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Postmodernism 101: A First Course for the Curious Christian
Author: Heath White
Publisher: Brazos Press
Pages: 176
 
In Postmodernism 101, Heath White does an excellent job of defining postmodernism in the context of its historical development.  One set of ideas gave rise to the modern period around 1600.  The postmodern period, driven by a new set of ideas, is emerging right now.  
 
White defines postmodernism as a way of looking at life that is shaping our culture.  It’s a point of view that he explores in detail.  His clear understanding makes for mostly easy reading.  Some sections, like the one titled “The Self”, get a little more complicated.  His answer to why it all matters is simple, “the culture is changing, and postmodern ideas are driving the change.”
 
This serves as an ideal textbook to a mindset that does not look to reason for the answers in life, as was characteristic of the modern period.  “Faith in the power of reason is the central pillar of the modern worldview,” writes White.  Postmoderns have lost faith in the power of reason.  In their turn against it, they have rejected moral absolutes.  
 
This poses a challenge to the truth claims of Christians, especially when it comes to thorny issues like homosexuality and abortion.  White favors engagement and listening to one’s opponents to bridge the gap created by misconceptions.
 
In showing how pre-modern, modern and postmodern schools of thought have impacted the church, White clearly favors a “high” church view that makes the Eucharist the high point of a service.  He points out that this was the pattern of the pre-modern church, one “that is still followed in its main outlines by Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran and Anglican churches.”  With the advent of modernism, the typical Protestant service peaks at the sermon.  In the modern mindset, the self is formed through teaching.  For the pre-modern, the self is formed through practice (repetition of the liturgy).  Even if one disagrees with White, he makes a fascinating case for using pre-modern forms of worship.
 
At the end of a section titled “Literalism,” White casts some doubt on the historical reliability of the Scriptures.  The context of his thought follows so that the author’s intent is not misrepresented.  “The basic reliability of the literal sense of scripture, then, should not be in question for a Christian. But the literal truth of the scriptures is not an end in itself; it serves the larger purpose of bringing people to trust in a God who acts. We should keep this in mind when questions about the historical accuracy of a Bible passage arise­what do we need to insist upon to maintain the integrity of the basic biblical message, and where can we flexible? That God created the universe and everything in it is, I think, nonnegotiable. That this creation took exactly six twenty-four-hour days strikes me as a point not worth insisting on.”
 
Evangelicals may find some of White’s views troubling, but his analysis of postmodern thought can be helpful to anyone.  
 
Michael Dalton
September 18, 2006
 

 
 
 

 

 
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