Archive | Postmodernism

Googling for Truth: The Great Commission and Information Overload

It is no secret that our culture today has been/is undergoing a massive paradigm shift with regards to the way people come to know truth. The atmosphere of the intellectual landscape has changed. For many, confidence, certainty, and dogmatism have been replaced with doubt, skepticism, and agnosticism. All truth claims are held in high suspicion. Those still working under the old paradigm of absolute truth and absolute knowledge are thought by this new generation of thinkers to be naive at best and power mongering manipulators at worst.

Within the philosophical and theological communities, this new generation goes by many names: Post-fundamentalism, Post-Christian, Post-Evangelical, Post-Liberal, “emerging”, and the most common postmodern. While these names may not be sufficient to completely convey the ethos of this generation, they all have one important element in common—they are all post something. They are all emerging out of something. The culture is moving beyond where it was before. And this is not necessarily a bad thing.

How do you know who to trust?

Before Google, before the internet, before twenty-four-hour world news, before community run encyclopedias such as Wikipedia, before Facebook, before blogs became the premier source for truth, before the introduction of our globalized culture where alternative truth claims are literally at ones fingertips, people could be much more confident that the truth claims to which they adhere were an accurate representation of reality. Why? Because we did not have so many alternatives to confuse the issues. The naivety that this intellectual isolation provided, while quite comforting, is no longer a luxury that we can afford to entertain and expect to have an audience in the real world with the Great Commission. Truth is no longer simply a matter of going to the local parish on the corner and inquiring of the pastor. It is much more complex and confusing. Today, people are looking for answers, and bewilderment is the most common result. Doubt, depression, and disillusionment are often the result as people pan-handle for truth. Thousands of alternatives present themselves at your front door at every turn. After a while you just don’t want to answer the door anymore. The question “What is truth?” or, better, “Where is truth?” is the great ambient question that saturates the thinking of our culture whether we know it or not.

People are suspicious

Suspicion. This is a good, rich, and sad word that is only needed because of humanity’s moral downfall. To be suspicious means that you are in a “state of uncertainty or doubt.” Or better, “Suspicion is the positive tendency to doubt the trustworthiness of appearances and therefore to believe that one has detected possibilities of something unreliable, unfavorable, menacing, or the like.” Synonyms for suspicion are doubt, mistrust, or misgiving. Our culture is in a perpetual state of uncertainty about truth; our culture is suspicious—suspicious of you and suspicious of me. Heck, I am even suspicious of you! Why? Because Christians claim to have the truth about the most important questions in life. Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the truth. We have presented ourselves at the front door, and our message of exclusivity is, more often than not, falling on deaf ears.

While the problem is no secret, the solution is harder to come by. It would be easy to say “sin” is the problem. While this would be the answer that fits within the Christian worldview, it is a bit simplistic. Yes, sin is the problem. Its my problem as a knower of truth and my problem as a seeker or truth. I can’t know perfectly and neither can you. I can’t seek perfectly and I often don’t where to go. Because of these epistemological (“how we know”) difficulties, the focal point for theology is no longer Bibliology as it once was, but prolegomena. Prolegomena is the theological discipline that focuses on issues that need to be covered before truth claims can be asserted and debated. Prolegomena deals with the “first things” of theology. Methodology, theological systems, epistemology, and sources for truth are all issues of prolegomena. Because the world does not work with the same assumptions that it used to, I believe we must create common ground before we can reach our culture. This common ground must first and foremost deal with the issue of suspicion. The distrust that people have for you when you approach their door with a Bible opened to your favorite verse is real and needs to be answered. Trust needs to be gained. Continue Reading →

Are We Theological Bots?

For my Introduction to Theology Students: Please read

The other day I was listening to a radio program. The speaker is someone who is very popular in Evangelical apologetics. He is someone that I have learned a lot from and whom I respect a great deal. However, he propagated something that I think is, more often than not, a very poor apologetic response to questions for which the individual does not have answers. It goes like this:

Apologist teacher: “We need to be ready to give an answer for our faith.”

Student: “But I am scared. What if someone asks a question that I don’t have an answer for.”

Apologist teacher: “Don’t be scared. It is okay if you don’t know. Don’t feel bad about your lack of knowledge. You just need to remedy it. Tell them that it is a good question and that you will go find the answer and get back with them about it.”

