This entry is part 6 of 10 in the series: ‘The Post-Evangelical’ (Tomlinson)
The Post-Evangelical is entitled ‘Let Me Tell You a Story’. This chapter deals with the failure of modern, and the rise of the postmodern, ‘stories’.
What is the new postmodern world that is emerging?
It is a world which understands itself through biological rather than mechanistic models; a world where people see themselves as belonging to the environment, rather than over it or apart from it; a world distrustful of institutions, hierarchies, centralized bureaucarcies and male dominated organizations. It is a wolrd in which networks and local grass-roots activities take precedence over large-scale structures and grand designs; a world in which the book age is giving way to the screen age; a world hungry for spirituality, yet dismissive of systematized religion. It is a world in which image and reality are so deeply intertwined that it is difficult to draw the line between the two.
Tomlinson posits a simple thesis: that ‘post-evangelicals tend to be people who identify more with postmodernity (the culture of the postmodern) than with modernity, and that this has a significant bearing on the way that they approach and understand the Christ faith.’
Postmodernism against the modern or Enlightenment account of reality, with its stories of evolutionary development (Darwin), social conflict (Marx) and inner psychological conflict (Freud). The Enlightment vision of unassailable human progress throgh the application of scientific rationality has looked increasingly like a nightmare ever since the time of World War I.
- The loss of confidence in the modernist vision has given rise to a world in which is characterised by
- a rejection of metanarratives, all-embracing explanations and universal moralities and see truth instead in more individual terms: truth is what I discover it to be, not something that others impose on me;
- suspicion of certainty and claims of objectivity;
- pluralism and relativism. It is fine to have you own version of truth, so long as you don’t try to impose it on anyone else;
- a tendency to mix and match different versions of truth, drawing on sources old and new;
- a search for spirituality, though seldom through conventional religion.
InN other words, the post-modern version of reality does not say, “Here is the truth – believe it!” It says, “Try this for size.”
The Christian church has been ill-prepared to adapt itself to this vision. It has been locked in a time-warp in which it is still supposed that old certainties can be clung to.
But what is this modernity that post-modernity has been sweeping away? Citing Zygmunt Cauman, Tomlinson says that
modernity was all about the declaration of reasons’ independence; rationalism and objectivism had to take precedence over all else. It was nothing short of a “war against mystery and magic”, her asserts, and in order for rationalism to win, “the world had to be de-spiritualised, de-animated, denied the capacity of the subject.” In this scheme of things the earth became a repository of “natural resources”, and we ended up with timber instead of forests and waterways instead of lages. “It is against such a disenchanted world”, Bauman says, “that the postmodern re-enchantment is aimed”; dignity can once again be returned to emotions, there is respect for ambiguity, and “mystery is not longer a barely tolerated alien, awaiting a deportation order.” It is not longer emotions and spiritual things which are mistrusted but cold and calculating reason.
The New Age movement may be regarded as a postmodern paradigm or model.
In this new situation, Christians do not offer a complete ‘alternative package’, but rather a collection of components from which the imagination can put life together in any of a number of configurations.
Rather than seeing the Bible as a big picture of a single fixed model, we should look on it as a resource book, which “funds” our imaginative venture with basic pieces and offers us many different models.
Clearly, the post-evangelical project is, for Tomlinson, not merely about finding points of connection between the Christian message and post-modern culture. It is about fundamentally questioning the message itself. But, since this questioning is driven by the demands of postmodern thinking without any serious engagement with Scripture, the case has not even begun to be made. Tomlinson says,
The time has come for us to climb out of the little boat of our settled certainties and join Jesus in walking on the waters of uncertainty and vulnerability.
But this, unfortunately, is what we get from this author: occasional allusions to Scripture, but no substantial teaching from Scripture.