Good Thought on Emergent

Some people like to link to good thoughts on other blogs and some people like to subject their readers to the horrors of their own thoughts. I usually choose the latter. However, while reading a book review on Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog, I came across a nugget of pure gold in the comments. This paragraph summarizes the difficulties in the emerging church’s dance with postmodern thinking:

It seems to me that some in the emergent movement are led astray by those postmodernists who think that a recognition of our finitude and subjectivity means that we must be religious skeptics, bereft of concrete beliefs like those that characterize the Christian story. Since I believe that there can be knowledge with what we might call epistemic humility, I reject the claim that postmodernism entails religious skepticism. It doesn’t. I also know from personal experience that commitment to religious belief, including Christian belief, can coexist (however unhappily) with anxiety, bafflement, sadness, doubt and confusion. I think, however, that some in the emergent movement unwittingly commit themselves to religious skepticism and that, I am convinced, is incompatible with Christian commitment.

All I can say to that is “amen.”

6 responses to “Good Thought on Emergent”

  1. Is postmodern Christianity (emergent thinking) synonomous with skepticism? Must a postmodernist be a skeptic?

    I don’t know why the admission of our finitude and subjectivity is, or needs to be, any different from “epistemic humility”.

  2. Of course painting with broad brushstrokes doesn’t always give you the full picture. That said, however, postmodernism and skepticism do tend to go hand in hand.

    Admitting our finitude and subjectivity leads some people to think that you can’t really get beyond skepticism to any kind of confidence in truth. Our modernist conditioning has led us to the false belief that if you can’t know something with 100% rational certainty, then you can’t really know it at all.

    Postmodernism thus far hasn’t really dealt with how to be certain of something while recognizing that you could be wrong. In the end, it’s probably just simple humility.

  3. A lot going on behind the comment eh?

    I am most interested by the subjectivity of the post-modern system.

    Some would say that it is in large part a necessary reaction against the failed scientific objectivity of modernity.

    But perhaps the subjectivity we attach to beliefs (you have your god, I have mine), is only a thinly veiled objectivity.

    I.E. I’m willing to hold religion in tension so that we can all “get along” on the surface, but I’m still operating from my root belief system, while at the same time professing my objectivity for the betterment of society!

    In other words: Everyone should have freedom of worship, but don’t get in the way of the American/Western Way of Life.

    Hyper-modernity anyone?

  4. I think I need to get a few things clarified. First of all Matt (tony, cam), would you exactly identify yourself with postmodernism?

    Suffice to say, I do not like postmodernism. If Christianity under modernism is an extension of the old authoritarianism, postmodernism seems to me to be about asking without really caring what the answers are. Postmodernism is content to doubt, it does not seek resolution of truth.

    This is why I think you are likely a part of the next stage of philosophy, which doesn’t really have a name yet. The history of philosophy was characterized by thesis (modernism), which was reacted to by antithesis (postmodernism) and finally by synthesis (the unnamed thinking that is emerging now) which takes the best aspects of the thesis and antithesis and reconciles them. Synthesis admits that the thesis wasn’t perfect, but also that antithesis wasn’t a completely valid stance, either. They both have their points: modernism’s objectivity of reality and postmodernism’s emphasis on the subjectivity of experience. The point of postmodernism seems to be to doubt, to ask the questions, but I am not content with that. What is the point of asking questions if they don’t bring you any closer to an understanding of the truth? Postmodernist Christianity has more in common with agnosticism (sp?) than traditional faith.

    I think it’s very important that we don’t simply take an all-inclusive stance on religion and truth, which is what some feel that the emergent church does. There is a hilarious article in the most recent issue of The Wittenburg Door called ‘The Emergent Elijah’ where the Door theorizes what the Bible would read like if the emergent church had been allowed to write it

    To summarize: I don’t think that the guy you quote is really a postmodernist, nor are you or the others.

  5. This is the trouble with our “plastic words”, if you will – they mean somethings sometimes to some people.

    Who is really a postmodernist? The first thing that comes to my mind is someone who doesn’t think that science and objective truth can save us – and then proceeds to deconstruct as a game plan.

    I think you are right on this point Trav: Doubting as a goal is a pretty lame way to exist, especially as a Christian.

    It has its uses though… and it has a place in church too for that matter.

    Don’t you just love Mark 9:24 – “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (in context)

  6. Hmmm, excellent thoughts going on up in here whilst I was in Nova Scotia.

    Cam: subjectivity can’t actually give you any kind of worldview from which to live, so nobody really lives there, they just say the PC platitudes when required to.

    Trav: I would not exactly identify myself with postmodernism, but I do listen and agree with some things it has to say. As Cam says, postmodernism is a very plastic word that means very different things depending upon who is using/hearing it.

    I also agree that postmodernism largely doesn’t stand for anything, it is merely antithesis to modernity. It is much like an adolescent individuating itself from its parents: it rebels against things it sees “wrong” with its’ parents’ values (rightly and wrongly) so as to emerge as an individual that doesn’t merely parrot the parents’ worldview. This process is messy, leads to excess, is filled with foolishness and yet often has very poignant insights. That’s kind of how I feel about postmodernism and the emergent folks who are treading that path.

    So, I have a relationship of listening and wrestling with the postmodern crowd. I am hopeful that there is a more positive, helpful way forward in both theological and philosophical considerations. It may not even happen in my lifetime, but I already see some progress in that direction.

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