Who's Afraid of Postmodernism?: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church
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Who's Afraid of Postmodernism?: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church (The Church and Postmodern Culture #1)

3.81 of 5 stars 3.81  ·  rating details  ·  544 ratings  ·  49 reviews
Builds on the work of Brian McLaren, Robert Webber, and others in assessing the contemporary church scene to discover what postmodernity has to say to the church.
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Published April 1st 2006 by Baker Academic
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Jacob Aitken
This book corrected a lot of my misunderstandings about postmodernism. In it Smith examines three of the most crucial claims by postmodernists and shows how, given a proper deconstruction, they support a most radical Christianity. postmodernity has suffered from naive supporters and savage critics. I had my own misunderstandings. I thought postmodernists were those people with dark eye-liner, low-brow culture, readers of Nietzsche and those who sit around all day watching *Fight Club.*

Claim 1: D...more
Matt Muller
Smith attempts to clarify some of the major themes of postmodernism and argues that these themes are not entirely problematic for Christianity. In fact, according to Smith, postmodernism provides some very positive opportunities for the contemporary Church. Focusing on the three icons of postmodern theory, Jacques Derrida, Jean-Francouis Lyotard, and Michel Foucault, he explains how each is caricatured by one of their own quotes (which have become "bumper-stickers") Many people know of them but...more
Long ago, when I had yet to read anything "postmodern" beyond Donald Miller, and McLaren's New Kind of Christian, I picked up Smith's little book and didn't know what to think of it. Since then, my faith has crumbled, I've question nearly everything, dove head first into the bottle, been taken sea-sick by the flux (see above review), re-picked up Smith's little book only to put it down after 10-15 pages, gotten sober, re-built some faith-ness, re-read the "flux literature" in the context of that...more
Frank Della Torre
I realized two chapters into this book that Smith had not yet given any rational-based arguments for rejected modernism. Then it hit me: Smith, with Lyotard, insists on an incredulity toward meta-narratives. I cannot expect him to appeal to reason in defense of his view since he rejects universal access to autonomous, neutral reasoning. I suppose Smith would explain my realization as being rooted in my deeply modernistic (Western) roots. He would be right. I have been heavily influenced by the C...more
James K. A. Smith's Who's Afraid of Postmodernism?: Taking Derrida,Lyotard , and Foucault to Church is the opening book in the "Church and Postmodern Culture" series Smith is editing. Smith's goal in this volume is to introduce the idea of the three thinkers named in the title and demonstrate how their thoughts can in fact be a boon to Christianity. Smith does this well, ultimately showing that the tearing down of Enlightenment belief in universal reason creates room for those in the Christian n...more
John Ellis
I'm not afraid of postmodernism, but I am afraid of James K.A. Smith's legalism. While reading the last section of this book, I wanted to pack my family up, move them out of the city we live in, and move into a cookie-cutter house located on a cul-de-sac in the blandest suburb I can find. Why does Smith (and other emergent/postmodern theologians) get to define abstract concepts like "community" for everyone else? Well, worse, he didn't define it; he assumed a/his definition and then condemned an...more
Once again, a book from James Smith that is sure to haunt my thinking for awhile. Really thought-provoking and wise stuff, this book.

It oscillates at time between "too" accessible (if that's possible) and too theoretical, as an undergrad in philosophy I found myself bored at times but suddenly caught off guard by a sharp hike in the level of thinking. I can imagine that this might be frustrating for a more general reader, but these spots of difficulty (which appear to me moments in which Smith...more
A fine little volume by James Smith. He is at his best whenever he is helping to bring high argument down to a more approachable level for those of us who are less trained in philosophy. With a chapter each on Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault, this was a quick and very informative book on how postmodernism can actually help Christians think and worship better. It will have me thinking for a while.

However, some of the applications were a little clunky and awkward. For being a book written in 2006...more
Marcus Privitt
James K.A. Smith is a writer on the horizon. Keep his name in your mind. He's younger, but holds extreme potential in his words that, though now powerful in his recent publications, can only grow from this point forward.

The book itself is structured succinctly, and, in Smith's own words, written to a general audience in order to prevent them from being bogged down from footnotes and heavier words.

The book is organized into three parts with an introduction and conclusion. Each part examines a "m...more
Mark Alan
Jamie's reading of these important PM thinkers is, as always, spot on. And the ambivalent relationship that he demonstrates we should have with them is right headed. His last chapter on the emergent church movement is worth the price of purchase all by itself, everything else is gravy.
Craig French
Highly recommended read. When Jamie Smith is on, he is ON...when he's off, keep moving because he hits his stride again and will blow your mind (and hopefully some idols, as well). This is an incredibly helpful book dispelling false intuitions regarding postmodernism(s) and offers constructive critiques for the church. He argues winsomely that postmodernism provides the church the opportunity to reclaim old paths long neglected. This is not a romanticism of the past, a lingering desire for the g...more
Alissa Wilkinson
Absolutely must-read if you feel that the church's response to postmodernism is a bit reductionist. This is not quite in layman's terms, but if you can comprehend the New York Times, you can understand this book.
Jason A
I liked it. It wasn't particularly academic, but it did a good job of making the case that postmodernism isn't as scary as Josh McDowell and Francis Schaeffer make it out to be.
Ian Hammond
I disagree with the foundational point of this book. But it was interesting, and there were some good points made. Would not recommend it for an uncritical reading.
Sarahc Caflisch
I don't think I know about Postmodernism yet to know if this book is good or not.
Renee Leech
Due to my recent return to Catholicism and my love of postmodern and post-structural theory, I was very excited to find this book. Smith does a great job of deconstructing the deconstructors, revealing that Derrida's "il n'y a pas de hors-texte," Lyotard's "incredulity toward metanarratives" and Foucault's exertion that "power is knowledge," actually contain within them the seeds of a new radical orthodoxy for what Smith calls "the emergent church." He does this using the films "Memento," "O Bro...more
Dwight Davis
This is the book I wish I'd written. Smith puts a lot of my thoughts into words and provides a robust engagement with postmodernism. Rather than bashing a straw-man of postmodern thought, Smith engages Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault graciously and uses their ideas to shape a postmodern church. He calls for a return to theology and dogmatics rather than a retreat from it. I really appreciated his engagement with the emergent church. He praises it for it's engagement with postmodernism while point...more
Gavin Breeden
Very thought-provoking book. The chapters that deal with Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault respectively are just stellar (especially the ones on Derrida and Lyotard). Smith is very compelling as he demonstrates that modernism actually has many anti-Christian ideas and values while postmodernism isn't nearly as anti-Christian as western Christians often assume.

