If God has not been gagged, and if the Spirit has been at work in the history of the church, let us not relegate and relativize the greatest theologians, preachers, and practitioners of the past based on our twenty-first century obsessions with race, gender, and sexuality. Texts have meanings (Matthew 9:12-13), and teachers are given to God’s people that they might authoritatively explain those texts (Nehemiah 8:5-8; 2 Timothy 4:1-2).
It Didn’t Go Away After All
I am a Gen Xer. Born in the late ’70s and coming of age in the ’80s and ’90s, I remember when I was a part of the “next” generation, the troubled Kurt Cobain generation, the cohort of young people who would spell doom for the church, if not for the entire country. When I was in college, we read Douglas Coupland’s Generation X, we pondered the possibility of moral absolutes, and we talked a lot about postmodernism.
As a young Christian eager to defend the faith and learning to think for myself, I devoured all 600 pages of D.A. Carson’s award-winning book The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism (1996). It was just the book I needed as I thought for the first time about hermeneutics, contextualization, and these French philosophers named Derrida and Foucault. I graduated from college in 1999, taught a Sunday school class on relativism at my church that summer, and headed off to seminary.
Strange, though, the kerfuffle over postmodernism didn’t last as long as many feared. True, people were still talking about it and publishing about it through the first decade of the new millennium, but the ism was losing its ability to draw a crowd. Derrida and Foucault were old news in the academy, and by the 2010s Christian complaints against postmodernism sounded quaint, yesterday’s news, the sort of thing church people started talking about when no one else did anymore. Postmodernism was dead.
Until it wasn’t.
Here is Carson talking about “radical hermeneutics and deconstruction” in The Gagging of God. See if his imaginary description of college life rings true.
Miss Christian goes off to the local state university, full of zeal and the knowledge of a few fundamental truths. There she will not find lecturers who will devote much time to overturning her truths. Rather, she will find many lecturers convincing her that the meaning in her religion, as in all religion, is merely communal bias, and therefore relative, subjective. Truth, whatever it is, does not reside in an object or idea or statement or affirmation about reality, historical or otherwise, that can be known by finite human beings; rather it consists of fallible, faulty opinions held by finite knowers who themselves look at things that certain way only because they belong to a certain section of society. (36)