The philosophies of French thinkers Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault form the basis for postmodern thought and are seemingly at odds with the Christian faith. However, James K. A. Smith contends that their ideas have been misinterpreted.
The award-winning Who's Afraid of Postmodernism? is the first book in the Church and Postmodern Culture series. In an introduction and four fulsome chapters, Smith unpacks the primary philosophical impulses behind postmodernism, demythologizes its myths, and demonstrates its affinity with core Christian claims. Each of his accessible chapters includes an opening discussion of a recent representative film and a closing "tour" of a postmodern church in case study form—with particular application to the growing "emerging church" conversation.
“Rather, interpretation is an inescapable part of being human and experiencing the world.” (Page 38)
“I will argue that the postmodern church could do nothing better than be ancient, that the most powerful way to reach a postmodern world is by recovering tradition, and that the most effective means of discipleship is found in liturgy.” (Page 25)
“If everything is interpretation, then even the gospel is only an interpretation and not objectively true.” (Page 42)
“My goal is to demythologize postmodernism by showing that what we commonly think so-called postmodernists are saying is usually not the case. Second, and perhaps more provocatively, I will demonstrate that, in fact, all these claims have a deep affinity with central Christian claims.” (Page 22)
“As Peter Leithart has remarked, ‘The first and chief defense of the gospel, the first ‘letter of commendation’ not only for Paul but for Jesus, is not an argument but the life of the church conformed to Christ by the Spirit in service and suffering.’22 The church doesn’t have an apologetic; it is an apologetic.” (Pages 28–29)
Who's Afraid of Postmodernism? will help many of us. By pointing out dangers and highlighting possibilities, it will help those who are already grappling constructively with postmodernity. And perhaps it will prompt some who seem to be afraid of postmodernism to relax a little more, critique others a little less, and 'redeem the time' a little more fruitfully.
Who's Afraid of Postmodernism? will be a boon for those working in and for the churches, especially in the world of evangelicalism. It will wean them from unexamined commitments to modernity and introduce them to a world of new ideas that are perhaps more useful to Christianity than they would have ever thought possible.
—Kevin Hart, University of Notre Dame
This delightful book is a twofer. Smith first shows, through a careful reading of the texts, that central themes of three major postmodern philosophers are a threat not to biblical Christianity but only to an all too modern, all too complacent church. He then argues strongly for a church that learns from postmodernism how to revitalize its premodern heritage. The movie analyses that open each chapter render the argument at once more concrete and more powerful.
—Merold Westphal, distinguished professor of philosophy, Fordham University
I find Who's Afraid of Postmodernism? to be stunningly clear. Smith's writing is not an argument whose logic you must follow but a narrative that opens windows. I continually found myself saying 'Well, of course, why didn't I see that before? It's so obvious.' Smith helps us understand why postmodernism sets the stage for the restoration of the ancient faith.
—Robert Webber, author of Ancient-Future Faith
Who's Afraid of Postmodernism? by James K. A. Smith is a powerful and persuasive rejoinder to those in the evangelical academy who persist in pushing the now discredited canard that postmodernism is incompatible with both historical Christianity and the history of orthodoxy. Smith weaves an incredibly insightful exposition of three key postmodern philosophers—Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault—with illustrations from both popular media and culture. He concludes with a proposal for recovering liturgy and 'redeeming dogma' while rethinking the mission of 'confessing' Christianity in a global setting. Postmodernism, according to Smith, is something you not only don't need to be afraid of any longer but you can even take it to church!
—Carl Raschke, professor of religious studies and chair of the department, University of Denver