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Of Umpires and Postmodernism

Posted Sunday, January 21, 2007 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Culture and Theology  
My mom is taking a few seminary classes and recently I was helping her study for a test for a theology class. In one of her textbooks (Survival Guide to Theology ), I came across a very helpful way to illustrate the difference between modernism and postmodernism. This topic is an important one today for all areas of life, including theology, and being able to illustrate the difference helps us understand the difference.

The illustration has to do with three umpires. The first one says "There are balls and strikes and I call them as they are."This reflects the modernist view. There is absolute truth, and we can know with certainty. The way the ump sees the ball is always an accurate reflection of its true state and there is no possible way that the call differs from reality. This also reflects hard foundationalism, which builds everything on several hard foundations. These foundations can be known with certainty. This is the Enlightenment view and a Scottish common sense model which is reflected in most of evangelical thinking. It is perhaps exemplified by the work of John MacArthur. According to him, we can know absoute truth with certainty. It is characterized by fine nuancing in theology as well as a high level of dogmatism about a variety of issues. 

The second umpire says "There are balls and strikes, and I call em as I see em." This reflects a critical realist. There is a connection between reality and the way that we view it, but our perception might be off sometimes. There is absolute truth, but that does not mean that our knowledge of that truth is perfect. This also could reflect soft foundationalism, which recognizes that we can never know a foundation for certain like a hard foundationalist thinks they can. But we can know something with a high level of probability, so we can act as if we are hard foundationalists. But we do this with a greater deal of humility and a willingness to go back and reexamine our views periodically. This view seems to reign in the evangelical academy and the younger evangelicals. 

The third one says "There are balls and strikes, and they aint nothing till I call them." This reflects radical postmodernism. There is no absolute truth. Truth does not exist until I make something truth. It doesn't matter where the ball actually went, it only matters whether I call it a ball or a strike.


Monday, January 22, 2007 2:37 PM

Brian wrote: I want a longer third paragraph.

You did some name calling for the first umpire.

Charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine,  4 nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.  5 The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.  6 Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion,  7 desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions. (1 Timothy 1:3-7)

And I consider myself to be the second class of umpire --or in the view of the MacArthurite umpires, a second-class umpire.

But who represents the third class of umpire? 

Tuesday, January 23, 2007 2:06 PM

Charlie wrote:  I agree that Theoblogian is in the second category, as well as most of our generation (I am just a hair under 30, for those of you who do not know me). That is an interesting quote as well from Timothy. I had not thought of that verse in this context, but that last part does seem to describe the first class fairly well. I must say as an aside, though, that I appreciate the work of MacArthur and others like him. Master's Seminary was my second choice for a seminary, and I still read most of the  material that comes out of their professors there. I agree with MacArthur on a whole lot of topics. I just do not like the way he says and believes things. But on to the third category. Since this group denies absolue truth in any form, then I do not think there can be any evangelicals in the group. This would the deconstructionists and reader response critics who see all of meaning being brought by the reader to the text.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007 3:32 PM

Brian wrote: 

I too agree with many of the details of MacArthur's theology, but theologians such as MacAtrhur have damaged Christian theology. The arrogance of first-class umpires such as MacArthur is unjustified. They believe that they are so right in their judgments that they can turn their back to the game and still call balls and strikes inerrantly. They rely on systematic theologies to ensure that Biblical theology remains consistent with their orthodoxy. Thus their theology can never improve. MacArthur sets the standard for multiplied thousands of pastors around the world, a standard grounded in flawed epistemology.

We are human, honestly incapable of the certainty to which thousands aspire, and which MacArthur has claimed. This is the certainty that Job's comforters claimed for themselves. Pride gets some of the strongest condemnation from God so I want to buffer my children from that example of pride. It is unhealthy.

