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週五, 05 四月 2013 14:50

Reading Report

Referee: Dr. Benedict Kwok

Anthor: Yu Wai Mui, Quebeca


The following sections are reading report which covers three (five) articles.

1. Kevin J. Vanhoozer – ‘Mapping Evangelical Theology in a Post-modern World’[1]

Kevin J. Vanhoozer[2] (b.1957) is a professor of theology. He used parable of ‘old’ maps to introduce the mapping, mission, and the ministry of the Word. ‘Old’ maps might be inadequate for church in navigation today. Theology is all about reading and it follows the biblical maps into new worlds – postmodern worlds. We should basically change our thinking like Nicolaus Copernicus[3] in ‘de-centered’ the earth and he quotes two French revolutionaries:

- Rene’ Descartes[4] de-centered God and divine revelation by making the knowing subject and Reason to be the source of truth[5]. His thought of ‘Cogito ergo sum’ – ‘I think, therefore I am’ (Chinese:我思故我在) is the first truth that doubt could not deny. In this universe, the explanatory scheme is a metanarrative. It is a great story explains all other stories, which formulates a metaphysics - a theory of reality. It enshrined the goddess of Reason.

- Jacques Derrida[6] de-centered the knowing subject and reason by arguing that language and rhetoric are more fundamental. It said to have stormed modernity’s cathedral and cast out the goddess.

 

Vanhoozer compared between Descartes and Derrida. He commented “Derrida is the stowaway on Descartes’ voyage to certainty, a hermeneutic hit man”. Derrida basically wants to undo ‘logocentrism’. Postmodernist takes language as the first and foremost instrument of ideology and power. The contents in our minds are rather reflections of the culture we live in. So, language has an important position in postmodernity. Through the language of need, God speaks to us (Philippians 4:19). God speaks all languages – including ours. What language is God speaking to me? (Psalms 32:8) The statement of ‘Postmodern thought at its best is an ethics of resistance’[7] in David Tracy’s[8] article leads to the deliberation of postmodernists’ resistance of thinking whether they speak either with the voice of God or with the voice of reason. The claim of true not just for the Christian community, but for everyone triggered the re-thinking of the real universal values. All reading is influenced by social power in the postmodern world. Vanhoozer stated four contrasts of best definition of ‘postmodern’ against ‘modern’, which gives us a great map of understanding:

 

 

Modern

Postmodern

searches for global metanarratives

emphasizes local narratives

seeks purpose, design, and hierarchy in the natural and social worlds

expects the rule of chance, desire, and anarchy.

believes in transcendence – of the knowing subject, of reason

stresses immanence

appears as a substitute for God the Father – with Reason playing the role of transcendent authority

Holy Spirit – the more diffuse, horizontal, and non-hierarchical presence of the divine in the world.

 

Truth is no longer universal. Truth is community based and tribal. There has crisis of truth and rationality whether it is invented or discovered. Postmodernists are busily deconstructing modernity’s maps. Between two worlds, postmodernists could be: a) as repeaters (biblical text and the Christian tradition); b) as revisers (text and tradition); c) as revilers (text and tradition). Vanhoozer accepted Cartestian view of rationality. He mentioned a few more theologians with supporting information namely:

- Charles Hodge[9], ‘if it is to be credible, must imitate the natural sciences, where the  mind conforms to biblical data.’ But, I believe it seems not so relevance to Vanhoozer’s argument in this article. If natural sciences is said to be related, I guess he is talking about creation in the Bible.

- Stanley Grenz[10], evangelical theologians should find themselves in ‘fundamental agreement with the postmodern critique of the modern mind and its underlying Enlightenment epistemology.’ Grenz is an Evangelical Baptist theologian. His influence of postmodernism on theology could be reviewed in the below section of this reading report.

- J. Habermas[11], ‘we consider beliefs justified and rational only if they rest on sufficient evidence.[12]’  I believe his Theory of Truth and Knowledge might bring in the importance of language to Vanhoozer’s argument of reason, which plays rather a ministerial role.

