Yeah, that’s pretty darn cool
Yeah, that’s pretty darn cool
So I finished reading the book over my vacation. Since I’m still on vacation, I will keep this short. Just a note, this is a collection of thought, not a review of the book.
I found the premise of the book to be interesting. Since my philosophical education stopped at modern philosophy, I was not familiar with postmodern philosophy. So I appreciate that Smith breaks down the “bumper sticker” readings of Jacques Derrida, Jean-François Lyotard, and Michel Foucault. I even consider this to be one of the greatest strengths of the book.
As for the chapters dealing with the different philosophers’s, I really enjoyed the discussion on Derrida and Lyotard, but found myself losing interest in the discussion on Foucault. Honestly, I can’t say why that was.
I also found the discussion in the final chapter (Applied Radical Orthodoxy) to be hit or miss. There were parts of this final chapter that I found myself agreeing with and there were parts that I thought were harder to get through.
Overall, I found the book to be informative. Since I had little to no exposure to postmodern philosophy in my undergraduate philosophy courses, Smith gave me some of the background on some of the influential postmodern philosophers.
I am still unsure as to what postmodernism has to offer the church. I do not believe it to be the great monster that some in conservative Christianity has made it out to be. Until this book, my only knowledge of postmodernism has come from Chris Rosebrough, an LCMS blogger/podcaster (Fighting for the Faith). I am looking forward to reading some of the other books in this series.
This isn’t going to be a actual book review, but rather will be my thoughts and observations as I read through the book.
I don’t know too much about postmodernism as a philosophy, so I picked up this book to hopefully learn a little more about the postmodermism.
The philosophies of French thinkers Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault form the basis for postmodern thought and are seemingly at odds with the Christian faith. However, James K. A. Smith contends that their ideas have been misinterpreted. In an introduction and four fulsome chapters, Smith unpacks the primary philosophical impulses behind postmodernism, demythologizes its myths, and demonstrates its affinity with core Christian claims. Each of his accessible chapters includes an opening discussion of a recent representative film and a closing “tour” of a postmodern church in case study form–with particular application to the growing “emerging church” conversation.
Why is it that I want to learn more about postmodernism? In my time as a blogger, it has become apparent that most people talking about postmodernism have no idea what they are talking about.
The notion of postmodernism is invoked as both poison and cure within the contemporary church. To some, postmodernity is the bane of Christian faith, the new enemy taking over the role of secular humanism as object and fear and primary target of demonization. Others see postmodernism as a fresh wind of the Spirit sent to revitalize the dry bones of the church. (Location 168-171)
The extreme positions that people take concerning postmodernism amazes me. This is especially true in Lutheranism. On one hand, the ELCA appears to embrace postmodernism, while all other Lutheran denominations demonize it. But I wonder how many people in the church misunderstand postmodernism. Hopefully this book will shed some light on the subject for me. Looking forward to reading it.
Lesley over on Heretics Anonymous fears there are two Christian Churches divided by fundamental beliefs. Whilst Lesley highlights four beliefs, I want to focus on the following:
On Church views humans as ‘essentially fallen’ whilst the other as ‘essentially good’.
Lesley is entirely correct in this observation. I would posit this difference is a product of theology and that perhaps there is room in the one church for fundamentally different perspectives, but that is another matter.
I used to be in the ‘essentially fallen’ camp derived from a hyper-Calvinistic and somewhat pessimistic view of humanity, but now incorporating and taking on board Catholic teaching, view humans as ’essentially good’ as a by-product of being made in the image of God.
And it looks like some recent research supports this.
The best way to get under the bonnet of human hard-wiring is to conduct research on those of us with the minimum of cultural influences, and that of course is babies.
At this point I’d like to direct you to a blog post on this issue over on Mind Hacks, detailing a fascinating experiment which indicates babies not only infer motive, but have an in-built preference to towards ‘good motives’.