This facade of certainty quenches discussion. They would have us perpetuate the same theological errors as the last generation. That is stagnation. Spiritual life is wrestling with the God and the Scriptures to produce new theological errors. But this is the necessary process for each generation, and 20th century theology is not the best we can do.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007 1:14 PM

Anonymous wrote:  I think I agree with what both of you said.  I would probably classify myself in the second category as well.  A critical realist?? I do believe that the analogy doesn't do justice to the postmodernist perspective.  According to the analogy, the postmodernist would assert that "There are balls and strikes and they ain't nothin till I call them."  I understand what this is getting at, but it doesn't seem like a fully accurate representation.  It seems to me that the postmodernist would instead be asking questions like " Are there really balls and strikes?  I don't know because I am blind and cannot see them.  I guess I could believe if you tell me; however, there is no way to really know."  I guess the moral of this story is that the postmodernist would make a crappy umpire -- albeit an honest one.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007 1:17 PM

Charlie wrote:  Thanks for your comments, Ben. I think I would agree with you on this assessment. I guess the umpire illustration works best when the interpretation of Scripture is the context, not necessarily postmodernism in the big picture. It seems that when postmodern interpretators of Scripture exegete the text, even they assume there is a meaning (balls and strikes). But technically that would be inconsistent. But postmoderns don't seem to care too much about being logically consistent! I'm always amused when a radical postmodern complains about being misunderstood.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007 9:59 PM

Eric wrote: Hmmmm

This is an interesting thread, but I think that there is much more that needs to be said.  I too fall into the second category.  I can honestly say, that I came to this position out my own free choice.  I have Dr. Habermas to thank for my liberation.  For much of my life I could have easily been in the first category.

What I have found is that many young people today are firmly intrenched in the third category, but it is more of a default position.  It happens in my estimation for several reasons.  First is the simple fact that it is culturally acceptable, where the first two categories are not.  Young people are fed flawed critical thinking skills in the modern educational system.  Anyone that displays a different thought system is branded as intolerant.  The second reason is that no one wants to be the bad guy.  "God won't send my friend to Hell because he doesn't believe...."

In my estimation though, the most effective antidote for young people strugling in category three is demonstrated logical consistency. 

Thursday, March 08, 2007 9:50 AM

Charlie wrote:  I'm glad you have joined us, as clearly everyone can see we are correct! Anyway, I was intruiged by your last statement. Your feeling is also how i naturally feel, but the literature that i have come across on reaching postmoderns has downplayed this part based on postmodern viewpoints. Since knowledge is just power for them and everything anyone says is just them pushing an agenda, it is said that the more one argues about proving Christianity the less they like it. Further, coherent logic is not an ideal for them: they simply don't care if things are logically consistent or not. So instead of arguing or proving the logical consistency of the biblical metanarrative, it is recommended that the primary emphasis is loving them. Personally, however, I have not spent a lot of time with unchurched postmoderns, and churched postmoderns still seem to have a fair amount of modernism in them, so I am not sure on the best way to reach unchurch postmoderns. Of course, it will have to be individualized according to the specific context, but does anyone have any general ideas?

Thursday, March 08, 2007 6:30 PM

Brian wrote: Logical Consistency is insufficient


I sympathize greatly with post-moderns in their disdain of the idea of logical consistency. Logical consistency should seem to be related to whether or not something is true, but there are many occasions when it is not.

While a person is expounding the logical consistency of some truth, they can be omitting a relevant fact that negates the validity of said truth. They may be perfectly logically consistent with every fact that is brought up, but still be dead wrong. The reverse is also true about denouncing a truth as false. Logic is incapable of proving that it has properly taken into account everything necessary for an accurate conslusion. But too many “moderns” have relied on insufficient logic to prove their point of view. This has made proven that logic is not sufficient for a claim to truth.

Friday, March 09, 2007 9:25 AM

Eric wrote: 

I think there is a certain amount of validity in what both of you are saying here. 

First off, the basis of demonstrating logical consistency is the core principle of non-contradiction.  A thing cannot be true and non-true at the same time, ever.  The goal of logic is to identify potential violators.  This is the reality that you must get your audience to grasp.  While a logical violation is not an automatic arbiter, it is an indicator.  When approaching a system of thought, the more insconsistency the more suspect.

When you tell an adolscent that there is no validity in an untruth, and if what they say is not true their viewpoint is not valid, the response is almost invariably resistance.  They are taught to respect every opinion regardless of its basis.  But if you are consistent and patient, you can bring them along.  From that point you can develop and argument for Biblical truth.  But until a person is willing to admit the existence of absolute truth and nontruth, you are basically waisting your time.

Love might compel them to listen, but in my experience this is rarely enough to change a life.

I do agree with Brian in saying that Evangelicals in general fail to measure Biblical truth on the basis of good logic.  Their hermenutical principles become suspect and the result is that believers are painted by academia with the "stupid" brush.  This may be an adhominem argument, but let's face it; we deserve it sometimes.  I think that this happens for two reasons, pastors get lazy or they are trying to be sensitive to the text and feel that this kind of examination is a violation(?) of their faith.