- Paul Tillich[13] reminds us “every church should be suspicious of itself, lest it formulate truths only as an expression of its will-to-power.” Does it mean our ‘church’ should originally ‘doubt’ in every aspect? We are walking with God and the light of the Bible. I believe God’s Words are our guidance.

- Augustine of Hippo[14], ‘To enjoy a thing is to rest with satisfaction in it for its own sake.[15]” Nowadays, man constantly looks for self-satisfaction. Unbelievers do not understand what ought to be enjoyed is the triune God. God is our true happiness.

 

According to George Lindbeck[16], biblical literacy is a more serious matter. The literary forms of the Bible are actually our Christian maps of the world – a ‘word’ atlas. The Bible is our (life) compass, and Christ is our east, south, west and north. ‘How to read the Bible’ is the focal point. As a layman, ‘how does God guide us?’ is our day-to-day question and God is the answer. Vanhoozer quoted three most powerful objections of Thomas Aquinas[17] and Richard Holloway[18] before his own criticism of five-point evangelicalism. Karl Barth[19]’s definition of ‘evangelical’ means ‘informed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.’ The acceptance of God’s saying and God’s doing induced to the four basis of the gifts of faith and freedom. The glorious logic like the word, the event and the response could be presented as eucatastrophe – euangelion – eucharist. We could find our life bearings from the Scriptures – our Word atlas, the biblical truth. Two chapters in another book of Vanhoozer ‘First Theology - God, Scripture & Hermeneutics’ are found analyzing the doctrine of Scripture and God’s communication action.

 

No matter Christian or unbelievers, two crucial questions of ‘Has God acted to reveal and redeem?’ and ‘Do evangelicals hear and do the euangelion?’ raised in contemporary. Do we all begin in faith and seek understanding? Evangelical theology should be bold and humble. Vanhoozer suggested three areas for focusing: humility, creative fidelity and joyful performance. The corporate (community) life of the Christian church is a ‘hermeneutic of the gospel’, which is a living commentary to defend biblical authority[20]. Vanhoozer stated six ingredients to support the ecumenical conversations. Evangelical theology is a theology of confession and it must submit to two important critical tests. They are endurance test (the test of time) and scientific theories (progressing).

In summary, this article is an analysis of how evangelicals should respond to post-modernity. I believe everyone has his or her own (life) map, which is useful only when it is followed. Evangelicals need reforming under the authority of God’s Word and in the power of Holy Spirit. Biblical literacy is a way of life as well as a way of reading. We receive the Word with faith and love, which is true. We practice the Word in our lives. We are using the maps to chart our journey through life – missionary exploration. We practice the passion of Christ when we speak the truth in love. Can we really walk in the light of the life of Jesus? What ought to follow is the reliable guide of biblical maps – the Bible.

 

2. Thomas C. Oden – ‘So what happens after Modernity? A Postmodern Agenda for Evangelical Theology’[21]

Thomas C. Oden[22] (b. 1931), a minister and theologian had published about forty books and eighty articles. Postmodern Christian consciousness could be found in different scenes. New constraints, emergent options, and new requirements arise in evangelical communities. Postmodernity is on a fixed or predictable trajectory. The social experience of multiple generations will benefit Christian realism, who seeks organic changes as well. Postmodern Christian families will continue to benefit from modernity’s communication devices, fiber optics, and nuclear medicine. The ‘incomplete’ families are ‘socially self-chosen’. We, the grace-enabled (evangelical) soul will invite the needy people not to fear entering the postmodern world. Take the river as example, God sees the entire river in its whole extent. As individual, we only see the river at a particular point in the stream. We are walking by faith and not by sight.

