I recently listened to a few lectures on postmodernism by prominent American evangelical teachers. Both speakers clearly said that everything postmodern is evil and the church should avoid postmodernism at all costs. While this certainly is a huge debate/discussion, I’d say that this type of logic is very unhelpful. It is easy to make such black and white overgeneralizations, but it doesn’t help Christians seriously think through the issue. This type of overgeneralization and simplification makes Christians culturally cynical, epistemologically proud, and unable to sound reasonable to those who are not Christians. In other words, I think we need to nuance our evaluation(s) of postmodernity. I like how Kevin Vanhoozer does this in his chapter of Christianity and the Postmodern Turn ed. Myron Penner (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2005).
“There is a certain providential parallel between what postmodernity is doing for the church today and what Persia did for ancient Israel (Ezra 1:1; Is. 44:28). As Cyrus released Israel from her Babylonian captivity and encouraged the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple, so postmodernity releases the church from its Athenian captivity to modernity and enables the return of certain exiled themes, religion and transcendence among them. What postmodernity teaches, however, is primarily a negative lesson, one moreover that we should have already known, namely, that we are situated, limited, contingent.”
“What postmodernity bequeaths to the world is ideology criticism: the criticism of isms. Here we have what is in my opinion the single most helpful contribution of postmodernity to Christian thinkers: a thoroughgoing iconoclasm, a radical protest against oppressive systems of thought. …My most charitable reading of postmodern thinkers like Derrida and Rorty, therefore, casts them in the heroic role of outraged prophets seeking to cleanse, sometimes playfully and sometimes painfully, the modern philosophical temples of knowledge. …Christian thinkers too should applaud these iconoclastic gestures and perhaps wonder why we had not cleansed the temple of modernity earlier ourselves” (p. 80).
I believe Vanhoozer’s approach to postmodernity (only summarized in these paragraphs) is more helpful than a fundamentalist approach to it. Granted, the fundamentalist impulse to trash postmodernity from head to toe is easy and it often sounds good, but I would rather see some serious interaction. If you want serious interaction, get Christianity and the Postmodern Turn, and specifically pay attention to Kevin Vanhoozer’s chapters. While he argues that postmodernity should not set the Christian agenda, he is wise enough to see some positives in it.