Summit Lecture Series
Intro To The Postmodern Worldview
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John Stonestreet: How many of you, guys, have ever studied post-modernism before? How many of you, guys, have ever heard a talk or a lecture on it before? How many of you, guys, left more confused than when you went? Yeah, this is the challenge of post-modernism. Defining post-modernism is a little bit like nailing jello to a wall. I’m not sure how it is, but it is. So, we’re back to talking worldviews. As you know, at Summit, we talk about six worldviews. What are those six worldviews that we talk about? This is it. Friday morning. It’s always never an answer. It’s just … Let’s try that again. What are the six worldviews we’re talking about? Christianity. Islam. Secularism. Marxism. post-modernism. And new spirituality or cosmic humanism or Manitou Springs-ism, okay? All right. That’s right. That’s what we talk about. So we’re going to talk about post-modernism, and we hit this one a little bit differently. If you’re going to understand post-modernism, you’ve got to understand it on two levels. First of all, you have to understand it on the level of a worldview. It is a worldview. It acts like a worldview. It functions like a worldview. It’s a framework of basic beliefs that people have, whether they realize it or not, that shapes the way they live in the world, how they understand the world, and how they view it. Of the world and for the world, as we said. And let me give you the definition of post-modernism as a worldview. This was given to us by a French thinker named Jean-François Lyotard, which is a really unfortunate name, isn’t it? I’m pretty sure that guy got beat up in junior high, but here’s his definition of post-modernism, ready? “Simplifying to the extreme,” he said, “I define postmodern as incredulity toward meta-narratives,” and all God’s people said, “Oh yeah? What does that mean?” What’s incredulity? What’s that? Disbelieving. Yep. Disbelieving toward meta-narrative, which is? Anybody know what meta-narrative is? A large overarching story that explains everything. Okay. So essentially, what we mean by post-modernism is this, we don’t believe, postmoderns don’t believe in big stories. Now, what I want you to do is I want you to take your notes. All right. And I want you to just have a heading there, characteristics of post-modernism. This is the key one right here. Don’t believe in big stories. Now, if there’s no such thing as a big story, what we mean by a big story is a big story that includes all people at all times, right? One that can explain all of life and all of reality and all the different cultures and that sort of thing. And the idea is that these big stories don’t exist. If we don’t believe in big stories, all that are left to believe in are what? Small stories, your story, my story, his story, her story, and so on. And so we see that at work in a lot of different places, primarily the university, where you don’t have any sort of classes, were very few classes anymore that kind of tell overarching histories. You have gay and lesbian history. You have Marxist history. You have feminist history. You have African-American history or Latino history, or this history or that history. Everyone gets divided up into their own category, because according to their own, a little story. So let me put this in a different framework. To understand how different this is, we need to understand… Let me give you a framework of the six worldviews that we talk about. All worldviews give us an understanding of ultimate reality. By the way, you can try to get this chart down if you want. But if you don’t, it’s not a huge deal, but it’ll just give you a framework of understanding. All worldviews make a statement about ultimate reality. Five of our worldviews say that ultimate reality is knowable. In other words, we can actually have understanding. We can actually know things about reality. Secularism and Marxism would say the ultimate reality is knowable and it’s physical, right? Cosmic humanism or new spirituality or transcendentalism, whatever word you want to use for it. It says ultimate reality is knowable and it’s spiritual Christianity and Islam say that ultimate reality is knowable and it’s a personal God. That’s ultimate reality begins and ends with a God who is a personal creator of everything. They, of course, disagree on the nature of this God and who this God is. But you see, what they all have in common is, is that ultimate reality actually can be known. They start with the question. In other words, they start with the question of ontology. What is real? Post-modernism starts at a different place. Post-modernism is different than all these other worldviews, because it doesn’t assume that ultimate reality is knowable. It says ultimate reality is unknowable, right? Because