04 November 2007

A Post-Modern God?

I've been dipping into The Practice of Pastoral Care: A Postmodern Approach by Carrie Doehring. This is a book mainly about pastoral care but, in the book, Doehring defines three theological stances: pre-modern, modern, and post-modern. These are but illustrations to understand the different stances.

A pre-modern pastor would try to help a grieving Christian over the death of a loved one by defining the deceased's life in terms of an 'objective' soteriology and prescribing the mourner's response. If the deceased meets the criteria for 'being saved', the instruction is to rejoice in their salvation. If the deceased does not meet those criteria, the mourner is instructed to look forward to their own salvation.

A modern pastor would use the tools of biblical critical methods and systematic theology as well as the tools of counselling and psychology. This is a reason-based approach.

A post-modern pastor would try to understand how the mourner's perspective is unique because of a myriad of factors, including life experience, gender, race, class, age, etc. The pastor will help the mourner to find his or her own religous meaning in the context of this particular death.

Putting the idea of 'postmodern theology' in the context of pastoral response was something of a revelation to me. One of those 'D'oh!' sorts of moments when what seemed complicated seems a bit clearer. A lot of Christians like to criticise postmodernism, but if you look at the three-pronged approach to pastoral care (using all of the above tools) that Doehring recommends, it seems like a very appropriate and logical tool-kit.

So, my question is: if postmodernism is so threatening to Christian theology, is the claim therefore that God can only be found in 'the objective' (ISTM the premodern and modern contexts) and that there is no such thing as the presence of God in the subjective? It seems to me that to make such a claim would be ridiculous. It also seems to me that 'the presence of God in the subjective' is, to some extend, the old idea of having a personal relationship with God.

I continue to suspect that the postmodern challenge to Christianity is a challenge to the institution of the Church and not a challenge to theology per se. We have to be willing, to a certain extent, to allow people to find individual meaning within Christianity. On the other hand, I continue to believe that because Christianity is about relationships, that it's not desireable to be a solitary practitioner of Christianity if one can help it.

I'm trying to work this out in my own mind, so pardon me if this is too much of an incoherent ramble.


Anonymous said...


Fascinating. I don't know the book to which you refer, but another one that explores this issue is Care In A Confused Climate by Paul Goodliff.

PamBG said...

Thanks for the further reference. The book to which I referred here is fairly new; only just published in 2006. It's quite good, but somewhat American - it still assumes that the minister/pastor has a good deal more counselling responsibilities and training than I suspect most British ministers do.

Martin said...

is post-modernism threatening to Christian theology? Or is it freeing theology up? There is no publicly available discourse of truth, not big picture so all we have is the confessional, communitarian discourse of truth. But that frees theology up to be christian as no pretence can be made for, say, a university theological truth on enlightenment principles. The conviction that we have truth need not be less, indeed it maybe greater, but its a truth that can only be expressed to some degree in a language that we share. That does not neccessarily mean a "british Methodist" language necessarily, but if we reflect on the Bible or on liturgy together then to some degree we are playing an insiders game. Its change, transformed, virtuous lives that will persuade if any persuading happens and I think thgats our weakness. Methodism began as transformative movement, now it feels like a bit of a club. If we can recover the transformational aspect of faith the issue of truth will be less pressing inasmuch as the truth of our claims will be enfleshed in each of us. rambler ramble ramble... sorry

PamBG said...

If we can recover the transformational aspect of faith the issue of truth will be less pressing inasmuch as the truth of our claims will be enfleshed in each of us.

Any idea how to do that?

Your comment is interesting in light of a conversation I had this morning that I think touched on a lot of the same issues.

Dlanor said...

“In the beginning there was nothing and God said 'Let there be light', and there was still nothing but everybody could see it.” Dave Thomas.

“You're everywhere. You're omnivorous.” Homer Simpson, to God.

PamBG said...

'Omnivorous' Love it! :-)