Month: January 2006

Story of Scripture and the story of Postmodernism

Jean-Francois Lyotard described Postmodernism as “incredulity towards metanarratives.” What does that mean? Well, as you know, a narrative is a story, add ‘meta’ (about, beyond) to it and you get an overarching story or a grand narrative. A metanarrative is an all-encompassing story that claims to have explanatory power for understanding the world. To be incredulous towards metanarratives is to believe that there are no such Stories. Thus, PM takes a disbelieving disposition to any story that claims to explain the world. Lyotard describes the various stories of the world, e.g. Islam, modernism, as myths- fabled constructions necessary for psychological stability, to make some sense of life as we know it. These myths are sundry and relative and cannot offer satisfactory resolution, finality and a future to the history of humanity. Therefore, what matters is not whether or not they are true, but whether or not we believe them. What matters is “your story.” The particular story that postmodernism reacted against is the story of modernism, the story of progress birthed by the Enlightenment. Modernism told the 20th C that the world would be cured of its ills through human progress, much of which was economic. The industrial revolution has come and gone, followed by the technological revolution. Multinational companies and a global economy are in place and yet, the 20th C was plagued with oppression, starvation, wars, and violence. Not counting the wars, approximately 170 million lost their lives to state-sponsored killings (Mao, Hilter, Stalin).[1]

The story of modernism was a failure. Human progress did not achieve the utopia envisioned by the Enlightenment thinkers. And so, postmodernism rebelled against the idea that one story can explain our world, offer resolution to the incongruities of life, determine finality for this thing called history, and chart a course for the future that is bright and glorious. Postmoderns are right. Modernism did fail. The world is no more humane than it was before the Enlightenment. Nevertheless, we should be cautious to not throw out the baby with the bath water, metanarratives with modernism. Metanarratives, be they modernism, evolutionism, Islam or whatever, attempt to offer resolution, finality and future for the world we live in. Resolution for the contradictions of life and death, suffering and happiness, poverty and wealth, truth and deception. How can these co-exist? Finality for the world as we know and not an endless eternity of these unresolved polarities (Nietzsche, Hinduism), and Future for the present. Where will we go when it’s all said and done, individually and globally? Most metanarratives can not offer satisfactory resolution, finality and a future because they can offer no guarantees. Postmodernism does not believe in resolution, finality and the future but, instead, is incredulous towards any metanarrative at all. (Nevermind the circular argument made by PM, which is itself a metanarrative!) Against the backdrop of modernism’s optimistic failure and postmodernism’s nihilistic nothingness, the plausibility and power of the biblical metanarrative, the Story of Scripture shines brightly. (to hear or read further on an explanation of the Biblical story go to: and click on “resources” and select MP3 1/30/06)

[1] In fact, the 20th C was the bloodiest century of human existence. In fact, a special word was coined by R. J. Rummel, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Hawaii for the massive movements of state-sponsored killings that swept the globe during the 20th C—democide. Remember the genocidal attempts by Stalin and Mao, Hitler’s Holocaust, Pol Pot’s Killing Fields, the Rwanda massacres? Four times the number of people lost their lives to democide in the 20th C than through all the wars, international and domestic, of the 20th C. The total number was approx 170 mL. For figures see R. J. Rummel, Death By Government (Transaction Publishers: 1997).

Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places

If you’re looking for a good book on spiritual theology, you can stop looking. Eugene Peterson’s Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places is his first installment in a five-volume Spiritual Theology (the 2nd volume, Eat This Book is now avaiable). The title, taken from a Gerald Manley Hopkins poem (who I recommend), reveals the universal yet particular focus of the work–Christ is everwhere to be seen, in all of life.

Peterson writes: “The focused conviction expresssed here is that it is Christ, the God-revealing Christ, who is behind and in all of this living (p.3).” However, Peterson’s approach is not radically Christocentric. Instead, he takes a deliberately trinitarian approach to spiritual theology, unpacking Christ and his relationship with the Father and the Spirit through three distinct movements/chapters: 1) Christ and creation 2)Christ and history 3) Christ and community. The thesis is simple; it’s an invitation to join the perichoresis (=dance) of the Trinity in everything you do. Outstanding.