However, I often find this sort of carte blanc response disturbing and quite demeaning.

I am not saying that it could not be a good answer in certain circumstances for certain questions. But when it comes to our defense of the faith we had better be more prepared and more reflective. What do I mean by this?

Think about it. Let’s put this in a particular situation. You are an enthusiastic Christian who believes deeply in the Gospel. You are talking to a co-worker about Christ one day. They begin to tell you about why they don’t believe in God. The crux of their issue is the problem of evil. “How could a good God allow evil?” That is their question. You respond, “I don’t know. Good question. I will research this some and get back to you next week.”

What you have just done here is legitimized your faith to this person. As well, you have diminished the seriousness of the question and the person asking it. To this person, your faith is carried even though you have not dealt with one of the most serious theological questions that anyone can ask. You have just told the person, “Hmmm…Good question. Never thought of that.” Once this person (who obviously does think deeply) recognizes that you have not personally wrestled with this issue, they might see your faith as shallow and fake. And you know what? They might be right. I am not saying that our faith is not true in such circumstances, only that it may be unreflective.  Continue Reading →

Embracing Doubt or Why ‘Roman Catholic Scholarship’ is an Oxymoron

Oxymoron means “sharp dullness.” It describes a figure of speech in which two words that are contradictory are put together. For example, “accurate rumors” is an oxymoron. Why? Because by definition, a rumor is not yet deemed to be accurate. Other examples could include: “insane logic,” “public secret,” “instant classic,” or my favorite, “government intelligence.” However, over the years I have come to believe that “Roman Catholic scholarship” is an oxymoron. I don’t believe one can be a Roman Catholic and a scholar at the same time. Well, let me put it another way: I don’t believe one can be a true Roman Catholic and a scholar at the same time. Why? Because being a Roman Catholic militates against what makes someone a scholar in my opinion.

I know, I know.  I don’t ever write this . . . this . . . well, this polemical. It seems as if I am discrediting Roman Catholic scholarship with a heavy hand by an ad hom fiat. Please know this is not what I mean to do. There are going to be plenty of people thrown under the bus with this one. In fact, let me start by saying there are many Roman Catholics whom I deeply respect. I am not anti-Catholic. As well, there are many Roman Catholics whom I believe qualify as scholars. However, once they become a scholar (and I am talking about theology here), as I will explain, they have to depart to some degree from Rome. I am not saying that they actually depart from their core Catholic beliefs. I am simply saying that they must suspend their commitment to Rome in order to meet what I believe to be an essential characteristic of scholarship.

Most of you would not think of yourself as scholars. I understand that. I don’t think of myself as such either. However, I would assume that you attempt to be good students. Namely, you attempt to be students of truth.

Let me back up a bit.

Rene Descartes and Doubt

Rene Descartes is often thought of as the father of modernity. He gets a bad rap these days, especially by our postmodern and emerging friends. I think some of the bad rap is justified, particularly his quest for indubitability (How’s that for a word? Don’t try to say it out loud at home). Indubitability means absolute and perfect certainty. Rene Descartes (and many of his modernistic buddies) wanted their beliefs to be beyond the ability to be wrong. Like 1 plus 1 equals 2, Descartes wanted all matters of faith to share such comforting certainty (indubitably). I can’t get into all the fallacies here, but let’s just say that this quest was not only impossible, but unnecessary. Our beliefs do not have to be infallible before we are justified in possessing them. However, Descartes’ methodology had many redeeming elements that provide benchmarks of inquiry, learning, and knowledge. The first and most important thing Descartes taught was that we are to doubt. Doubt everything!

Doubt gets a hard rap in religious circles. In fact, we are often told that the opposite of faith is doubt. For many, doubt is only what unbelievers do. It is true that doubt can be a bad thing, but it largely depends on the context and how you understand it. Doubt can be, and very often is, healthy. In fact, I argue that doubt is a necessary first step to true conviction, understanding, and real faith. Let me explain.

The Essence of Scholarship

In order to learn, one must be willing to change. I don’t mean that they must be willing to merely go from the lesser to the greater, but also from the greater to the lesser, or even from the greater to the none. If we are to be true learners, we must be able to suspend our convictions to some degree. Of course, all knowledge requires some basic foundational assumptions, as Descartes began to articulate, but all knowledge must be challenged in order to graduate to true faith. We must be willing to set aside our preconceptions, passions, and emotional attachments in order to enter a learning environment. We must be willing to doubt everything, even our doubts.