Friday, March 09, 2007 2:58 PM

Brian wrote: 

If I understand you correctly, you are saying that Evangelicals miss the truth because they fail to apply logic.

If this is true, I think I perceive the problem differently. Logical coherence does not guarantee truthfulness, though it is used to make this guarantee. The use of logic to understand Biblical truth is no more reliable than using feelings ("I feel that this passage means..."). While logic itself is an objective standard, the application of logic is subjective. A person has a limited capacity for observation, and they cannot apply logic in areas they do not observe. Those who rely on logic, however, tend to dismiss the possibility of missing anything significant in their chains of logic. Their error may be no greater, but the confidence of their assertions is greatly inflated.

I have witnessed many occasions in which a passage of Scripture was parsed or lifted out of context and then fit into a logically coherent framework, but the meaning of the passage was corrupted in the process.

Monday, March 12, 2007 7:26 AM

Eric wrote: Not so...

Not at all.  Logic is not the arbitrator of truth, it is an indicator.  It is wrong to reject logic in the name of faith.  The Scriptures are internally consistent, in other words "logical".  The point that I am trying to make is two fold.  First that people often use the term logic incorrectly.  The very basic rule of logic is the law of non-contradiction, which is something we can all agree on.  God cannot be God and not God at the same time.

 This leads me to the second point.  Logic gives you the ability to make sensible arguments that allow you to find common ground with post moderns.

 I think that you are confusing logic with linear thought, and while they are related, they are very different.  You cannot make Scripture fit into a linear thought pattern very cleanly (three points and a poem).  But that doesn't mean that Scripture is illogical.

Monday, March 12, 2007 8:18 AM

Brian wrote: 

I am trying to make a distinction between logic as an indicator of truth and the application of logic.

The standard of logic, which you describe, is pure and objective. Unfortunately, logic is of no use until it is applied. It is in the application of logic (linear thought) that trouble appears. Because we are human and finite, we cannot guarantee that our logic is accurate or complete.

The modernist umpire does not acknowledge this difference.

I do not reject logic. I reject the claim that logic is perfectly applied. To illustrate the difference: Would you see any difference between me "rejecting logic" and me "rejecting your logic?"


Monday, March 12, 2007 11:06 AM

Eric wrote: 

Of course!  I present you with an apple, and you identify it as such.  I tell you that you are incorrect in believing that I hold an apple, and let it float to the floor.  Only then do you realize that you were looking at, not and apple but a cleverly drawn image on a sheet of paper.  The problem was one of perception.

 Frankly, even pure logic has problems at times.  It is a tool, nothing more.  But what is facintating is that academia tends to reject Christianity on the basis of it being illogical and unscientific.  The reality is that Biblical Christianity is internally consistent, at least more so than most belief systems.

 The relevance in the discussion above is that the consistency and answers provided by Scripture and demonstrated through good application of logical principles provides a safe proving ground for post modern skeptics.

Take for instance the law of science that says every action has an equal and oposite reaction.  According to this law, the current science of origins has a problem; the original cause.  Science demands and un-caused cause.  The Bible provides that cause, and does so elegantly and in a manner that is far more internally consistent.

Logic provides the framework for an intellectual discussion of that concept.  

Logic is not neccessarily linear.  The term "logical" has become idiomatic for linear diagramming.  This is not what logic is.  A simple logical argument from Scripture can be seen in John 1.  Jesus is God, God is the originator of all, therefore Jesus is Creator.  Could you turn that into a three point message?  Certainly, but you would miss a great deal in the text.   The argument is there, but using that argument as your message outline would probably be an inappropriate use of logic.

 The problem is that the term logic is frequently used by pastors to mean something makes sense or as a strawman against intellectualism.  Failure to defend your beliefs intellectually is not a sign of faith but a sign of laziness or ineptitude.  Neither of these are characteristics that should be exemplified by serious students of the word (II Tim 2:15).

