Author James P. Danaher writes, in his excellent book, Eyes That See, Ears That Hear: Perceiving Jesus in a Postmodern Context (Liguori, 2006):
Our perception of reality is changing. We are rapidly moving beyond the modern world to which we had become so accustomed over the last three hundred years. What is the blessing God has for us in these changes? God always has a blessing, if we have eyes to see and ears to hear (see Romans 11:8). So how are we to perceive this changing world order that we do not miss God’s blessing? (xiii).
Many have labeled this changing new reality as postmodernism. The problem with this label is that few bother to explain what they mean when they use it. For some this word is a 2 x 4 with which to club anyone who raises serious questions about how we believe the gospel in the 21st century. I rather think the word is a “scare” word and should be avoided in most contexts.
The facts are clear, however. People today are searching for answers that do not fit with the reigning paradigms of math and science. There is room for a kind of knowing that is objective but not in the sense that philosophers and scientists have argued since the Enlightenment.
Modernity promised a kind of Utopia and the 20th century proved this to be a failure. Science seems unable to save us and truth has never been understood only in mathematical formulas. Truth is found in beauty and story and postmodern young people know this and hunger for more of it.
A personal relationship with God is based on knowing Jesus Christ as risen and ascended. It is not based on the methods of scientific theory but on a knowing that transcends such categories. This does not mean that Christian faith is irrational but that it transcends rationality. The truth the Enlightenment gave us created modern technology but the truth and meaning of the Christian life existed before technology and will never be limited to it. Knowing a living person cannot be reduced to knowing propositions about life.
The gospel involves deep commitment to a truth that cannot be understood apart from seeing and knowing. Soren Kierkegaard understood this before modernity became so totally dominant in the West. Modernity gave us certitude, confidence that we knew precisely what was true. But “the gospel leads us to an understanding founded upon a divine beauty that we behold in humble awe” (Danaher, xv). The truth of the gospel gets hold of us, it changes us and it shapes us into loving and forgiving beings who are empowered to establish and develop relationships with God and one another. This is the greatest evidence we have for the truth of the gospel according to the apostle John (cf. 1 John 2: 3-11; 3:16-24; 4:7-21).
James Danaher, whose book I wrote about some months ago on this site, concludes:
Fortunately, we now know that the scientific reasoning that modernity insisted upon is not the universal form of right reason it had claimed to be but merely represents one form of reason. With that understanding, we are now free to pursue forms of rationality more compatible with a gospel that is personal and mysteriously beautiful rather than objective and mathematically precise (xv).
After I last mentioned this book, Eyes That See, Ears That Hear, I wrote Professor Danaher with the intention of getting to know him personally. We exchanged emails and finally, last week, spent an hour on the telephone. I sent him my book, Your Church Is Too Small, and he read it and liked it too. I fully expected that Dr. Danaher was a young man but he is actually a year older than me. I was pleased to learn this since it reminded me that I am not alone in my generation of evangelicals in wanting to show people with a teachable spirit what is profoundly wrong with modernity as a way of relating to Jesus and the gospel. James Danaher is professor and chair of the department of philosophy at Nyack College in Nyack, New York. His areas of academic expertise include 17th and 18th century British Empiricism. He has also written and taught extensively on postmodern hermeneutics and philosophical theology.
For those who do not know Nyack is a small Christian Missionary Alliance college in a small town. It is not a place known for liberal thought or for people who engage in conversation about postmodernism as Dr. Danaher does. I wanted to understand why Dr. Danaher wrote this book. In short, the answer he gave me did not surprise me. He said he had so many students who rejected modernism but wanted to continue to believe the gospel and follow Jesus that he felt compelled to provide a way to do this with meaning and purpose. The result is the finest primer on this subject I have ever read, period. If you asked me, “John, what is the one book you would recommend I read to grasp this whole modern/postmodern split and how a Christian should understand it?” I would tell you to read Eyes That See, Ears That Hear.
Danaher concludes his preface by writing (xv):
Contrary to what some have led us to believe, a postmodern world is not one in which all order, meaning, and truth is lost. Rather, all that is lost is the kind of order, meaning, and truth that modernity insisted upon. The good news of the postmodern gospel is that, with the end of modernity, we now have an ever-greater opportunity to order our lives, not based on an understanding of some universal, objective truth, but rather on an intimate understanding of a truth that is personal—indeed, a truth that is a person (John 14:6).
If you have listened to various arguments about postmodernism and faith and are confused then please read Danaher. If you are a student, or a 20 or 30-something who wonders if you can remain a Christian based upon how you were taught to perceive the world, then read Danaher. If you are an older guy like me and just want to get this whole debate about postmodernism and Christianity clear in your mind and heart then read Danaher. Honestly, everyone who ever uses this term postmodernism ought to read this book. You have heard famous preachers tell you how bad postmodernism is for the Christian faith, equating the word with liberalism, denial of Christ and rejection of biblical authority. Question that premise with all your mind and heart and read Danaher to understand what they have not told you and why it matters to faith today. If you simply want to better understand how to present the faith in a world that no longer is impressed with a scientific argument then read this book. I read it twice last year. I will read it again in 2011. It has become one of the most important books in my library. I cannot encourage you too strongly to get this book.