While reading a very good article in Christianity Today, I was shocked by a statement from the renowned William Lane Craig: “The idea that we live in a postmodern culture is a myth.”
“What?!” I thought as I read on. After all, William Lane Craig is no schmuck. He’s a professor of philosophy alongside J.P. Moreland (see Joel’s most recent blog) at Biola University. In the dialogue with the “new atheists” he is one of the chief defenders of our faith. To his collection of well-respected books he recently added Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics.
So is postmodernism “a disastrous misdiagnosis of contemporary culture” as he claims? Had I, along with fellow Christian thinkers, been misreading the culture for years? I considered myself lucky to have learned about the pitfalls of postmodernism my freshman year of college, which allowed me to survive an English education degree (two very affected fields) without becoming another brain-washed, politically correct, inanely tolerant convert.
Unsettled, I knew I needed to think through his reasoning. With the Xenos Summer Institute just weeks away the question was especially important. The conference’s theme “True to the Word, True to our Mission” points to the challenge of being relevant in today’s culture. But the keynote speakers respond to a postmodern culture. Meanwhile Craig’s article, “God is Not Dead Yet,” claims that “we live in a culture that remains deeply modernist.” If this is so, the XSI will be a waste of time this year.
A closer look at Craig’s argument reveals that postmodernism is not dead yet, either. His first point is that a postmodern culture is impossible because people are not relativistic in matters of science, engineering and technology. They are only relativistic when it comes to religion and ethics, which was true of modernism as well. I think he made several mistakes already:
First, under modernism, people didn’t play the picky-choosy, mix-and-match game about religion and ethics that we see today. It was a question of epistemology, how we know things: “Is there hard evidence that undeniably proves the existence of God?” a hard-core modernist would ask. If not, they would choose not to believe, not because they preferred it, but because they believed it was unilaterally untrue. If they disagreed with someone they didn’t take the stance of “whatever you believe is true for you.” Their position would be “you’re wrong,” whether expressed gently or viciously.
Second, Craig oversimplifies by creating a seemingly all-inclusive dichotomy between math/science and religion/ethics. He doesn’t acknowledge the man other affected fields, including social sciences such education, psychology, sociology, and linguistics, as well as humanities like history, literature, and art. Relativism has infiltrated fields where it was never seen before. For example, education is largely postmodern, which means the way kids learn math and science have changed. The current god of the education world, Howard Gardner, was quoted as saying that the laws of physics, like gravity, aren’t true until the individual experiences and understands them. Would-be English teachers are taught that all interpretations of a text are equally valid, or least somewhat valid. Which means The Cat in the Hat could be about abortion.
Third, as Neil pointed out, science isn’t so objective anymore. This was true in modernism, too, since the theory of evolution isn’t nearly as evidence-based as our biology books would have us believe. It’s actually quite lacking in evidence and requires more faith, i.e., “this is what I want to believe,” than believing in God.
Craig’s next big reason is that the new atheists, such as Dawkins, take a modernist approach. If this is a postmodern culture, he reasons, their literature would have fallen on deaf ears. He’s right that Dawkins comes from a modernist perspective, which isn’t surprising because he’s old; he’s from the modernist generation. And regardless of the culture, scientists are more likely to think in “modernist” terms like logic and truth. (Why do you think so many engineers get saved around here?) Dawkins and the like believe they’re right and we’re wrong. But ultimately his appeals aren’t logical, so the postmodern generation has no problem with that. Realistically, anyone who doesn’t want to believe in God, whether because their grandma died or they deeply cherish their autonomy, will latch onto anything that supports their preference.
Ultimately, Craig’s argument is motivated by a valid concern about the emerging church. He isn’t taking issue with churching like Xenos or Mars Hill that want to be “True to the Word, True to our Mission.” His warning is against Christians who “advise that we should simply share our narrative and invite people to participate in it,” because he fears “Christianity will be reduced to but another voice in a cacophony of competing voices, each sharing its own narrative and none commending itself as the objective truth about reality.” Agreed. He says “tailoring our gospel to a postmodern culture is self-defeating” because he’s afraid the church will abandon apologetics altogether. While his conclusion is false, his concern is legitimate.
So don’t run to get a refund for your XSI registration fee. We need to know the truth more than ever in a culture where truth, not God, is dead.