Noam is chomping away at postmodernism…
“Paris is the center of the rot…”
Read something here:
“Some of the people in these cults (which is what they look like to me) I’ve met: Foucault (we even have a several-hour discussion, which is in print, and spent quite a few hours in very pleasant conversation, on real issues, and using language that was perfectly comprehensible—he speaking French, me English); Lacan (who I met several times and considered an amusing and perfectly self-conscious charlatan, though his earlier work, pre-cult, was sensible and I’ve discussed it in print); Kristeva (who I met only briefly during the period when she was a fervent Maoist); and others. Many of them I haven’t met, because I am very remote from these circles, by choice, preferring quite different and far broader ones—the kinds where I give talks, have interviews, take part in activities, write dozens of long letters every week, etc. I’ve dipped into what they write out of curiosity, but not very far, for reasons already mentioned: what I find is extremely pretentious, but on examination, a lot of it is simply illiterate, based on extraordinary misreading of texts that I know well (sometimes, that I have written), argument that is appalling in its casual lack of elementary self-criticism, lots of statements that are trivial (though dressed up in complicated verbiage) or false; and a good deal of plain gibberish”
It’s called Big History. It is about connecting the dots from the Big Bang until today. Ed posted this on Facebook sometime this week. Thought I’d share. Looks real, real interesting, in a panentheistic kind of way:
As humans, we are inherently interested in understanding our origins. Every culture has creation myths that try to explain how the world and its inhabitants came to be. With the rise of science, especially in the last several centuries, we are now in a much better position to appreciate and understand where we came from. It is a fascinating story that takes us from the beginning of the universe to recent times. To understand the major events and patterns of our origins gives us a much better appreciation of our place in the world today. The story of our origins is multi-layered, essentially a long series of origins, each building on the ones that came before it.
This website project, FROM THE BIG BANG TO THE WORLD WIDE WEB™, has been developed by us (Kathy Schick and Nicholas Toth) as a critical component of a long-range and multifaceted project to promote science education and large-scale evolutionary thinking. We are the founders and co-directors of THE STONE AGE INSTITUTE® (www.stoneageinstitute.org), a federally-approved non-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to human origins research and science education, and are both Professors of Anthropology and Cognitive Science at Indiana University, Bloomington, as well as founders and co-directors of Indiana University’s Center for Research into the Anthropological Foundations of Technology (CRAFT). We are also Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
Although our primary research focus over the past three decades has been on the origins and development of human technology during the course of human evolution, we also have a keen interest in physics (we own a first edition of Max Planck’s 1897 book Thermodynamik, which established the foundations of quantum mechanics), astronomy and planetary science (we collect meteorites, which have been exhibited in the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis), geology, biology, palaeontology, archaeology, and history. We have assembled a personal library of several hundred books on a wide range of topics regarding Deep Time (sometimes called “Big History”), and subscribe to a number of professional journals (including Science and Nature) to keep up with the current state of knowledge in a range of scientific fields.
I really don’t want to get into a full blown discussion here on ad homs and the such, but the law of noncontradiction is a paradox because it simply cannot be proved unless you have the law first. Therefore, it is not a law but an unproven postulation… which is defeated by God.
God is both immanent and transcendent. He is both here and not here, true and non-true. God is a contradiction. Further, life itself demolishes noncontradiction. By all rights, life should not exist and yet it does. The true laws which life prove false is rather quite remarkable.
Or, we could talk about the bumblebee.
Is it possible to have rationality without this so-called law? Yes, as some scholars have clearly shown. Dialetheism is possible. Let me show you what I mean.
Two simple, generic statements:
Only one of those can be true under the law of noncontradiction.
Except…. that at some point, it is both raining and not raining. Let us take the physical realm first.
I am sitting in my house. Outside my house is the rest of the world. Somewhere out there it is in fact raining. If we are to restrict the outside to the immediate epistemological area, then and only then can we see the enforcement of the law of noncontradiction; however, we must then conclude that only our qualified epistemological area is the only reality present, presenting us a rather non-pleasant psychotic paradox which is an issue we cannot address here.
Let us consider the metaphysical realm. Immediately outside my home, it is not raining. Yet, it has rained in the past and will rain in the future. Being that Time is an illusion, we are only experiencing our epistemological reality in a temporal state which, in of itself, does not exist. Give that Plato believed that we are living in the cave of shadows and that life is but a mimesis of the Ideal, or rather that, designs above are the real and we the poor reflection. The idea, the frame, then, which exists is real. Therefore, we do know that it will rain once more outside my house, or in my qualified epistemological reality, and if we know that, then it is already raining although we are not experiencing it in our temporality.
