What about po-St/mOd(ern)ity?

This week I'm attending Celebration 2010 - a gathering of North American Mennonite Brethren marking the 150th anniversary of the movement. A part of the gathering is a study conference titled "Renewing Identity and Mission" in which a variety of topics are explored by many different presenters from many different fields. It's been enriching to say the least!

During the conference I've had the chance to participate in a blogger's forum for the MB Herald, our denominational magazine. What follows is my entry responding to a presentation by my friend and mentor Myron Penner.

What about po-St/mOd(ern)ity?

Yes, this is how actually how Myron Penner spelled the oft-controversial term “postmodernity,” alluding to the idea that postmodernity is by no-means understood or even accepted as a helpful term in academia. With an intellectually stimulating presentation, Myron suggested that postmodernity is misunderstood and misused when Christians describe the world. Working from his perspective as a philosopher, Myron was quite critical of Christian characterizations of history, particular in the blaming of philosophy for our “alleged” postmodern context. Postmodern thought, Myron suggested, was only about a 10-year span in the ’70s and ’80s, seen now as “sophomoric skeptical posturing” in philosophical circles.

In fact, Myron proposed that postmodernism has little traction in much of academic discipline in general. In this line, to suggest philosophy is somehow father and proponent of postmodernism, as Christians are prone to suggest, is simply wrong. At best, postmodernism describes a cultural situation, but not a philosophical position. Myron concluded, then, that philosophy is not bound by the caricatures of worldview (e.g. “modern” or “postmodern”), but has and continues to offer an “intellectually viable” presentation of Christian beliefs.

As one trained in theological studies, I was challenged by Myron’s critique of theologian’s caricatures of cultural developments, particularly our descriptions of postmodernism and “secular” academic disciplines. Despite popular Christian opinions often fuelled by critique of belief in God (e.g. Dawkins), Myron helpfully clarified, citing the work of Alvin Plantinga, that “actual contemporary philosophy is not hostile to belief in God…God is alive and well in the academy of philosophy.” To summarize, I think we as Christians too often tell the story for others instead of allowing others, in this case philosophy, to tell the story themselves. To that end, Myron told us a much-needed story.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post Dave. I've heard Myron emphasize this point before. What has replaced the skeptical posturing of post-modernity in contemporary philosophical thought. Who are these philosophers that Myron draws from to help us communicate faith in an intellectually credible way.

Also, I know postmodernity is something of the past in terms of academia, but is it still not implicating our contemporary culture. Is the cultural movement of postmodernity still alive today? If so, is it not important for us as Christians to remain aware of these cultural forces and have a grasp on some of the ideas backing it?

Lastly, how does Myron characterize the onset of postmodernity. You mention that he calls it more of a cultural movement then a philosophical movement. What then of Heideggar, Derrida, Foucault etc. What role did they have in this movement - what role do they have today?

Have we found a way out of the hermeneutical circle? Do tell!

Anonymous said...

Hey Dave,

Thought I'd be able to edit my last post - apologies for the lack of question marks. . . hope it is still intelligible.

David Warkentin said...

Ok, sorry for the delay, a few thoughts:

Myron mentioned Alvin Platinga as leading the way for Christian Philosophy.

Re/ the presence of postmodernism in culture - someone else asked this question through the lens of emergent church thought - are McLaren and friends simply wasting their time engaging a postmodern ethos in culture? Myron suggested no, as it's worthwhile trying to connect and understand our culture. Unfortunately, time constraints in the session limited further discussion for how Christian philosophy can enrich our theological engagement in a "postmodern" (or whatever) culture.

To your third point, As Myron suggested in our conversation elsewhere, the impact of those philosophers is far less than they are given credit (among philosophers anyways)

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