Filling Cavities Formed by Post-Modernism

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A Book Review

Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against the Challenges of Postmodernism by Douglas Groothuis. Downers Grove, Illinois & Leicester, England, InterVarsity Press, 2000. 303 pages. 

Throughout this witty book Douglas Groothuis articulates and evaluates that disjointed movement called Postmodernism. He traces it from Friedrich Nietzsche to Richard Rorty today. Groothuis's apology, stretching from Blaise Pascal to Nicholas Wolterstorff and Alvin Plantinga, claims "propositional truth" and logical consistency as exclusive God-blessed tools to perceive and express revealed Truth. "Truth" is manifested in orderly, perceivable structure in religion, the arts and beyond. No relativistic rot here!    

Not every apologist, though, is able to link arts to philosophy with Groothuis's flare. When he tickles us with the origin of the book's title--a musical number by T-Bone Burnett (p. 15)--he pops the first of many surprises that challenge some cultural prejudices. Later Groothuis claims that saxophonist John Coltrane "expressed a yearning to represent objective realities" (p. 259). What might that say to "worship wars" today?  

In Chapter 5 Groothuis accuses William Willimon, Stanley Grenz and others of postmodernist relativism. Instead of filling cavities of truth decay, their work allegedly sugars the rot. Despite strong accusations, Groothuis never argues ad hominem; rather he invites future conversation. Will those authors nobly continue this dialogue? 

Still, Groothuis sometimes overfills cavities. Championing propositional rationality as the way to approach divine Reason (p. 66 ff.), he nearly weds Truth exclusively to Western Christianity. That fits for North America and Europe. In fact, every sentence of Groothuis's knockout punch of mindless television (pp. 281-295) begs for thorough intellectual and moral education to stop the rot.

But Groothuis's method cannot work in much of God's world. What about the many thoughtful, reflective Christians who do not read deeply? Most have no access to education. To judge them unworthy contributors to Christian discourse promotes an elitism inconsistent with God's abundant Grace. Yet non-Western Christianity is growing, healthy and developing doctrines and worship modes not always amenable to traditional Western Christianity. 

Groothuis often cites C.S. Lewis's Abolition of Man, though lacking Lewis's reach. In Abolition, Lewis cited universal moral truths originating in different cultures. Groothuis nearly commits the missionary error of imposing provincial Christianity while repressing native values consistent with God's Truth. Though not as brutal as the Spanish Conquest, such imposition is as offensive. Does Groothuis offer room for the bongos and marracas that accompany and express worship in Cuban churches I currently attend? Latin American Christians long felt guilty about using indigenous music--not to mention indigenous thought. No longer. If there's room in Truth for John Coltrane, why not "merengue" and "salsa"--and all they imply?

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