RAPID RESPONSE REPORT
DEFENDING HISTORIC CHRISTIANITY IN A POSTMODERN WORLD
10/24/2003 Vol.2 #10
POSTMODERNISM: A REVIEW
For the benefit of the many who signed up to receive RRR in the last six months I would like to review what we mean by Postmodernism (PM) and what this e-zine is about.
The term postmodern was first used of a certain type of architecture which combined a variety of forms which seemed to be not only in contradiction, but which were utilized for no apparent reason, e.g., support beams which do not support anything! Later the term began to be used to describe a new mood or way of looking at life issues, i.e., a new paradigm for thought. Since the Advent of Christ there have been only three major paradigms: the Age of Faith (also called The Age of Dogmatism, Creeds, and Orthodoxy). The second was called the Enlightenment, or the Modern Period. It was characterized by its emphasis on reason and was known for its optimism. The end of the 19th Century, however, saw a growing skepticism. The ideas of F. Nietzsche (1844-1900) got the ball rolling, and I believe he was the main catalyst that brought us to PM when he denied the reality of any transcendent deity. With no infinite reference point there are no universals, and therefore, no truth. Hence PM today deny that there is one theoretical worldview that can explain all of reality. Instead, they conclude that truth is only the construct of a group. To use their lingo, “There is no meta-narrative (worldview), only narratives or stories.” PM champions relativism, anti-rationalism, pluralism, diversity, multi-culturalism, political correctness, feelings, and tolerance. Essentially what you have in time is cultural anarchy and culture wars. In the sixties the concern was for academic freedom and free speech. Please note: PM are not for either! With academic freedom one narrative (mindset) might try to get the ascendancy over the other. Likewise, words are used to argue a case or put down a group or minority, hence the speech codes on many college campuses. Everyone reading this ought to just pause a minute and think what are some things I can no longer say in public? Well, for example, if you are an Evangelical Christian General you’d better not say your God is stronger than Allah!
If you’ve been on this planet for 4 or 5 decades or more, you surely are aware that we are no longer the country we used to be. Indeed we are currently two nations, almost equally divided. Radical changes have taken place. As Christians we must address our age (this PM age) with the timeless Gospel. This newsletter was born with the vision to assist fellow believers in understanding PM and how this cultural climate can be addressed so that the Christian message is heard.
If you are new to the concept of PM we would suggest that you read our briefing outline, or the short summary chapter ((9) in The Universe Next Door (3rd Ed.), by James Sire. In our opinion the best full-length book is Postmodern Times, by Gene Edward Veith, Jr. We like it because he shows how PM has affected all areas of our life and culture.
ISLAM,JUDAISM,CHRISTIANITY,AND THE TRIUNE GOD
As a college student in the Sixties an old girlfriend introduced me to taped lectures (reel to reel!) of a Christian philosopher-missionary by the name of Francis Schaffer who was at the time addressing the hot worldview issues of those seething times. In these lectures he would occasionally stop and say: “If there is no infinite, personal, triune God who has revealed Himself, then Christianity does not have the answers that we need to answer the great philosophical questions.”(not a direct quote) He would go on to say, “If we do have this kind of God, then “Christians not only have knowledge about the universe and mankind that people cannot find out by themselves, but they have absolute, universal values by which to live and by which to judge the society and the political state in which they live. And they have grounds for the basic dignity and value of the individual as unique in being made in the image of God.” (How Should We Then Live? P.22) (tenses altered).
I understood most of what Schaffer was saying. I understood the part about the necessity of God being infinite as opposed to being finite as were the Roman gods. However, I was puzzled by his insistence that this infinite God be triune. It bothered me for years even though I believed in the Trinity. I wondered: “Why couldn’t the godhead simply be a personal unitarian God, or why not a duality or a quartet?” Now you may be wondering, “Crouse aren’t you getting in a little deep here?” By no means! This is most important, and is very relevant to contemporary concerns. I believe the matter of the existence of a personal Triune God is the foundation of Christian theology, i .e., Christian worldview.
There are several reasons why I believe there should be a renewed focus on the doctrine of the Trinity. First, PM has already made deep inroads into the church as we’ve written in past RRRs. My point is: that some avant garde churches endeavor to play down any controversial doctrine, particularly of the biblical God, less He might be conceived as politically incorrect. Secondly, I’m sure you’ve heard the refrain: “Jews, Muslims, and Christians all worship the same God; why can’t we all just get along!” Several articles and at least one book have been written along these lines.