Oden is best known as a proponent of paleo-orthodoxy, an approach to theology that often relies on patristic sources. To develop a classic Christian critique of modern criticism, we should discover the premodern origin. Postmodern evangelical might have different critique of modern criticism:

a) The critique of modern psychotherapeutic theories

b) The critique of sociology of knowledge

c) The task of historical studies

d) The critique of hermeneutical criticism

 

I still could not understand the purpose of Oden’s one A4-page list of postmodern paleo-orthodox writers. Oden claimed that they are being dispersed among traditions but without any comment. What is his intention? On the other hand, the young fogeys of the postmodern world today rediscover of the texts. The speaking of ‘willingness to die daily’ because of the resurrection of Christ is quite exaggerated to them. Whether the young fogeys will seek the ground of moral courage and intellectual freedom is actually another big question.

3. Millard J. Erickson - ‘Postmodernizing the Faith. Evangelical Responses to the Challenge of Postmodernism’[23] (Part 3)

Millard Erickson is a Christian theologian (b. 1932), who writes more than twenty books since 1990.[24] Most contents of the subject book is based on various lectures that he had presented. In this book, Millard wrote about the evangelical responses of six evangelical thinkers and theologian to this new trend - postmodern. The six evangelical responses include both negative and positive. Following an introductory chapter, he discussed the said-to-be negative responses of three evangelicals in three chapters of Part 2. These evangelicals consider the post-modern movement is incompatible with orthodox Christianity. In Part 3, he further discussed the thought of three evangelicals who believe ‘postmodernism is a development that needs to be accepted, and Christian theology done in light of it, and incorporating at least some of it.’ In each chapter, he provided critique with highlighting both side of the thinking and works. He slightly summarized with his own reaction to the postmodern movement.

The following reading report focus in Part 3 - three chapters (articles).

3.1 Stanley Grenz – ‘To Boldly Go Where No Evangelical Has Gone Before[25]

Stanley James Grenz (1950-2005), who is the author of ‘A Primer on Postmodernism’. He wrote or co-wrote twenty-five books in a wide range of subjects. His contribution could be found in more than twenty-four other volumes, hundred essays, eighty book reviews and various journals. He urges evangelicals to revise their theology in light of postmodernism. He indicates postmodernism is a broad cultural phenomenon and the quest to move beyond modernism. The search for truth is based on three major epistemological Enlightenment assumptions: knowledge is certain, knowledge is objective and knowledge is inherently good.

In description of postmodernity, he mentioned three deconstructionist, namely Jacques Derrida, Michael Foucault and Francis Bacon. Grenz examines also the view of truth of Richard Rorty. There are methods of reaching truth other than reason, such as the Holy Spirit, emotion and intuition. Truth is social rather than individual. Evangelicalism is based on the Enlightenment and concerned about the content of faith. The vision of the Christian faith in the old “Star Trek Society” is developing well. He calls evangelicals to move away from doctrinal teachings of the Bible and shift towards new birth, relationships, and the story of the gospel. His view is ‘We are saved as individuals, we are saved together and to be together as well.’ This is a communitarian approach to Christianity and a revisioning of theology, which reflects the beliefs of the community and the Trinity. Today, we always emphasis ‘individual conversion’ in church. The message of ‘our personal relationship with Jesus Christ’ appears in most of the gospel meeting. So, it is quite interesting to shift from personal to communal as told by Grenz. But, how could we go to that point? I am still surfing around with the life compass – a biblical map as said in Vanhoozer’s article.

