Mapping Postmodernism: A Survey of Christian Options

Here is a book that anyone attempting to understand the world, especially the world of ideas, should have at or near the top their list of reference books. I want to choose my words carefully in describing this book. It is a map. It is an in-depth reference book of history and ideas within the Christian framework. It is a book about philosophy leading up to but focusing mainly on postmodernism. It is a book full of helpful and valuable insights in the development of theological and philosophical thought. While those words may suggest that this book is merely academic, for professional scholars, or trained clergy (and it is all those things) it is also a very readable book for the broader Christian community.

In many ways it reminds me of Stanley Grenz’s Primer on Postmodernism, only more expansive. There are so many conflicting opinions regarding postmodernism. On one extreme, some people denounce all that is connected with that philosophy. On the opposite extreme, others accept all that is understandable about postmodernism. Greer helps us to realize that there is much to be learned from postmodernism, especially as it relates to communicating the gospel and truth to this generation.

We need to be aware of Greer’s thought-provoking ideas regarding absolute truth and in order to communicate clearly to today’s audience. I believe he writes with sensitivity to our orthodox position but places his ideas in a context that speaks to contemporary people. He distinguishes between biblical truth and foundations in contrast to the philosophical foundationalism of 17th and 18th century philosophers and theologians. They grounded much of their thought on Scottish realism versus biblical revelation. You will remember Descartes’ famous saying, “I think therefore I am” as he dealt with certainty, doubt, and foundation. That tends to get a negative reaction from many postmodernists. Yet, biblical revelation is often included because of the belief that the two positions are part of the same, which of course is not the case.

Greer gives a good contrast between St. Augustine’s belief that there is perfect knowledge and Descartes’ similar belief. The way in which perfect knowledge becomes possible differs greatly between the two. Sadly, Descartes’ approach is often confused with or included in Augustine’s more biblical approach.

Others and I have used a three-part timeline to delineate the development of philosophical and theological thought over the years: premodern, modern, and postmodern. Greer suggests a five-part timeline: premodern, modern, existentialism, postmodern, and post postmodern. The former model used existentialism as a bridge between the modern and postmodern periods, and included Greer’s post postmodern within postmodernism, namely the emphasis on community and relationships. Greer has a lengthy appendix in which he defines and describes these five areas, which I found helpful.

Greer also suggests, as we have done, that postmodernism may either be just that or it may be ultra-modernism in its final form. A thought worth thinking about! Greer reminds us that Jesus Christ cannot be understood in the abstract but only in the personal area of faith and knowledge. He is the personal God who cannot be known impersonally. Failure in making that distinction leads many postmoderns to deal with them as one, thus missing an important part of the whole picture. Greer says, ” in the post-postmodernism” paradigm, absolute truth has a name: Jesus Christ. As the Creator of the heavens and the earth, Jesus Christ is the personification of truth par excellence, the one who is to be loved and known, but never mastered.”

This book, carefully read, studied, and discussed, could be one of those landmark books that helps us navigate through the turbulent waters of the early 21st century with a better understanding of how to communicate God’s truth to today’s generation.

Charles Dunahoo pastored churches in Georgia and Alabama before being called to his present position as Coordinator for the PCA of Christian Education and Publications (CEP).

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