Mr. Anderson got the last laugh as he departed the country, exposing my two unforgivable sins: a sympathy with postmodernism and an education at Wheaton College.

Regarding the first sin, I confess to being a shameless “pomo” and insist that we’re all “pomo” now, as James K. A. Smith summarizes in his preface to Carl Raschke’s GloboChrist: The Great Commission Takes a Postmodern Turn:

Postmodernism and globalization are inextricably linked. While European and North American (especially academic) discussions of postmodern theory tend to restrict it to the safe but largely sequestered environs of epistemology, in fact postmodernity is synonymous with the “flattening” of the world by globalization. The postmodern moment, as Raschke puts it, is a global one: “Becoming postmodern means that we all, whether we like it or not, are now going global, which is what that obscure first-century sect leader from Palestine truly had in mind.” We can’t not be postmodern precisely because we can’t not be global(ized). So postmodernism isn’t about whether we’ll serve fair trade coffee at our image-driven worship events aimed at the “creative class” in the “bobo” quarter of the city. Postmodernism isn’t just a phenomenon of interest to the educated class of Western culture or just a topic of conversation for tenured radicals taken with continental philosophy. Rather, it is bound up with the global conflicts and reorganizations that dominate world affairs and foreign policy. The realities of postmodernism are grappled with by Amnesty International and the UN, not just the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy. And so the question of Christian faith and postmodernism is about how Christian faith can be communicated and lived out in a world of mass migration, persistent genocide, increased gaps in global wealth distribution, and the growth of global Islam.

Regarding the second sin, I proudly boast my credentials as a “Wheatie” and will rib any “Biolan” who challenges the unrivaled academy of American evangelicalism. (Notice how the former identity may be associated with a healthy breakfast cereal while the second may be associated with an infectious disease.) Did Biola make it into Loren Pope‘s list of 40 colleges that change lives? As he wrote, “Wheaton is often called the Harvard of the evangelicals but that moniker does not do it  justice because it is head, shoulders, and heart above Harvard in its concern with good moral compasses and strong value systems, as well as in the percentage of future Ph.D.s it has turned out.” And did Biola make it into Robert Benne‘s book, Quality with a Soul: How Six Premier Colleges and Universities Keep Faith With Their Religious Traditions? Those six were Calvin College, Wheaton College, St. Olaf College, Valparaiso University, Baylor University, and University of Notre Dame. If I do envy one thing about Biola, it’s the Torrey Honors Institute, which offers an attractive liberal arts and biblical studies program.



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Posted by Christopher Benson

9 Comments

  1. Christopher –

    Welcome! With that debut, I think I like you even more than I did after reading your work over at Evangel and First Thoughts. Thanks, BTW, for the links re: Hunter; I’m looking forward to your upcoming interview. And speaking of Benne, I’m also anticipating his upcoming Eerdmans July/August release – *Good and Bad Ways to Think about Religion and Politics*

    Again, it’s great to see you here.

    Best,

    Brian Auten

    Reply

  2. Brian Auten: Thanks for your warm welcome. Your name is familiar probably because you left comments on my blog posts at Evangel.

    I appreciate the heads up about Benne’s new book. I just read the description from the publisher. I’m already sympathetic to his plea for “critical engagement” rather than “separationism” or “fusionism” when it comes to relating politics and religion. Critical engagement bears some resemblance to the Reformed doctrine of two kingdoms and the neo-Calvinist notion of sphere sovereignty.

    By the way, my interview with James Davison Hunter has already been published in the May issue of CT: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/may/16.33.html

    Reply

  3. On my two unforgivable sins http://bit.ly/cup0co via http://topicfire.com/Christian

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

    Reply

  4. Benson, all your references to Wheatons dominance refer to a bygone era. Now that the era of postmodernism is upon us, their star has faded. The new light comes from the west. :)

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  5. I think many of those over in Papist-land would debate whether being listed with Notre Dame in a book with that title really works in your favor. :p

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  6. Christopher,
    Nice to have you aboard. I’ve been reading your stuff for a while on First Things and CT, and didn’t know you’ve written for Weekly Standard, though I read that too.

    Anyhow, I’m local to the Denver (Littleton) area and just found out you were too. Nice to know you’re around. Thanks for writing!

    Grace and peace.

