A Primer to Postmodernism
A Primer to Postmodernism doesn’t defend or reject postmodernity, but simply attempts to provide a clear understanding of it in a primer-like manner. The primer-like approach along with the Star Trek parallel reminds the reader of the alter A Primer to Postmodernity (1997) by Joseph Natoli. Grentz’s book does, however, approach postmodernity from an evangelical point of view as it examines its effect on and possible dangers for the evangelical church.
Grentz approaches postmodernity as a present reality. Intellectual mood and cultural expressions forming the future of the world thought by abandoning the Enlightenment belief of progress that transforms the modern mindset with a new ever-changing identity (p. 13). Grentz’s first supporting evidence deals with the Star Trek culture. Star Trek is compared to the futuristic and informational outlook of postmodernism, which later in the book will pay a major role in explaining the phenomenon. However, while such example is proven to be a good approach in an American context, it may not have the desired effect and understanding of people from other cultures where postmodernism is also taking place. The dangerous assumption that Start Trek equals postmodernity may not be safe where Star Trek is culturally limited or even unavailable.
The primer continues with examination of ethos and culture and how postmodernity both emerges from them and transforms them. Grentz singles out the arrival of the information era as the factor, which once catalyzed by modernity, has become the status parallel of the complete realization of postmodernity. In this discussion important evidence are examples from culture, architecture, media and everything which modernity lifted up as indicators of modern progress. Especially prominent for the author is the use of movies and television among other media. He properly and almost prophetically recognizes their major role in postmodernism, regardless of the fact that at the time of the writing of the book typical postmodern movies like The Matrix, Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings and even The Passion of Christ had yet not been released.
The media industry brings space and time into eternal here-and-now (p. 32). Now that all of the above have proven to be insufficient answers to one’s search for identity and reality, postmodernity steps in by saying we all gave our stories and we are all entitled to our truth, our reality and our point of view. As a result, the image of the screens blurs the difference between the “subjective self and the objective world” (p. 35). Reality is no longer what it really is, but the virtual present can make it what we want it to be.
The collapse of modernity brings changes in the world view where postmodernity denies commonly accepted metanarratives and social structures by claming that everyone can have his/her own world view (p. 39ff). Grentz proposes that the reason for such an imaginative displacement is within the foundations of modernity and the Enlightenment (p. 57) with a special accent on Kant’s philosophy (p. 73). This is followed by discussion on metanarrative rejections, scientific method critique and objectivity in general and the influence of relativity.
In this part Grentz includes a discussion on language and its word component, as formative elements of the metanarrative. This subject is important since postmodernity sees reality as a gap between what we say about reality and its actuality (between our representation of reality and reality itself). Since words and world are linked through personal and cultural frames, reality is always in motion. The clash between different metanarratives begins a quest for agreement between word and world which redefines the meanings and value of things. However, because there are multiple connections between word and world, different metanarratives can create different realities. Postmodernity reserves the right of every individual of a metanarrative to describe one’s own reality. Grentz’s historical and philosophical overview of postmodernism finds a proper conclusion with prognoses for the future. This drafts the contours of a post-modern gospel with the following characteristics:
Post-individualistic – focusing on community and not only on the individual.
Post-rationalistic – relating the gospel message not to the intellect only, but to the whole human being.
Post-dualistic – similar to the post-rationalistic provides it holistic ministry to the human being not separating it to a body and a soul.
Post-noeticentric – understating one’s goal of not simply having knowledge, but the process of attaining wisdom.
The post-modern gospel is part of Grentz’s attempt to providing clear directions of how Evangelicals can relate to postmodernism and at the same time not allow it into change their identity. For the Christian church, postmodernity becomes a stage of post-Christendom where values and metanarratives are rejected and replaced by a personal interpretation of life varying from a general social condition to an aesthetic ideology or cultural style. Grentz recommends that our intent should be to reject the rejection of metanarratives, since our faith is based on Biblical narratives. In conclusion, the book proposes using the anti-modern character of postmodernity. The text provides little recognition of pre-evangelical religious groups like Pentecostals whose genesis was an opposition to modernity.
Mission Applications: Post-Communist Believers in a Postmodern World
The Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 opened the a door toward Eastern Europe and the Soviet republics. This liberation opened a door for the entering of postmodernity as well. This process unavoidably altered the context in which Bulgarian Pentecostalism existed and operated formed three-cycle critical problem in ministry as follows:
Momentum: The Bulgarian Revival of the 1990s created an unprecedented opportunity for Bulgarian Protestantism. Never before (even in Orthodox Christian history) had a revival movement of such dimensions and capacity swept through Bulgaria involving not only believers and churches, but unbelievers and communities. Unfortunately, just as perpetuum mobiles of the second kind do not exist, spiritual momentum cannot continue without a source of energy. Fifteen years later, standing in a brand new millennium and ever-changing social formations, the Bulgarian Protestantism was at the verge of losing the momentum created by the 1990s revival. The reason may be a very simple one: lack of preparedness.
Community: Since education and training for the ministry were very limited and almost primitive during the Communist Regime, after the Fall of the Berlin Wall very few Protestant leaders realized the need of a new paradigm for ministry. In many cases for over ten years an underground model of theology, church and mission was used only to prove time after time its incompatibility to the new social order. Efficiency was the least among the worries because even within churches using working and progressive models for ministry splits occurred. It was soon realized the strong church communities which existed under the pressure of Communist persecution were not able to fully implement the new democratic freedom.
Identity: Most of the above described splits arose not so much from arguments of how to work, but from differences of who we are. The change from underground to democratic styles of worship gave a multitude of opportunities for self-actualization through which it was soon realized that church which was united under the persecutions, acted quite differently in the context of democracy. This soon led to a search for original identity applicable to both the individual believer and the Christian community.
However, revival has not stopped. While many consider that a number of new converts have left the church in the past five to seven years, an even greater number has joined the church leaving the balance, at least for now, on the plus side. Such phenomenon clearly determines that the problem which Bulgarian Protestantism is facing is not in evangelism but in discipleship. Thus, as revival goes on, it is certain that it must affect not only evangelism but the disciple-making process as well.