Saturday, August 26, 2006

'Who's Afraid of Postmodernism' by James K. A. Smith

I don’t read a lot of philosophy but the topic of postmodernism interests me, especially as it relates to the emergent church and Jamie Smith is a colleague of mine at Calvin College and we occasionally sit next to each other in chapel. (Here is his blog.) So when I saw Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism at a bookstore this summer I thought it would be a great thing for me to read. It turns out, I was right.

Smith looks at the “unholy trinity” of French philosophers Derrida, Foucault and Lyotard, considers the phrases that they are best known for and unpacks those phrases to help the reader understand what they really said – often not what we think based on a first reading of the phrase. I found these discussions enlightening and engaging. (And, to top it off, I read some of it IN PARIS – how cool is that?) Smith uses recent films to illustrate each of his main points which makes for an effective way to pull non-philosophers like me into the material. Finally, Smith takes each of them to church and relates their thoughts to the church. Since they are often seen as enemies of the faith it is helpful to see that what they really said does not have to be seen as diametrically opposed to the faith but, rather, there are some things we can learn from them. In a final chapter Smith helps us see what the church in the postmodern world can be.

I found this book to be readable (although the chapter on Foucault a little less so) and fascinating. Smith is a good writer and he has great insight into the church. I truly enjoyed reading this.

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