The Postmoderns: Friends or Foes?


#1

This is a serious question. While I try to stay steeped in good Catholic resources and and theological commentary, there are circumstances which arise that provoke me to read the work of certain contemporary Protestant commentators and theologians.

There seems to be a relatively new strain of Evanglical Protestantism which refers to itself as Postmodern with varied off-shoots including the Emerging and Emergent Church. In all honesty, I am hardly proficient in representing these faith traditions, but having recently read works from guys such as Rob Bell, Mark Driscoll, John Piper, etc. I wonder if these are examples of a new breed of Protestant which is more tolerant of Catholicism in general.

Notwithstanding certain and important theological diversions, does this movement serve better the effort for Christian unity and mutual compatibility or is it a Trojan horse?


#2

They’re definitely more tolerant of Catholicism. Read Brian McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy, for example:

A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I Am a Missional, Evangelical, Post/Protestant, Liberal/Conservative, Mystical/Poetic, Biblical, Charismatic/Contemplative, Fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Green, Incarnational, Depressed-yet-Hopeful, Emergent, Unfinished CHRISTIAN

The Emergents are very open to using candles, icons, incense, and bits of liturgy.


#3

Jane Frances,

What you are seeing, here, in my opinion, is more Protestant free fall. Different men attempting to set up another demonination under their own authority.

Just a thought, Marcus Grodi could have some information on these folks on his Journey Home site.

Tomster


Do not be afraid, speak out, and refuse to be silenced; I am with thee, and none shall come near to do thee harm; I have a great following in this city. - Acts 18: 9-10


#4

Without articulating it as such, this was exactly my provocation in starting this thread. I haven’t read McLaren’s Generous Orthodoxy, but his name certainly is among the list of those to whom I was referring.

My question, though, perhaps as a function of my own cynicism, is whether this movement is sincere in its recognition of the legitimacy of liturgy and the efficacy of sacramentals, etc. OR is this a “Catholic-lite” consideration in the hopes to attract those disenfranchised by modern, more Fundamentalist traditions?


#5

Thank you for weighing in with your opinion! Of course, opinion on this matter is exactly what I was soliciting.

Having little experience with this Protestant movement beyond bits and pieces from the guys mentioned in the OP, I am seeking a better understanding of how to approach this particular stream of contemporary Protestantism.

On the topic of authority, though, I have noticed in some writings labeled “Postmodern” a marked difference in how they approach Sacred Scripture in contrast to the “sola scripturists.” I wonder how this is perceived in those Protestant circles?


#6

Postmodernism! Ha! Let’s see how much they can argue postmodernism, shall we? I have to go out now, but can you pm cpayne, heisenburg, Truthstalker, John Doran? They are the CAF philosophers. (Forgive me if I have forgotten names.)

Answer to your question: this latest fad among some – not all – Evangelicals is not theological. It is political. And the ‘softening of language’ is a Trojan Horse.

Brilliant OP, Jane! Thank you for opening this thread! :extrahappy: :hug1: :heaven:


#7

As time goes on we will know them by their fruits.

Tomster


Do not be afraid, speak out, and refuse to silenced; I am with thee, and none shall come near to do thee harm; I have a great following in this city. Acts 18: 9-10


#8

For me they have all been a good thing. It is actually what got me started even considering the Catholic church. I just happened to pick up one of the books at Borders one day (Younger Evangelicals by Robert Webber) and I identified with a lot of what he said. I thought over and over again, this is me! So I started reading more and more. But reading a lot of those books is what got me curious about liturgical worship. Eventually I was curious to decide to check it out and none of the Episcopal churches had Saturday evening services and the Catholic Church did, so there I went. And I was hooked! And that forced me to start investigating the claims of the Catholic Church.

And now I’m officially signed up for the Profession of Faith class, and assuming that nothing major changes my mind, this road I’m on leads into the Catholic Church.

So sure, there are plenty of things in there that Catholics won’t agree with, but there are things that they agree with. And I can’t imagine that I’m the only one that will have a similar experience. :shrug:


#9

I believe the movement is definitely sincere in its recognition of the legitimacy of liturgy, and the efficacy of sacramentals.

