Moving Beyond the Post-Modern

Modernism

I could be wrong, but I think the above figure is a nice way of looking at different “societies.” It is a very simple way of looking at “epistemology”— how do we know what we know (or think we know). All four look at how truth comes to us. We can start with the 2nd flowchart.

1.  Pre-Modern. Pre-modern society assumes that truth comes to us through ancient authorities. These ancient authorities (typically Scriptures or authoritative writings) are then  mediated and interpreted by contemporary experts– such as priests  or scholars.

2.  Modern. Modern society tends to hold to the superstitions (to be blunt) belief of “progress.” As such, they do not place much value on ancient authorities. For them, truth is mediated by local experts— whether scientists, theologians, scholar/educators or otherwise.

3.  Post-Modern. Post-Modern society strongly questions the “experts” with regards to their connection to their competence or trustworthiness. As such, truth is perceived and interpreted directly by “US” through our perceptions. While some post-moderns deny objective truth, most accept it’s possibility but doubt the ability to identify it with certainty.

4.  Evangelical. I am saying Evangelical, not Christian, since there are Christian groups that are Pre-modern (“apostolic”), Modern (“liberal”), and Post-modern (“new age” or perhaps “post-modern/emergent”). Evangelical groups, however, accept that divine truth comes to us through ancient authorities (Holy Scripture). However, Evangelicals hold to the priesthood of the believer and the sufficiency, and responsibility, of each believer to study and understand Scripture personally.   As such, there may be individuals who have insights we can learn from… but there are no experts that can take the place of learning and growing ourselves.

If one accepts this oversimplified model as expressing some level of truth, what does it tell us? It tells us that the battle between post-modernism and modernism (to say nothing of pre-modern thinking) is not all that relevant for Evangelicals. All three may have their strengths, but all are ultimately flawed from an Evangelical Christian perspective.

Contextual Evangelical Theology

I sometimes like calling myself a “contextual theologian.” Whether I have the knowledge and competence to call myself a “theologian” is debatable. But if I can so designate myself, then certainly my sub-specialty would be in contextualization of theology.

The problem is that “contextual theology” gets a bit of a bad rap. Often people connect it with heretical beliefs… or at least beliefs and teachings of a highly weird nature. Often those who embrace contextual theology are “Anti-Western” in their theological viewpoint and embrace that which is far away from the Western traditions in theology.

So how can one embrace contextual theology while avoiding the clear excesses found within the movement. I would suggest the following images to give some ideas in this area:

I.  ALL Good Theology is Contextual

Bridge 1In the above sketch, God and Man are separated by a chasm. This is not a salvific chasm used in the “Bridge Illustration” of evangelism. Consider this a chasm of communication. God seeks to communicate with Man. One can describe theology form of the message. Theology can be thought of as a bridge… but one having two supports. One of the supports is God’s Revelation. The revelation includes Special Revelation (Scripture and Jesus), and General Revelation (Creation and History). God communicates to us through such revelation. The second support is culture. Culture is the symbolic network of meanings through which Man interprets the world. As such, any message from God must come through culture.

My wife, Celia, noted that since God’s revelation is fairly static, while culture is quite dynamic, it might be more appropriate to think of a bridge like in the movie Avatar where vine “bridges” connect between the planet surface (God’s unchanging truth) and the floating mountains (Man’s variability). I think there is considerable merit in this, but I will try to play with that another time.

2.  Bad Contextualization of Theology

Bridge 3Bad contextualization is when one ignores the culture one is connecting with. That can occur when one doesn’t focus on culture in general… or when one utilizes theology for one culture to a different culture. The result is that the theology… God’s communication… is incomprehensible or poorly communicated.

3.  Bad Grounding of Theology

Bridge 2Some theology seeks to communicate with God without being grounded on God’s communication with us. The results may be interesting, but ultimately irrelevant.

Good contextual theology takes seriously God’s message and local cultures… all local cultures (Western, Eastern, Caste, Class, or Other)

What Would Daniel Do?

I see things on Facebook and other places that put out ideas that are perhaps true, but not really helpful. I have been bothered by the WAR metaphor for the church or Christian’s role in culture. The war metaphor is not completely incorrect… but it has limitations. It’s worst one is that it tends to demonize and “dualize” the world. There are problems with this. In real situations we have to address problems with greater wisdom and nuance.

