LentBooks #10: Christian Apologetics in the Postmodern World, Timothy R. Phillips and Dennis L. Okholm, eds.

This was my one “heavy” book on this year’s Lenten reading list — a series of moderately scholarly essays by various evangelical writers and thinkers exploring whether there’s a place for Christian apologetics in a postmodern society.

Dry though it may be, the question interests me.  This Lent I’ve been reading a fair bit about other religions — Islam, Buddhism, and even a little Judaism — as well as reading at least two books that were both, in their own way, works of Christian apologetics.  I am the kind of pluralstic Christian who believes there is truth in all religions and I can learn something from all of them, while still quietly thinking Christianity offers the straightest and truest path to God.  Those beliefs, resting uneasily next to each other, leave me a little out of place both in the evangelical church and in the postmodern secular world.


I also have a funny relationship with the word “postmodern.”  It’s been nearly 20 years (HAS IT???) since I started my MA in English and discovered postmodernism popping up behind every bush.  No matter how hard my professors tried to explain it I stil couldn’t grasp exactly what postmodernism was, so one evening I asked my much-smarter cousin Greg to explain it to me.  This would be a much better story if I could rememeber Greg’s answer, but all I recall is that he gave me a succinct summary of postmodern thought as it related to contemporary Canadian literature (which was what I was studying) and I came away with a better, though still not airtight, understanding of the P-word.

In the last 20 years I’ve picked up another degree, in counselling psych, and dabbled lightly in the academic study of theology, and encountered postmodernism in both places.  It seems to be getting progressively easier to understand, whether because I’m getting smarter or because postmodern ideas are becoming so much more prevalent in the pop-culture world outside the halls of academe (probably the latter).  I find myself not only starting to grasp what postmodern thought is but even agreeing with some of it, though I will never be a true postmoderist.  I still believe there are absolute truths.  But I am grateful to the postmodernists for making us all more aware of how culturally constructed or ideas of “truth” are, how much of what we think we know is dependent on the lgnguage we use to express it.

So I find myself standing uneasily with one foot in modernity and one in postmodernity, constantly trying to work out what I believe.  Which is really just a long way around explaining why I picked up this book I haven’t even begun to review yet.

This book does not offer a coherent single argument about Christian apologetics in the postmodern world.  Rather, it is a collection of essays from people coming at the question from a variety of directions, from William Lane Craig (the only name I recognized among the authors) who argues that Christianity can never make common cause with postmodernism and must take a firm stand against it, to writers who believe Christian apologists can work within the postmodern framework.

I guess I am more postmodern than I realize, or more postmodern than William Lane Craig anyway (probably not hard to be), because the writers whose essays resonated most strongly with me were those in the latter category, such as Philip D. Kenneson’s “There’s No Such Thing as Objective Truth, and It’s a Good Thing, Too.” It’s Kenneson who came up with my favourite quote of the collection when he wrote: “It does absolutely no good for us to sit here and insist that the proposition ‘Jesus is Lord of the Universe’ is objectively true while at the same time we live our lives in such a way that this lordship remains completely invisible.” Kenneson argues that Christan apologetics grounded in a modernist worldview and addressed to modern people followed a model in which “evidence available apart from any particular belief is brought in to judge between competing beliefs. This is a model derived from an analogy to the procedures of logic and scientific inquiry.” Lewis’s Mere Christianity, that classic work of popular apologetics that so shaped my faith as a young Christian, was firmly grounded in this moderist model. The two works of popular apologetics I’ve read in the last few weeks — Simply ChristianSearching for a God to Love — have moved away from this model and closer to something like the kind of apologetics Kenneson is advocating.  While I would not call either N.T. Wright or Chris Blake completely postmodern thinkers, their approach to “sharing the faith” is informed by the fact that they are sharing it to a world of postmodern people. Neither book attempts to build a logical argument proving Christianity is objectively true: both, instead, seem to say, “Come, look at what life might be like if you accepted Christianity as truth. Here’s what the world looks like from in this belief system.”

After reading Christian Apologetics in the Postmodern World, I am not convinced an evangelical Christian can ever fully embrace postmodernism (nor, I think, are most of the volume’s authors, and some are definitely opposed to the idea).  But I believe the church has as much to say to a postmodern world as it ever did to the world o modernism, and I am excited about being one faint, tiny voice of Christianity within this society. 

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6 Comments

Filed under LentBooks, Nonfiction -- general

6 responses to “LentBooks #10: Christian Apologetics in the Postmodern World, Timothy R. Phillips and Dennis L. Okholm, eds.

  1. You said: I am the kind of pluralstic Christian who believes there is truth in all religions and I can learn something from all of them, while still quietly thinking Christianity offers the straightest and truest path to God. Those beliefs, resting uneasily next to each other, leave me a little out of place both in the evangelical church and postmodern secular world.

    As of this moment, you are my best friend.

    As for postmodernism, I’m a big fan – in an academic sense, meaning, I find it fascinating to study it. I would say that the vast number of Christian laypeople AND theologians I’ve talked to/read do not understand its full implications and nuances, but I haven’t read this book. I wrote a paper essentially saying that people’s response to postmodernism is informed mostly by their epistemology, though no one even knows what it means – its still what undergirds our response to this kind of thing. I used to have a link to that paper on my blog but it went away…

    I love your Lent books…

  2. I just read my comment. How boring I sound. 🙂

  3. Nah, I’m pretty sure we’d have a lot to talk about if we met IRL. Although maybe that just means I’m boring too…

  4. steve

    Trudy,

    I am a fan of apologetics. I think it is crucial to understand how to relate the historic christian faith to the modern world.

    I enjoyed reading your review. In particular, your honesty about your own faith journey; where you are at the tensions therin.

    steve

  5. steve

    The last line of the above post should read,

    “;where you are and the tensions therein”.

  6. I loved that Kenneson quote.
    I think I heard something similar: it’s hard to believe a Christian when he affirms with his lips but denies with his life.

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