Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Answering Emergent response to Joy Magazine article on Postmodernism


Nic Paton of Emergent Africa responds to my article published in this month's edition of Joy Magazine entitled 'Is Postmodernism Uprooting the Church'

Read his response 'Joy Magazine consolidates anti-emergent stance' at: www.emergentafrica.com post dated 6 Jan 09

* Paton starts by citing various core values of Joy Magazine which he feels were not followed in their failure to give him permission to reprint their article published in the August issue of Joy Magazine http://emergingthreat.blogspot.com/2008/08/emergents-respond-to-joy-magazine.html. I cannot speak for Joy Magazine, but I would argue their response is fairly normal for a magazine to reserve copyright to protect their sales at least until that edition is out of circulation.

* Paton makes a good and fair summary of my article.

* Paton argues a distinction between the ideology of postmodernism and the 'phase of history' of 'post-modernity'. I dispute this distinction, as an attempt to clothe an ideology as a time frame. Since it is impossible to fight a time frame, without being backward, thus then according to such theory, postmodernity/postmodernism is invincible. So many other ideologies themselves in something else e.g. Marxism as 'Scientific socialism' as if you can't fight science. But where is Marxism now? So the 'New Age' movement implies a time based period etc. No, I don't accept the distinction.

* Paton argues that Postmoderns do draw from the past rather than simply creating new ideas. Yes this is agreed. Nevertheless, the way it uses the past is not the way the people of the past used those ideas within the framework of a system, but rather postmodernism tends to borrow bits and pieces from various different systems and ideologies without attempting to coherently fit them together. This is seen most clearly in Postmodern art and architecture (e.g. the V&A Waterfront and Century City Shopping Centres in Cape Town). This may be enjoyable as art, but it is dangerous for theology.

* Paton argues that the tenor of my Jan 09 Joy article is confrontatory and suggests that this is an influence of Augustine rather than Modernism or Protestantism. In response, I argue yes it is not a Modernist response. But no I would argue Reformation Protestantism was like Augustine highly polemical - but I would go back further to say that most of the Bible is highly polemical - if you take the polemical content out of the New Testament, you would would probably have to delete two thirds of it.

* Paton defends Postmodern influence against the allegation of a reluctance to present the gospel by arguing courage in theology and church practice. Yes I recognise Emergents have showed a lot of courage in such areas (although I think most of it is misguided and unhelpful), yes it may include a form of courage in breaking with traditional practices and teachings. But the allegation in my article is that postmodernism undermines courage in confronting sinners with the core message of the gospel: sin, hell, repentance etc. Paton has not yet answered this.

* Paton writes "If preaching of a gospel is motivated not wholly by the Love of God, but by any threat such as that of hell, or endless retributive separation from the Creator, the authenticity of that gospel must be questioned." Well yes, exactly that is further evidence for what I am saying, Postmodernism/Emergent church is changing the core of the gospel - we disagree on this. If the gospel is just motivated by the love of God, then it is an 'alternative lifestlye' for us to choose. Exactly what I have been saying. This is where Postmodernism is misleading people and distorting the gospel. The gospel is not Postmodern. Hell is a very un-Postmodern concept. It is fundamentally intolerant of alternative viewpoints. Either the gospel must change postmodernism or postmodernism must change the gospel. Hopefully the love of God will draw us to repentance, but the threat of hell is very very real and a very good reason to convert.

* In the side bar of the same Emerging Africa blog (accessed 6 Jan 09), is a poll of their readers showing approximately one third agnostic and one third universalist and another third divided over the question of whether a few or many will be saved. Again confirmation that Postmodernism is bluring the issues. The Bible says only a few will be saved (Luke 13:23-25 & other scriptures).

* In response to my argument that 'Postmodernism affects attitudes to the persecuted', Paton argues that the Emergents have stories of comfort to the suffering. There is no disagreement here. Emergents may offer comfort to those who may suffer in one way or another - but will they fight for them? Will they suffer by standing with them?

To quote the World Evangelical Alliance, Religious Liberty Commission, 15 February 2008, Trends and Analysis for 2007-8, by Elizabeth Kendall "...the West, including the church is submitting to the spirit of the age: postmodernism, which specifically targets truth. As the world opens up to truth, the postmodern church abandons it, or at least abandons its claim to it. Not only does postmodernism cripple evangelism, but because postmodern Christians believe truth is relative, they have a really hard time supporting or even caring about Christians who are prepared to suffer and die for it..."

In terms of the question of my own personal standing against persecution, my work has been mostly in defending Christians who are persecuted in South Africa for their uncompromising stand for truth e.g. Healthworkers on abortion, and free speech against homosexuality. Again I am not sure if postmoderns would see much merit in suffering for this cause and may at times favour the persecutors. But in terms of other countries, The World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission are the ones who are doing a major work.

* Paton responds to my argument that postmodernism is changing the way the uncoverted interpret the gospel. He argues "“the unconverted” are not interpreting the gospel, they are simply living in culture without the complications of a commitment to the gospel. It appears the problem only comes with “conversion”". Sorry, I think Paton misses my argument here. The uncoverted have to understand at least the basics of the gospel correctly in order to convert, and if because postmodernism clouds their understanding they fail to understand, then they cannot convert. Thus in our generation, evangelism must increasingly include explaining some basic assumptions that didn't need to be explained before - like the existence of absolute truth. A new and different problem arises when such people do convert, which is that having accepted the core of the gospel (needed to convert), they then need to either reform their whole worldview away from postmodernism (which I advocate) or alternatively re-interpret Christianity through a postmodern lens (which the Emergent Church advocates).

