Postmodern Times: A Christian Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture
By Gene Edward Veith, Jr.
). xiii + 256
9.1 (Spring 1998) : 124-125
"When the foundations are being destroyed, what shall the righteous do?" (Ps 11:3). Thus begins Gene Veith's critique of the intellectual impact of postmodernism on culture. Unlike the plethora of contemporary "issues" books that take aim at symptomatic problems within society - issues such as political correctness, multiculturalism, decadence in art, or the capitulation of morals to the mass populace - Veith focuses on the intellectual headwater of the current flow of societal issues: the replacement of modernism with postmodernism as the dominant cultural worldview and the ramifications of such a paradigm shift to society, the arts, mass media, and religion.
Gene E. Veith, Jr. (Ph.D., University of Kansas) is Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Concordia University-Wisconsin where he also serves as Associate Professor of English. Postmodern Times (1994) is the last in the Crossway Books Turning Point series which centers on issues impacting a Christian worldview. Veith contributed two previous essays, Reading Between the Lines: A Christian Guide to Literature (1990) and State of the Arts: Bezalel to Mapplethorpe (1991) to the series. Other scholarly works include Reformation Spirituality: The Religion of George Herbert (Bucknell, n.d.), which was also his doctoral dissertation, and Modern Fascism: Liquidating the Judeo-Christian Worldview (Concordia, 1993).
Postmodern Times: A Christian Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture follows a nearly identical pattern to what Francis Schaeffer referred to as "The Line of Despair" (Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There [Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1968] 15-16). Using the imagery of a staircase, Schaeffer argued that ideas in philosophy would in time make their way down to the arts. This would be passed down to mass culture, notably the media, and then to popular culture and society. The final step in the downward flow would be theology and ultimately the church. Veith takes the reader down the postmodernist staircase from the philosophic tenets of postmodernism, to its impact upon the several art mediums, to modern society and culture, and ultimately to religion and theology. His appraisal is both sobering and haunting for the church.
Unlike many philosophy texts, Postmodern Times is, by the author's admission (xiii), not a technical discourse on the complexities and technicalities of postmodernism. It is a concise, easy-to-read manual that outlines first the essential premises of postmodernist thought, and then sequentially the impact of such thought on the arts, society, and religion. The book is ideally aimed at college students who will have to deal with postmodernism within the academy. However, Christians concerned with societal trends, particularly intellectual issues, will benefit from it. Veith not only gives an accurate appraisal of postmodernism, but offers biblical responses that move beyond mere proof-texting at all levels. His section on "Deconstructing the Deconstructionists" is particularly poignant.
He draws a comparison between the fundamentalist-modernist controversies of the early part of this century, and the postmodernist-evangelical conflict that exists today. The difference, as Veith points out, is the earlier controversies had clear lines of demarcation. Christians today have largely failed to realize the extent of postmodernist incursions within their own circles. While evangelicals continue to focus on issues, limited attention is being drawn to the worldviews that give forth these issues. Postmodernism is not only an intellectual issue found in the university or the bohemian coffee house; it is found within our own homes by way of mass media, in the shopping malls we frequent, in the popular literature we read, and most tragically, within our own churches. The analogy of treating the "symptom" rather than the disease would seem particularly appropriate when discussing postmodernism and the outflow of this philosophy. Tragically, Christians have failed to recognize postmodernism as the dangerous philosophy it is, assuming it is only an intellectual problem for a few heady intellectuals or academics.
Thinking Christians will be well-served by this fine work. Though not a technical book, it offers a clear and concise analysis with a biblical rejoinder. Veith's question, "When the foundations are being destroyed, what shall the righteous do?," is answered in the next verse, "The LORD is in His holy temple; the LORD is on His heavenly throne." Christians have hope because of the existence of a sovereign God who is there and He is not silent. Postmodern Times: A Christian Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture is a welcome and much needed critique of a movement that will impact our society into the next millennium.