Crystal Downing’s How Postmodernism Serves (My) Faith is our book club selection for the month of March. It can get a bit heady at times, but I think you will find that Downing keeps a nice pace and makes some pretty complicated material accessible to readers.
The book begins by addressing the “duck and cover” approach to postmodernism held by many evangelicals. Downing reminds readers that postmodernism “should not be judged by problematic practices carried out in its name,” but should be more closely examined by the Christian community before judgment is rendered.
What Downing goes on to show, (and what I have experienced in my own life), is that postmodernism has both strengths and weaknesses, and that it can actually support the Christian faith. Downing describes postmodernism as “a suspicion of ready answers, an emphasis on the limitations of language, an awareness of the artifices of tradition.”
“My willingness to start asking questions about postmodernism,” she writes, “led to the discovery that it serves my faith…”
When people challenge my own embrace of postmodernism, when they argue that postmodernism is bad for the Church, I sometimes wonder what they think is so great about modernism. The Enlightenment emphasis on intellectual autonomy and rationalism has led to the assumption that in order for Christianity to be intellectually viable, God’s existence must be proven on empirical grounds. The advantage of postmodernism is that it draws attention to the fact that all knowledge must be taken on faith. Downing writes that “it brings us back to the credo ut intelligam (I believe in order to understand) of Augustine and Anselm.”
In college, I remember reading Gene Edward Veith’s Postmodern Times in my Christian Worldview class. In it, postmodernism is presented as a dangerous worldview system that stands in direct opposition to Christian orthodoxy. Veith slaps the postmodern label on everything from pluralism, to remote controls, to the animal rights movement. Indeed, many Christian writers continue to do so. Just the other day I picked up a book by a young evangelical who criticized postmodernism and wrote, “Still worse is deconstructionism, which says, ‘It’s not that I don’t know the truth, it’s that I just don’t care.’” I’m not sure such a loose and vague definition of deconstructionism would fly in academic circles today-be they Christian or secular. And yet many Christians continue to blame all of my generation’s problems on a cultural shift that I believe will ultimately help the Church.
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