Monday, March 31, 2008

Random Musing on Evangelical Culture and the Future

Sometimes I wonder if I am a non-conformist to a fault.

I read a lot of "liberal" stuff, subscribe to a kind of postmodern epistemology/hermeneutic, subscribe to Sojourners, and sympathize with a lot of Roman Catholic and liberal protestant ideas. Sometimes I get the feeling that there are some at my church who wonder if I am a liberal or, worse yet, emergent. At the same time, I went to Cedarvile University and Dallas Seminary, I believe in "inerrancy," and generally take a conservative position on almost every theological issue. Most people on the emerging church blogs would probably call me a fundamentalist.

Can't we all just get along?

I read a lot of the emerging church literature and I agree with most of it, but I still find myself an outsider. I think that the evangelical church in America has some serious problems and is in need of a major overhaul. I am a child of the late seventies/early eighties, raised in public school, and cannot help but think like a postmodernist. It's who I am. (Interestingly enough, I did not approach the postmodernism issue as a modernist evangelical trying to speak the language of the culture, but as a postmodernist realizing that I did not have to conform to the dominant worldview of my evangelical tribe.) However, while postmodernism has led a lot of evangelicals toward the left, it has solidified my position on the right. I no longer feel the need to have to justify my crazy beliefs--they work for me, which is all anyone can say about their beliefs.

I get upset sometimes when I read the emerging blogs because they portray the people who mentored me as ungodly dinosaurs who are only interested in head knowledge to the detriment of following Christ. Nothing could be further from the truth. I know these guys; and I know they love God. At the same time, one of the reasons I did not persue a PhD is because I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to get a job at a conservative seminary. I know my eschatological beliefs proclude me from teaching at either school from which I graduated. That hurts, too. It's kind of like there is a line in the sand. You have to be either a left wing fruit nut with no systematic theology and an axe to grind about American consumerism, or a right wing stiff decrying the evils of narrative theology or the New Perspective on Paul. What about the people who believe that there are right and wrong answers, but who are open to the idea that some of their own answers might be the wrong ones, and who, at the same time, want to see us getting out into the world to transform it?

Here is my question. Is there room in the future of evangelicalism for the postmodern fundamentalist? By this, I mean the person who rejects anyone's claim of absolute certainty regarding any metanarrative, and recognizes such assertions as little more than power plays, but whose own views are really conservative. I hope so, because that is what I am starting to feel that I am.


David said...

Will you define a postmodern fundamentalist

Matt said...

The word “fundamentalist” means different things to different people. To me, it is a person who has (perhaps uncritically) embraced a premodern worldview to the extent that they reject the cultural advances of modern man.

The world “postmodernist” also means different things to different people. To me, it is essentially the rejection of metanarrative (a “framing story,” or the story-behind-the-story that explains history). Postmoderists typically believe in epistemological uncertainty (“truth” is in the eye of the beholder) and that language is a power struggle (when I tell you that my metanarrative applies to you, I am trying to subject you).

So, a postmodern fundamentalist is one who sympathizes with postmodernism and rejects objective truth in favor of relative truth, and yet embraces a premodern worldview as this relative truth.

My studies have been in New Testament theology. I study ancient worldviews. The worldview of Jesus, Paul, and others “works” for me. So, I reject ideas that contradict this worldview, most notably, naturalistic evolution (which to me is based on na├»ve modernist assumptions in the scientist as the objective observer). Because I believe in epistemological uncertainty, some would call me a postmodernist. Because I embrace an ancient worldview, some would call me a fundamentalist.