Postmodern Christianity

Postmodern Christianity

Postmodern Christianity is an outlook of Christianity that is closely associated with the body of writings known as postmodern philosophy. Although it is a relatively recent development in the Christian religion, many Christian postmodernists assert that their style of thought has an affinity with foundational Christian thinkers such as Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas, and famed Christian mystics such as Meister Eckhart and Angelus Silesius.


In addition to Christian theology, postmodern Christianity has its roots in post-Heideggerian continental philosophy. Many people eschew the label "postmodern Christianity" because the idea of postmodernity has almost no determinate meaning and, in the United States, serves largely to symbolize an emotionally charged battle of ideologies. Moreover, such alleged postmodern heavyweights as Jacques Derrida and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe have refused to operate under a so-called postmodern rubric, preferring instead to specifically embrace a single project stemming from the European Enlightenment and its precursors. Nevertheless, postmodern Christianity and its constituent schools of thought continue to be relevant.

Liberal Christianity

Liberal Christianity—sometimes called liberal theology—has an affinity with certain current forms of postmodern Christianity, although postmodern thought was originally a reaction against mainstream Protestant liberalism. Liberal Christianity is an umbrella term covering diverse, philosophically informed movements and moods within 19th and 20th century Christianity.

Despite its name, liberal Christianity has always been thoroughly protean. The word "liberal" in liberal Christianity does not refer to a leftist political agenda but rather to insights developed during the Enlightenment. Generally speaking, Enlightenment-era liberalism held that man is a political creature and that liberty of thought and expression should be his highest value. The development of liberal Christianity owes much to the works of philosophers Immanuel Kant and Friedrich Schleiermacher. As a whole, liberal Christianity is a product of a continuing philosophical dialogue.

Many 20th century liberal Christians have been influenced by philosophers Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger. Examples of important liberal Christian thinkers are Rudolf Bultmann and John A.T. Robinson.

Christian existentialism

Christian existentialism is a form of Christianity that draws extensively from the writings of Søren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard initiated the school of thought when he reacted against Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's claims of universal knowledge and what he deemed to be the empty formalities of the 19th century church. Christian existentialism places an emphasis on the undecidability of faith, individual passion, and the subjectivity of knowledge.

Although Kierkegaard's writings weren't initially embraced, they became widely known at the beginning of the 20th century. Later Christian existentialists synthesized Kierkegaardian themes with the works of thinkers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Walter Benjamin, and Martin Buber.

Paul Tillich, Lincoln Swain, Gabriel Marcel, and John Macquarrie are examples of leading Christian existentialist writers.

Continental philosophical theology

Continental philosophical theology is the most recent form of postmodern Christianity. The movement was fueled heavily by the slew of notable post-Heideggerian philosophers that appeared on the continent in the 1970s and 1980s. Groundbreaking works such as Jean-Luc Marion's "God Without Being" and John D. Caputo's "The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida" ushered in the era of continental philosophical theology.

Radical orthodoxy

Radical orthodoxy is a form of continental philosophical theology that has been influenced by the phenomenological writings of Jean-Luc Marion.

Radical orthodoxy is a style of theology that seeks to examine classic Christian writings and related Neoplatonic texts from a contemporary, philosophically continental perspective. The movement finds in writers such as Augustine of Hippo and Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite valuable sources of insight and meaning relevant to modern society and Christianity at large.

John Milbank and James K.A. Smith are leading proponents of radical orthodoxy.

Hermeneutics of religion

The hermeneutics of religion is another form of continental philosophical theology. The system of hermeneutic interpretation developed by Paul Ricœur has heavily influenced the school of thought. A central theme in the hermeneutics of religion is that God exists outside the confines of the human imagination.

Richard Kearney is a prominent advocate of the movement.

Professor Brent-wood Samuel Skipworth Walters Jr. III of San Jose State University's Comparative Religious Studies Department is a prominent scholar in this field.

Non-dogmatic theology (also known as Weak theology)

Weak theology is a manner of thinking about theology from a deconstructive point of view. The style of thought owes a debt to Jacques Derrida, especially in light of his idea of a "weak force." Weak theology is weak because it takes a non-dogmatic, perspectival approach to theology. Proponents of weak theology believe that dominant contemporary explications of theology are inherently ideological, totalizing, and militant. In response, weak theology expresses itself through acts of interpretation.

According to Caputo, the distinctive reinterpretive act of weak theology has resulted in the notion of the weakness of God. In the body of thought, the paradigm of God as an overwhelming physical or metaphysical force is regarded as mistaken. The old God-of-power is displaced with the idea of God as an unconditional claim without force. As a claim without force, the God of weak theology does not physically or metaphysically intervene in nature. Weak theology emphasizes the responsibility of humans to act in this world here and now. Because God is thought of as weak and as a call, weak theology places an emphasis on the "weak" human virtues of forgiveness, hospitality, openness, and receptivity. In each of these virtues, a metaphoric "power of powerlessness" is at work.

Gianni Vattimo, John D. Caputo, and Jeffrey W. Robbins have recently completed works that further develop the idea of a weak theology.

Leading thinkers

External links

Online reading

* [ "Jacques Derrida (1930–2004)"] (pdf), by John D. Caputo
* [ "Religion and Violence: Plea for a 'Weak' Theology in Tempore Belli"] (pdf), by Ulrich Engel OP
* [ "The Weakness of God ... and of Theological Thought for that Matter"] (pdf), by Carl Raschke
* [ "The Weakness of God: A Review of John D. Caputo's 'The Weakness of God: A Theology of the Event'"] (pdf), by Peter G. Heltzel

Academic homepages

* [ Homepage of John D. Caputo, Thomas J. Watson Professor of Religion and Humanities at Syracuse University]
* [ Homepage of Richard Kearney, the Charles Seelig Professor in Philosophy at Boston College]
* [ Homepage of Jean-Luc Marion, Professor of the Philosophy of Religion and Theology at the University of Chicago]
* [ Homepage of Jeffrey W. Robbins, Assistant Professor of Religion and Philosophy at Lebanon Valley College]
* [ Homepage of James K.A. Smith, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Calvin College]

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