I’ll sum this up quickly:
I love me some Aristotle and Plato, but if we consider them relevant to Christianity fully, then we should read Aquinas as authority, and if Aquinas, them we should swim the Tiber.
Gawker post it… I think it’s pretty funny -
2. Astronomy or other Space Science
8. Biology or other Life Science
9. Foreign language (Useful type)
10. Computer Science
12. Geology or other Earth Science
19. Study of Some Foreign Place or Culture
22. Religion or Theology
25. Foreign Language (Useless type)
26. Political Science
27. Drama or Film
28. Phys Ed, Sports Management or other Major Designed For Athletes
29. Journalism or “Communications”
It’s in response to an op-ed by Julian Friedland, which in part states:
So what objective knowledge can philosophy bring that is not already determinable by science? This is a question that has become increasingly fashionable — even in philosophy — to answer with a defiant “none.” For numerous philosophers have come to believe, in concert with the prejudices of our age, that only science holds the potential to solve persistent philosophical mysteries as the nature of truth, life, mind, meaning, justice, the good and the beautiful.
Sorry, but I disagree…. Philosophy is still the mother of all knowledge. Necessity is the mother of invention. Invention, science, would not be needed or known, without necessity, philosophy.
“Please let us pass through your land. We will not pass through field or vineyard, bor drink water from a well. We will go along the King’s Highway. We will not turn aside to the right hand or to the left until we have passed through your territory.” (Num 20:17 ESV)
C. Marvin Pate is a Baptist minister “fully committed to the evangelical tradition.” This singular thought keeps running through my head as I read this work, especially when I read the kindness, nay, admiration, bestowed upon the likes of Aristotle, Aquinas and Kant, his admission in the open theism debate (233) and his denial of cessationism (265-266; 272). I don’t mean this to be derogatory, but in a way, it makes what the author says that much more valid. He is coming from both a conservative theological stand point and an unbiased notion of what philosophy is and for that, Pate is to be lauded. Further, he is able to show that through his philosophical method, he is able to find a proper balance which many of us, frankly, lack in our theological positions due to our denominational pasts.
The book is neatly divided into two parts, with the first part serving as an overall introduction to a mostly Western history of philosophy and the second part showing how to put what our ancestors in the field have worked out into action in regards to (re)building Christian theology. After a brief introduction which shows, easily enough, that the Christian can wear the philosopher’s pallium (as Justin is famous for, actually), Pate rehearses the history “From Socrates to Sarte.” The author takes the four eras of philosophy and introduces the reader to the main players as well as their ideas. For the author, it comes down to essentially two world views. Either philosophers tend to go with the one over the many or they go with the many over the one. Pate sees the danger in this and calls for a balance, or, the one in the many, which is why he has such a favorable view of Aristotle, Aquinas, and Kant, those philosophers who have helped at one time or another to restore the metaphysical balance. This view is easily tied to the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the one (God) in the many (humanity). Throughout this first section, it is difficult not to notice the great depth of knowledge which the philosophers have given the world and it should quickly become apparent to the reader why the study of this science is essential to our minds. It is difficult not to see the route of where Pate will go with part two.
I do have so issues with the first part. First, he chalks everything on one extreme up too easily to pantheism and never once introduces the thought of panentheism which I happen to believe would play well into his thesis of of the one in the many. This leads to my second issue which is that with the exception of several Islamic philosophers (which were Spanish and still Western), the intellectual decedents of Aristotle, the philosophers mentioned are Western. I would have liked to seen Eastern Christians brought into the mix, especially given the exclusion of panentheism. Finally, and this is nothing more than a historical pet peeve, but Pate, when discussing Locke, confuses the Declaration of Independence with the U.S. Constitution, specifically with the mention of life, liberty and happiness (Jefferson, who had nothing to do with the Constitution, was a follower of Locke, employing the previous generation’s greatest mind to the writing of the Declaration of Independence). This would not be his last foray into bad history, however, as he accused the 1835 work, The Life of Jesus, of influencing Jefferson’s so-called bible (1820). Even this minor quibbles, which are more subjective (exclusion of the East and panentheism) than objective (except for the latter), Part I is a tour de force as an introduction to philosophy proper and well worth the book.
