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Lo-Fi Monk

Is Postmodern Guy Detrimental to Healthy Personal Development?

The follow-up post regarding the Emergent Roadshow is in the works. The later part of my week is slow blogging, because I turn my complete attention towards my ministry responsibilities for the coming Sunday. So, the follow-up is coming, but it’ll have to wait ’till Monday afternoon. ‘Till then, read the article Brian Ross (one of my Atlantic Conference Church planting coaches) published at Ginkworld.

You see, whichever step or level you are on - you are very confident yours is THE right one. And the danger of standing proudly on the Postmodern step, is it deconstructs all the others. This person who raises their arms as the most enlightened, forgets that they think the way they do because they climbed up Narcissism, Moralism, and Pragmatism on their way. Those steps created who they are. Yet Postmodern guy, I mean “person,” turns around and sees all the shortcomings and cracks in the other steps. They see the vanity of Narcissism, the legalism and naiveté of Moralism, the shallowness and emptiness of Pragmatism and so confidently dismisses them all. Postmodern person gets a jolt out of not being on the lower steps and tries to find identity in deconstructing them whenever possible. This Wilber claims, is the downside of the university. Profs, by very nature of their brainpower tend to be Postmodern, and yet they are deconstructing the steps of Moralism and Pragmatism for a bunch of Narcissistic college kids. They are retarding their development.1

(So maybe people didn’t leave my ministry or break-off friendships because they were “sell-outs” but because I was Postmodern guy subconsciously chipping at the steps they were standing on. I was being destructive for Christ. I was an enemy? Ouch.)

Brian and I had a great conversation about all of this this afternoon. It’s awesome to have colleagues in ministry who are thinking well beyond the popular hype and actually ministering to real people in real settings. Not every young church planter or gen-x pastor is as limited in ministerial vision - or developmentally harmful - as “Postmodern Guy,” err, I mean “Person.”

1. You’ll actually have read Confessions of Emerging Guy to get a brief overview of Wilber’s “Six Steps of Worldview Progression.” Ross’ above excerpt will read more poignantly if you do actually read the entire article.


  1. Jake Bouma
    Posted July 26, 2008 at 1:53 am | Permalink

    I am posting this without having read the full article, which I know is probably not in my best interest.

    However, I will say this - as someone who finds value in postmodern modes of thought. I have been all over the map in the last several years in my personal “worldview” or theological outlook on life. And in most of these worldviews (steps?) I have considered all other worldviews flawed. When I flirted with Christian fundamentalism, I thought everyone else was way off course and considered it my responsibility to get the word out.

    I am fully aware that my postmodern worldview is just that - a worldview. And if nothing else, I also know that although there is a responsibility to deconstruct other worldviews, it is also my responsibility to constantly deconstruct my own worldview and reassess where I am and why I believe (or don’t believe) what I do.

    I think it’s somewhat disingenuous to assume that only postmodernists believe they’re “standing at the top”; many people believe that - modernists, atheists, etc.

  2. Thom Stark
    Posted July 30, 2008 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, I would second Bouma’s insight. Every system of thought is totalizing, seeking to explain all experience and dismantle rival systems simultaneously. Modernism has been the worst so far, and actually falls subject, to a greater extent I think, to the same critique Ross made of pomo. Modernism stood on the shoulders of the Protestant Reformation and then “deconstructed” it.

    I think Ross’s second mistake is to talk about postmodernism in monolithic terms. Some of the disciplines that are unfortunately slotted under the umbrella of “postmodernism” are less severely totalizing than others.

    Moreover, Ross’s criticism seems to rest on the assumption that the bottom step is the most basic. Postmodernisms rightly claim that there is no bottom step. The idea that postmodernism is incredulous simply because it critiques its predecessors seems to me to be fundamentally mistaken. Everything comes after something. Christianity came “after” Judaism (the quotes indicate that Judaism didn’t end at Christianity). Christianity critiqued elements of Judaism, on whose shoulders Christianity itself was standing. That doesn’t make Christianity suspect. That makes Christianity critical, which to me signifies that Christianity is alive.

    It seems to me that Ross’s main criticism of postmodernism is that they are historically contingent critical disciplines.

    So what? Ross’s criticisms of postmodernism wouldn’t make sense unless he was attempting to do precisely the same thing.

    If, on the other hand, Ross wants to claim that narcissism, moralism, and pragmatism are something like the “three pillars” of postmodernism, and that by deconstructing them postmodernism is deconstructing its own foundations, well, Ross has a lot more writing to do. But I’d recommend he do some more reading first.

    That said, I’m all for ministers being relevant to the experience of their congregation. He is right to remind us to be careful what we deconstruct to whom. He is right that teaching narcissists to deconstruct moralism is dangerous (though he fails to recognize that teaching narcissists to espouse moralism is equally dangerous).