Where no man has gone before’[26] is a phrase originally in the title sequence of most episodes of the popular original ‘Star Trek’ television series. This chapter’s title of “To Boldly Go Where No Evangelical Has Gone Before’ is quite similar and having the wonderful meaning of ‘going to the new world’. Postmodern Christian consciousness could be found in different scenes. Although this chapter is being grouped under “Part 3 – Positive Responses to postmodernism”, Millard’s critical evaluation of his arguments with Grenz rather falls in the negatives. He grouped his critiques to Grenz’ work in four big clusters:

- Oversimplification (against Thomas Oden’s ‘ultramodernism’)

- Depiction of evangelicalism

- Grenz’s own adoption of postmodernism

- How genuinely the approach of evangelical

In my research, I could find many excellent recommendations from other scholars and theologians in the work of Grenz. Millard’s provocative statement ‘will be resolved more clearly in the future’ and quoting of Donald Carson’s comment is quite uncomfortable to me. His arguments of Grenz at the year of 1998 seems not popular in the public because I could hardly find any cross-reference. In general speaking, it is not a norm in Chinese community to make critiques relentlessly on another scholar or professor as in western world.

3.2 Brian J. Walsh and Richard Middleton – ‘Theology is Stranger Than It Used to Be’

‘Truth is Stranger Than It Used to Be: Biblical Faith in a Postmodern Age’ is the 2nd co-written book by both of the authors. Brian J Walsh[27] is a Christian Reformed campus minister and professor in Canada. Richard Middleton[28] is also a professor in US. To show the biblical worldview in a positive view of postmodernism, they principally employ the four questions throughout the article: ‘Our place or world,’ ‘Our self or identity,’ ‘Our understanding of good and evil,’ and ‘The solution to the problem.’

In postmodern, we shift the understanding of truth to postmodern relative and conditioned nature of truth. Also, we reread the Bible in the light of postmodern concerns. There are four major characteristics of modernity: a preoccupation with the natural, a rejection of any call for submission to church authority, a belief in progress, and a reliance on the scientific method. They tell a joke of three views of reality:

-The first umpire, a naive realist (a modernist) says, "There's balls and there's strikes, and I call 'em the way they are."

-The second umpire, a perspectival realist (a postmodernist) says, "There's balls and there's strikes, and I call 'em as I see ‘em."

-The third umpire, a radical perspectivalist (Middleton and Walsh) says, "There's balls and there's strikes, and they ain’t nothin’ until I call 'em."

Is there anything “real” beyond our judgments? They do not totally agree with postmodernism and deny the existence of objective truth, but they do deny our ability to know that truth objectively. Jacques Derrida proposed the deconstruction of all texts, where conceptual oppositions are put to work in the actual construction of meaning and values. The realist metaphysics of presence has a totalizing tendency. The postmodern therapy of deconstruction could be a painful discovery. Giving an example of “ethnic cleansing” in the Balkan states, Middleton and Walsh also criticize the modernist use of metanarratives. They raised the question of whether hypermodern should replace postmodernism in the discussion of the decentered self.

Middleton and Walsh view the Bible as primarily narrative in nature. Instead of accept the biblical metanarrative, they reformulate it in a way that prevents the oppression of others. The biblical story of Yahweh was the creator of the entire heaven and earth. The Torah begins with creation and ends with the people outside of the promised land. We must submit ourselves to the biblical text. With necessary judgment, we are converted. This biblical story speaks to the postmodern sense of homelessness. We are called to continue the story because the open-endedness of the biblical text. The Bible is a story of God’s plan. The truth is in the story that it tells. The Christian modernist's metanarrative might be the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. Middleton and Walsh agree with postmodernism's claim that a metanarrative, like the idea of objective knowledge, leads to oppression.

As postmodern Christians, they suggest us not to apply Scripture. With assumption of standing outside the Christian faith and the contemporary situation, we could correlate the two. Same as in previous section of Stanley Grenz, Millard criticizes on Middleton and Walsh’s understanding of postmodernism is somewhat oversimplified. There are six positive comments comparing with 8 negative critiques. In order to find out why Millard comments their discussion of postmodernity is unclear in the book, I believe that I could get the answer by reading the original in later time. Millard claimed the nature of the authority of the Bible is not clear. But, I have the anti-view that no matter how unclear it is, God always is the highest authority. Their parable of ‘Shakespearean stage play’ as our live drama is most appreciated. We should live out the biblical story like live the drama is very encouraging.

