Andrew, one of the commenters on the em church post I critiqued earlier yesterday, tagged me with being scornful of em churchers (and presumably other such folk). It is often remarked by em churchers against those of us who criticize the em church phenomena and its attendent structures and presuppositions that we somehow fail to understand them. We are, it is implied if not outright alleged, to be rigidly modernist and binary. And we also fail, so goes the claim, to see that God is at work in this postmodern milieu, and come very nearly close to denying the work of the Holy Spirit–an unforgivable blasphemy one might recall.
Well, this may well be true of other critics of the em church, but if I may be so bold: it is not true of me. I offer as evidence two examples of my love-affair, however brief and fittingly provisional, with postmodernism, both papers I wrote in seminary. The first paper, Deconstruction: Derrida, Theology, and John of the Cross, written in all my tenderness as a first year, indeed first semester, graduate student in seminary, is surely proof enough. A man who quotes Depeche Mode and St. John of the Cross alongside an examination of Jacques Derrida’s Of Grammatology, if he hasn’t earned the right to call himself postmodern is very near so as to be indistinguishable! The other paper, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Postmodernity and Christ the Center, written the following semester may not be so obvious, but since it concludes with “Therefore, I recommend Bonhoeffer and his theology as seedbed for postmodern theology and faith” I think it counts.
Having come from a conservative Restoration Movement Bible college education, one can imagine how I went through my modern/anti-modern stages, and, as I recount elsewhere, the realization of the weaknesses and failures of modernism (under an anti-modernist critique) helped me to see the failures of both. My only option, intellectually, then was to examine postmodern thought. I did. And I espoused it for several years.
But as happened with the previous two “modernisms” I had consciously owned, I quickly came to see the emptiness and uselessness of postmodernism. I saw its pretensions, its blindspots and its fascist inclinations. Although my first blush of infatuation with postmodernism led me to strongly believe in its usefulness as a tool for propagating the faith, I realized one does not use a tool and remain unaffected by its purpose. Despite its protestations otherwise, postmodernism has a teleology, and one who attempts to wield it, even with the best of intentions, cannot but be dragged along in time to its ultimate nihilistic end.
I came out of postmodernism–if that is an accurate way to describe such things–by falling in love with something else. I rather suppose that’s the only way one ever makes any lasting committed changes, whether they be marital, spiritual, or fanatical. It is not the love, per se, but the object of one’s love. One is not, as per the Romantics, transfigured by love but by the object of that love. And not all transfigurations are ones of glory and beauty. We may be made cruel and capricious by loving the wrong person or thing just as much as we may be made humble and meek.
I fell in love, to state it baldly, with the New Testament Church. Not the legendary idol of my upbringing in the Restoration Movement churches, but with the real, live, blood-pulsing incarnate New Testament Church. Only such a love, located outside the context of the fights of modernism and its stepchildren, coudl accomplish this. And as with all loves, I did not then know Her for what She was. She was to me a mixture of my own fantasy, mistaken opinions and judgments, and real life. But the more time I spent getting to know Her–admittedly at first in a distant, detached way–the more real She became. And the more desirable.
If I spell out to you the ultimate teleology of the postmodernism the em churches imbibe, I will be–I know because I have been–dismissed with prejudice. It will not matter that what I say is true, nor that I have experienced it personally myself. I at least have this advantage: I have been there and back. Many, perhaps most, em churchers have not. My arguments, if they carry any effectivness, only do so because they are coupled with authentic experience. I can argue against postmodernism because I have lived it.
Thankfully, I need not do so. Nor do I need argue over exclusive ecclesiology–though I do, and too too often. I need not argue for the legitimacy of Orthodoxy’s claims. I need only to keep pressing one thing: come and see.