I don’t tell it because I think it better or worse than others, but because I think it is much less often heard these days. We frequently hear of how some version of postmodern philosophy or theology saved so and so’s faith, bringing it back from the of modernist despair. Postmodern philosophy delivered certain believers from the angst of modern faith. However, we don’t hear as often the tale of a postmodern conversion which doesn’t entail a movement from, or to, or beyond angst. The stories told are many times those of a stormy sea crossing, with little hope and much consternation. But my story is more of a calm journey from the propositional 'is' to the hermeneutical 'as'.
While it may seem rather odd, I had a rather smooth transition from apologetic theology to theological politics facilitated by postmodern philosophy, at least a postmodernism of a certain variety. I grew up in a ministry family, not quite a pastor’s kid, but as my father was the consummate ‘teaching’ elder and my mom was the women’s ministry director, it was close. In this environment I guess it was somewhat natural for me to find a calling into some form of church ministry at an early age. But it was only when I got to college that I realized that I had a brain and might actually enjoy using it. It was here that I really began investigating the intellectual side of faith. And this is where things began to get interesting.
You see, my understanding of the church as polis didn’t come from reading John Howard Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas, or John Milbank. Rather it came from a strange collision of the Christian apologetics of C. S. Lewis and Francis Schaffer and the linguistic philosophies of Heidegger, Wittgenstein, and Ricoeur (please contain your laughter). My first two years of college I poured through Lewis and Schaffer and began exploring philosophy as a topic of study. I loved apologetics, the defense of the faith, and everything pertaining to theology. This was the first current. But alongside it also flowed my college coursework in philosophy: existentialism, logic, Greek philosophy, empiricism and rationalism, and particularly Wittgenstein and Heidegger. Now at that time I didn’t realize that Wittgenstein and Heidegger were the boogiemen of conservative theology. I just loved what I was reading. Wittgenstein’s understanding of meaning as contained within the ‘use’ of a ‘form of life’ and Heidegger’s articulation of the ‘as’ structure of understanding were compelling to me. And for whatever reason reading them didn’t produce a crisis of faith, but opened doors for a deeper expression and living of faith.
Sometime just after I graduated college, before I went to seminary, everything began to fall into place. Once the propositional ‘is’ of classical apologetics was replaced by the hermeneutical ‘as’ I realized that they only true gospel apologetic is the life of the Church. Let me explain. The propositional ‘is’ of apologetics is always situated within an hermeneutical ‘as’ which creates the horizon of meaning for the proposition. God ‘is’ the first cause only when the universe is thought of or seen ‘as’ a mechanical process. God ‘is’ the eternal creator only when the cosmos is seen ‘as’ a contingent creation. God ‘is’ the forgiver of sinners only when one sees oneself ‘as’ a sinner. The plausibility of the propositional ‘is’ is related to the existence of the ‘as’ structure already in place.
So, for me, I began to realize that the propositional ‘is’ statements of Christian apologetics as well as the ‘is’ statements of typical evangelistic presentation really only functioned within the ‘as’ structure of Christendom, when it could be take for granted that everyone knew they were a sinner, that the world was created, etc. But after the Enlightenment this ‘as’ structure of meaning was no longer as plausible as it used to be, and indeed, was in competition with multiple ‘as’ structures via pluralism. So, via Wittgenstein I realized that only through the ‘form of life’ of the ecclesial community could the ‘as’ structure of Christian apologetics and evangelism be build up again. And for this reason the life, or politics, of the Church is the primary apologetic of the faith and the primary mode of evangelism.
In my intellectual development, postmodern philosophy was like walking through the looking glass: everything was different while remaining the same. And for this reason it was a postmodernism without angst. Through Wittgenstein and Heidegger I received back propositional apologetics and evangelistic practices in a chastened form, resituated within the primary task of expressing a gospel ‘form of life’ which extends the plausibility of the ‘as’ structure of Christian faith.
This gradual realization is my story of a postmodernity without angst which bolstered and renewed my faith. This was mostly worked out in me before seminary, before heated debates regarding postliberalism and deconstructive theology, before I read of the conservative backlash against the loss of propositional truth, and all that other stuff that the still goes on. Anyhow, that’s roughly my story. Are there others for whom a postmodern faith was not a storming sea, but more of gentle cross?