8.21.2011

Grenz on Postmodernism and Christianity

In A Primer on Postmodernism, Stanley J. Grenz does something that I've never seen before in Evangelical philosophical discussions: he recognizes postmodernism's value to Christianity. I'm not saying that this never happens; but usually in Evangelical critiques of postmodernism, it is simply dismissed as self-refuting (which it is). Grenz lays out where Christians can agree with postmodernism and where they must disagree. He says that Christians can agree with postmodernism that modernism espouses too optimistic a view about human reason and the progress of knowledge (especially in science) and that the modernist emphasis on the individual, neutral, objective observer of the world is problematic. Christians believe that human reason is tainted by the sinful human will, whereas postmodernists distrust reason and point to the influence of one's community (and language) on the individual. The results of recent scientific discoveries highlight the double-edged sword that is knowledge: the splitting of the atom led to nuclear waste and threats of nuclear war. Grenz observes, moreover, that the postmodern shift in focus back to one's role in the community should be welcome in Evangelical Christianity, which, through modernism, has tended to focus too much on the individual knower having right beliefs and not enough on having a loving community.

Grenz draws a sharp line in the sand between Christianity and postmodernism when it comes to views on truth and reality. He notes that the postmodernist claim that there is no overarching narrative of humankind flatly opposes Christianity's assertion that the stories of each people group fit within a larger narrative that is centered on Jesus Christ and God's plan of redemption. Grenz also says that Christians ultimately do not share postmodernism's skepticism concerning reason. He realizes how Christianity has benefited from modernism's intellectual progress, even though human use of reason has sometimes led people away from Christ. He cites Pascal in noting the limits of human use of reason in matters of faith.