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JKA Smith on Postmodernism

Jamie KA Smith has a new, readable, useful book on postmodernity called Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?. I want to recommend as the best interface of evangelical concerns and traditional theology with postmodernism. It is not as saucy or philosophical as Caputo’s new book, but it is more theological and more aimed at evangelicals who are nervous about postmodernism.
Smith debunks three major mistakes being made by critics: that Derrida really means everything is only text (he means in fact “interpretation”); that Lyotard really meant death to all metanarratives (he meant death to the ability to prove them from an independent neutral base); and that Foucault meant that power is knowledge (well, he was close to this).
Two points: Smith argues that each of these scholars empower the witness of the Christian gospel. By undercutting modernity, they provide an opportunity for Christians to step in with a faith that is in search of understanding.
And, Smith contends (and I think he needs to make a better, clearer case for this) that postmodernism creates a need for Christianity to return to an ancient-future faith. His central thesis is that much of low-church evangelicalism reflects modernity with its exaggerated individualism and that tradition and ecclesiology flow naturally from the postmodern turn. Well, he’s got lots of good points and I hope you read this book too.

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Andy Cornett

posted April 28, 2006 at 5:43 am

One of my major blessings from college was a senior seminar in philosophy called “Christianity and Postmodern Thought.” To have a professor who could lead with devotions from 1 John and others, link to the idolatries of modernity, and then passionately engage Derrida, Foucault, Nietzsche and others forever ruined me to those who would just rely on secondary sources, throw up a wall of concerns, and consign such thinkers to the realm of forbidden authors. Now ten years later I still find in Derrida a brillant, careful reader and thinker who showed us the mysteries of musing on a text. From them and others I learned much of the economies of grace and truth, and found them to be as you said: teachers who level the playing field and re-open the door to a faith seeking understanding and the witness that follows. I’ll have to get this book by Smith – may his tribe increase!
grace and peace – Andy

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posted April 28, 2006 at 5:46 am

I picked up this book based on a recommendation from a friend. I think it is great so far (I’m in the chapter on Foucault). I blogged about it as well. It looks like this will be the first in a series of books looking at what Christian thought/practice can look like in a Postmodern Culture. Looking forward to other releases in this series.

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Duane Young

posted April 28, 2006 at 6:24 am

BTW and FYI–I got a flyer in the mail yesterday from Baker Academic offering this book and three others at 50% off. Call 800-877-2665 and “quote order code PHIL.”
The other three books are “Rethinking Human Nature,” by Kevin J. Corcoran, “The Shadow of the AntiChrist” by Stephen N. Williams, and “Introducing Apologetics” by James E. Taylor.

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Allan R. Bevere

posted April 28, 2006 at 6:37 am

I agree. Smith’s book is excellent. I just finished reading a critique of postmodernism and the emergent movement by another Smith out at Biola University, entitled, “Truth and the New Kind of Christian.” His critique is extremely disappointing in large part because he gets the language thing and the lack of neutral standpoint so wrong. His critique of Hauerwas and Grenz in particular is quite off the mark, and frankly, he doesn’t engage them rigorously. Hauerwas himself denies he is postmodern or modern in that he believes that such categories continue to reinforce the myth that we can be done with past. How Smith (Biola)gets away with omitting this suggests that he has not read those he critiques as closely as he should.
In any case, “Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism” is an excellent read.

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Cam West

posted April 28, 2006 at 10:27 am

Would anyone care to compare Smith’s ‘Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?’ to Raschke’s ‘The Next Reformation: Why Evangelicals Must Embrace Postmodernity’, also by Baker? Personally I found it a fantastic read, managing to maintain depth and breadth at the same time, and in a way that’s accessible to a non-specialist in philosophy.

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Scot McKnight

posted April 28, 2006 at 10:30 am

I’d love to if I could. Raschke is on my desk, waiting to be read. I hope to get to it soon.
Others have said the same about Scott (?) Smith’s book. I appreciate that Smith did interact with the emerging movement more sympathetically — he came to better terms with what is going on than other critics.

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posted April 28, 2006 at 10:45 am

Thanks for the recommendation!

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posted April 28, 2006 at 6:05 pm

thanks for the recommendation – and just fwiw, I love the cover hehe

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Allan R. Bevere

posted April 28, 2006 at 7:02 pm

True, Scott Smith’s book is sympathetic. That what was so disappointing about the critique. When I neared the end of the book, I was expecting something more rigorous and therefore helpful, but that did not happen. I was expecting that someone coming from his perspective could challenge the emergent movement in a profound and constructive way. Instead, it was just more of the same modernist argument that is so wanting.

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R Scott Smith

posted May 28, 2006 at 12:44 am

Allan, hi! I did a Google search & came acorss these posts. Would you mind spelling out more what you mean by a couple comments, please? (1) “His critique is extremely disappointing in large part because he gets the **language thing** and the **lack of neutral standpoint so wrong**.” [I highlighted some of your text by putting ** around them.] (2) “Instead, it was just more of the same modernist argument that is so wanting.” And, (3) about Grenz & Hauerwas – I have written much more on Hauerwas elsewhere (see “Virtue Ethics & Moral Knowledge); & on Grenz, too – e.g., in “Reclaiming the Center.” But, I am most interested in 1 & 2, please. Then maybe we can go from there in some dialogue!

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