Truth or Consequences: The Promise and Peril of Postmodernism

By Bertolet, Timothy J. | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, December 2002 | Go to article overview
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Truth or Consequences: The Promise and Peril of Postmodernism

Bertolet, Timothy J., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

Truth or Consequences: The Promise and Perils of Postmodernism. By Millard Erickson. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2001, 335 pp., $16.99 paper.

Millard Erickson has provided readers with another splendid treatment of the movement of postmodernism. As the title indicates, he thoroughly deals with the promises and potential benefits of postmodernism while contrasting them with its perils and proposing that the evangelical world must move beyond this phenomenon. His primary purpose for dealing with this topic once again is not only to "acquaint the reader with the content and to some extent the style, of the intellectual leaders of postmodernism" but also to highlight a sketch of what he labels "postpostmodernism" (p. 9). Erickson's book provides a good survey of postmodernism and its development, yet it challenges Christian readers to engage their culture and think beyond postmodernism.

While Erickson remains aware of objections raised by postmodernists when they are critiqued, he begins his first section of the book, "Backgrounds to Postmodernism," with a brief examination of three other critiques of postmodernism. He discusses JeanFrancois Lyotard, Alasdair MacIntyre, and the husband and wife team James W. McClendon, Jr., and Nancey Murphy. The purpose of this chapter is to provide three distinct characterizations of postmodernism before he tackles the subject. Erickson admits that for a true critique of postmodernism, one can neither articulate every detail without producing a library nor can one "give several summary statements" without being "hopelessly general and vague" (p. 31). In order to deal fairly with postmodernism, Erickson will proceed by allowing the major representatives of the movement to speak for themselves. While this may not cover all of the variety contained within one movement, it is the only viable way to provide a fair treatment.

Erickson recognizes that postmodernism did not appear in a philosophical vacuum but is a reaction to philosophies of earlier eras. Continuing with his first section, Erickson's second chapter, entitled "Premodernism," summarizes the thought of Plato, Augustine, and Aquinas. Moving into "Modernism" (chap. 3), there is a brief analysis of Descartes, Newton, Locke, and Kant as "four major representatives of the modern mind" in the fields of philosophy and science (p. 53). In these four thinkers, he highlights the belief that objectivity is desirable and possible in order to illustrate further the contrast that postmodernists bring in reaction. Chapter 4 is a discussion of "Nineteenthcentury Precursors to Postmodernism," in particular, Soren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche. Notably, Kierkegaard contributes to the concept of a subjective basis for knowledge that is prevalent in postmodern thought. Similarly, Nietzsche's main contribution was his "attack on the Enlightenment view of knowledge as fixed, objective, and absolute" (p. 90).

Chapter 5 introduces figures that were influential in transitioning into postmodernism. Erickson offers brief discussions of Martin Heidegger, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Thomas Kuhn, Max Scheler, and Karl Mannheim. The primary purpose of this chapter is to illustrate the philosophical shift towards relativistic thought. With this range of examples, Erickson correctly documents the shift from pure objectivity into more relativistic views before he begins his developed discussion on postmodernism.

In the second section of his book, Erickson summarizes four of the major proponents of the postmodern movement: Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Richard Rorty, and Stanley Fish, devoting a chapter to each individual. In addition to interacting with the key work of each proponent and offering extensive quotes with an elaboration of the context, he concisely summarizes their main points at the end of the chapter so that the reader does not drown in detail. Avoiding oversimplifications, Erickson's format allows for easy referencing for students of philosophy.

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