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2013 Summer Reading Group: ‘Postmodern Apologetics?’


The past few summers, we’ve beat back the season’s doldrums by discussing and debating topics ranging from evolution to the emerging church. This time around, we’re planning to engage Christina Gschwandtner’s Postmodern Apologetics?: Arguments for God in Contemporary Philosophy. In doing so, we aim to familiarize ourselves with the ideas of influential contemporary thinkers and the implications of these views for religious belief and practice, especially for the Adventist community.     

As the author readily acknowledges, the title of her work juxtaposes two loaded terms that seem diametrically opposed to each other—“If ‘apologetics’ stands for blind and dogmatic faith and ‘postmodern’ for the complete rejection and even suppression of faith, how could the two possibly meet?”[i] Gschwandtner argues, however, that neither apologetics nor post-modernism, properly understood, should be characterized this way.

Apologetics is simply the attempt to articulate “the coherence and value of religious experience and belief in God” (xvii). This is something Christians have endeavored to do in every age. The very first Christians had to “explain what and in whom they believed in a way that was rational within the context of the time and culture that made sense to their various audiences” (2). 

The advent of modernism, and its demise, however, has brought about some formidable intellectual challenges to this task. Society has transitioned from a context where belief in God was a given assumption shared by most people to one where it is questionable and implausible for many people. This shift has been coupled with an alteration in the way reason itself is conceived.  The general optimism about the universally shared capacities of human reasoning has faded in light of the jaded recognition that human reason is invariably conditioned, or contaminated, by factors like interests, drives, language, conceptual paradigms, and history. “Perhaps for the first time in history, society no longer subscribes to one common and coherent belief system,” Gschwandnter notes. “Hence, a defense of God cannot proceed from a shared starting point or even assume agreement about basic beliefs or presuppositions” (12).

Yet, Gschwandtner aims to show us that “the death of God”, to use Neitzsche’s evocative phrase, and, we could add Reason, has not brought about a demise in rigorous philosophical discourse about God, religious texts, experience, or practice.

The book is divided into three sections and thirteen chapters. Our bloggers, including past contributors, as well as some new friends, will guide our discussion in a series of twelve posts. The schedule we’ll be following is as follows:

Part I: Preparations

1.     Martin Heidegger and Onto-theo-logy (6/14): Aleksandar S. Santrac

2.     Emmanuel Lévinas and the Infinite (6/21): Ryan Bell

3.     Jacques Derrida and “Religion Without Religion” (6/28): Abigail Doukhan

Part II: Expositions

4.     Paul Ricoeur: A God of Poetry and Superabundance (7/5): Darin McGinnis

5.     Jean-Luc Marion: A God of Gift and Charity (7/12): Zane Yi

6.     Michel Henry: A God of Truth and Life (7/19): Lisa Clark-Diller

7.     Jean-Louis Chrétien: A God of Speech and Beauty (7/26): Trisha Famisaran

8.     Jean-Yves Lacoste: A God of Liturgy and Parousia (8/2): Kurtley Knight

9.     Emmanuel Falque: A God of Suffering and Resurrection (8/9): Todd Leonard

10.  Postmodern Apologetics? (8/9): David Barrett

Part III: Appropriations

11.  Merold Westphal: Postmodern Faith (8/16): Ryan Bell

12.  John Caputo: Postmodern Hope (8/23): Brenton Reading

13.  Richard Kearney Postmodern Charity (8/30): Ron Osborn

Minimally, this tour de force offers us a golden opportunity to better understand a frequently used but ill-understood term, i.e. “post-modernism.” Beyond this, however, the hope is that sustained reflection on the limits and possibilities of speaking and thinking of God, the true, the good, and the beautiful in our place and age, will help us more effectively converse with each other, as well as those who do not share our perspective(s). You are invited to join us and share your comments, questions, and insights.

So we hope you’ll grab a copy of the book, peruse the Introduction, and join us next week for a discussion of Chapter One: “Martin Heidegger and Onto-theo-logy.”

[i] Christina M. Gschwandtner. PostModern Apologetics: Arguments for God in Contemporary Philosophy (New York: Fordham University Press, 2013), xvii.

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