The Manna and the Stone

A Theological and Practical Journal of Bible Presbyterians

Conversations – 11/18/16

Hi all, just a few articles this week, but some substantial discussion about them. Hopefully there’s some food for thought here.

Crying Wolf – On more discussions about election, I actually want to cite a left-leaning discussion about the way which the media has treated Trump and the dangers of that presentation. It’s actually extremely well considered and deconstructs much of the prevailing media narrative as simply fearmongering and “crying wolf.”

But remember that 4% of Americans believe that lizardmen control all major governments. And 5% of Obama voters believe that Obama is the Antichrist. The white supremacist vote is about the same as the lizardmen-control-everything vote, or the Obama-is-the-Antichrist-but-I-support-him-anyway vote.

In the world we live in, we should be justly suspicious of polls, but the author here uses quite a few of them to suggest the absurdity of the media narratives which are supposedly based on precisely this kind of data. Similarly, he really puts his finger on how violently the media has reacted to relatively innocuous statements.

When Democrats and Republicans alike over the last twenty years say that we are a nation of immigrants but that illegal immigrants threaten our security, or may be criminals or drug pushers, they’re met with yawns. When Trump says exactly the same thing, he’s Literally the KKK.

And just for my libertarian friends out there (you know who you are).

Calling this “open white supremacy” seems like those libertarians who call public buses Communism, except if “Communism” got worn out on the euphemism treadmill and they started calling public buses “overt Soviet-style Stalinism”.

Sorry for going a bit quote happy on this one – I just had a surprising amount of fun reading this article. Also, speaking of having a lot of fun watching the left eviscerate the media and their own party, there’s a Jonathan Pie video out there which is similarly perceptive and much briefer, but several orders of magnitude more profane. If hearing profanity doesn’t prick your conscience, it’s worth listening to. I won’t link it here, because of profanity, but it won’t be hard to find it you’re looking.

For full disclosure, I stumbled onto the article through this one (which is also fine, but is basically just a link to the original article).

Post-Truth – There’s a bunch of interesting stuff in this Briefing about polling, but the stuff I actually want to talk about is Mohler’s discussion of our “post-truth” culture. In many ways, Mohler’s discussion here is simply the usual conservative evangelical screed against post-modernism. I find this pretty unfortunate, as it really evidences very little reckoning with the actual self-witness of the post-moderns themselves as to their actual motives, methods, and perspectives. Mohler leads off with the usual deliniation of post modernism, saying:

The central tenet of postmodernism was that there is no such thing as objective truth, rather that all truth is merely a subjective category…. The postmodernists famously argued that all debates over moral issues are actually disguised form of moral combat.

He then goes the usual route from here – the postmodernists are the enemies of objective truth, so they are naturally the enemies of right-thinking Christians everywhere. The is a degree of truth in this, but unfortunately, it means that we have not frequently reckoned with what the postmodernists and deconstructionists actually have to say before discarding it wholesale. This is hinted at even in what Mohler has to say here – how can one say that all debates over moral issues (even, by extension, any conversation at all) does not have a certain dynamic of “moral combat?” While the postmodern assertion that such oscillation of powers is the essential and sole content of any statement is clearly wrong, if we refuse to accept that such an element is often present, we actually destroy any meaningful possibility of understanding and debate.

I would actually assert that the evangelical polemic for “propositional truth” has created a dialogue in which many evangelicals believe that all statements of biblical truth are essentially univocal (possessed of only one possible interpretation). It is the old, fundamentalist hermeneutic of “literal” biblical interpretation arisen again, but more subtle. More than simply asserting that the biblical account is factually true in all that it asserts (which I and all truly confessional Christians absolutely attest), such interpretation takes the tack that the Bible never speaks figuratively at all.

It enshrines that old chestnut, “If the plain sense makes good sense, seek no other sense, lest it result in nonsense” as the primarily hermeneutic in the church. While the intent of such a statement is obvious and admirable, the actual payout of such a methodology is that it makes the cultural reflexes of each individual unassailable and unquestionable. The “common sense” reading of the text can never be questioned. In reality, there are as many species of “common sense” as there are individuals in the world, and if we refuse to question our first reflexes in reading a text, we (in a basically postmodern move, ironically) actually set ourselves up as arbiters of real truth.

Of course, many adherents of this hermeneutic will be substantially more nuanced than this. It only takes the slightest pressure on any interpretation of the Bible to reveal that everyone, down to the staunchest literalist, regards some biblical treatements as figurative. Certainly Christ was not telling stories of actual individuals in his parables….

The unfortunate payout of this hermeneutic instinct in the church is that it destroys any tendency we have toward introspection in our language. We do not have the intellectual instincts to consider how our language might be construed differently than we intend it, or even the suggestion that, perhaps, there are powers and assumptions at work in our “propositions” of which we are not even aware. We need not admit the epistemological assumptions of postmodernism, which do indeed deny the existence of absolute truth (or, at least, the intelligible statement of such truth) to learn from their critique. We must be willing to be introspective and consider what is at work in our language, underneath the surface. The current cultural climate, where we cannot even speak to our enemies, nor they to us, is the inevitable outcome.

I’ll actually bring this to close with a quote from Derrida, one of the leading postmodernists and the father of deconstruction:

No one gets angry at a mathematician or a physicist whom he or she doesn’t understand, or at someone who speaks a foreign language, but rather at someone who tampers with your own language.Jacques Derrida

Mohler’s citation of Shaeffer is apropos to this point – the postmodern worldview does pose a threat to the Christian religion in a real way. I am concerned that we are so fearful of someone messing with our own language that our denunciation of the postmodernists is more based upon their threat to us than a meaningful engagement with the actual arguments. If we do not engage, we will lose, as a body, the intellectual instincts to understand and respond.

Jason Waeber

Jason Waeber is an elder at Grace Bible Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, OH, where he worships with his wife and three children. He is also a seminary student, under care with the Great Lakes Presbytery. As GBPC is looking forward to planting a church with him in the next few years, he felt called to develop the online presence of the denomination, both for outreach and the doctrinal maturity of the denomination. The Manna and the Stone is his attempt to pursue this. Currently, Jason is serving as the general editor for the site.

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1 Comment

  1. Good pickings. I loved the “You know who you are” line to the Libertarians!

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