There's a lot of good stuff here and while I agree with Smith on many of the ideas presented here (such as the negative effects of modernism'...more
Daniel Lopez
This book was not what I had expected it to be. It certainly answered a lot of the questions I did not even have in mind. Be prepared to have extended discussions with the emergent church, along with a marketing attempt on behalf of the radical orthodoxy movement. While I appreciated the way that Smith used movies to show the current effects of things like enlightenment thinking, modernism and post-modernism, It was laborious to have to read through the countless pages of his re-phrasing of the...more
Jamie Smith discusses three key postmodernist thinkers by addressing common misconceptions and implications for the Christian faith: Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault. Modernist Christianity suffers from a strict adherence to individualism and rationalism, and postmodernism challenges these.

In short, the common thread between these philosophers is to question claims of pure truth, separate from influence. Derrida counters the view that language is a signifier of some pure truth, nothing more than a...more
A very short, readable introduction to three key ideas of three postmodern thinkers, and a sketchy though compelling vision of how to integrate postmodern ideas into church belief and practice through the perspective of Radical Orthodoxy. As with the better interpreters of postmodern thought, Smith pushes back against some pomo ideas that are deeply incompatible with the Christian faith; nevertheless I think he might be overly optimistic about what he takes in and accepts.
Mayowa Adebiyi
Maybe bashing Postmodernism's leading theorists is mainly because we've misunderstood what they were against, partly because of those followers who have used them for their own liberal agendas.
We're not here taking Derrida and co to church in order to convert them (Although we are), what we're doing with them here is plundering them like the Israelites did to the Egyptians and Calvin taught us. They, rightly understood have a few things to teach us.
Smith's reading of Derrida in the second chapter starts this book off on a high note. Subsequent chapters on the lesser known Lyotard and the intellectually elusive Foucault, however, don't quiet live up to his early standard, and Smith's own constructive proposal for the church in the final chapter is a bit heavy-handed.

All things considered, this text is more about radical orthodoxy than postmodernity. It's postmodern critical Augustinianism--with the emphasis on Augustine.

Smith's done a goo...more
Jon Anderson
Very helpful introduction to postmodern thought that was understandable and corrected some of my misconceptions. Shows how postmodernism critiques modern church and how it offers avenues to return to premodern traditions and liturgy. Part of the church and postmodern culture series.
The first two thirds are filled with supple reasoning and a generous reading of the post-moderns. The closing chapter is more prescriptive and so a disappointment -- its very prescriptivism denies the particularities of individual faith traditions, thus functioning more like the meta-narratives Smith and Derrida had dispensed with earlier.

About traditions: communities do not come with one tradition, but several. not only is there the long arc of the Church, but also of the historical expression...more
Justin Edgar
Smith is one of my favorite writers. I enjoyed this book very much. It was challenging in so many ways. I think the book is so helpful for us in the world and culture in which we live.
Derek Baad
Overall, I was pretty disappointed with this book, but it definitely has its merits. The chapters breaking down Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault were very helpful, and the sections where Smith takes the philospher in question to "church" are interesting and thoughtful. My biggest problem with the book comes in the final chapter about "radical orthodoxy," and though I think I'm following Smith here, I feel like there are numerous holes in his argument. Somehow, with Smith, postmoderism suspicion of...more
This book was an excellent followup to my first exposure to Derrida and Foucault. Smith breaks down what he feels are the contributions that Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault have made to postmodern thought, specifically in regards to the Christian church. He specifically counters the criticisms of postmodernism by more mainstream evangelicals (DA Carson, etc.) and makes a pretty good case that they do not really understand postmodernism.

I thought it was well written, and it has motivated me to re...more
Jason Hudson
It has been some years since I read this. At the time I enjoyed the book though I thought Smith was a little generous to the philosophy in question.
Skipper Boatwright

Over the past year and a half or so I have developed a growing interest in postmodernism. Both my professors and close friends have fueled this interest by discussing the possibilities which postmodernism provides for theology in the 21st century. This book–although not perfect–was a breakthrough for me in that it took much of what I have been hearing over the past year and a half and imaginatively displayed the possibilities of postmodernism for theology.
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“All discourses and disciplines proceed from commitments and beliefs that are ultimately religious in nature. No scientific discourse (whether natural science or social science) simply discloses to us the facts of reality to which theology must submit; rather, every discourse is, in some sense, religious. The playing field has been leveled. Theology is most persistently postmodern when it rejects a lingering correlational false humility and instead speaks unapologetically from the the primacy of Christian revelation and the church's confessional language.” 7 likes
“Whenever science attempts to legitimate itself, it is no longer scientific but narrative, appealing to an orienting myth that is not susceptible to scientific legitimation.” 4 likes
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