How Different are Our Prayers from Madonna's:That we Pray or to Whom we Pray?

It has become fashionable in our culture to include all religions in our prayers, to be inclusive. Madonna in her newfound spirituality often prays before her concerts with all her dancers. They gather around into a circle and she instructs them to pray to whomever or whatever they consider God and then leads them in prayer. The message she is sending is—“What matters is that you pray, not to whom you pray.” Similarly, books are often written on the power of prayer, focusing on its innate energy and potential for change with very little concern for whom the prayer should be directed to. You may recall a study that was published about a year and a half ago on Americans and Prayer. The focus of the article was on how statistics reveal that prayer, prayer of any kind by any person to any God produces results in health concerns.[1] The survey pool included Jews, Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Atheists and Hindus.[2] The survey reported that of the 35% of those who do pray for health concerns, 69% have found it helpful in recovery. The survey focused simply on results, stripping prayer down to naked pragmatism. In addition, it avoided the more important question, “To whom should we pray?” Instead, it measured health-focused, results-centered, pluralistic petitionary prayers Similar to the prevailing popular notions on prayer, the survey’s concern was that Americans pray, not to whom they pray. The focus was on the “power of prayer,” not the God of prayer. And so, prayer becomes the object of concern, not its goal or God of prayer.

All too often evangelicals approach prayer in this way. I know because I am one. Our prayers, like those of the Prayer Survey and Madonna’s prayer circle, are concerned NOT with whom we are praying but that we are praying at all. We pat ourselves on the back if we pray and kick ourselves if we don’t. Prayer is reduced to a spiritual barometer which measures the pressure of our piety. If we’re praying, the barometer reads high- no clouds and sunny skies- but if we aren’t, it reads low- thunderclouds and precipitation. Prayer loses its purpose, its direction, its aim. If our concern is primarily that we pray, what does it say about to whom we pray? What does it say about God? Well, for starters, it makes him out to be a mean-spirited boss. It depicts him as a God who is happy when we pray and mad if we don’t. But worse, if our concern is that we pray over to whom we pray, we pray like God isn’t even there.

[1] “Prayer for Health Concerns,” JAMA Archives of Internal Medicine, Vol. 164 No. 8, April 26, 2004

[2] 35% of respondents used prayer for health concerns; 75% of these prayed for wellness, and 22% prayed for specific medical conditions. Of those praying for specific medical conditions, 69% found prayer very helpful.

The New N. T. Wright?

It appears that N. T. Wright is closing in on the doctrine of creation in his newly released, Paul: A Fresh Perspective. Although this book is mainly a reworking of previous material, primarily contained in Climax of the Covenant, it is interesting to note Wright’s emphasis on the story of creation in Paul. He devotes and entire chapter to “Creation and Covenant” in Paul underscoring the fact that covenant was God’s solution to what went wrong with creation and that creation is essential in solving the problem that went wrong with covenant. In typical Wright style, he aptly summarizes sweeping thelogical themes and concepts without much exegesis. However, that work is to be found in Climax.

Returning to Climax of the Covenant, we observe that the death and resurrection of Christ is, indeed the climax to the covenant with Abraham, Israel and the Church. However, Wright’s emphasis on creation in Paul would lend the reader to conclude that the climax is not the resurrection, but the return and consummation of creation- into new creation. Consider the following quote: “…I believe this to be a vital underlying principle in all of Paul’s thought- on the belief that the one true God is the creator, the ruler and coming judge of the whole world. Monotheism of the Jewish style, which Paul re-emphasizes as he refashions it, generates just this sense of the underlying narrative, the historical and as yet unfinished story fo creation and covenant, to which the individual stories such as those of Abraham and the Exodus contribute…” p.12 Where the stories of Abraham and the Exodus form part of the metanarrative of Scripture and drive the plot forward to its climax, isn’t it creation itself that is central to the covenantal climax in the creation of all things new by the returning, consummating King?