Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Postmodern Discipleship

I've been reading material about postmodernism over the past few years. I'm not sure I completely understand postmodern thought, but then who does? From those I've read, several characteristics stand out:
  1. Postmodern thought is not linear. As I understand it, that means that the old way of reasoning moved from proposition to proposition to conclusion with each necessarily arising from the previous and beginning from observed reality. Postmodern thought, however, is not necessarily circular. Instead, it receives input from a multitude of sources then draws a conclusion. It would be similar to getting data from random web sites and drawing a conclusion about whatever topic you were researching.
  2. Postmodern thought questions notions of perceived reality. Postmoderns assert that true truth can't be known because truth is a construct of a community. Each individual sees truth from their own perspective and their own biases thus they can never really know what is "out there." But, to coin a phrase popular on TV, "the truth is out there."
  3. Postmodern thought seeks a "kind of" spirituality. Postmoderns argue that science promised more than it could deliver. Furthermore, they react to the "modern" notion that the material world is really knowable and are not predisposed to dismiss that which is meta-physical. Most, however, have no firm conviction of "what is out there." A quote from President Eisenhower is descriptive of postmodernism. Ike said, "You can't go through a war without faith, and I don't care what kind of faith it is." It seems to me that Norman Vincent Peale's idea of putting "faith in faith" would sit pretty well with most postmoderns. This kind of spirituality doesn't need content it just seeks a feeling attributable to something beyond the self.
  4. Postmodern thought distrusts words. Words, they say, only reference other words. This is a product of French deconstruction. I'm not sure I understand all of this. The idea is that individuals use words to describe reality as they perceive it. Therefore, the words selected don't necessarily define what is since what is can't be known. As a result, postmoderns seek a feeling that brings with it a perception of meaning. Perhaps that's why the postmodern generation is so high on the visual media, sound that reverberates in the viscera, and ritual that communicates beauty and purpose without words.

Postmodern thought has far more to it than I've mentioned here. You can see from what I've written that "sound doctrine" is not important to discipleship. Discipleship is no longer seen as the understanding of absolute propositions but is instead a felt spirituality. A major problem with this is a lack of balance. One can practice all of the spiritual disciplines without understanding. To do so can lead to asceticism because you can get "caught up" in seeking after a specific feeling. The law of diminishing returns (is that a modern idea?) pushes toward ever stricter discipline until you have a repeat of Simeon Stylites (a pillar monk). Those who seek a feeling without corresponding content might end up "blown about by every wind of doctrine."

Here's a thought for you. I believe postmoderns are right to state that perception often distorts what really is. All of us have our biases. Mine affect how I interpret historical events. If I report on an automobile accident, I do not tell all of what occurred because I can't know all of what occurred. I see the accident from my perspective and my biases. But to say I can't know all of what happened doesn't mean that I can't know some of what happened. To assert that reality is unknowable because I can't possibly have universal knowledge about reality does not mean that I can't discover some true truth about reality! Furthermore, if God, who can perceive all there is to know about reality (isn't that part of the definition of God?), communicates it to me through words can't I at least perceive part of what he tells me? Isn't it possible that he, who created all that is, might know how to communicate with me through words in such a way as to give me a picture of reality? If so, then it becomes my problem to sort through my biases and my prejudices and my weaknesses and subordinate them to God!

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