Friday, July 21, 2006

Who's Afraid of Post-Modernism?

I started reading James Smith’s Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church last evening and got through the first two chapters. It’s an excellent book, and I’ve already profited from it immensely. Cheap too ($11.69 from

In the first chapter--“Is the Devil from Paris?”—Smith rightly reminds us that postmodernism tends to be something of chameleon, portrayed as either monster or savior, either the new form of the Church’s enemy or the next best thing to come. This chapter introduces the questions that the phenomenon of postmodernism poses for the Church and suggests a strategy for engagement that avoids simply dichotomies of either demonizing or baptizing postmodernism. Well, written, I found the argument and presentation, sentence-by-sentence, comprehensible, insightful.

Chapter Two--“Nothing outside the Text?” Derrida, Deconstruction, and Scripture—takes one to the French bad boy Derrida who recently died. Derridean thinking, as you may know, is largely responsible for what many conservatives and evangelicals think is the poor state of cultural affairs. This and each chapter discusses a movie (e.g., Chapter One works with The Matrix) that aptly demonstrates how our current cultural enterprises reflect a dominant philosophical position. I got to know Derrida in an NEH fellowship program twenty years ago at The John Hopkins University. Derrida turned my world upside-down. It was thus with considerable interest that I read what Smith says. The pervasive influence of Derrida’s deconstruction, as Smith notes, is often dismissed by evangelicals. However, Smith “incarnationally” unpacks Derrida so you can understand his thinking and nicely demonstrates that the Church can really use his stuff to considerable advantage. Rather than being afraid of Derrida, he encourages us to take advantage of the deconstructive move so the Church might genuinely and honestly get about its proclamation. In other words, use Derrrida for the sake the Gospel. Smith’s provides wonderful thought experiments you’ll enjoy thinking through for yourself. If you know a bit about deconstruction, you’ll like this turn of events.

Today I’ll read Chapter Three, “Where Have All the Metanarratives Gone? Lyotard, Postmodernism, and the Christian Story.” I have a hunch it will show us how Lyotard may promote our Christian story-telling to considerable advantage. More tomorrow.


Blogger Mason Smith said...


This looks like a good book; I'll get in on order today.

About a year ago I ran across a book by Walter Brueggemann, "Texts Under Negotiation: The Bible and Postmodernism." It was a small book, but rather heavy in content.

His argument was (or seems) similar to Smith's--that Postmodernism is not necessarily an enemy of the Faith. As I understood it (and I may not have) some stories are "strong" stories and control how we read other stories. the Bible falls into the category of a strong story, and will help us interpret the other weaker "texts" of our daily lives in the 21st century.

Best wishes,
Mason Smith

Saturday, 22 July, 2006  

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