Some see Christian ethics deontologically (black and white, rules based). The Bible doesn’t really support this, even if the church often has supported this. Ethics in the Bible tends to be more subtle, concerned about the results of one’s actions, one’s contextual appropriateness, and the guidance of the Spirit of God. Dealing with Christian ethics in terms of:

  • Right and Wrong (Deontological)
  • Fit or Unfit (Contextual)
  • Good and Evil (Teleological)
  • Wise and Unwise (Divine Leading and Reason)

is difficult to put into balance. Therefore some just give up and try to force everything into a dualistic framework (completely good or completely bad). But the book of Daniel provides some subtlety in response to interacting with a different culture and religion.

Case 1. Eat or Die. In Chapter 1, Daniel and his three friends are required to eat food in their new culture that are against their own religious cleanliness rules. In a dualistic mindset, the choices were EAT   or   NOT EAT. In fact, they chose neither choice.

What they did was come up with a negotiated agreement with the steward. Give us a trial period of 10 days to do things our way and then at the end, we will have a evaluation. It doesn’t say  what Daniel and his friends would do if the evaluation went against them. But that is hardly relevant. They came up with a negotiated plan to allow them to prove themselves and an alternate solution to be used within the system they were given.

Case 2. Lie or die. In Chapter 2, the King had a question for his counselors… a question that they did not have an answer for, and one they could not even come up with a believable deception regarding. In this case, since Daniel did not have the answer, he could lie or die (or perhaps run away).

What he did was tell the king that he would answer the question if he was given some time.

Case 3. Bow or die. In Chapter 3, Daniel’s friends are faced with the situation of having to bow down to a large golden image in an act of apparent worship or die. The choice seems rather simple… not a lot of options..

In this case, the friends chose death. God saved them, but they made a direct clear choice, unlike in the first two cases. One might, of course, wonder where Daniel was. Of course, the story itself does not tell us and perhaps because that was not relevant. Perhaps he was given an “out”— given a task to not have to make such a tough choice.

Case 4.   Not Pray or die.  In Chapter 6. A decree was made that no prayers may be made except to the king.

In this case, Daniel kept doing his prayers as normal.

Let consider the cases:

1.  In none of these cases does Daniel (or his friends) give the the authorities exactly what they want. This is pretty reasonable and worth noting— submission to human authority is always limited. One who follows God unconditionally, follows men conditionally.

2.  Two of these cases they worked for a WIN-WIN rather than a WIN-LOSE situation. In case 1, the king wanted healthy servants, and they helped the king achieve it… but with an alternate methodology. In case 2, the king wanted to know the dream and have its interpretation, and they worked, through negotiation, to give it to him.

3.  In the cases where there was no negotiation involved, resistance was done in the form of non-violent civil disobedience. (satyagraha)

4.  Despite these four cases in the book of Daniel, it is clear that Daniel and his friends typically had a non-adversarial relationship with the pagan culture and governance. The fact that they were respected in their governmental roles even had some friendly relations with the leaders suggests this. Additionally, in other cases in the book, Daniel was helpful, respectful, and supportive in his role in the culture.

Theory and Personal Stuff

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I save this webpage mostly for theoretical topics regarding ministry, missions, and theology. There is a saying that “One cannot philosophize on an empty stomach.” We have been blessed for 11 years of good support so that we could minister and study here in the Philippines. That is a privilege…

…but it can also be a trap. Sometimes, as an introvert, I can get caught up in theory, concepts, models… and not deal with people. My wife, Celia, is a Pastoral Counselor and Clinical Chaplain. Her work with people has helped force me to seek to work more relationally, and less theoretically. That’s good because we will be going through some transitions soon. Our finances are in decline… due to financial problems in the US, as well as some new models of mission work being popularized there and in Europe. While these new models have some fairly clear and obvious problems (or more accurately, limitations)… their popularity will be affecting many missionaries for the next 5 to 10 years, at least.So I may have to find ministry work that can actually support the family soon.

The main point is that theory-driven conversation is cognitive, without being affective… or making it personal— theory-driven conversation is an exercise of individual minds, not the drawing together of various hearts.