The third reason requires a bit of explanation. It is of utmost importance if the Christian worldview is to be a philosophy of life with real answers to life’s most difficult questions. Schaeffer was right. Many years later I understood his firm assertion that it is absolutely essential that Christians affirm the existence of a personal triune God. It is not only because this teaching is taught in Scripture (hinted at in the Old and explained in the New), but also, because it is necessary philosophically. Here’s why: The early Greek philosophers had a problem. They notice that in the phenomenal world everything was a particular, and in order for particulars to have meaning there had to be some kind of universal. For example, we all observe particular noses, flat noses, long noses, and hooked noses. All are particular noses. They would be meaningless if we did not have a concept of "noseness" (a universal). In our lives we observe all kinds of particulars (pieces of the puzzle of life). The Greeks called this the problem of the one and the many, or the need for unity and diversity. Various solutions have been proposed but they all end up going to one extreme or the other. The error of nominalism assumed there were no universals to give particulars meaning. PM is an excellent example of this error as it assumes that truth is only local and not universal. Realism errs in the other direction; it assumes the reality of the one rather than the many. History has shown that the ramifications of the errors are harsh. Civilizations that tend to see unity and no diversity are generally more tolerant of tyrannical governments as in Islam.
The importance of this principle is readily seen when we note that each person is a particular person. It has been said that any finite thing, including man, is absurd without an infinite or ideal reference point. The simple statement, "Smith is a smart man," is meaningless unless it is indicated to whom or what he is being compared. Compared to a chimpanzee, or Albert Einstein? To reiterate, the particulars of life must have some reference point in order to have meaning. Robert J. Lifton, research professor at Yale Medical School, affirmed this when he said:"...As symbol-forming beings, we have a need for connectedness with something beyond ourselves, for an inner sense of continuous symbolic relationship over time and space to larger and more enduring forms than the individual self." (emphasis mine)
I hope that some light is beginning to dawn because the Christian idea of the personal Triune God has the only answer to this philosophical problem. Within the personal Trinity we have the ultimate unity and diversity in perfect balance. Note this powerful quote from the great theologian, Charles Hodge:
A Unitarian, one-personed God, might possibly have existed, and if revealed as such, it would have been our duty to have acknowledged His lordship. But nevertheless, He would have remained utterly inconceivable to us—one lone, fellowless conscious being; subject without object; conscious person without environment; righteous being without fellowship or moral relation or sphere of right action. Where would there be to him a sphere of love, truth, trust, or sympathetic feeling? Before creation, eternal darkness; after creation, only an endless game of solitaire, with worlds for pawns.
I don’t know if per chance Hodge had the Muslim deity in the back of mind when he wrote this, but the description fits to the proverbial “T.” Why in the world would we sacrifice the Triune God for a unitarian one in the name of tolerance? And this is not to mention that redemption as we know it would be impossible, but that will have to wait for another issue of RRR. The applications to culture and apologetics are many. If you are really gung-ho on this, and want to read on your own, I highly recommend the new book, The Doctrine of God, by John Frame. This is one hefty book with over 800 pages, but while it deals with weighty matters, Frame’s style of writing is easily comprehensible. Well not easy; it is above the eighth grade level! I still have way to go to get through this tome, but I really believe this will be a definitive work on this subject. Thank you, Prof. Frame!
OTHER ARTICLES OF INTEREST
If you don’t believe there is a culture war, and if you doubt that the main focus is evangelical Christianity, read Ellen Goodman’s article in the Boston Globe, Can Our Deity Beat Their Deity? One thing you come away from in this article is that the left is not all that tolerant or free from hate, and that a very unique approach to preaching the gospel in this PM world must be employed. Here is another one which poses some interesting questions without the sarcasm of Goodwin from the Jerusalem Post. America’s Culture War: What is Wrong With Referring to America as a Judeo-Christian Country? By Elwood McQuaid. Here’s one more on the same subject: Onward Christian Soldier! The Jihad against General Boykin by David Gelernter in The Weekly Standard
Would you like more info on the subject comparing deities? Here is a rather comprehensive article in: Answering Islam. Is Allah the God of Bible? By Sam Shamoun.
In Christianity Today you can find Timothy George’s article Is the God of Muhammad the Father of Jesus? If you have any interaction at all with Muslims you will know that this is one of the touchiest of subjects. George also does an excellent job in his treatment of the Trinity. The article is a condensation of a book by the same name.
There is a lot we would like to say about the case of Terry Schiavo but it will have to wait. Suffice it to say there is something mighty strange going on there, and will we ever know the truth? I hope so. I thought it was rather interesting that this article was published, in of all places, The New York Times. The article is about testing that was done on the brains of those in a so-called vegetative state. Wow! They didn’t expect to find what they found! Article title: What if There is Something Going On in There?
If you didn’t click on the article linked above to “two nations” here it is again;
Post-everythings by Timothy Keller. If you are actively ministering in the PM world you will not want to miss this insightful article found in by Faith.
(Coming: A lot more discussion about the Trinity; The current popularity of Natural Theology, and,What is a Neo-conservative?)
For Christ and His Kingdom