Thanks Nic Paton for your comments. Maybe you would like to respond further to my responses. While we differ on many issues, I think we are more clearly defining those issues through the debate and most of what you say in your article I believe confirms rather than undermines my arguments. i.e. We increasingly agree on the differences between our worldviews, but the reader must now choose which worldview ('conservative evangelical' or 'emergent/postmodern', which they wish to use themselves to interpret the world and the Bible.

3 comments:

Sentinel said...

Interesting viewpoint:

"postmodernism undermines courage in confronting sinners with the core message of the gospel: sin, hell, repentance etc."

I'm not sure I can agree that the core message of the gospel is sin and hell. There's a lot on repentance, to be sure, but I'd say grace and love are even more prominent as core messages. Even repentance is presented less as an act of scurrying around with head bowed and tail between legs and more a turning away from harmful acts and returning to a loving relationship with the Father, who is waiting eagerly to receive you.

I'd distill the "core message" as a Jesus' summation in the Great Commandment, along with Micah's prophetic passage on "the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God."

soundandsilence said...

Philip
•I felt that JOY! was not following their values in the way they are reporting the Emerging Conversation, not because they didn’t allow a reprint.

•Post-modernity vs post-modernism : The distinction between post-modernity (a cultural age) and post modernism (the belief that post the modern age is better than other ages) is important. I feel you are being overly conspiratorial in implying that I am “clothing an ideology”. I am simply trying to live the Gospel in this postmodern age, not manipulating it to any end other than the kingdom of God. But ultimately you need to take me on my word here.

•Syncretism: What is wrong with “borrowing” from various systems? That is exactly how the bible was constructed; for example, it is accepted that Genesis has the mark of 4 authors, packaged at some point as one book. Each and every cultural and religious movement is syncretistic. Notions of any “Pure” ideology are fantasies, and often result in disaster – Nazism is an extreme case in point.

•Polemics: I understand that when Luther stood up to 1100 years of Tradition he was polemical, and this was perhaps inevitable,(even although it unleashed mayhem and death on a massive scale). My reading of scripture is a mix of confrontation / judgment and mercy, but ultimately it is a Story of Mercy. I’d say (without due study) that the New Testament as a polemic is largely directed towards the Pharisees and teachers of the law – the religious. The average person looking for forgiveness and acceptance finds it in abundance.

•The Core of the Gospel as Judgment and Hell: we disagree, I go with Sentinel and see it as mercy, with all judgment having a restorative intent. I think you need to be very careful to present the notion of hell as not having any alternative viewpoints. In “4 views on hell” (Crockett et al, Zondervan, 1996) for example, we have literal hell, figurative hell, annihilationist and purgatorial views. (And it does not even take universalism into account).

•Only a few saved: Using the Narrow door parable to ”prove” endless retributative separation for the creator is by no means unequivocal. In my reading, the primary context is to the Jews who are being warned not to take salvation for granted, and secondarily to individuals as a warning of the cost of ignoring judgment, which is torment, but not necessarily endless suffering. Jesus VERY specifically does not answer the question simply, so be careful in your over bold assertions.

•Absolute truth: The idea of “absolute truth” is very modernist. Ultimate truth, which I do believe in, will be deeply paradoxical. Absolute, unchanging, complete truth is something we might one day know, but let’s be honest about the fact that for now we all “see through a glass darkly”.

Thanks Philip for your participation. You and I are not going to agree, so the way I view it, let’s serve God from within our chosen paradigms and see what comes out when we stand before “Him with whom we have to do”.

For you, my wish is that you would bear much fruit.

Ryan said...

Hi Philip,

"Postmodernism tends to borrow bits and pieces from various different systems and ideologies without attempting to coherently fit them together. This is seen most clearly in Postmodern art and architecture (e.g. the V&A Waterfront and Century City Shopping Centres in Cape Town). This may be enjoyable as art, but it is dangerous for theology."

I tend to disagree that postmodern Christians, or at least Emerging Christians, don't try and put these things together in a coherent form. One glance at a site like www.opensourcetheology.com should shout out loud and clear that there is a coherence attempted by those who have the brainpower to do so.

MOST Christians, postmodern or not, do not have a coherent theology but only bits and pieces. I bet that I could challenge your own theology from several points if we got into a long debate on a particular subject, and show your theology lacks coherence. Mine does too. We tend to work out our theologies depending on what we're dealing with at the time and very few people put their theologies into a workable system. Many pastors actually don't employ coherent thought. Many pastors that claim to be conservative-evangelical are actually far worse when it comes to coherence than guys like Rob Bell (who doesn't claim to be emerging).

"If the gospel is just motivated by the love of God, then it is an 'alternative lifestlye' for us to choose. Exactly what I have been saying. This is where Postmodernism is misleading people and distorting the gospel. The gospel is not Postmodern. Hell is a very un-Postmodern concept. It is fundamentally intolerant of alternative viewpoints. Either the gospel must change postmodernism or postmodernism must change the gospel. Hopefully the love of God will draw us to repentance, but the threat of hell is very very real and a very good reason to convert."

I'll challenge this on various points. Firstly, I disagree that the gospel's core is sin, hell and repentance. The gospel's core is Jesus and everything he embodies. I think Love and Justice are better words to explain Him.

Secondly, even Philip Schaff (the great church historian) acknowledges that many different Christians had many different views in the early church of hell. The predominant view was actually a type of universalism (that hell is restorative punishment) and hell as eternal punishment was a minority view. This should show us that being thoroughly intelorant of other views with hell is not a Scriptural idea but a modernist one, or at least one built when the church and state were linked together.

This also means that the early church message did not see eternal punishment as a core message of the gospel, as there seemed to be no issue with disagreeing viewpoints on the subject.