ultimate reality or our understanding of reality is nothing more than a social construct. Now, what does that mean? It doesn’t mean that there’s no ultimate reality out there. It doesn’t mean that there’s no world out there. It’s just between you, the knower, and it, reality. There’s all of these different barriers. There’s all of these different biases and all of these different lenses and all of these different sets of assumptions. So for example, between you and reality, there’s too much gender. There’s too much culture. There’s too much religion. There’s too much upbringing. There’s too much class status or socioeconomic status. There’s too much race. There’s too much sexual orientation. Between you and reality are just layer after layer after layer after layer of lenses, and we’re kind of all trapped in our own perspectives. We can never get to reality. All we ever know is our vision or our view of reality. Let me illustrate this by going back to a quick overview of art history. Anybody here like to study art history? Three of us. Okay, great. So, can you recognize who the artists here? DaVinci. You know who the other one is? This is DaVinci here. Who’s the other one? Raphael, close. Raphael. How would you describe this kind of art? What kind of words would you use to describe this kind of art? Old? Good. Yes. What’s that? It’s very detailed. Yeah. It’s yeah. It’s realism, isn’t it? Right? And it’s realism in the texture. It’s even realism in the names. This one’s called Madonna With Child. You know why? Because there’s a Madonna with child right here. See? And this of course, Mona Lisa. This is called The Ascension, because that’s a picture of the… Good. Yep. This is good. Yep. Stay with me. And this is my all-time favorite creative name for a painting right here. Like this took a lot of thought. It’s called Stoney Bridge. Okay. So there you go. Now, what’s the point of realism? The point of realism is there’s a real world. I’m going to paint that real-world for you and communicate it. Right? So there is a real world. I’m going to tell you what that real world is. Is there a difference between this kind of art and, say, this kind of art? Yeah. Yeah. What’s this called? Yeah. It’s impressionist. Now we know we could go through any of these, but this is the familiar one. What’s that called? Starry Night, right? Does it look like a starry night? The correct answer is… right? Yeah. I mean, it kind of looks like a starry night, but does it look like a starry night the same way that looks like a stony bridge? No. The point here is, “There is a real world, let me tell you what that real-world is.” The point here is, “There is a real world, let me give you my…” What? “Impression or my interpretation of it.” Does that make sense? Now, it’s interesting. In both of these cases, the person who determines the meaning of these paintings is the painter, is the artist, right? Because the artist is saying, “This is a stony bridge.” The artist is saying, “This is a starry night. It’s just my impression of a starry night.” Right? But is there a difference between this, this and this? Yeah. This is very, very different, right? This is the sort of art that I think I can do. Give me four pennies, a welder and a piece of sheet metal, and I’ll give you art too. If you pay me, I’ll give it to you by the end of the day. So, here’s the thing. If the point here is, “There is a real world, let me tell you what that real world is.” And the point here is, “There is a real world, let me give you my impression of it.” What’s the point here? Yeah. Who determines what this means? Everybody does. I mean, what does this mean? And it depends on what does it mean to what? There you go. The viewer determines the meaning of this. The idea here is, is that there’s not a real world. There’s not a reality to be painted. Okay? So here’s number two, in our… In fact, if there’s not a reality, here’s the thing, there’s nothing but interpretation. And this is actually a quote, so add this number two to your list. Put it in quotes, because it’s a quote from a… I’ll tell you about this guy. “There’s nothing but interpretation.” Anybody know who said this? “There’s nothing but interpretation.” Another French guy, name is Jacques Derrida, D-E-R-R-I-D-A. Now, some of you are like, “I’ve never heard of Derrida.” Anybody here ever heard of Derrida before? Four of us. Anybody here never heard of Derrida before? Okay. So here’s what you need to know about Derrida. You’ve never heard his name, but he has kicked your butts. I mean, really, he’s kicked our collective butts. Because Derrida’s idea of “there’s nothing but interpretation” is called… Ready? Here’s the word for it. Deconstruction. The idea of deconstruction is Derrida was… Well, let me back up. Derrida was a philosopher turned literary critic, and he started to figure