Tuesday, March 13, 2007 3:34 PM

Charlie wrote:  I just wanted to throw in a quick word about logic. I am all for the law of non-contradiction, but from what I understand postmoderns do not necessarily value it so highly. Frankly, I do not see how one can live life without believing in non-contradiction, but apparently many postmoderns as least claim to. See also the book review on the dominance of evangelicalism that I just posted: there is a fascinating account of a Romantic (the movement, not one who romances people) preacher who seemed very unconcerned with non-contradiction. So I do not know what to make of this, but it seems that at least we cannot assume all people believe in non-contradiction.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007 1:55 PM

Eric wrote: 

Completely true Charlie.  One of the more interesting discussions that was had in a class I was in (Dr Willsey) was on the way people think.  The basic thrust of the discussion was that most people think in a relatively defined way.  Western thinkers, tend to think in a linear format, which lends itself well to logic.   What defines the post modern student is the lack of any real clear pattern of thought.  Most people, once they have a certain pattern of thought established, simply cannot think in another reasoning pattern. 

The closest comparison I can think of is native bilingual speakers vs. classically trained bilingual speakers.  Supposedly, if you learn a second language by a certain age (12 usually), you can literally think in that language without translating it in your head.  If you don't learn a second language by that time, you will essentially always be monolingual.  The same can be said of reasoning.

 What is relevant about this is that post moderns seem to be able to adapt easily to more than one thought pattern.  And you are correct to say that post moderns do not automatically believe in non-contradiction, but it usually isn't consciously so.  Try having a conversation with an adolescent about this, and it will be a very revealing experience.  You often have to teach a person how to think in a critical way before you teach them what to think.  I have several reasons for using this as a starting point when discussing spiritual matters with post moderns.

    1. Where you start often determines where you end up.  The underlying framework or philosophical approach to understanding and belief has a tremendous impact on how one views the Scriptures.  

     2. It gives you the basis for a conversation where terms are agreed upon.

     3. It allows you to tell an unspiritual person about God, apart from Biblical jargon.  You can make the argument for the existance of God and even some elements of His character and then present the Scripture as the basis of your knowledge of Him.

 There are many other ways of leading a post modern, but I have to say that this has given me a higher rate of success than other methods I have tried.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007 2:48 PM

Brian wrote: 

I am going to pick out one piece of what you just wrote, though I doubt it was your point. I believe that the following sentence contains one of the core reasons that post-moderns reject modernist thought (aka logic):

You often have to teach a person how to think in a critical way before you teach them what to think.

 This intention to teach someone “what to think” is far more important than teaching someone how to think. If someone does not reach the same conclusion as the teacher (the “what” that they are supposed to think), then the teacher concludes that the student has not properly learned how to think. This may be an unjustified conclusion. While it is possible that the student completely misunderstood key elements and thus reaches wrong (and inconsistent) conclusions, he may also have a keener perception  or broader perspective that renders the teachers conclusion inadequate.

I believe that many teachers are not able to think without scientific or materialistic mental models. Most seminary professors are solidly within the Western/modernist ways of thinking. Their disdain for post-modernism is nearly universal. A few years ago Dr. Willsey’s paper presented at the NARBC pastor's seminar, was unusual by suggesting that there are some benefits to post-modernism.

Willsey also makes the statement in his introduction, “Many of the assumptions of the modern era are also faulty, some even hostile to biblical Christianity. ” Postmodernism has grown greatly in light of the refusal of many moderns to acknowledge even the mere possibility that their approach to the world may be flawed in some way. It is this arrogance, tightly coupled to logic that has led postmoderns to throw out the baby (logic) with the bathwater (arrogant modernist thought).

Wednesday, March 14, 2007 8:09 PM

Eric wrote: 

I wondered if I would get called on that comment.  I think your statement is dead on.  The real goal is to figure out how best to reach the post modern person.  So my question at this point is:

Can you reach anyone without an agreeing on the terminology? 

Wednesday, March 14, 2007 10:24 PM

Brian wrote: 

I may simply being obtuse here, but by the time terminology is agreed upon, the onversation is nearly complete. I know that Willsey puts forth an idea something like, “he who controls the terminology, controls the argument.” I find this interesting in light of the postmodern claim (which must be rejected)

1. All communication is for the purpose of exerting control over the hearers or readers.

So if we make agreeing on terminology a prerequisite for theological discussion, we lend credence to this postmodern claim.

An important part of good theological discussion is to truly understand the other theologians perspective. In this process of understanding, agreement on terminology can happen naturally in the give and take flow of robust discussion. So I think that the agreement on terminology is the product of good theological discussion rather than a prerequisite.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007 10:53 AM

Eric wrote: 

Well, it has been a few days.  I've been out of town.

