Veith, Gene Edward Jr., & A. Trevor Sutton. Authentic Christianity: How Lutheran Theology Speaks to a Postmodern World. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2017. “Prologue: A Different Way of Being Postmodern” pp. 12-31.
Veith and Sutton set out to demonstrate how Lutheranism is uniquely equipped to reach our current postmodern culture. This seems counterintuitive based on the fact that postmodernism is very much subjectivist, while Lutheran thought is strongly based on the objective (Veith & Sutton 2017, 12). To begin exploring points of contact, the authors explore the historic shift to modernity, then the subsequent move to postmodernity. For the sake of their argument, the move to modernity and an age of Reason was in 1789, with the French Revolution (Veith & Sutton 2017, 13). Much of Modernity attempted to erode the traditional, premodern, elements of supernaturalism from Christianity. Veith and Sutton describe a progressive solidification of modernist principles which by the 20th century, sought a utopian world where traditional thought and behavior would be cast off like shackles (Veith & Sutton 2017, 14). For better or worse, this didn’t play out well, as the 20th century endured major wars and other unprecedented conflicts (Veith & Sutton 2017, 15). According to the pattern described in this text, modernity fell in 1989 with the Berlin Wall, as the utopian views of communism were shown to be impracticable. Veith and Sutton also point out the impersonal and utilitarian attitude shown especially in modernist architecture (Veith & Sutton 2017, 16). As a reaction against modernism, postmodernism was a move back to the subjective, often accompanied by a drug culture, elements of the sexual revolution, and multiculturalism of the sort that segments society by cultural group (Veith & Sutton 2017, 17). Veith and Sutton see postmodernism as deconstructionist by nature but resulting in a worldview which sees all understanding as a “construction” rather than potentially a truth (Veith & Sutton 2017, 18). In a sense, this may all be a result of modernism turning its skepticism in on itself, so as to reason its own way out of reason. Regardless of the source of postmodern tentes, it is valid to ask whether postmodernism can last, and whether it is actually coming to an end. However, postmodernism with its rejection of absolutes seems to return each time it is discredited (Veith & Sutton 2017, 19). Veith and Sutton suggest that postmodern borrowing of elements from bygone eras may suggest that Lutheran use of historic elements could well fit a postmodern culture well (Veith & Sutton 2017, 20).
Veith and Sutton observe that throughout the Enlightenment and the modern period there have always been critics. Among those critics were several prominent Lutheran thinkers (Veith & Sutton 2017, 21). Particularly Johann Georg Hamann (1730-88), a brilliant Enlightenment scholar converted to Christ and biblical faith (Veith & Sutton 2017, 22). At heart of his change was a realization that reason could not lead you to faith, which does not depend on an objective sense of detachment. Hamann’s conclusion was that the detached would ultimately fail, mostly because of the remaining element of uncertainty of virtually every proposition (Veith & Sutton 2017, 23). Hamann further concluded that human thought and reason are inextricably bound to language (Veith & Sutton 2017, 24). Language, being culturally bound, does not allow for genuine detachment and lack of bias. He concludes that there must be meaning, and thus a meaningful linguistic expression, underlying all our conclusions. This he finds in the revealed Word of God (Veith & Sutton 2017, 25). Therefore, “Christianity is not one of those systems or ideologies or ‘metanarratives’ that fails because Christianity is not a construction of human reason but a revelation of God himself” (Veith & Sutton 2017, 26, emphasis theirs). Reason itself is built on some form of faith. True enlightenment, then, comes from a true faith, a faith in Christ. The three great philosophers who lead us to postmodern thought: Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Derrida, also led us to nihilism. However, Hamann gives us a much more positive hope, the Chrsitian faith (Veith & Sutton 2017, 27).
Veith and Sutton observe that Hamann’s conclusions, far from being revolutionary, lead to “little more than ordinary Lutheranism” (Veith & Sutton 2017, 28). Much of what he critiqued in the thought of the Enlightenment is similar to what Luther rejected in Christian scholasticism of his time (Veith & Sutton 2017, 28). While postmodern thought, based on the individual’s sense of what is right for him, can exist without the biblical God, it also does not reject the possibility out of hand. When it leads, as in Hamann’s view, away from nihilism, it leads straight to the historic Lutheran views of life (Veith & Sutton 2017, 30). This is where we find a hope outside ourself, something the demands of our world spur us to find.