out, or he started to propose this idea that he put together in a book, huge book called Of Grammatology. And the idea of it was, that there’s nothing but interpretation, that you can never actually get to the author’s meaning. You can only get to your own interpretation. And so the idea of reading was to essentially uncover the power structures of what the author is trying to force on you, and you have to come up with your own meaning. And so, some of you have been taught to read this way, right? Anybody been in a literature class like this, where the idea is, it doesn’t matter what it means. It only matters what it means to what? You. And so you become the center of meaning. Now, sometimes this sounds really attractive, doesn’t it? Because it means you can never, ever get a wrong answer in class. And some of you are like, “This sounds pretty sweet,” right? But here’s the problem. Derrida has taught an entire generation of students how to read and told them that they are over the text, that it doesn’t matter what the author meant. It doesn’t matter what Shakespeare and Charles Dickens and John Milton and all these wonderful, brilliant guys that we need to figure out. It doesn’t matter what they meant. It only matters what we, what? Think they meant, what we interpret. What’s wrong with that? Well, first of all, you miss some really good stuff. But secondly, especially for Christians, we turn around and pick up another book, a book that we say that is really important to us. What book would this be? The Bible. Ready? A lot of us who say we really love the Bible, we read it like Derrida. You ever been in a Bible study like this? We go around in a circle and somebody goes, “Well, this is what the verse means to me.” And somebody else says, “Well, this is what I got out of it.” And somebody else goes, “Well, this is what I got out of it.” And then someone throws down the trump card, “Well, the Holy Spirit spoke to me.” Can’t argue with that. You know what I’m saying? And these things start contradicting each other, right? Now, I’m going to go on a couple minute rant here. Okay? You just need to hear this. Here’s the rant. Ready? Christians are terrible right now at reading the Bible. We are terrible at reading the Bible. We take the Bible apart, and we pick and choose little pieces of it that we want, and we turn them into moral McNuggets that we can take and apply to our life. And we do this across the board with verses, and we take things… Here’s one good example. How many of you, guys, just graduated from high school? How many of you, guys, graduated from a Christian school? Yeah. So you had to have a life verse, right? Like they made you, put it in graduation. How many of you, guys, have a life verse? You, guys, are embarrassed to admit it now. Okay, good. Yeah. So we do this, but we take these random verses, the most famous verse that we do this with. And we take it, and we make it mean something to us. As a verse, Jeremiah 29:11. You, guys, know Jeremiah 29:11? How’s it go? “For I know the,?” What? “Plans that I have for you,” right? “Plans to prosper you and not to,” what? So you’ve heard this verse. Okay, good. Yeah. Yeah. You say what? “God wants to prosper me. He doesn’t want to harm me.” Here’s the problem. Jeremiah 29:11 wasn’t written to you. It was written to a group of people, who God had just actually harmed. Now, beyond all of this, here’s my point. What are we doing with it? We’re pretending like that one little part of Jeremiah is something that we can pull out, and we can impose our meaning on it. You say, “Well, John, we’ll wait a minute. The Bible is written to all of us.” Yeah. But you have to interpret it well. In other words, you don’t have any right to say Jeremiah 29:11 is for me, if you don’t know what Jeremiah 29:1-10 says. Or Jeremiah 29. Or Jeremiah. Or the Old Testament. Right? We do this with random stories like David and Goliath. We take the story out of the whole history of Israel, out of the life of David. We yanked this story out. And I know we also have VeggieTales. We know what it means, right? That little guys could do big things too, right? That’s what it is in VeggieTales, right? And we pull this out and we’re like, “See, I can beat my giants too.” And then we ignore all the other stories in which the giants beat the Christians. Like Stephen, for example. Or David, right after he goes into the palace after beating Goliath, his butt gets kicked by another giant for 20 years, a guy named Saul. Do you see what I mean? And so we take and we manipulate the text, and we actually read it like Derrida. I’m going to make a statement here, and it’s really important. It’s a statement from a buddy of mine down in Australia. “You cannot have a Christian worldview, if you don’t know how to read the Bible well.”
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