Despite the dire effects of procrastinating, I am forgoing some of my reading for school to post a few comments on James Smith’s, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism. For a more exhaustive dialogue you can visit The Church and Postmodern Culture: Conversation and find a chapter-by-chapter discussion of the book beginning in July archives.
Smith’s book is the first in a book series that will draw on the “culture of postmodernity as an opportunity for rethinking the shape of our churches” (9). “Opportunity” indicates that the realm of postmodern culture and theory can be utilized by the Church to help it recover a better ecclesiology, which Smith suggests is both ancient and liturgical. To utilize postmodern culture and theory is to neither shun it nor baptize it, an important point to be kept in mind! For the Church Smith is encouraging a “creative recovery of ancient themes and figures” (25), as opposed suggesting a paleo-orthodox route.
As this is not meant to be a blog post exhaustive of Smith’s book, there are a few highlights I would like to make.
On Presuppositional Apologetics: Presuppostional apologetics means exactly that, a person’s worldview has inherent presuppositions that give is shape. There is no neutral rational playing field where everything means the same thing. One’s experience has and is determining what is true and false. For the Church this means that we have to recognize and embrace people will different worldviews. We cannot expect people to understand what we mean when we say, the “Word became flesh”, or “Christ’s blood is the blood of the new covenant.” Smith suggests that the primary responsibility of the Church is proclamation (kerygma). The church is not a system of truth dictate by neutral reason but a story that requires eyes to see and ears to hear (28). Revelation is the key to this kerygmatic proclamation.
On Derrida’s claim, “there is nothing outside the text”: Essentially, there is nothing outside of context (52). There is no neutral rational playing field. Interpretation is always context sensitive. Simply put, we cannot escape our own skin. Everything must be interpreted in order to be experienced (38). To experience something is to interpret it. However, Derrida goes on to say that an interpretation is good or bad based on the guidelines of one’s context, or community.
There is a lot that can be said further, especially as one gets into some of the finer nuances of “deconstruction”. For now I just want to highlight what Smith has to say about a deconstructive church.
On a deconstructive church: A deconstructive church embraces the entire biblical text in the form of the lectionary, converses with ancient voices in the form of creeds and preaching, and listens through prayer to global voices of today’s Church, especially those marginalized voices for the gospel, which is largely “foolishness” is to be spoken from the sidelines (58). A deconstructive Church is a prophetic Church because it does not count on people simply seeing that Christianity is true it proclaims the truth of the gospel and trusts the Spirit to illuminate that truth. Worship in a deconstructive church shapes our worldview to be able to call out the false realities of the world that claim they are the truth. In worship we give ourselves to be formed after the image of God so that we can interpret the world according to the gospel.
Now, why the short summary of a few chapters of a book?
I guess when I read something like this I find many of faith gaps of my life being filled with a certain level of assurance of my being a follower of Christ. Proclamation makes more sense, if you will, than demonstration (according to Smith). How can I ever prove the gospel according to a neutral rational playing field? Now, I am not suggesting that the church proclaim a certain level of ignorance. Proclamation assumes language and practice. That said, the Church is to prove the gospel through its communal witness as it exists in space and time. This kind of “prove” is a demonstration not according to common sense but faithful witness. We will prove the things of God by our lives and always by the Holy Spirit.
I guess I’ll end my comments for now.