in our sins. And since the postmodern “incredulity to all metanarratives” includes this, it is also convicted of the arrogance of unbelief.

The problem is not that some Christians are now telling us that the Bible is more than a bundle of propositions. We know that, and have been saying it for years. I myself have been pummeling the epistemology of the Enlightenment (with shouts of exuberant joy) for some time now. But then along come some evangelical poseurs, using the obvious faults of modernism as a pretext for adopting something just as bad and twice as silly. So I says to myself, I says, let us rise up and smite that thing, hip and thigh. Let us hew it to pieces before the Lord.

The Bible presents a grand story, a narrative. But here is the rub. We believe the story, we receive it. We bear witness to it. It is the story. It is the ultimately true story.

This is a Trinitarian epistemology because Jesus is the full revelation of God, the exact image of His being. God revealed Himself in Christ. If you have seen Me, Jesus said to Phillip, you have seen the Father. And Jesus, among many other things, was the First Witness, the Faithful Witness, the Preeminent Martyr. How certain was He of His identity? How firm was His grasp of those tricky passages in Isaiah about the suffering servant? And when the voice came from heaven, and others heard only thunder, how can we measure His response? In short, how do we evaluate Christ’s epistemology? His blood not only saved His people, but His blood also showed us a way of knowing. We are to imitate Him.

About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
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