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wTuesday, March 05, 2002

POMO A NO NO: A few weeks ago, the senior pastor of the Baptist church I attend announced in a sermon that Christian pop psychology is bunk. Actually, he wasn’t quite that abrupt. Instead, he told us that every time some new theory is proposed, an evangelical writes a book using said theory as the rubric to reinterpret (and, often, upend) the entire the historic faith. Worse, sensible non-Christian experts often reject the theory and move on “and we’re still talking about it 10 years later.”

Too true but the observation applies to more than pop psychology. Evangelical universities also pick up new ideas and get them stuck in their maws like chewy peanut butter with depressing regularity. The latest example of this is postmodernism, which someone must have slipped into the drinking water at Trinity Western University.

To use the most immediate, navel gazing example, two of the three books for my current class on Christianity and its relationship with culture deal with postmodernism. Nor is this the first time that I’ve had to read books on the subject (see a review of a previous book here; one reader remarked that it read like a breezy Chesterton). In theology, in philosophy, even in biblical studies classes, the professors and students obsess on it to the point that, to pillage from Mencken, if you throw a brick out of a third story window at a modern evangelical university, chances are you’ll brain a postmodern.

Nor am I unjustifiably extrapolating from my own experience. In his famous Atlantic survey of emerging evangelical universities (scroll down to “Faith Meets Foucault”), Alan Wolfe found, time and time again, that postmodernism “ exercises … a fascination over the evangelical mind” that is, to put it politely, not on display elsewhere. Wolfe blamed this on the legacy of fundamentalism (“[S]cience, they believe, will have to defend itself against Jacques Derrida in a way it was never forced to do against William Jennings Bryan.”) but it is about equally likely that the postmodern fad can be explained by a far more American impulse: keeping up with the Joneses.

Think about it: A bunch of snotty French intellectuals come up with this grand new idea about the nature of “truth” and “story” and a few other words in ironic quotation marks, thrown in for good measure. It catches on in the early ‘90s in the U.S. and propels obscure English professors and lit theorists into the limelight. Evangelicals do their usual appropriating thing and become more postmodern than thou.

Ten years later evangelicals are still arguing over the importance of propositional truth, the loss of metanarrative and other inanities, while much of the rest of the academy has moved on to better, truer things. Maybe what's needed is somebody - or 'bodies - to clue them into the fact postmodernism... is so last week.

posted by Jeremy at 3:03 AM