College pastor Rhett Smith has been blogging recently about the emergent church, a topic I know next-to-nothing about, but this post had me up thinking too late last night.

In the midst of rightly criticizing the vitriolic tone of many emergent church critics, Rhett made this claim:

Either you are operating in a modernistic mindset or you are operating in a postmodern mindset. And it seems the two shall never meet.

In the comments to his post, I responded:

I don’t have any thoughts at all about the emergent church, but I thought I would point out a third way. You mention that either people are modern or post-modern–I actually think that it’s still possible to live as a pre-modern. The categories are fuzzy, but the best of Medieval thought (Thomas) seems to allow for a rationally defensible worldview that is fideistic (not badly fideistic) and optimistic about truth acquisition. The modern mindset questions the former–the post-modern (which, I’ll point out, I’m no expert on either–I just recently bought Grenz’s primer on Po-Mo) seems to question the latter. So, all that to say, hooray for the third way.

As I thought more about this, it seems that if the categories hold (and I’m not sure they do), the only rationally defensible mindset is actually the pre-modern mindset, especially for Christians. The Christian virtues of faith, hope, and love demand, I think, a presumption of belief, rather than the presumption of skepticism that Descartes initiates. Additionally, as our faculties are designed by God, it seems they are oriented toward truth acquisition or attainment, so there is good reason to be optimistic in that respect as well. The post-modern critique seems to be that the lack of agreement destroys the claims that truth attainment is possible, but I fail to see how this follows, as in a pre-modern context where truth-attainment wasn’t questioned, disagreement still existed.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.


  1. What was it about a pre-modern mindset that allowed men to not despair of attaining truth even when there was widespread disagreement?


  2. Tex,

    Good question. I don’t think they thought truth acquisition by an individual (since, after all, individuals are the only ones who can aquire the truth) would entail widespread agreement. That’s not a knock against reason or grounds for skepticism–it’s simply that the force of reasons varies from person to person, often depending upon that persons history and experience. But that’s not unreasonable to expect (given that reason isn’t an abstract tool but rather a faculty of the soul).


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