Thursday, June 21, 2007,9:52 AM
Recommended Reading - Graven Ideologies
Back when I was a student at Wheaton College before I had ever heard of this thing called the Emerging Church (back before Emergent even existed I think) I began to encounter the philosophical roots of postmodernism. I was intrigued and in an attempt to find out more about this way of discussing and perceiving truth and reality I signed up for a class called "Christianity and Postmodernism" taught by Bruce Benson. Needless to say I was in over my head as I struggled to comprehend new ideas and unfamiliar terms. I somehow managed to stumble through the class with a passing grade (and that includes the utterly nervewracking oral exams that I to this day have no clue what I actually talked about).

A few years later Benson published his lecture notes from that class as the book Graven Ideologies. (btw- I am so not one of the students listed from that class that he acknowledges as helping him refine his thoughts and all that...). Anyway, after recently reading Peter Rollin's How (not) to Speak of God I knew that I had heard the idea of conceptual idolatry discussed before and remembered that class. So to make a long story short, I finally got around to reading Graven Ideologies. It's amazing how much more sense it all made now that I've been a part of this emerging/postmodern discussion for a number of years.

But my point here is not to point out how stupid I was a few years ago (or now), but to highly recommend this book. For those of you who are fans of Rollins' book and/or find yourself forced into endless discussions on the nature of truth Benson's book is a must read. It is an accessible introduction to the main ideas and writers of postmodern philosophy that interprets their implications for Christian faith. It is all about sounding out idols in our conceptions of and language about God. As with Rollins' book, it asks how we can ever manage to actually speak of God without falling into blasphemy, but goes a lot further in how it answers that question. I fully admit to feeling too lazy to write a detailed review of the book at the moment, so I'll send anyone who is interested here. But this book is now high on my list of recommended must reads for anyone who wishes to think through postmodernism and its influence on the theological discussions of the emerging church.

Why read the philosophical background and discuss these ideas at all? Besides being fascinating and intellectually provoking, it has everything to do with how we practice our faith. I want to leave you with two quotes from Benson's epilogue regarding that. Basically we explore these ideas and sound out the conceptual idols in our faith so that we can have a right relationship with God and participate in true worship.
p.226 - "...one recognizes that everything one 'knows' about God still falls short: we do not own the truth. While we point to the truth, we are not that truth, nor is it something we possess. At most, God provides glimpses of his truth. Yet to say that we have glimpses is to say that we indeed see. God has not left us blind. We have a glimpse of the Word made flesh. And as Jesus attests, "If you know me, you will know my Father also" (Jn 14:7). Scripture is clear that we can know God and his truth in a real sense. Yet we know him in the sense of a personal relationship, not in the sense of grasping his eidos. There is true sight, but it is not an exhaustive seeing."

p.240 "... praise results precisely when the limits of predication regarding God are recognized. That recognition leads to a simultaneous revelation: we "see" both how limited we are and how unlimited God is. It is in this moment of revelation that true praise can take place. Note that, properly speaking, praise isn't usually something that we can make happen. Instead praise is something that happens to us. And it doesn't really happen very often. Why not? The answer is that we don't really recognize our own limits most of the time. We may acknowledge them intellectually, but actually experiencing them - having them placed in front of our face -is rare. Thus true worship, in which we have a keen sense of God's worth, takes place relatively infrequently."


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