Below is a collection of mini essays which served as my midterm exam for my Worldviews class during my MA. We were to pick four essay questions (so I apologize for the disjointedness) to show our understanding of Middleton and Walsh’s Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be: Biblical Faith in a Postmodern Age. (Our other texts were James Sire’s The Universe Next Door and Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth.) It was a really fun class!
If you come across a word you’ve never seen before or a sentence that doesn’t make sense, don’t worry; keep reading and you’ll get the important stuff.
Modernity is built upon the omnipotent, self-ruling man who dominates and manipulates the natural, determined world through his self-serving and often violent conquests unto omniscience. There are occasional speed bumps and roadblocks on the road of human progress toward deification (once we know everything and thereby control everything we will at long last be like God). These barriers are the hitches of human suffering, suffering such as crime, poverty, disease, suffering such as nature’s revolts against human domination through its devastating tsunamis, typhoons, and earthquakes, all of which pose a problem for modernity for they stand in the way of our human utopia with its platinum streets (21). Regardless, the modern self, confident in his ability to progressively conquer until such suffering is eradicated, presses on toward utopia, mounted upon steamrollers of science, technology, and economy.
But the promises of humanism remain unfulfilled, and finding himself in the wreckage of the unfinished construction of modernity, the postmodern man is no longer able to ignore human suffering and has lost faith in the Newtonian absolutism of his nature and the nature of his surroundings. Equipped with global awareness, he has come to the realization that both the autonomous man and the knowable, controlled world are not universal certainties, but mere Western constructs of modernity, products of the particular language of Western society. He has realized that if Descartes is right that certainty equals knowledge, then because we cannot be certain of anything, we cannot know anything; there is no universal reality or truth, only relative truth. “I think therefore I am” has become “I speak therefore it is,” and again, we make ourselves out to be like God.
However, relativism is not truly post-modern because it is an extension of modernity to it’s natural conclusion, it’s natural next step; it is the other side of the same coin, the same Cartesian equation of epistemology. This extension of modern epistemology makes relativism hypermodern. Nonetheless, the question remains: if culture creates “reality,” why is there still human suffering? Having seen the wake of those steamrolled by the Western narrative of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, hypermodernity concludes that human suffering occurs when a reality-creating culture becomes too powerful (too widely believed, thus making it seem to be absolute truth) and thereby, whether consciously or unconsciously, alienates those whose reality is constructed by a different language. In order to remove or at least alleviate the suffering of the outcast, the hypermodernist proceeds to deconstruct and invalidate the metanarratives that claim to be really real, thereby giving voice to the various underdog narratives.
Biblical Narrative of Shalom
So, the hypermodern problem is the meganarrative’s tyrannical marginalizing of the “other,” and indeed, this is hypermodernity’s beef with Christianity, and for good reason. However, despite the fact that people frequently misdirect the biblical narrative, the Scriptures obstinately tell God’s Truth-claiming love story as compassionate rather than oppressive, inclusive rather than marginalizing, dignifying rather than reducing. In both Old and New Testaments, those who cry out for mercy are heard; those who are oppressed are delivered; those who are outcast are canonized—murderers, publicans, prostitutes, lepers, gentiles. Furthermore, those whom he has received into his covenant are instructed against legalizing (totalizing and marginalizing). The hypermodern self is defined by the language of his culture, reduced to labels, a determined set of definitions, but God refuses to reduce his people; rather, he names and empowers them through covenant: a call to respond, to co-create.
God is love. The whole of Scripture is marked by God’s hesed (covenantal lovingkindness). Violence entered the scene when we rejected God’s story and traded selfless love for selfish ambition. It seems as though we force God’s hand against us when we marginalize him and his people (which is all people of course).
Once we realize that our reality is merely a social construct, the security of that reality is stripped from us and we become overwhelmed by a desperate sense of homelessness and abandonment. But even if we manage to continue blithely living out modern ideals of utopian home, deep in our souls, we know better. We know something isn’t right (“reality isn’t what it’s meant to be”) because our home is filled with suffering and injustice.
As believers we recognize that creation is good because it was created by Goodness, and though it has been corrupted by sin, it is being redeemed and longs for fullness of redemption through Christ. This is why Middleton and Walsh, resonating with New Testament descriptions of believers as aliens and strangers, say we are to be “ministers of homecoming.” We minister to modernist views of home by fighting against the injustices of a worldview that claims home can and should be used and manipulated to serve purposes of progress. We do this as we learn to engage rather than dominate God’s good creation so that we may bring healing and freedom. Likewise, we minister to hypermodernist views of homelessness by hoping beyond this often desert-like life—which is God’s long-suffering for our repentance—finding home in the Logos, the Word by and in whom we were called into creation. And we respond to that call with trust, trust that he has not merely delivered us from totalizing rule only to abandon us in the wilderness. He is there: a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, guiding us Home.
The Information Age has raped the word “know” of its relational context. To know something or someone is so much more than collecting facts. To know is to engage, interact, respond, relate; to know is to love. We are commanded above all to love; therefore, we have an epistemological obligation to both God and neighbor (and neighborhood). Understanding our call to epistemological stewardship, Middleton and Walsh ask the question, “How then should we live?” (172), and the answer is by knowing (indwelling) the Scriptures. In his book The Green Letters, the first of four in his series on Christian maturity, Miles J. Stanford speaks much of embracing suffering that we may become the message. This goes way beyond memorizing the “Roman Road.” Seriously engaging the Scriptures is dangerous and submission to the text is often very difficult. But unless we work through these “texts of terror” and serve them honestly, we will never be able to grow into a deeper knowledge of God nor in our ability to image him.
From time to time I find my way back to the troubling question raised in Exodus 4:21: “Did God really harden Pharaoh’s heart?” In chapter seven God says again that he will harden Pharaoh’s heart, but this time he gives a reason: “The Egyptians shall know I am the Lord.” Again, the word know implies more. The people (Egyptian and Israelite) will know he is the Compassionate Deliverer and will be able to respond accordingly. Still, is it okay that Pharaoh is excluded from this knowledge and compassion? The text does show how Pharaoh hardens his own heart (8:15, 32; 9:34), but the times the text says God hardened Pharaoh’s heart far outnumber these. Within the whole context, it seems clear that Pharaoh was experiencing God’s judgment because of his tyrannical oppression of the people, but the question is still hard; the question still lingers. And even so, even I, submitting to stewardship of the text, come to know God as the One who hears the outcry of the oppressed, outrages against the oppressor, and brings freedom and home to all who respond.