Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Who's Afraid of PostModernism?

Smith, James K. A. Who's Afraid of Postmodernism?: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006. ISBN: 978-0-8010-2918-9.

Who's Afraid of Postmodernism is part of a series, The Church and Postmodern Culture, edited by James K. A. Smith. The series is written for "a broad, nonspecialist audience interested in the impact of postmodern theory on the faith and practice of the church." Smith believes that Postmodernism can make a positive contribution to the church. He thinks that postmodernism has been demonized unnecessarily by Christians. Smith notes, "To some, postmodernity is the bane of the Christian faith . . . Others see postmodernism as a fresh wind of the Spirit sent to revitalize the dry bones of the church" (18). Who's Afraid of Postmodernism is intended to dispel certain myths about postmodernism. Smith believes that once these myths are dispelled, Christians will see postmodernism in a positive light. The author suggests "that this unholy trinity of Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault might in fact push us to recapture some of the truths about the nature of the church that has been overshadowed by modernity" ... (23).

James K. A. Smith is associate professor of philosophy at Calvin College. He is a prolific author and published many noteworthy books. Some of the books published by Smith are Introducing Radical Orthodoxy, Letters to a Young Calvinist, and The Fall of Interpretation.

Smith's writing is clear and readable. This book will be understandable for the general reader or adults in the church. He does a good job in explaining postmodernism, especially the ideas of Derridda, Lyotard,   and Foucault. In chapter one, Smith introduces the topic of postmodernism. The heart of the book are chapters two through four where he explains the ideas of the three main thinkers. In chapter two, he seeks to dispel the myth, "There is nothing outside the text." Smith thinks that Derrida is asserting the idea that we "never really get behind or past texts" (38). Derrida means that we we can never escape interpretation. In chapter three, he explains Lyotard's "incredulity toward metanarratives." This idea emphasizes the local situation over universal truth. Smith seems to think because the Bible is teaching in story form or narrative and this allows it to escape Lyotard's judgement; however, propositional grand narrative does not. In chapter four Smith describes the context of Foucault's "power is knowledge" (21-22). Foucault means by this term to "emphasize the inextricable relationship between knowledge and power" (85). Smith has a tougher time pinning Foucault down because of divided opinion about what Foucault is actually doing. In chapter five, Smith makes a proposal for a postmodern church. He argues that postmodernism actually allows the church to be connected to its past. He believes primitive Christianity has got it all wrong.

Smith does a good job of introducing the ideas of Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault. He makes a strong case for prespectivism. The idea that we all come to the text with presuppositions. He also presents a good case that we are all finite, historical beings. The author does not, however, seem to make a clear distinction between ontology and epistemology or search for knowledge and truth. He criticizes objectivism and seems to discount realism. Smith seems to lock in all readers to their presuppositions. It seems that in his view that people are determined by their traditions.

This book is recommended for those who are interested in postmodernism. It is also recommended for those interested in the work of James K. A. Smith. The reader will be profited by the reading of Who's Afraid of Postmodernism. I do think that many Christians will still be afraid of postmodernism after reading this book.

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