I don’t see why being “Catholic-lite” is a bad thing, especially given that many of the Emergents actually come from Protestant traditions that were strongly anti-Catholic to begin with.:smiley:


#10

Thanks for weighing in! I truly appreciate your input, especially as it comes from a first person perspective! Many blessings to you on your journey and I, for one, will be most happy to welcome you into the Catholic Church!

I don’t know much about Webber, but I will certainly do some research per your recommendation.

I wonder, particularly, what is was about the Postmodern thought which led you to consider Catholicism? You mentioned liturgical worship. . .is that the crux? I have read that some “postmodernists” have sought to incorporate liturgies and contemplative prayer as a way of returning to orthodoxy. Did you find that to be true?

Another thought I had was regarding an account of a postmodern pastor bringing his youth group to a Catholic monastery for retreats and introducing the Stations of the Cross as part of a Lenten observance. And while I fully recognize that many non-postmodern Evangelicals also dabble in these sorts of Catholic practices, is it fair to say that this is more par for the course in the case of Postmoderns?


#11

No, no, do not misunderstand me, I did not mean to say it was a bad thing. My first notion is very much the opposite, but I have a skeptic’s mind and a researcher’s heart.

I’m wondering, from the skeptic’s point of view, if this turn towards liturgy and discipline and sacramentality (if it really is inherent to the Postmodern movement) gives those searching for Christian orthodoxy just the measure of Catholicism mixed with Protestantism that it takes to keep them from the Church OR if it can be a purposeful turn and softening towards Catholicism. I wonder this espeically as I imagine, being quite privy to the Bible belt mentality, many Emergents are, in fact, emerging from anti-Catholic breeding grounds.


#12

Sure, it could keep them from the Church, or it could lead them to the Church. But my point is that the transition from anti-Catholic to Catholic-lite is a miracle in and of itself.:smiley:


#13

As a southern girl, I say a hardy “Amen!”

I’m just trying to flesh out the whole scene with this thread. That is my purpose. The title of the OP may be a bit misleading in that I do not intend to walk away from this thread with a particular “Friend” or “Foe” answer. I truly am just trying to gather information.


#14

Pomo has been co-opted by many who hope to frighten critics away. To make a pomo reference is sometimes – but not always – an example of debating one-upmanship, if you will. Thing is that Pomo empowers the non-scholarly to contribute to discussions, where this was generally not true with previous ‘movements.’ So you may see folks talking the pomo talk but not walking the pomo walk.

Pomo is also not one thing. It is the Heinz 57 of Philosophy. Pomo weighs source texts through multi-tiered commentary of those texts.

So the postmodern answer to a question like Friend or Foe would be to choose neither but to introduce a plurality of answers and points of view into the fray. Not to pick merely one, but to synthesize. Gadamer for instance spoke of the Merging of Horizons.

Catholics, including Pope Benedict have been pessimistic about pomo. I however have always been hopeful that it could lead many of the lost back toward that glimpse of light which cannot be grasped by mere verbal trickery. Because, although pomo is exquisitely hyperlogos, parts of it are antilogos (Derrida). Sort of like looking at the negative space in a painting.

One feature of pomo is pluralism. Catholicism is both/and. Reformism is often either/or.

:heaven:


#15

Thank you very much that overview! It was very beneficial for me to read.

So, it begs another question: who, then, considers himself Pomo? It is an individualistic label or is there criteria for such a thing? Are there common threads, etc.?


#16

I am suspicious (so what else is new?:rolleyes: ) of what I see as a tendency in postmodernism to sacrifice truth for emotion. At their best Catholicism and “Reformism” both share an insistence on some things are absolutely true, are worth fighting for, are worth dying for. I am suspicious that nothing keeps postmodernism from dissolving into mush. An open mind without borders lets anything in, and then there is no mind. But both Catholic and Reformed thought have been infected with mush. And there are both Catholic and Reformed theologians who, when not fighting each other, are fighting the mush.