Regardless of Middleton and Walsh’s book had been voted one of the Christianity Today's 1996 Books of the Year,[29] Millard rephrased Middleton and Walsh’s book name to ‘Theology is Stranger Than It Used to Be’ as his article’s title. I have the hard feeling of such rephrasing actually disregard the work of them. I think scholars should respect each other and to be respected.

3.3 Keith Putt – ‘De/con/structive Evangelicalism’

Keith Putt is a professor at Samford University, US since 2002. In 1998, Millard commented Putt was not a publishing scholar and being unknown outside the school. Up-to-date, Putt has more than twenty publications[30]. Putt characterized modern thinking in two forms of Enlightenment thought: the rationalism of Descartes and the empiricism of Locke and Hume. Platonic epistemology holds that knowledge is innate and Plato’s approach was premodern. Descartes was the classical modern form of certainty which identifies truth – the theory of truth. Putt uses example of stars and seas as parable to plot maps for discovery of location in postmodern.

Searching for a postmodern vehicle of theology, Putt quoted John Caputo’s[31] views however sourced from the deconstructive philosophy of Jacques Derrida. He takes Jesus as a pioneer and example to us in the matter of deconstruction – deconstructed the systems of thought. Caputo’s radical hermeneutics (deconstructive hermeneutics) becomes a resource for postmodern theology and heads to ethics because of Derrida’s statement of justice cannot be deconstructed. Caputo proposed ethics as the means for reinstating religion, whereas ethics had allied with metaphysics – the Greek ideal of body. In the deconstructionist project, Putt read Scripture which leads him to develop his own postmodern theology - a Theopassional Theology. This is virtually indistinguishable from process a theology, both epistemologically and ontologically. The text of Scripture are product of divine inspiration. However, a pre-understanding could be found within the scriptural materials. The reader interprets a text is mainly affected by the presuppositions of conceptual elements of ‘history,’ ‘revelation,’ ‘miracle,’ ‘God,’ and ‘humanity’ because one reads one’s own pre-understandings into the text.

Millard mainly critiques on Putt’s views on John Caputo’s works, which the source actually points to Jacques Derrida. That means, Millard’s sayings about postmodernity and evangelical responses likely are fourth-hand information. Comparing the six positive evaluation against nine negative evaluation, Millard’s comments to Putt’s theology tends to giving derogatory remark. If Millard would do his own critiques on Jacques Derrida, I believe we could understand more thoroughly with his own views of postmodernity. Finally, Millard wrote own response to postmodernism in his next book ‘Truth or Consequences - The Promise & Perils of Postmodernism’ in 2001. He has in-depth analysis and constructive summary of several evangelical responses - both positive and negative.

Although Millard placed these three chapters in Part 3 ‘Positive Responses to Postmodernism’, we can find totally high volume of the negative thoughts of Millard on these six scholars than those positives. Other than bullet points, the length of “negatives” in each chapter is obviously longer than “positives”. What is the true meaning of negatives against positives? In such confusion, I wonder how I should response to the challenge of postmodernism. I believe God is our answer.

***  end-of-report  ***



[1] Vanhoozer, Kevin J., “Mapping Evangelical Theology in a Post-modern World”, Evangelical Review of Theology 22 (1998) 1, 5-27.

[2] Theopedia, “Kevin Vanhoozer,’ Christian WEB Foundation,

< http://www.theopedia.com/Kevin_Vanhoozer> (accessed 19 April 2012).

[3] Wikipedia, “Nicolaus Copernicus,” Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. (5 April 2012),

<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicolaus_Copernicus>.

[4] Wikipedia, “René Descartes,” Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. (9 April 2012),

<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Descartes>.

[5] Vanhoozer, Kevin J., “Mapping Evangelical Theology in a Post-modern World”, 6.

[6] Wikipedia, “Jacques Derrida ,” Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. (10 April 2012),

<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Derrida>.