    But his ruminations on the alleged self-contradictions of postmodernism seem to me to fall short of anything like a coherent argument.


  3. Shawn
    Posted August 4, 2008 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    I think you guys have missed a very important point: Ross said that each position is occupied by a person who thinks that their position is the right one. He said as much in the very first sentence of the above excerpt.

    Also, a careful reader would see that Ross is pointing to something that goes beyond all of the six steps. I would point in that direction as well. I think what exists in this place is a holistic reading, interpretation, and expression of the Gospel. After all, if we are hunting for universal truth, which I think should be the ultimate point in any conversation concerning the Gospel of Christ, then I sincerely believe a trip beyond the obviously limited six - and the transient host culture - is in order.

    Thom, I hear what you are saying about Christianity’s critique of Judaism, but I don’t believe that is an applicable comparison of what is occurring in pomo-Christian circles. If you view Christianity as a movement born from Jewish deconstruction, then obviously reconstruction would have to have a place in the conversation. We would not even be having this conversation if something was not rebuilt. I’m not sure what would qualify as “reconstruction” in pomo-Christian circles, unless one actually believes that decorating a socially-bound, Western humanism with Christian vocabulary is “reconstruction.” “Post-evangelicalism” or “post-Christian” don’t point to much, save the so-called end of whatever came before the present. What is the “present” in pomo-Christian circles? It’s nearly impossible to get a clear, solid answer. And unless pomo-Christians want to live forever in the abstract, they had better get to building. Otherwise, they will become as influential in the village as liberal religionists and the progressive mainline are at the moment. That ‘aint much, bro.

    Primitive Christianity was a revolution, brother. You know that. What does it take to throw a revolution? You need the peasants. They live in the village. And you (2nd person plural) had better be packing more than abstract junk that is only identifiable by whatever “post-hyphenation” preceded it.

    Furthermore, Jake, I’m not sure how one who doesn’t believe in objectivity can cite disingenuous behavior. How is that even possible, bro? Without some sort of working objectivity, such citations simply seem selective and convenient and opportunistic.

  4. Thom Stark
    Posted August 4, 2008 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    Hey, Shawn. I’m glad I could lull you out of your silence!

    I hear you too. I’m still not sure I buy into Ross’ six steps metaphor to begin with. It’s too neat and doesn’t really fit the complexities of reality. Anyway, I completely understand why you’re fed up with the likes of Tony Jones, and it’s a valid critique of a lot of strands of “postmodernism” to say that they are more concerned with deconstruction than with reconstruction.

    I’d just like to point out, however, that this isn’t necessarily the case, and that postmodernism (besides not being monolithic) is not necessarily everything the Emergents claim it is, and it is certainly not MERELY the tool of a bunch of blue collar, white, American intellectuals. Postmodern critiques have been very useful for ordinary peasants and working class revolutionaries in the third world, organized by what liberation theology calls “organic intellectuals” who’ve read Derrida, Wittgenstein, etc.

    I’m just trying to point to a point of differentiation between postmodern critics and some of their white-collar appropriators. But even then, not EVERYTHING Emergent has to say is bogus.

    I’d love for you to write a post (or another post) on what you find redeemable in Emergent. Something less polemical and more constructive, like you’re calling for from the Emergent folk. :)

    Love you, bro.

  5. Shawn
    Posted August 4, 2008 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    Absolutely, Thom! I have long considered the emergent view of postmodernity to be seriously skewed, philosophically speaking. I think this started all the way back with Len Sweet and Soul Tsunami, which made postmodernity out to be little more than a rearranging of cultural furniture, so to speak. Pomo-Christianity was popular, but horribly expressed.

    I also agree that postmodernism is not limited to the elite, white, evangelical burnouts. I’m seriously invested in liberation theology, even if I don’t blatantly refer to it by that label. I tend to read that first in the Gospels, as a result of growing up pigmented in Redneckistan, PA (that’s supposed to be funny, so feel free to laugh!), but I don’t limit my reading to it alone. That’s a big reason for my questioning of the emergent hermenutic. I think they choose to limit their reading to the point of not being able to formulate or articulate its foundational characteristics in a meaningful or transformational way. So, I concede the fact that postmodernism is not limited to emergent expressions or flaky definitions.

    Let me ask you this, given our talk about third world benefits of postmodernist thinking/methods: Paulo Freire, Myles Horton? Postmodernists? It’s also relevant to this particular discussion given the statement in the original post re: the “downside of the university.” Freire is a product of the university, but managed to deconstruct it AND reconstruct something for the third world.

    As far as writing a redeeming post about emergent … hmmmm. :)

    I think that would require me to also write a redeeming post about the religious right. I’m not sure I have it in me, bro. Pray for me … with God anything is possible. :)

    Peace to you, my brother.

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