Many of you who know me personally have heard me say out loud that what I’m working on in general is an attempt to bring postmodern philosophy and theology into conversation because I believe both disciplines have something they can learn from each other. As a Lutheran, I believe my tradition in particular has some helpful things to offer to postmodern philosophy (and Lutherans in particular, strangely, seem to be missing from the conversation – the Reformed and the Catholics are already there and they tend to be who I’m reading), and at the same time, that postmodern philosophy can lend us some grammar to help flesh out some of the things that we take as elements of our rich theological heritage.

I anticipate that this may be something of a lifelong effort. It will most likely make me some enemies. As of late, the church is generally afraid of postmodernism, unfortunately as a result of contemporary apologetics which teaches that the primary problem of postmodernism is relativism, and thus that Christians cannot be postmodern because postmodernists do not believe in Absolute Truth. (Apparently believing in Absolute Truth is constitutive of being a Christian these days [and it’s treated as if it’s always been this way – no it hasn’t], but the strange thing is the requirement to believe in Absolute Truth doesn’t appear in the Christian tradition earlier than in the last century or so.) If you don’t believe in Absolute Truth, you’re not a Christian – or so the argument seems to go.

Well, I don’t believe in it. So there.

But as you might expect, I definitely have my reasons for not believing in it. Maybe I’ll post some of them some day. As a thought-provoking statement, consider this snippet from Martin Luther: “When however, the Word of God truly comes, it comes as the enemy of our thinking and desires. It does not allow our thinking to stand, even in those matters which are most sacred, but it destroys and eradicates and scatters everything.” (Lectures on Romans) Anachronistically, Luther was a postmodern deconstructionist.

Back to my original issue however. I recently came across a quote that captures well what I’m up to. My various projects and my upcoming-currently-in-progress dissertation, will each be an instance of the larger ongoing project of bringing the two disciplines into dialogue. Here’s the quote that struck me.

“Systematic theology and philosophy of religion each suffer from a mutual condition of contemporary isolation. The split manifests itself in how systematic theology is largely carried out without taking much notice of what is taking place in post-metaphysical and postmodern philosophy of religion, which tries to develop an interpretation of religious issues without immediate recourse to conditions beyond history [which means only appealing to what has already been said in the church tradition]. Often, it instead develops its insights with reference to past philosophical positions and established church teaching. On the other hand, most of postmodern philosophy, including postmodern philosophy of religion, seems to take little or no notice of the major elements that structure the content of Christian traditions, and instead focuses on the abstract, formal, and/or metaphysical elements that these traditions have brought about [like defining God using strictly Greek metaphysical concepts and reading them back into the Scriptural narrative, like omnipotence, omnipresence, etc]. Can these two disciplines then be brought into a more fruitful relationship with each other, and if so, how? I think they can, and this book is an attempt to make this happen. The major reason for doing this is that I remain convinced that the central content of the Christian tradition has much to gain from a close encounter with postmodern philosophy. By ‘the central content,’ I mean the story of Jesus Christ and how he can justifiably be thought to reveal God (given that we later specify more extensively the understanding of ‘reveal’ and ‘God’).”

Jan-Olav Henriksen, Desire, Gift, and Recognition: Christology and Postmodern Philosophy (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 3-4.

For those of you wondering what I mean when I talk about what I’m up to, maybe that will help.