In the classic work A Primer on Postmodernism, Stanley Grenz gives a concise yet remarkably thorough examination of postmodernism, including its history, philosophers, and how it is currently expressed in various aspects of culture. Grenz shows creativity in these descriptions, using the Star Trek metaphor to compare modernism and postmodernism. The original Star Trek represented modernism, with the crew of the USS Enterprise putting aside their differences to pursue their single-minded quest of going where no “man” had gone before. The modern ideal was epitomized by the passionless, rational Spock. The new Star Trek reflected the diversity of the postmodern generation, with a mission of going where no “one” had gone before. The machine Data who wants to experience the passions of humanity, the intuitive counselor Troi, and the enigmatic “Q” represent the new postmodern values.
Grenz examines many postmodern philosophers, but Freidrich Nietzsche deserves special attention. Nietzsche has been called the “patron saint of postmodern philosophy,” (p. 88) rejecting the Enlightenment concept that truth and knowledge could be discovered and objectively determined by all through reason and scientific investigation. Rather, truth and knowledge were illusions, with each person asserting his or her own perspective and asserting his or her “will to power” for personal advancement. This marked the “death of God,” or the appeal to a transcendent being for values and beliefs, and the beginning of increasing skepticism towards metanarratives. Meaning is fabricated through language, which people try to get others to accept in order to convert others to their point of view and further their personal agenda. Michael Foucault’s emphasis on knowledge and power, Jacques Derrida’s descontruction, and Richard Rorty’s pragmatism are all extensions of Nietzsche’s philosophies.
Sharing the gospel today requires understanding our postmodern culture. In a world that is skeptical of truth, knowledge, language, power, and personal agendas, we must build trust through honesty, openness, patience, and authenticity. Grenz is correct, however, in asserting that the metanarrative must be recovered, for this metanarrative is central to the Christian story. The metanarrative of God’s love and mission can provide shaping to those who have been tossed about by divorce, abuse, loneliness, nihilism, and other destructive elements of culture, providing hope for an open, diverse, but often skeptical and hopeless world. Grenz has analyzed these issues well and provided a way forward for the church to reach out to postmodern culture.
What do you think of Grenz's Star Trek analogy? What are your thougts on metanarratives?