I read one book by McClaren, who advocates cobbling together elements of our differing Christian traditions to make a service or a life of service to God. He seems to advocate “Let’s stick together some Catholic prayer, Methodist hymns, a Baptist sermon and round it off with a Lutheran Communion rite.” Then have some Quaker prayer afterwards, and fast like an Orthodox. Let the Baptists kiss icons and the Catholics get saved. The point of this is that these things all get ripped from their context and lose their meaning when cobbled together. Some things are tremendously inconsistent, are cheapened in my view when decontextualized, and you wind up with a “feel-good” something. What it is I am not sure of. I am not sure there is truth in postmodernism that one can get ahold of. On the other hand, there is Truth that gets ahold of us.

You should not be a mushy Catholic. Postmodernism would seem to insist on drowning our differences when an insistence on truth would require we demonstrate where the lines are drawn and that they are important to us. Unity in mushiness is neither hot nor cold, but the sort of thing that gets spat out. Some things should not be compromised.


#17

Friends AND foes.

I agree with Truthstalker that Postmods tend to attack reason and the emphasis on objective truth. In that sense, they are foes. However, they definitely put a jolt into Modernism that it desperately needed. Postmods are open (in a way that Modernism is not) to the idea that knowledge can come through other avenues than pure reason—for example, what Russell Kirk called “the sentiments,” the entrenched habits of thought that we do not receive by reason alone—habits of thought from our families, for example, or other associations, even associations with specific places, friends, groups (such as the Church). These are not very useful for apologetic purposes—for that, you need reason and truth. But they are most helpful in forming our spiritual lives, and making life worth living in general. In that sense, Postmodernism can be a friend. What our challenge is now is to point out to the Postmods the value of the right associations (such as the Church) and the validity of rationality (which many of them have rejected). In other words, we need to evangelize.

I agree that this is not an either / or decision when it comes to Postmodernism; it is more complicated. But it is also a tremendous opportunity. Young people today are STARVED. They have intelligence which is being used on entertainment and information technology. What would happen if we could show them how their rational intelligence could discover and apprehend actual truth?


#18

[quote=Truthstalker]I am suspicious (so what else is new?:rolleyes: ) of what I see as a tendency in postmodernism to sacrifice truth for emotion… I am suspicious that nothing keeps postmodernism from dissolving into mush…

I read one book by McClaren, who advocates cobbling together elements of our differing Christian traditions to make a service or a life of service to God.
[/quote]

Well the cobbling together or traditions is certainly evocative of Gadamer. And Gadamer is pomo.

[quote=Truthstalker] He seems to advocate “Let’s stick together some Catholic prayer, Methodist hymns, a Baptist sermon and round it off with a Lutheran Communion rite.” Then have some Quaker prayer afterwards, and fast like an Orthodox. Let the Baptists kiss icons and the Catholics get saved.
[/quote]

Sheesh. The Salvador Dali of theology it seems.

[quote=Truthstalker]The point of this is that these things all get ripped from their context and lose their meaning when cobbled together.
[/quote]

One question that pomo brings into focus is what is the meaning of meaning? Or what use is it? And who gets to say what the meaning is? The author? The text? The reader?

[quote=Truthstalker] Some things are tremendously inconsistent, are cheapened in my view when decontextualized, and you wind up with a “feel-good” something.
[/quote]

But much of what came before pomo decontextualized and furthermore created false dichotomies.

[quote=Truthstalker]What it is I am not sure of. I am not sure there is truth in postmodernism that one can get ahold of. On the other hand, there is Truth that gets ahold of us.
[/quote]

I just posted some Derrida and Gadamer on the thread on Rewriting Scripture.

[quote=Truthstalker]You should not be a mushy Catholic.
[/quote]

Well! I’ll certainly try my best not to be!

[quote=Truthstalker]Postmodernism would seem to insist on drowning our differences when an insistence on truth would require we demonstrate where the lines are drawn and that they are important to us.
[/quote]

I will concede for the time being that pomo does insist on drowning something. I don’t know what it is though.

[quote=Truthstalker]Unity in mushiness is neither hot nor cold, but the sort of thing that gets spat out. Some things should not be compromised.
[/quote]

I’m getting all misty now. I feel a banner coming on! :wink:

[SIGN]
Liberte, Egalite
et
Unite en toute mushinesse!
[/SIGN]


#19

[quote=cpayne]Friends AND foes.

[/quote]

With all due respect, this is very pomo of you. :wink:

[quote=cpayne] I agree with Truthstalker that Postmods tend to attack reason and the emphasis on objective truth. In that sense, they are foes. However, they definitely put a jolt into Modernism that it desperately needed.
[/quote]

Yup.

