Friday, August 8, 2014

Postmodernism 101

White, Heath. Postmodernism 101: A First Course for the Curious Christian. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2006.

White begins his book by asking the question, "Why read about postmodernism?" In answering this question he gives his motivation for writing this book. He kept hearing about postmodernism in various Christian "circles." There were Christians who wanted to understand these discussions, but did not know "what postmodernism was." Other Christians knew about it and wanted to "think more deeply" about how it could be applied to current Christian thinking. They were unable to do this without further knowledge.

White thought he could help different groups of Christians by writing this book. In Postmodernism 101 he seeks to explain what postmodernism is what issues it raises for Christianity in the twenty-first century. The author identifies himself as an evangelical Protestant in the introduction. He has written the book, however, for all types of Christians who have questions about postmodernism. White is a philosophy professor at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. He earned his doctorate at Georgetown University.

Postmodernism 101 is a quick and easy read. It is only 176 pages but it reads much shorter. The prose and presentation of ideas a are quite clear. The author uses many illustrations and examples to illustrate his points. He does a good job in explaining key ideas and people associated with postmodernism. His explanations how a certain postmodern idea affects Christianity is quite helpful. This book is meant for the reader with little or no knowledge of postmodernism. The author includes an annotated bibliography for further reading at the back of the book. This is a good first book to begin reading about postmodernism. Another good point of the book is how the author compares pre-modern, modern, and post-modern thought.

The book includes seven chapters: "Why read about postmodernism?; "Premodern and modern minds;" "The postmodern turn against reason;" "Truth, power, and morality;" the self; "language and thought;" "inquiry and interpretation;" "culture and irony;" and "history and hope.

In the chapter on premodern and modern, he narrates the transition "from authority to reason." This is characterize by resisting traditional authorities like the Church. In addition, he notes, "faith in the power of reason is the central pillar of the modern worldview" (37). It is quite ironic that it is faith in reason. In our own times, people are losing faith in reason. Like Chesterton said, it is believers who are defending reason. The next chapter describes how postmodernism makes a "turn against reason." Postmodernism believes the modern project has failed.

The chapter on "truth, power, and morality" describes the denial of absolutes by postmodernism. It is thought that absolutes give people power over other people and this power is used to abuse others. The author thinks this denial of moral absolutes is troubling. He gives reasons for the necessity of moral absolutes.

One of my favorite chapters was the one on "inquiry and interpretation." The author notes, "for postmoderns, no knowledge is fully reliable and no concepts are absolutely indispensable. The reader is probably aware of the many attacks against foundationalism and certainty. Many Christians have accepted these critiques. Another postmodern idea is that everything is a text and needs to be interpreted. The author spends much time in the chapter on how postmodernism effects the way we think about interpreting the Bible. One aspect is the postmodernism emphasis that there are multiple meanings in the text. This actually agree with the pre-modern view of multiple senses in the Bible. This is one of the longer chapters in the book.

Postmodernism 101 is written as an introductory guide to postmodernism. It is written at a level that the beginner should be able to understand the concepts explained. The annotated bibliography will be useful for the reader who wants to go deeper.

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