Theory, Models, Theology, Concepts are okay… and I believe that is still what I am going to use this particular blogsite for. It is an exercise that helps me learn and clarify. But I have to recognize the inadequacy as well. In line with that you are certainly welcome to look at a couple of other blogsites I do. Both are ministerial… but both are also closer to the heart (even if they still have my low-emotion style of writing). Blessings

Blogsite for BUKAL LIFE CARE

Blogsite for BOB AND CELIA MUNSON AND FAMILY

Theostorying II. Story Wheel (Part 2)

The previous post was dedicated to the illustration of the story wheel. It is based on work by Sacks, as well as Crossan. But it seemed valuable to me to add ‘antimyth.’ The reason is that a myth ultimately establishes the underlying worldview of the culture. In fact all of the story types (the weakest connection is Action Stories) here are bound to their respective cultures. An Antimyth is a myth that challenges the myth that resides in theculture.

Myth and Antimyth

Remember, with this functionalist view of myth, it is not about being true or false… rather its function in a culture. Myths can as easily be true and historical as they can be fictional or legendary. The underlying myths of Christianity are considerably different from the underlying myths of Islam and Buddhism. As such, the myth in one faith would be an antimyth in another faith.

That is why one is left in a bit of an awkward situation when someone says something like… “Don’t Christians and Muslims (and perhaps other groups) worship the same God?” The argument behind that is that we both worship the one true God, creator of all things. If we both believe there is only one God who is god by His own nature and that that that same God is one and only creator of the universe, it seems silly to say that we worship two different Gods. But, in truth, “God” in Christian culture is not a propositional concept but the God of the story of Christianity, revealed mythically in the Bible. “God” of Islamic culture is also not a propositional concept, but of the Quran and the Hadith. The question is actually whether the myths of Christianity and Islam are compatible. If they are not compatible, then the gods of each are not the same since God of Christianity is the God of the Bible, of the incarnation and of the resurrection, while Allah of Islam is the one of the Quran and the hegira. I would argue that the Bible and Quran correct function as antimyths to each other… despite have some common threads at times. After all, it is hard to imagine any two great works that would disagree on everything.

Apologue

An apologue supports or defends a culture. Fables and folktales typically do since they tell stories commonly with morals that are consistent with the belief structure of the culture. Most movies ultimately seek to support the worldview they are in. “A simple, ordinary guy, gets caught in a web of evil machinations. Although not a “born hero” he sees his need to stand up and be counted to help the innocent common people. Despite horrendous odds, the little guy is able to conquer with the help of a few unlikely supporters.” This story could be seen as an American “Action Story” since it doesn’t have a very strong lesson. On the other hand it can be seen as a rehearsing of the Classic American myth of an honest, hardworking, individualistic “David’ who through courage and good American know-how is able to fight off the evil “Goliath.” But perhaps it is best seen as an Apologue in that it defends the American David myth indirectly by perpetuating it through an “action story.”

Action Story

An action story describes the culture without a lot of judgment. One could argue that most stories are action stories. On the other hand, one could argue that there are no true action stories since all stories are linked to the culture and support or challenge them in some manner. That is why Action story covers a region of the story circle both on the supporting and challenging side of stories. Action stories always speak to the culture but do not have such conversation as their main focus.

Satire

Satires poke fun a cultural traits. While some are sharp, they typically lack a strong positive message. They commonly point out something wrong or unworthy through humor or light attack. But they don’t directly point the way to something better.

Parable

Parables subvert culture. They take a myth and twist it to challenge the underlying cultural presuppositions. They don’t seek to replace the culture. Rather, to open the thinking of cultural members to something bigger than their previous views could accommodate. Parables are different from antimyths since they broaden thinking without necessarily replacing old views.

Which of these are the most valuable in Christian Literature? Probably all of them have a place at times. However, when the purpose of the writing  is to change the mind of the reader, a countercultural (rather than anticultural) approach is probably best. Thus parables should have a prominent place in Christian writing.

Theostorying II. Story Wheel (Part I)

I am starting on “Theostorying II,” since I have finally published “Theostorying.” A lot of it hopes to continue the look at Myth and Parable as it pertains to culture, but add a broader spectrum. Below is the Story Wheel… loosely based on work by Sheldon Sacks and John Dominic Crossan. Will talk about it more in Part II.

aStory Wheel