[quote=cpayne]Postmods are open (in a way that Modernism is not) to the idea that knowledge can come through other avenues than pure reason—for example, what Russell Kirk called “the sentiments,” the entrenched habits of thought that we do not receive by reason alone—habits of thought from our families, for example, or other associations, even associations with specific places, friends, groups (such as the Church).
[/quote]

Or through madness.

[quote=cpayne]These are not very useful for apologetic purposes—for that, you need reason and truth. But they are most helpful in forming our spiritual lives, and making life worth living in general.
[/quote]

If you can get through even one pomo book, life does take on a certain brightness it didn’t have before. Yes… :stuck_out_tongue:

[quote=cpayne]In that sense, Postmodernism can be a friend. What our challenge is now is to point out to the Postmods the value of the right associations (such as the Church) and the validity of rationality (which many of them have rejected).
[/quote]

My understanding was that pomo did not abolish the Great Tradition, but merely brought it back into the Great Conversation. And of course once it was there it did very well indeed.

[quote=cpayne]In other words, we need to evangelize.
[/quote]

If evangelization is to speak to us in times such as these, what form should it take?

:bounce:

[quote=cpayne]I agree that this is not an either / or decision when it comes to Postmodernism; it is more complicated.
[/quote]

Pomo, by its nature, does not fit into the realm of either/or.

[quote=cpayne]But it is also a tremendous opportunity. Young people today are STARVED. They have intelligence which is being used on entertainment and information technology. What would happen if we could show them how their rational intelligence could discover and apprehend actual truth?
[/quote]

You mean teach them philosophy? :cool:


#20

Thanks! It seems like I keep getting closer and closer. Kind of scary, pretty exciting. :slight_smile:

The book I mentioned is more on the scholarly side of things. It is full of statistics on how differently many people are thinking compared to earlier generations. But it does seem to be a pretty accurate portrayal of many things I thought/felt and the same for many friends.

Ya, liturgical worship was the biggest thing that got me thinking about the Catholic church. I’ve never really been anti-Catholic, I had Catholic friends in college who I knew were deeply committed to Christ and I didn’t have a problem with that. I figured Catholics were Christians at about the same rate as any other denomination, for some it was cultural, but for many it was a true faith. But I hadn’t really thought much about the Catholic faith beyond that.

When I feel in love with the liturgical worship, I began to think about which churches had that style of worship. The Episcopal Church was too liberal and having too many problems. The next most obvious choice was the Catholic Church. So I began reading lots of history and began thinking and praying a lot! And so here I am, headed towards the Catholic Church.

I do think beyond that there are other things that somewhat prepared me for this. I think postmoderns are much more ok with questions that don’t have any exact answers or have the both/and answers someone else mentioned. The lady in charge of Adult Faith Formation at my parish pretty much told me the same thing about the Catholic Church. I also think postmoderns have a bigger focus on hearing and telling stories. That seems to be a lot what the Liturgy of the Word is, hearing the stories of our faith. And while there is some preaching in the homily, there is also time to just allow God to speak to us individually through those stories. Also many, though by no means all, postmoderns have a similar mix of “conservative” and “liberal” values. I tended to be much more conservative on moral issues, but more liberal on things like helping the poor and immigration and the death penalty which seems to be similar to the positions the Catholic Church holds.

I do think postmoderns are using a lot of Catholic things. I ran into this a lot at college. It wasn’t exactly a defined postmodern community, but being that it was pretty much all of us who grew up in the same generation (I’m 25), looking back a lot of it was very postmodern. There were things like the Stations of the Cross, Lecto Divino, and labyrinths, that at the time I didn’t really associate with the Catholic Church, but have since discovered that is where they started. I think postmoderns are open to a variety of ways to experience God and are much more willing to try things that are “new” or different and not necessarily from their own tradition. In many ways this can be good, being more open to experiencing God in a variety of ways, but like all good things, it can be taken too far.

I do think that as more and more people grow up in a postmodern world, it will become more and more “normal” for people to think like this. I don’t think postmodernism is the best thing ever, like all generations there are plenty of good things in it and plenty of bad.


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