Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? by James K. A. Smith

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For a basic understanding of postmodernism, and its affect upon the church, you could not do much better than this little volume. Smith rightly traces postmodernity to three French philosophers, Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault, then summarizes, illustrates (through literature and film) and clarifies what they really are saying. He then “takes these philosophers to church” to see how their ideas are playing out, especially in the emergent church movement.

It should be understood that Smith is sympathetic to the emergent church although he believes much tweaking needs to be done. He actually proposes a middle ground between conservative Christianity, which he views as modern, and the emerging church, which he feels is in danger of being shaped by the postmodern culture much as the seeker-sensitive church was/is shaped by modernity (pp. 123-126). This middle ground Smith labels “Radical Orthodoxy.”

Radical Orthodoxy would adopt many postmodern philosophies, yet be “thickly confessional…[drawing] on the very particular (yet catholic) and ancient practices of the church’s worship and discipleship” (p. 25). While Smith does not call us to Rome per se, he comes close as he promotes its ritualistic form of worship (pp. 140-144), adopts its sacramentalism (p. 137) and equal authority of Scripture and tradition (pp. 123-126), glorifies local parish ministry (p.142) and endorses Roman Catholic spiritual disciplines as popularized by Richard Foster (pp. 101-107).

Smith, while often acknowledging his appreciation and indebtedness to Brian McLaren, would be closer aliened with Robert Webber and his “ancient-future” brand of the emergent church.

Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? gives an excellent understanding of the dynamics of postmodern thought and the emergent church. Unfortunately the author’s prescriptions are tainted by the very movement he critiques.

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