Scholarship is based on the assumption that the best, most accurate, and trustworthy information is being sought. Scholarship is not based on the assumption that we are attempting to prove what we already know or believe. I learned a dictum early in my seminary career from my friend and co-blogger, Dan Wallace: “We are in pursuit of the truth, not prejudice.” In other words, we must do our best to approach our studies with the intent to follow the evidence no matter where it leads. This is a hard thing to do, as we all have our prejudices. We all have a “home team” for which we root. This is why being true students is very hard. We don’t like to be challenged, only confirmed. However, if we are to be true students – true scholars – we must be willing to suspend, to the best of our ability, our prejudices.

A Word About Apologetics

I love apologetics, don’t get me wrong. But what I am about to say will offend many apologists out there. Nine times out of ten, I don’t think apologists make good scholars. “Apologetics” is defined most broadly in Christian circles as defending the faith. This means when there is something – an idea, event, book, or person – presenting challenges to the faith, the apologist will come to the rescue.

While there are Christian apologists out there, there are also apologists for particular areas. For example, there are apologists for young earth creationism, evolutionary theism, inerrancy, premillenialism, and counter-cults. There are also apologists for the individual traditions in the Christian faith, such as Protestant apologists and Roman Catholic apologists. Of course, apologetics is not limited to the Christian faith, as there are apologists for atheism, Mormonism, and Islam. Continue Reading →

Chart on Church History

As many of you know, I have been working on this concept for about a decade now. This is the first time that I have taken the opportunity to make a descriptive graphic. Please look it over here and let’s talk about it.

PLEASE NOTE: this is in no way attempting to be prophetic.

click on graphic to enlarge

My primary goal here is to show my developing perspective on the history of the church. Protestants believe in “development.” Unlike the Eastern Orthodox, we are not trying to get back to the beliefs and the practices of the first few hundred years of the church. While we, as the graph shows, believe that there are wonderful “states of being” in every life-stage, our desire is to learn from the past and mature.

Free Video – Session 1 from the Church History Boot Camp

DNA: DNA is the basic building blocks of life. Everything you are has been encoded on your unique DNA from your conception. In the church, the DNA never changes. Further life-stages are merely a working out, maturation, and development of this DNA. When God’s special revelation was finalized at the completion of the canon of Scripture, the DNA code was manifest and ready for development. While the church goes through maturation, the basic doctrinal components will always be recognizable and reflective of its DNA. The DNA determines the orthodoxy and catholicity (universality) of the church. Continue Reading →

Leading the Postmodern Horse to Water – Four Views on Engaging Postmoderns

The following horse and water illustration that follows is taken from Millard Erickson’s book Postmodernizing the Faith. I use this and expand on it.

How should Christians engage a post-Christian, post-evangelical world, suspicious generation of people? How do we engage postmoderns?

Follow me here through this “Leading a horse to water” illustration. Here are the objects:

Horse=postmodern
Water=the Gospel
Rope=method of delivery

Question: How do we lead a postmodern horse to water?

Option 1: Deny the horse is really postmodern. No one can be a consistent postmodern. We simply need to convince them of the untenability of their professing worldview and show them how they don’t hold to it in reality.

Option 2: Convert the horse from being postmodern. Create common ground in epistemology (the way we come to know truth), then they will be able to drink the water.

Option 3: Change the rope. Christians need to change the communication method and style for a postmodern audience, being sensitive to the ethos of our culture.

Option 4: Change the water. The water we are calling “Gospel” today may not represent the true Gospel due to traditional folk theology and misinformation. Therefore, the water needs to be “purified.”

Option 1: Deny the horse is really postmodern.

No one can be a consistent postmodern. We simply need to convince them of the untenability of their professing worldview and show them how they don’t hold to it in reality.

This option is held by many in the Reformed tradition, especially of those who hold to a presuppositional apologetic. Presuppositional apologetics seek to make an offensive defense of the faith by bringing to people’s understanding that God is the presupposition behind all truth and knowledge. Without God, there is no such thing as an argument or a rational thought. He is required before any claim to truth can be made or any view can be held with conviction. There is a lot more to it than this, but hopefully this explanation will suffice for now. The most popular adherent to such an approach, especially when it comes to the issue of relativism, was Francis Schaeffer.