Part II begins by discussing the Incarnation. Now remember, for Pate, the Incarnation is the supreme example of the one in the many, his philosophical viewpoint, so it is only natural for him to begin here. He takes the reader through the various extremes, from an almost denial of Jesus’ humanity to the denial of his divinity. This is taken through the various eras of philosophy, while he shows how each era moved the balance a little off. Of course, he comes to use Aquinas, and thus Aristotle through Aquinas, significantly to address the imbalances of certain theological strands. From Christology, he moves to Theology Proper, through General and then Special Revelation, to the Trinity, Anthropology, Divine Sovereignty, Ethics, Ecclesiology, and right before his conclusion, Eschatology. Each section is somewhat the same, although Kant seems to be moved further and further out of existence so that Aquinas reigns supreme. Each section is masterfully done and speaks well to the very human capability of exploiting one side or the other. I do have my disagreements, but they are with some of his outcomes, and not his methods. And to be sure, his motivations. Indeed, for Special Revelation (II:8) I tend to go with Tyrone Inbody and consider Pate here to be somewhat errant. Not that he has too, but he makes this up with his consideration of Hauerwas, Open Theism, and the Sacraments. He uses Hauerwas and Calvin, Aquinas and others to either mystify the reader, or to show that balance can actually be achieved. His allowance, especially in the Atonement (II:12) for a variety of different views, including Catholic, shows a mind that is well measured in what he advocates. Throughout each topic, Pate travels through the eras, refutes the balances, and draws a tighter conclusion.
I started this review by noting my amazement that Pate could write in such a profoundly philosophical way, especially coming from a conservative evangelical background; but the truth is, is that after reading him, I feel somewhat out of balance myself. I look at these sometimes disparaging views which we have of one another – conservative, liberal, moderate; Methodist, Baptist, Catholic; traditional, emergent, mystic – and I have to wonder if Pate’s work here couldn’t offer us come guidance in our ecumenical fellowships. By this, I refer to his constant focus on the one in the many, achieving a balance between the two extremes, something he has repeatedly shown is not just possible, but profitable. Perhaps this work on philosophy is a philosophical work showing us how we can achieve a balance which has, in the past, been product in other ventures.
There is much to be learned here and employed. Pate has delivered a masterful work on the overview of philosophy, from Plato to Jesus, and beyond. More than that, however, Pate gives us examples of how Philosophy can be used in Christian theology not to the detriment of it, but to the betterment of it. He seeks balance, not in some holistic, Eastern way, but through the denial of the extremes and the dangers which they have produced. Both fundamentalists and liberals suffer in this process, and as well they should, due to their often unbalanced methods. He shows no hint of partiality, except to that of the one in the many.
Can you tell that I’m getting a lot from this book? The connection of philosophy and theology – and thinking, actual critical thinking – is important to reclaim. Anyway, Pate writes something similar to what Karl Giberson has been saying:
American fundamentalism during the first half of the twentieth century tried vociferously to assert Jesus’ deity in the face of liberal theology’s reductionistic claims. But the way fundamentalists retreated from academic debate to their arcane prophecy conferences left the uneasy impression that they exalted Jesus’ deity (the one) over Jesus’ humanity (the many). In good Platonic fashion, Christianity, the world of ideas, had no contact with the tangible world of the shadows. (123)
Ain’t that the truth? They simply cannot deal with the many issues which are presented to us, in our faith, and so they retreat and become reactionary. I will go further, and say that they simply stop thinking, but start fashioning feeble walls to preserve themselves from facts and from the need to critical think, to philosophize, through these tough problems.
The eclipse of Christian thought in the 20th century can be partially attributed to evangelicals themselves, insofar as many individuals and institutions clung to some of the more problematic tenets of “Fundamentalism” (originally a term of honor), which had defined itself against “Modernism” in American Protestantism’s epic conflict that played out in the early 20th century, culminating in the Scopes “monkey” trial in 1925.
Fundamentalism is not about thinking. It is about protecting. They no longer actually believe in Scripture, but only in their interpretations of Scripture.