Sunday, January 22, 2006


Here at millinerd we try to keep you up to date with the those moving beyond the postmodern moment. Not those who move around it, mind you, but those who move through it. Easy it is to find those who flippantly dismiss postmodernity, much more interesting are those who have sufficiently wrestled with its challenges and are happily moving on. It is a task however that is becoming increasingly hard to keep up with. When I first found a thinker that fit the description, I thought it was a rarity. Then it kept going... and going... and going... and going... and going. Until now postmodernity may be becoming a lot like salad dressing: There's no need to buy it again. Ever.

The following are two of the more impressive minds I've come across who fit the post-postmodern profile. Both happen to be Christians (perhaps I'm biased). Those more academically inclined might prefer Hart. Wright, though himself a rigorous academic, may be more accessible. Both, I suggest, are well worth your time.


David B. Hart and the Meta-metanarrative
Hart defines modernity as
"the search for comprehensive metanarratives and epistemological foundations by way of a neutral and unaided rationality, available to all reflective intellects, and independent of cultural and linguistic conditions" (3).
A mouthful indeed - but right on. Perhaps because Hart's theology is deeply rooted in Cappadocian soil, he bears little affinity for this modern perspective, and is consequently unruffled by the postmodern critique of it.
"For Christian thought, [postmoderinty] is not by any means a disheartening prospect. For if indeed God became a man, then Truth condescended to become a truth, from whose historical contingency one cannot simply pass to categories of universal rationality; and this means that whatever Christians mean when they speak of truth, it cannot involve simply the dialectical wrestling of abstract principles from intractable facts... Christian thought has no stake in 'pure' rationality to which dialectic seems to appeal - the Christian ratio, its Logos, is a crucified Jew..." (5-6).
Unphased as he may be, the difficulty Hart does have with postmodernity nonetheless appears, but
"not in its alleged 'relativism' or 'skepticism' [the standard critique], but in in its failure sufficiently to free itself form the myths of modernity."
That is - and it is amazing that more people don't realize this - the pomo critique of metanarratives "can easily be translated into a dogmatic metanarrative of its own." Postmodernity is
"the culmination of the critical tradition of modernity... and predicatbly (given its pedigrees), this rigourous soupcon or critical incredulity becomes yet another attempt to extract thought from the quagmires of narrative; it become a meta-metanarrative, the story of no more stories, so told as to determine definitively how much may or may not be said intelligibly by others who have stoies to tell; it completes not only the critical but the metanarrative projects of modernity (which prove to be indistinguishable). This is where the temper of the postmodern often proves wanting in courage and consistency. The truth of no truths becomes, inevitably, truth: a way of naming being, language, and culture that guards the boundaries of thought against claims it has not validated" (7).
This idea of postmodernity as hyper-modernity is certainly not original to Hart, but what is unique to Hart is a compelling reconstruction of a non-violent metaphysics of beauty that follows.

N.T. Wright and the Epistemology of Love
Was postmodernity providential? The Bishop of Durham thinks so.
"Part of the point of postmodernity in the strange providence of God is to preach the Fall to arrogant modernity."
The following are my notes to his extraordinary remarks on the subject (culled mostly from this address, the last of a 4 part series freely available here).

In necessarily critiquing modernity, Wright insists that we will of course find some common points with postmodernity; but as with Paul in his Areopogus speech, we need to affirm, critique and subvert this worldly wisdom. In Christ, not in Voltaire Rousseau, Hegel, or Derrida are found all the treasure of wisdom and knowledge. Although postmodernity was necessary against modern arrogance, on its own it leads to fragmentation - that pick and mix smorgasbord world which declares that all great stories are just powerplays, not least of which those told by postmodernists themselves.

On its own, postmodernity is ultimately a message of judgment and death, of sterile and ironic negativity. Look at the life as well as the thought of Michel Foucault. We agree, says Wright, with postmodernity's negative judgment on modern illusions, while insiting over against particularly Foucault that the resurrection is the ground for a cultural renewal and revival, of which Christians should be in the forefront.

The Way Ahead
But Wright doesn't stop with deconstructing deconstruction. He points the way forward toward a new theory of knowledge, nothing less than what he claims is true knowing. We, especially academics, must allow the gospel to challenge and remake our very knowledge itself, and in doing so we must take on board the full weight of the postmodern critique of knowing. Many who claimed in modernity to be merely describing the world were in fact disguising a power grab. But that does not mean that all knowledge is simply a reflection of our own powergames.

Paul speaks of being renewed in knowledge according to the image of the creator. Although current accounts of knowing privilege the would be scientific knowing, a biblical account of knowing should take love as its basic mode, with the love of God as the highest possible form of knowledge. Think about it, who really knows biology, the scientist who dryly memorizes data, or the one who has the data but is also enchanted with the beauty of molecular structures, and consequenlty loves biology. Love is a form of knowledge. When I love I affirm the differentness of the beloved. Not to do that is lust. When I affirm the differentness of the beloved I am passionately and compassionately involved. We can and must give an account of human knowing that will apply to all disciplines: from science to art, mathematics to music. The epistemology of love is the way of the post-postmodern world, to which we have a serious and joyful commission.

But, says Wright,
"I don't see people pointing the way out of the postmodern morass."
Many close up the shutters and live in a pre-modern world, including some Christians. Many are still stuck in modernity, including some Christans. Many think that picking off the garbage heap of now dated postmodern theory is the best they can do, including Christians.

My brothers and sisters we can do better. The Gospel urges us to be at the leading edge of the whole culture. Articulating in story, music, art, philosophy... even, believe it or not, Biblical studies - a worldview which will mount the historically rooted Christian challenge to both modernity and postmodernity, leading us into the post-postmodern world with joy and humor and music and dancing and gentleness and good judgment and faithfulness and wisdom.

If not now when? If not us who? If the Gospel of Jesus is not the key to all this then what is? Professor Wright concludes with a modest proposal:
"Jesus is Lord and neither modernity nor postmodernity are."
There's also a great closing illustration, but I wouldn't want to give it all away.