Against Philosophy

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As I have been pursuing this little postmodern jag of mine, reading folks I wouldn’t ordinarily read, I have been struck with how much postmodernists share in common with the modernity they think they are rejecting. Shared assumptions leap off the page, invisible both to them and their modernist targets. Here are some obvious shared assumptions:

Language is a human creation: everyone simply assumes that our ability to speak is something that separates us from God, rather than a gift that God gave us so that we might commune with Him. But where does this assumption come from? It comes from the sinful heart of man who wants to attain to God on his own (or not, as the case may be). Self-righteousness, and particularly the priggish intellectual self-righteousness that wants to figure it all out autonomously, cannot acknowledge that God gave us all that we need to love and adore Him. But the thing that separates us from God is our sinful distaste of the holy, and not our creaturely limitations. The problem is sin, not linguistic boundaries.

Humanity is one: but Scripture teaches that there is a difference between how the sheep know and how the goats “know.” In a fallen world, there is no epistemology that will be satisfactory to all. The fundamental divide between faith and unbelief is a basic epistemological divide. The sheep hear and believe because they are His sheep. The goats cannot believe because they are not His sheep. This means that the eschatological doctrines of Heaven and Hell are basic to all biblical epistemology. If the orthodox Christian faith is true, then there are two types of knowing, one of them autonomous and spurious. To assume a unified epistemology is therefore at bottom to assume that the Christian faith is false. Christians who assume this without reflection are then placed in the uneviable position of trying to persuade other people that the faith is true, building their case on the bedrock assumption that the faith is false. And this is how apologetics comes a cropper.

Philosophy is trustworthy: However much the postmodernists quibble about modernist schools of thought, and however much they might want to pretend that Derrida is a writer, not a philosopher, they are all doing the same basic thing. Philosophy is nothing more than “smart guys speculating about the world and screwing it all up.” And by that definition, the postmodernists are just another verse of the same, tired song.

Jesus tells some of His questioners that they should believe on the basis of His works. In other words, Jesus said that ordinary people should look at one of His signs (say, water to wine) and they should draw the conclusion from that work or sign that He was indeed the Light of God that has come into the world, in order to shine on every man. Jesus said that He presented evidence conclusive enough to damn those who rejected it. Now, imagine any of our current word-manglers there on the spot.

Modernists: “How does the doctrine that Jesus is the Son of God follow logically from the datum that water turned into wine. Formulate that in an argument, please.”

Postmodernists: “The narrative of water to wine is compelling indeed, but we cannot allow it to be privileged above other narratives. To do so would return us to the hegemony of Enlightment categories, and would take a particular incident in Cana, and would totalize on that basis for the rest of the world. Which is, again, Enlightenment hubris.”

Steward of the feast who had believed things about the entire universe on such “scanty” evidence: “What’s the Enlightenment? All I know is that was the best wine I ever had, and Jesus did it. He must be the Son of God!”

The gospel is spread through authoritative and dogmatic proclamation, and does not have to have its papers stamped by the philosophers before it is allowed to proceed. We Christians have not taken seriously enough the warnings of the New Testament against vain philosophy and the cunning deceitfulness of men (and serpents). In his famous warnings in 1 Corinthians and Colossians, St. Paul was not warning us about Stoicism or Epicurianism in particular, but rather about a worldly turn of mind, of which those two philosophies were just two samples. That worldly turn of mind is still with us, still wrecking havoc in the Church, still seducing simpletons, and still making smart people think that polysyllabic jargon constitutes wisdom. But with all their knowing, they did not know God (1 Cor. 1:21). Philosophy as such is a pursuit for goats, and this is another reason it frequently ends up in lechery. This does not mean that Christians cannot be philosophically informed; some Christians should be. But all Christians who are philosophically informed and literate have a moral duty to hate what they are studying. I am glad that our society has poison control centers, and that there are people who study various toxins and poisons. But if they ever come to love their toxins, then it is time to worry.

I had better bring this in for a landing. Just one example of the kind of exasperating false dilemma and blurry thinking that smart guys consistently perpetrate. One of them that I just ran into yesterday was in Raschke’s book on why evangelicals must embrace postmodernity. One of his points was that we must abandon propositional fixity in order to focus on relationship. But of course, one of our central duties in healthy relationships is to talk sense in them. What would a man’s relationship with his wife be like without intelligible propositions? “We have $553.25 in the bank. And two bills over that amount due tomorrow.” I can assure you that the health of the relationship is dependent upon a coherent world, the kind of world created by the triune God. In other words, the kind of world we live in. People in relationship don’t radiate “relationally” at one another across the room. They talk. If we were to take all their conversation, “debone” it of all propositions, we would have ourselves one raggedy mess of a relationship lying on the floor.

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