With regards to the issues surrounding Postmodernism, the one who takes this approach says that we yield too much ground when we concede that the “relativist” or “hard skeptic” is really such since in order to be such they have God as the very basis for their ability to doubt or deny the truth. Their logical reasoning shows that they already believe in the God of the Bible who is the presupposition behind all logical reasoning. As the old saying goes, “chaos cancels reason.” If there are reasons for relativism, this cancels relativism.

Those who opt for option one would not necessarily deny the other options a place, but they would say that we have to present the case as it stands, and as it stands, no one is really postmodern.

Evaluation

I don’t hold to this view much, although I do think it has its place. Yet I think the issues run much deeper than confining postmodernism to relativism. In fact, I think the ethos of the culture is not relativistic, but made up of varying degrees of skepticism and doubt. See my paper here which distinguishes between hard and soft postmodernism. I believe that our culture today is legitimately confused about truth, not necessarily denying its existence altogether. Continue Reading →

Googling for Truth: The Importance of Irenic Theology in our Postmodern World

In some sense, this is a charter post for Parchment and Pen as it expresses so much of what we are about. Have a great Fourth of July weekend.

Googling for truth can be a dangerous task. Who knows what one will find? How do you know who to trust? Before Google, before the Internet, before twenty-four-hour world news, before the introduction of our globalized culture where alternative truth claims are literally at ones fingertips, people could be much more confident that the truth claims to which they adhere were an accurate representation of reality. Why? Because we did not have any other alternatives to confuse the issues. The naiveté that this intellectual isolation provided, while quite comforting, is no longer a luxury that we can afford to entertain and expect to have an audience in the real world. Truth is no longer simply a matter of going to the local parish on the corner and inquiring of the pastor. It is much more complex and confusing. Today, people are Googling for truth, looking for answers, and bewilderment is the most common result. Thousands of alternatives present themselves at your front door at every turn. After a while you just don’t want to answer the door anymore. Is there a method of discovery that produces hope and assurance, without having to retreat back to naive isolationism of the past? 

It is no secret that our culture today is undergoing a massive paradigm shift with regards to the way people come to know truth. The atmosphere of the intellectual landscape has changed. Confidence, certainty, and dogmatism have been replaced with doubt, skepticism, and agnosticism. Truth claims are held in high suspicion. Those still working under the old paradigm of truth are thought by this new generation of thinkers to be naive at best and power mongering manipulators at worst. Within the philosophical and theological communities, this new generation goes by many names: Post-fundamentalism, Post-Christian, Post-Liberal, and the most common Post-modernism. While these names may not be sufficient to completely convey the ethos of this generation, they all have one important element in common—they are all “post” something. The culture is moving beyond where it was before.

Suspicion. This is a good, rich, and sad word that is only needed because of humanity’s moral downfall. To be suspicious means that you are in a “state of uncertainty or doubt.” Or better, “Suspicion is the positive tendency to doubt the trustworthiness of appearances and therefore to believe that one has detected possibilities of something unreliable, unfavorable, menacing, or the like.” Synonyms for suspicion are doubt, mistrust, or misgiving. Our culture is in a perpetual state of uncertainty about truth; our culture is suspicious—suspicious of you and suspicious of me. Why? Because Christians claim to have the truth about the most important questions in life. Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the truth. We have presented ourselves at the front door, and our message of exclusivity is falling on deaf ears.

While the problem is no secret, the solution is harder to come by. Because of these epistemological difficulties, the focal point for theology is no longer Bibliology as it once was, but Prolegomena. Prolegomena is the theological discipline that focuses on issues that need to be covered before truth claims can be asserted and debated. Prolegomena deals with the “first things” of theology. Methodology, theological systems, epistemology, and sources for truth are all issues of Prolegomena. Because the world does not work with the same assumptions that it used to, we must create common ground before we can reach our culture. This common ground must first and foremost deal with the issue of suspicion. The distrust that people have for you when you approach their door with a Bible opened to your favorite verse is real. Continue Reading →

The History of Science is the History of Bad Ideas

“The history of Science is the history of bad ideas.”