In terms of evangelism, this is a zero sum game.  It is win or loose and the stakes are of the highest order.  So your quote from Dr. Willsey, although I don't think it originates from him, is exactly what we are striving for.

The importance of understanding the person's perspective is not to get closer to together, it is to learn how to disarm and essentially destroy them theologically speaking.  There are only two options that The Rock of Offense presents, crushed or broken.  This is spiritual warfare and live literally hang in the balance.

 The only cure for an inaccurate world view is truth.  The central concepts and definitions are the basis of your faith and Salvation.  The idea of agreed upon terminiology is not a prerequisite for theological discussion, it is in many cases the goal.  The point that I strive to make is that the foundation of understanding definition as argument rests in concepts of logic.  Definition is one of the few absolutes in logic, but you cannot get a person there until they understand absolutes.

Monday, March 26, 2007 6:32 PM

Brian wrote: 


The hostility of theological discussion as you described creates dissension in the body of Christ.Do you really believe your statement:

The importance of understanding the person's perspective is not to get closer to together, it is to learn how to disarm and essentially destroy them theologically speaking. 

This sounds like a denial that we have anything in common with Christians who disagree with us on a theological point. I do not hear any compassion or love in that statement. You may be thinking of a discussion about something like the deity of Christ about which there can be no quarter given. But relatively few discussion occur on which Scripture is so clear.

We are not out to destroy anyone - not even theologically speaking. Neither are we to try to get closer to them. This is something you incorrectly inferred from my statement:

An important part of good theological discussion is to truly understand the other theologians perspective.

Understanding doesn't require agreement. But without understanding the intended meaning of your fellow theologian you may destroy something (and someone) valuable.

Definition may be one of the absolutes of logic, but you are wielding logic like a chainsaw in a nursery. Logic is a tool for you test internal consistency of a set of ideas. It cannot help you evaluate relative merits of competing ideas. Discussion cannot be solely a logical endeavor. You may be happily coherent when you are isolated, but you can neither demand that others see things from your perspective nor force your definitions on everyone else. Those who force others to use words with only their definitions are those who have twisted words from their common meaning, stripping away valid meaning or adding new meaning.

Language is organic and determinedly illogical. Only artifically constructed languages have a perfectly regular verb structure. Most languages have irregular verbs of being and/or going (I go/went/have gone. I am/was/will be.). Language is the only vehicle available for discussion, and if it were a vehicle, it would be public transportation. You speak of definition as though one could own the language we all use.

Another assumption that you appear to make is that you are right and that there is no possibility that you may be wrong. If we are facing each other and I say, "The door is to my right." But you say, "No! The door is to my left."
Who is wrong?

Monday, March 26, 2007 6:57 PM

Eric wrote: 


Well, I was being a little harsh to make a point.  I'm famous for that.

We aren't talking about theological discussion between believers.  We are talking about the basic truths of salvation and trying to help a post modern person understand those truths.  As you stated above, there are things such as the deity of Christ to which no quarter can be given. 

  We aren't talking about fine points of distinction, we are talking basic questions that are not up for debate.

 Read again what I said up there.  Compare that to the language that Christ uses to describe himself as the Rock of Offense.  When presented with the Gospel, the unbeliever is faced with two option, be broken for Christ or be crushed by Him later.

Monday, March 26, 2007 7:31 PM

Brian wrote: 

And while I was missing your point, you made mine.

The original post began with mentioning John MacArthur and "fine nuancing in theology as well as a high level of dogmatism about a variety of issues." Therefore I was make my arguments in terms of discussions among believers.

I missed your change of subject on...well...what did I do to the date stamps on comments?

I have to get those put back in...anyway - you wrote:

The real goal is to figure out how best to reach the post modern person.

And so we were having parallel expostulations while getting frustrated thinking that we disagreed on the same topic.

Give me some time to read back through your comments and understand you correctly.

And in the meantime you can read through my comments and concede that I am right about discussions among believers. After all...I may concede that you are right in terms of evanglism.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007 9:46 AM

Eric wrote: 

To a point I have agreed with you several times on several different portions of the discussion. 

When I teach Sunday School classes I will often begin with a disclaimer, "I make many statements that are challenging and sometimes heretical.  Frequently I will make arguments that I don't agree with to play devils advocate.  I expect to be challenged by you.  It is okay to disagree.  I won't be right about everything."

So what precisely do you wish me to concede on? 

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