A couple of months ago, in the midst of a long post on another topic entirely, I made an aside comment about “shallow postmodernism” cropping up in a book. Certain persons took very significant umbrage at this, and ignoring the rest of the post, fixated on those words. A few back-and-forths yielded no agreement, and I didn’t have time to fully respond then. Lent was coming, so I moved on. But a few words are in order to explain why post-modernism by definition results in a shallow theology.
Shallow-postmodernism does not mean lack of scholarship. It does not mean that a person does not engage the text in the original language. It does not mean that the work is not perhaps useful in some way. Many statements of the author may be correct, or even insightful. It is in no way a slight against the intellect of the author.
Rather, it is a argument against the philosophical approach of the author. The conclusions reached, though valid, will always be somewhat lacking. Post-modernism, because it rejects the concepts of authority and the objective meaning of words, thereby reduces the power of The Word himself and the significance of the doctrine which He teaches. It will always be an insufficient approach to scripture. It elevates narrative, but it does so not for the sake of the narrative. It does it at the expense of the doctrine.
The greatest problem with post-modern philosophy being imported into theology is that while the post-modernist will affirm practically anything, he will not reject anything. So, (as an example) we are assured that drink means drink. But “intinct” – which does not involve drinking – will not be thereby rejected. We are assured that day means 24 hour day. But “millions of years” is also possible. We are assured that Law and Gospel are an especially brilliant light. But their insufficiency is also possible. This is acceptance of all and rejection of none, which ends in the destruction of everything.
Scholarship does not matter in this case. Intellect can be used for good or ill. Knowledge of languages is not the issue. Credentials are not in question. And in a debate with some of our most brilliant minds, I would certainly lose badly. I am not in their league. But effectiveness and ability are not the same as faithfulness. And post-modernism is unfaithful to the Word of God. It, like all human philosophies that contradict the clear testimony of scripture and that would deny the power of the Gospel (even while outwardly affirming it), is a shallow philosophy. And, more so than most of them. It is unsustainable philosophically, morally, theologically, and practically. It will fall. The end result if it were allowed to its logical conclusion would be a total inability to communicate because words would have no inherent meaning. (We are seeing some of this even today, e.g. male and female as mere social construct, “Easter Worshippers”, etc.)
When it falls and is replaced, assuming humanity doesn’t accidentally blow itself up because we no longer could tell the difference between Brawndo and ‘launch code’, those who engage in this as theological method will then be seen to be quite shallow in their approach. That we live in this cultural moment tends to blind us to the reality of how very shallow post-modernism is. Narrative theology is one branch of it; it divorces doctrine from scripture. This can not be allowed in the church. As a friend posted earlier today on FB:
Rhetoric without dialectic is sophistry. This is why if there is to be a “narrative theology” it must never be separated from dogmatics. Our story is no better than the unbelievers’ story if it isn’t true, and to know whether it’s true or not requires the use of proposition. This isn’t the Enlightenment or modernism; it’s how Christians have done theology since the beginning. Notice that even in the Books of Moses and in the Gospels, which are mostly narrative, you have important and long sections of teaching.
Attempts to divorce the teaching from the narratives make a mush of both of them. It is post-modernism at its most subtle. And it results in a shallow theology. Insofar as the scholars and authors in our synod engage in narrative or other post-modern theologizing, the result is a shallow theology, no matter how erudite the presentation may be. I stand by that claim, because it is the truth.