This is a quote that I heard recently. I think that it is a rather tongue-in-cheek way of expressing our (post)modern culture’s current attitude with respect to the authority of science. During the modern period, science was king. The scientific revolution produced hopes of a Utopian society where virtually all problems would be solved due to human innovation, evolution, and advancement. But during the postmodern period, science has been humbled due to a realization that the process was not as clean as we thought. Human contamination, insufficient data, faulty presuppositions, and religiously and politically motivated studies have tainted our hopes that science is truly king.

Euclid said, “The laws of nature are but the mathematical thoughts of God.” Such is true, but how do we know that we have properly interpreted the “mathematical thoughts of God”? I believe in the authority of nature and many of our (scientific) conclusions about such. Every Christian should. I have written about this in times past. Romans 1 says that creation itself leaves people without an epistemic excuse about God’s reality. This, among many other things, provides a firm biblical foundation for cosmology, biology, physics, and rationality in the Christian life. In this sense, the study of nature is mandated for the Christian.

However, we need to be timid about our conclusions that come from science, knowing the ways that it, like the Bible, can be manipulated. More important for what I am talking about now, we need to realize how dynamic the conclusions of science can be.

I was a fitness trainer through the nineties as well as working in the fields of sports medicine. I was very good at what I did and understood the issues (at least I thought). I focused on weight loss physiology. I wanted to provide people with the best—the most scientifically accurate—routine for weight loss. When it came to losing weight though, I would tell people to engage in a steady-state cardio routine. This is one in which you would keep your heart rate up consistently and moderately for above thirty-minutes. Then about fifteen minutes of resistance training. Without getting into all the details of why, suffice it to say that this was the most accepted scientific method for such goals. When it came to nutrition, I was not faddish at all. I repudiated the fads. I wanted to stick to that which was scientifically verifiable and accepted: the food pyramid. However both have changed since the nineties. Now, in order to lose weight, your cardio must include more of a circuit training where your heart rate gets up into its anaerobic state every so often. This is something that I used to teach against with (scientific) resolve. On top of this, the food pyramid has been turned upside down and subjectivized! Now, I am not saying what I did before did not work…it did. But it was not really right. There is a stability to say that exercise and proper nutrition are essential to weight loss. But I am no longer quite so committed to a particular type of exercise and nutrition. It is not so stable. Some of my theories have been literally turned upside down! That is just one example of the sort of things that can dissolution a person toward so-called scientific conclusions.

Here is a list of some other things that have changed over the years with regard to scientific ideas:

  • Maternal impression (the mother’s thoughts can influence the child’s)
  • Human cell (simplistic to complex)
  • The status of Pluto (no longer a planet)
  • Piltdown man (scientific hoax about a “missing link” in evolution)
  • The food pyramid (turned upside down)
  • Health benefits of alcohol (bad for you one day, good for you the next) Continue Reading →

"Nothing Could Be Further from the Truth" . . . and Other Stupid Statements

For my Intro students…

As I have been reading and reviewing books and blogs over the years, my approach has changed. This was not an overnight change, but something that just happened the more involved I became in engaging those who were serious about teaching and learning with intellectual honesty and integrity (something that, I am sad to say, does not often characterize Christian leaders and teachers). There are certain characteristics that I have found in people’s teaching that immediately alert me to the realization that I am wasting my time (which I don’t a whole lot of!).

Here are some key issues that tap me on the shoulder and demand my attention be redirected:

  • Overstatement
  • Unqualified Superlatives
  • Non-Contingent Propositions

Hang with me. I will explain.

This is probably not the list you expected. Many of your lists would include clarity, systematic presentation, grammar and spelling, and reference support. Those things are important to me as well (although you may not have noticed from my writing!), but the above list is what I notice most, especially in presentations and arguments that are theological in nature.

Overstatement, unqualified superlatives, and non-contingent propositions, are related and can be thought of as different ways of saying the same thing. In fact, you might say that they all belong in the same semantic domain that we might call “imbalance.” Once I detect imbalance, I usually have a hard time going on. Think of phrases like these: 

“I am absolutely certain that . . .”

“There is not a doubt in my mind . . .”

“The church has always believed . . .”

Everyone knows that . . .”

“It is perfectly clear . . .”

No educated person believes . . .”

Nothing could be further from the truth.”

And the like. Continue Reading →