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Reclaiming The Center: Confronting Evangelical Accommodation In Postmodern Times
~Millard J. Erickson , Paul Kjoss Helseth , Justin Taylor
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Media: Paperback
ISBN/ASIN : 1581345682
Manufacturer : Crossway Books
Release data : 15 October, 2004

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    1 star1 star1 star1 star1 star    Christianity Is Compatible With Postmodernism. NOT!

    Grentz's Primer is singled out by the articles in Reclaiming the Center because it is an important contribution to formulating a coherent view of postmodern thought; however, the direction that Grentz suggests in his conclusion is well-intentioned but misguided. A survey of recent intellectual thought within the Christian church shows the Grentz is within the missionary tradition of the church: he embraces certain aspects of postmodernism in order to reach postmoderns. The same desire gave rise to liberalism at the beginning of the last century: to reach adherents of enlightenment rationalism the gospel needed to accommodate itself to an intellectual world in which rational man was the center. Toward the middle of the twentieth century, neo-orthodoxy sought to communicate the gospel to existential man through a program of demythologizing the gospel, and form and redaction criticism. Likewise, Grentz seeks to convert postmodern individuals to Christianity by framing the gospel in postmodern terms. Like earlier attempts to convert people through by accommodating the message, there is a reaction. Some will embrace Grentz's program as a means of reaching the unchurched. Others, like the contributors to Reclaiming the Center, will reject Grentz's proposal as an unacceptable accommodation.

    The fundamental question is whether postmodernism is compatible with historic Christianity. I do not believe that it is. First, Christianity makes universal truth claims. Jean Francois Leotard, the most famous European postmodern, in The Postmodern Condition defined postmodernism as "incredulity toward meta-narratives" because meta-narratives promise but cannot deliver. Christianity, like all philosophical systems, is a meta-narrative (cf. 1 Cor. 15; John 14:6f., 8:31f., 1:1ff., etc.). The gospel is a target for postmodern deconstruction because these truth claims are total and exclusive. Second, the Bible is a text that purports to be the word of God. Jesus said, "Thy word is truth" (John 17:17). For postmoderns, the authorial intent is impossible to assertain (contra E. D. Hirsch, Validity in Interpretation). And if intent could be assertained, it should be deconstructed because it is necessarily oppressive. Furthermore, if "every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16f.), then the subtext of scripture is oppressive. Postmoderns feel the need to deconstruct these oppressive elements to become liberators of a radical (Nietzschean) kind. Third, from its inception to the present, Christianity is fundamentally a belief system that can be expressed propositionally. The scriptures contain propositions or statements that can readily be transformed into truth claims. The historic doctrines and creeds for Christendom are expressed propositionally. Postmodernism rejects the validity of such claims. They are the social products of communities rather than discovered or disclosed truth. Grentz's evangelistic zeal leads him to seek accommodation with a school of thought that is antagonistic with what he holds most dear.

    1 starNo starNo starNo starNo star    Clumsy, Fear-Driven Response to Postmodernism

    Those looking for a sustained engagement with postmodernism will be quite disappointed with this book. Essentially all it is is a collection of papers that attempt to refute the work done by Stanley Grenz. How it is that his work is so important to be singled out in this way is unclear to me. Most of the papers simply claim that postconservative evangelicals are ignorantly falling into a marass of relativism. However, despite inflamed rhetoric and passionate desires to preserve the status quo, there is very little substanial engagment with postmodernism in general or postconservative evangelicalism in particular.

    Also somewhat annoying are the ways in which certain contributors tend to idolize Kevin Vanhoozer over Grenz (see Wellum's essay). Suffice it to say that they seriously misread both his work in general and his approach to postmodernism in particular. Vanhoozer has explicitly identified himself as a postconservative and a nonfoundationalist about which the contributors to this volume are either ignornant or simply choose to ignore.

    What is particularly unsettling about this volume is how out of touch most of the contributors are with the current culture. There are many good critiques to be launched against postmodern thought (For some of these see the works of Kevin Vanhoozer, N.T. Wright and James K.A. Smith), but these authors don't even try to go there. Rather, we get this sort of head-in-the-sand approach which denies that postmodernity is a serious cultural and philosophical force that Christians must engage in a significant way. Millard Erickson and Jim Parker in particular are simply out to lunch when they try to claim that postmodernism is basically passe and everyone is returning to some kind of neoconservativism. Parker's term 'transmodern' is a good one, but he fails to understand the thinkers he puts in that camp (Stanley Hauerwas, Alasdair MacIntyre) and those he terms postmodern. It is this kind of simplistic reductionism that really detracts from the book throughout. This railing in the dark may make western, white, male evangelicals feel more secure, but it simply fails to reckon with the profound cultural situation that the church is facing today.

    Contrary to what these auithors so fancifully wish for, there can be no return to naive realism, commonsense empiricism or modernism as a whole. The best response that Christians can offer to postmodernism is to reaffirm their own narrative and attempt to extricate it from the cultural ghetto of both modernity and postmodernity (N.T. Wright, Lesslie Newbigin, Brian Walsh and Richard Middleton have been particularly good at pointing us int his direction). Postmodernism is indeed a precarious situation that must be engaged critically, but this book is simply a collection of shoody, reactionary and ultimately fear-driven sholarship. I would highly recommend that the discerning reader look elswhere.

