Attack of the Logos-Haters!
Douglas Wilson has been critiquing Brian McLaren's A Generous Orthodoxy chapter by chapter on his blog. I have often admired Wilson's impeccable horse-sense, and he doesn't disappoint here. He recognizes that postmodernism is really just a stalking horse for a liberal agenda. What distinguishes him from most of the voices in the evangelical world is: (1) He has actually bothered to read his adversary's books and (2) He sees the hinge on which the whole thing turns.
When I hear the usual B-string apologists denounce postmodernism, I cringe. While there were some American postmodernists who embraced a hard form of relativism, they were merely colonial syncophants who carried the program too far, too soon. The far more common strain of postmodernist is the student who argues that we can't be too sure about anything, really, so let's go drink a fair-trade latte. In my literary education, my professors saw fit to assign Jacques Derrida's Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences three times. The first reading was just a throwaway, a chance to be overwhelmed by the "phenomenological difficulty" of the text. The second reading involved something approaching comprehension. The third reading involved a realization of what old Jacques was on about. He spends a good deal of time showing that what we call the "meaning" of the text is not found anywhere in the text itself. The Emergent squeamishness about propositional truth is certainly warmed-over Derridean (how I hate that word!) "the center is not the center" stuff. Like one of Paul's epistles, Derrida proceeds from doctrine to praxis. Since we have held onto these "Western" dualities of white/black, gay/straight, male/female, we need to arbitrarily reverse them. Sound familiar?
Wilson has smelt the right rat in McLaren's A Generous Orthodoxy. The underlying liberalism gives the game away. While I see postmodernism as just another device to introduce Marxism and liberation theology to a weary world, it's probably worth looking at the camouflage as well as the hunter. The reason that postmodernism has held such sway in the humanities is that it makes sense to those in the City of Man. Outside of revealed truth, what basis can there be for epistemology? As Derrida rightly points out, when we want to know what a word means, we look up the definition. But the definition is composed of words. What do they mean? We are in a quandry. The only explanation (in the mind of the Frenchman) is that meaning does not inhabit words. Some sort of fuzzy cultural definition is somewhere in our heads. Not everyone will see every nuance that everyone else sees. Some will get it wrong. Who is to say who is wrong? Is it just consensus?
While Derrida can be answered by anyone from Plato to toddlers with kazoos (cf. Wilson), the Christian response can only be utter revulsion. We believe that Jesus is the embodiment of Truth itself. He is also the eternal Word. Why anyone would choose to pair a philosophy that denies our ability to know the truth behind words with a religion that declares the Son of God to be the essence of Word-ness is an inscrutable mystery. Fortunately, McLaren and the Emergents haven't gone so far as to deny the nature of Christ as the Incarnate Word, nor have they denied the inspiration of Scripture. Thank God for making most of us better than our philosophies!