[7] David Tracy, “108 - Theology and the Many Faces of Postmodernity,” Theology Today (April 1994); < http://theologytoday.ptsem.edu/apr1994/v51-1-article08.htm>.

[8] Divinity School, “David Tracy,” The University of Chicago;

<http://www.theology.ie/theologians/tracy.htm> (accessed 22 April 2012).

[9] Wikipedia, “Charles Hodge (1797-1878),” Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. (13 April 2012),  <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Hodge>.

[10] Stanley Grenz (1950-2005), <http://www.stanleyjgrenz.com/index2.shtml> (accessed 20 April 2012).

[11] James Bohman and William Rehg, “Jergen Habermas”, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (6 Sep 2011); <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/habermas/>.

[12]林俊瑩、林淑華。《哈伯馬斯(J. Habermas)「溝通行動理論」, <http://study.naer.edu.tw/UploadFilePath/dissertation/l017_02_0870.htm> (accessed 15 April 2012).

[13] Wikipedia, “Paul Tillich (1886-1965),” Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. (20 April 2012),  <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Tillich>.

[14] Wikipedia, “Augustine of Hippo (354-430),” Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. (20 April 2012), <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augustine_of_Hippo>.

[15] Augustine, “On Christian Doctrine,” Wheaton College. The Christian Classics Ethereal Library, <http://chss.montclair.edu/english/furr/mel/onxiandoctrine.html> (accessed 15 April 2012).

[16] Theopedia, “ George Lindbeck (b. 1923),” Christian WEB Foundation,

<http://www.theopedia.com/George_Lindbeck> (accessed 19 April 2012).

[17] Ralph McInerny and John O'Callaghan, “Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274),” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (30 September 2009),

< http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aquinas/>.

[18] Wikipedia, “Richard Holloway (b. 1933),” Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. (21 February 2012), <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Holloway>.

[19] Theopedia, “Karl Barth (1886-1968),” Christian WEB Foundation,

<http://www.theopedia.com/Karl_Barth> (accessed 19 April 2012).

[20] Wikipedia, “Lesslie Newbigin (1909-1998),” Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. (19 March 2012), <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lesslie_Newbigin>.

[21] Thomas C. Oden, “So what happens after Modernity? A Postmodern Agenda for Evangelical Theology”, Dockery, David S. ed. The Challenge of Postmodernism. An Evangelical Engagement. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995, 392-406.

[22] Wikipedia, “Thomas C. Oden,” Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. (5 April 2012),

< http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_C._Oden>.

[23] Millard J. Erickson, Postmodernizing the Faith. Evangelical Responses to the Challenge of Postmodernism. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998.

[24] Theopedia, “Millard Erickson,” Christian WEB Foundation,

<http://www.christianbook.com/html/authors/1581.html> (accessed 15 April 2012).

[25] Stanley Grenz, “To Boldly go where no Evangelical has gone before”, Erickson, Millard J. ed. Postmodernizing the Faith. Evangelical Responses to the Challenge of Postmodernism. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998, 83-102.

[26] Wikipedia, “Where no man has gone before,” Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. (12 February 2012), <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Where_no_man_has_gone_before>.

[27] The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins, “Brian J. Walsh,” Multnomah Biblical Seminary,

<http://new-wineskins.org/journal/about/people/brianjwalsh/> (accessed 14 April 2012).

[28]Roberts Wesleyan College, “J Richard Middleton,” Roberts Wesleyan College, <http://www.roberts.edu/academics/academicdivisions/ReligionHumanities/vitas/middleton.asp> (accessed 14 April 2012)

[30] Howard College of Arts & Sciences - Philosophy, “B. Keith Putt,” Samford University, <http://howard.samford.edu/philosophy/bio.aspx?id=2147485578> (accessed 14 April 2012).

[31] Wikipedia, “John Caputo,” Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. (8 March 2012), <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Caputo>.

 

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