I Am Far Too Premodern To Be Postmodern
As some of you know, I went through an “Emergent Phase” in 2008, then made a radical break with Emergent in ’09. (An e-book version of my blog during this time is coming soon).
Recently, I have been flipping through these old posts, wondering what it was that really triggered the break with Emergent? There were many factors which played into it – some of these factors were apparent to me at the time (see post, “No Longer Emergent“). However, as I recently re-read my blog-posts and journals from this time, I realized there was a deeper reason for the break.
Probably the most important post I have ever made, to date, has been the post “Taking My Education into my Own Hands.” In this short post (it’s worth your time to read it!), I expressed my belief that:
1) There is no end to the books being written on theology (Ecc. 12:12)
2) Most of these books are crap, and thankfully disappear without a trace
3) There are a select core of books which:
3.a) Have not disappeared
3.b) Continue to be read, interacted with, enjoyed, and highly regarded
3.c) Continue to influence and shape modern theology
I decided that it would be more important to master these ancient classics than to become an “expert” on the trendy, wispy theology of today.
I began my quest with Augustine. In the summer of ’09, I read Confessions, City of God, The Enchuridion, and excerpts from Letters. (Note: I found all of this free, in audio format at librivox.org)
As I later reflected in A Wise Shepherd of A Wandering Mind, to read Augustine is to be changed by Augustine. You cannot understand him without thinking like him. And to think like a person is to be changed (usually permanently) by that person.
The odd thing is that I actually disagree with Augustine on many significant points. For example, he was a neo-platonist which means that he tended to see matter as bad, and spirit is good. It’s his fault that we still think of heaven as a spirit-place, rather than a place where we have resurrection bodies (Rom. 8:11). It’s his fault that the church got tangled up in politics, and it’s his fault that it cannot become “untangled.” The crusades, witch-burnings, and religious wars are all due to the doctrine of “Just War,” which he pioneered. He also believes in infant bapitsm, and a host of other serious errors, including the belief that sex is always a sin – a doctrine which has lead to celibate clergy and a distorted view of marriage in the Catholic church to this day. Finally, the whole edifice of Catholic ecclesiology is built upon his belief and teaching.
However, even saying all of that, it is his mind and his use of Scripture and his deep commitment to, love of, and worship towards the one true God which held me captive, from the moment I began reading him. And in reading, I have been deeply changed. His blunt exegesis on Hell challenged me on my shallow and passive understanding of the topic (see “What if there is a hell?”). On re-reading him more recently, I made another very significant shift in my thinking, realizing that “Christianity is Not A Religion”
No doubt, if any educated Emergent folks happened upon my mature thoughts on Emergent (see “What is the Emergent Church” and “The Myth of ‘Post’ Modernity“) would think that I am too “Modern.” Influenced unduly by the successors of Hodge, Warfield, Finney, Spurgeon, Edwards and especially Calvin, I am too biased, to shallow, too trusting of what I learned in sunday-school and church, too bound to the near-past to break out into the light of the future, the next evolutionary step, the grand finale of church history which is the Emergent Church.
Now frail and shallow I may be – but Modern I am not. The truth is, I had read none of the above-mentined authors at this time. In fact, I have still read only snippets of Edwards, half of The Institutes, and nothing of the others. The true influence was Augustine.
After breathing deeply of the crisp logic, linear reasoning, solid exegesis and passionate spirituality of Confessions and City of God, I was never again really “at home” in postmodernity, or in Emergent.
True enough, in turning away from the Emergent/PostModern literature, I found my way home. I stopped focusing all my attention on pop-culture and the liberal/news-media culture (I used to listen to the news a LOT), and stopped trying to wrap my mind around contemporary deconstructionism and the like. I stopped listening to “The Relevant Podcast,” “The Emergent Village Podcast,” “The Phoenix Journal,” and even scaled back on listening to Bruxy Cavey quite so much.
But I didn’t simply run home to mommy. I found an old, a trusted, a deeply wise and personal friend who directed me, time and again, to a burning heart, a clear head and the Scriptures. It is through the agency of these working in harmony that I came to be bored, then indifferent, then skeptical, and now hostile to Emergent/Postmodern thought.
Rather than flee from culture, I believe I stepped back from it for a few months. With the aid of Augustine, I was able to become aware of the trendiness, the shallowness, and the hypocrisy of it all.
To put it simply: I just became far too premodern to be postmodern anymore – and that was the beginning of the new direction, which I am still walking to this day…