Thursday, June 25, 2020

Review: Post-Christian

Post-Christian linkI received a review copy of Post-Christian: A Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture by Gene Veith. (By the way, if you haven't checked out his blog, I recommend it.)

Post-Christian is a sequel of sorts to his Postmodern Times: A Christian Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture which was published in '94. That book was looking at what postmodernism was doing/would do to our society. We've obviously traveled quite a ways down that road since then. "Postmodern Times discussed the sexual revolution in terms of extramarital sex; now the issues are homosexuality, pornography, and sex robots. In the 1990s we were deconstructing literature; in the twenty-first century we are deconstructing marriage. ... Pluralism has given way to identity politics. Relativism has given way to speech codes." Now, he says, we have arrived at "post-postmodernism". Academics are struggling to figure out exactly what that will mean for us, but one thing is clear: the near future will be post-Christian, so he wants to look at "what we are left with when we try to abandon the Christian worldview."

Fortunately — at least from a certain point of view — "Post-Christian ways of thinking and living are running into dead ends and fatal contradictions."

The book has four parts: 1) How we relate to reality, 2) how we relate to our bodies, 3) how we relate to other people, and 4) how we relate to God. Each section has an arc where he describes the current situation and how we got here. He then shows the problems with the current state of affairs (problems that even secularists admit). The last chapter in each section suggests how Christians can offer solutions to those problems.

That arc is, to me, the best thing about the book. If you want to read how we got where we are, you can read those chapters. If you only want to read (or to review) his ideas on how to meet this challenge, you can easily find just that material.

And his ideas are worth reviewing. I'm not going to say he has a step-by-step plan to win America to Christ. Nor will everything he suggests be easy. But you do come away with a kind of game plan. 

There are things that some Christians need to take on in the academy. I was reminded of CS Lewis' comment from "Learning in War-Time": "Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered." There are some problems that need to be met head-on in the ivory tower.

There are things churches need to do. And there are things individual Christians can/need to do to make a difference. For example, theologians need to formulate, churches need preach, and believers need to practice a proper theology of the body. And if we do, when the sexual revolution inevitably collapses on itself, the world may be attracted to a consistent Christian sexual ethic.

He proposes a way of interacting with the world around us that is different from Dreher's "Benedict Option" — he calls it the "Luther Option" — where we are in but not of the world, living out Christian hope, praying and working for the good of the "city where I have sent you into exile."

I believe his most important point is that the church in the west has become just as secular as this society; we have to fix that, possibly with the help of the church in the developing world, China, and the Middle East, embracing both in their biblical/moral stances and their supernaturalism. We have to stop apologizing for what we believe and trying to find ways to make our beliefs more palatable to this world. That doesn't convert the lost; it just makes us more like them.

I highly recommend the last arc on religion. He shows that the west may be post-Christian, but that doesn't mean they're atheists. The post-postmoderns are also post-secular. The "Nones" are more likely to be "spiritual but not religious" or, as he puts it, modern pagans, than atheists. And Christianity has always converted pagans. "The task is now how to reach people who hold false religions" — many of whom may not even realize they have a religion. "If post-secular non-Christians are 'spiritual but not religious,' the church would do well to recover its own heritage of Christian spirituality."

And that is what I would like to see in a third book. I hope he makes it a trilogy and writes "Post-Secular," expanding on the Luther Option and how churches and the believers in the pews can take advantage of the post-secular mindset. That, frankly, would not have fit in the current book (which already weighs in at 320 pages), but it's a conversation that the church desperately needs to have.

This book that we have, though, is a useful tool to get us thinking in the right direction, and I recommend you spend some quality time with it. I came away encouraged that the fight is not over; it's just a new round, and Christianity is more than equipped to meet this new challenge.

My verdict? I think I'm going to buy my pastor a copy. Four stars.

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