    Reply

  7. Grumpy Victorian-era Modernist June 13, 2010 at 3:58 pm

    @ Mssr. James KA Smith

    Hrumph! This Smith-fellow makes a patent logical error, one which we modernists notice straightaway.

    “Postmodernity is synonymous with … globalization.” Identity-error, m’boy. There seems to be quite a lot of difference between postmodernity and globalization.

    While globalization may be a necessary part of pomo theory, the converse has not been established. Globalization is a larger and different thing than postmodernism.

    Globalization is unavoidable. Postmodernism is avoidable.

    Btw, “a world of mass migration, persistent genocide, increased gaps in global wealth distribution” nicely describes the nineteenth century, doesn’t it?

    I shall now calm my grumpy nerves with a glass of sherry.

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    1. Dave Strunk: Thanks for throwing out the WELCOME mat. Because you’re a fellow resident of Denver, I’ve contacted you by e-mail so we can meet.

      Grumpy Victorian-era Modernist (great name, by the way): For clarification, your comments should be directed toward Carl Raschke and not James Smith. Smith is summarizing Raschke’s argument in the preface to GloboChrist. If you’re interested in pursuing this further, I encourage you to read the first chapter of the book which “analyzes why this postmodern moment in history is a global one… It profiles and analyzes the social and historical phenomenon that has been gaining so much attention quite recently––the rise of the ‘global South’ and the way it is totally transfiguring the geography of Christianity as well as its methods of theological thinking and religious practice, particularly the practice of missions.” Raschke writes:

      Postmodernism as a historical and cultural phenomenon––as opposed to a philosophical, theological, or intellectual worldview as it is usually construed by American scholars––has been defiled by the contemporary Russian political scientist D. A. Silichev as the era when “modernist Eurocentrism” is rapidly being “replaced with… global polycentrism.” Today, “globalization” is a much-used and rather slippery term, but it is clear that whatever it represents, we are in the midst of it. According to Silichev, globalization “is a world community minus a world state and world governance; it is a Net in which ideas about the guiding and the guided have no real meaning.” A more useful definition has been provided by Ellen Frost. She characterizes it as a “long-term process of connection and transformation” that “sets in motion a living, expanding, and highly uneven network of cross-border flows” from goods and services to people and ideas. What do globalization and postmodernism have to do with each other? Everything. They are not cultural or moral choices that peoples and individuals in different societies everywhere on the planet casually make.

      At the same time, the same peoples and individuals do not have the easy option of deciding not to be postmodern any more than they can simply elect to send a message between New York and Botswana by telegraph or to travel from San Francisco to Singapore by steamship the way it was done a century ago. As we know with the case of the Amish, entire ethnic or religious groups can refuse to deploy certain up-to-date technologies out of concern that their beliefs and values will also be severely compromised.

      But no one can refuse to be postmodern any more than one can resolve to live completely as people did in the seventeenth century, unless we are talking about hermits or geographically isolated tribes in the jungles of Southeast Asia or New Guinea. One of the critical connections of postmodernity, according to Silichev’s definition, is that globalization coincides with localization. And previously localized, or parochial, habits now have a worldwide fascination and currency. Increasingly uniform economic and communication systems are matched––ironically––by distinct and particular cultural expressions, even if none of them can be considered a “native” or “traditional” any longer. An obvious example is the vast array of ethnic foods that have become available to global consumers from Kansas City to Berlin because of the transnational flows of capital investment and high-tech marketing.

      Reply

  8. Slightly-Less-Grumpy Victorian Modernist June 13, 2010 at 7:45 pm

    Christopher, thanks for taking the conversation and pushing the conversation toward text.

    I think the key question is “what hath postmodernity to do with postmodernism”? The two are, of course, related, but not identical.

    Raschke makes this point himself–that there is a historical and cultural phenomenon (which is typically called “postmodernity”) which is not the same as postmodernism as philosophical, theological, or intellectual worldview. However, Raschke proceeds to equivocate between those ideas for the rest of the section.

    Obviously, we live in a globalized community, and in an era post one that we’ve termed “modern.” (This seems to be the main insight Raschke is ramming home in his latter two paragraphs.)

    Is French post-structuralism and the linguistic turn responsible for globalization and the end of many “modern” values? That’s the question I’d like to hear answered.

    Reply

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