    1 star1 star1 star1 star1 star    Review of Reclaiming the Center

    Experience over doctrine.  Inclusivistic instead of exclusivistic. Discomfort with propositional truth.  Synergistic.  It may sound like ordinary heterodoxy, but it is a movement posed to take over normative church life—indeed, in some circles, it has already done so. Reclaiming the Center seeks to reclaim what is being lost through the influence of “postconservative evangelicals” like theologian Stanley Grenz and pastor Brian McLaren.  This recovery is presented from a wide-range of viewpoints—from philosophy to theology to historiography to third-world perspectives. This theological pilgrimage begins with a concise and informative introduction to the issues (written by Justin Taylor), as well as an overview of how the book is organized and what each chapter is about (which I have in turn summarized in the next few paragraphs).  Next is a chapter by D.A. Carson “summarizing and critiquing the broad outlines of Grenz’s vision for evangelicalism” (p. 26). After the introduction, a philosophical framework is begun.  The three chapters in this section take a philosophical approach to answering postconservative accusations by discussing the correspondence theory of truth (Goothius, Ch. 3), foundationalism, reliabilism, inerrancy (Moreland and DeWeese, Ch. 4), and finally with epistemic/linguistic access to the real world (Smith, Ch. 5). After setting up the philosophical framework (for every theology needs a foundation), the book moves on to theological assessment.  Two of the chapters have to do with postconservative’s view of Scripture.  The postconservative cultural-linguistic model of Scripture is shown to be unreliable and the canonical-linguistic is put forth as a biblical alternative (Caneday, Ch. 6), and then Steve Wellum (Ch. 7) shows how “their doctrine of Scripture is incompatible with the Bible’s own claims for itself and weakens the possibility of doing theology in a normative fashion” (p. 28).  The final chapter in the section evaluates postconservative theology from a Third World perspective (Ch. 8, Donkor). After the philosophical framework has been set and theological assessment made, the book moves on to historiography.  Paul Helseth leads this section by showing that postconservatives have become a new brand of fundamentalism that they sought to remove themselves from (Ch. 9).  Bill Travis then shows how orthodox doctrine has been a central concern throughout the centuries—even by those who have influenced postconservative ideas, contrary to the postconservative claim that commitment to orthodoxy is a relatively new “neo-evangelical” idea (Ch. 10).  Finally Chad Brand wraps this section up by defining evangelicalism and showing what has been its historic doctrinal beliefs (Ch. 11). The final section deals with the future of postmodernity.  Jim Parker predicts a transmodern period, one that embraces the strengths of modernism and postmodernism but avoids both extremes (Ch. 12).  Millard Erickson concludes with a prophetic vision for the future of evangelical theology that will help us navigate through the current “theological fog.”  It is a global, objective, practical and accessible, postcommunial, metanarratival, dialogical, and futuristic vision (Ch. 13).  Such a vision is extensive and time will only tell if such a theology will result. There are many strengths in this book.  It is edited by three highly skilled theologians who promise to give you a fair and balanced look at the issues.  The diverse nature of the chapters give the reader a taste for the many implications that such a shift in “evangelicalism” has. This could also not be released at a better time.  More people than ever are hearing about the “emerging church”. Relevant magazine continues to grow in popularity. The interest of laymen continues to peak—especially with the younger Christians (whose culture has been “lobotomized by television” and the ever-present image), who realize some of their mumbo jumbo postmodern theology has a name. All this brings me to two criticisms, both minor. The first is its highly academic nature.  This is, of course, their intention because “as goes the academy, so goes the church” (p. 31), however, it would be helpful if it were a little more in reach of the average laymen who does not have extensive theological or philosophical training.  I do believe most of the chapters are accessible to the majority of Christians, but for some of the more philosophically oriented chapters (especially 3-5) I recommend having something like the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy or the Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics & Philosophy of Religion handy. My second criticism is the book does not deal with the practical church and dialog issues as much as I would have liked.  How are we to interact with postconservative evangelicals in church settings?  What is the best way to combat these tendencies from taking over our churches?   In what way should we use medium—such as the Internet, one of postconservative’s major strengths—to our advantage?  Questions like these might take a sequel to answer.  However, we may have to look to the upcoming Becoming Conversant with Emergent by D. A. Carson (expected April 2005) to address these questions. While Reclaiming the Center is a thoroughly academic work, there is no reason for the book to be read only by those in academia.  But don’t just take my word for it.  This book has endorsements by famous scholars such as J.I. Packer, Albert Mohler, Timothy George, Richard Mouw, and David Dockery.  And, with them, I conclude that anyone who is interested in the emergent church movement will find this helpful and enlightening, and I highly encourage you to examine it and consider the devastating effects of postconservative theology in our calling to “test all things” and “hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Joshua Sowin Minneapolis, MN

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