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Who's Afraid of Postmodernism?: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church

(The Church and Postmodern Culture #1)

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  1,144 ratings  ·  104 reviews
The philosophies of French thinkers Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault form the basis for postmodern thought and are seemingly at odds with the Christian faith. However, James K. A. Smith claims that their ideas have been misinterpreted and actually have a deep affinity with central Christian claims.

Each chapter opens with an illustration from a recent movie and concludes with
Paperback, 160 pages
Published April 1st 2006 by Baker Academic
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Jacob Aitken
Aug 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: theology, philosophy
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
Giovanni Generoso
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
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
Michael Miller
May 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy
“Postmodernism” is lauded or excoriated these days without careful or nuanced definition. Like it or not, we find ourselves, with the collapse of the modernist project, in the cultural condition of Postmodernity. However, there are many different intellectual, spiritual, and practical responses to this condition, hence many different kinds of “postmodernism”.

Many Christian authors, when addressing postmodernism, posit a form or expression of postmodernism and attack it as unbiblical. The Postmod
Dan Lawler
Nov 01, 2019 rated it it was ok
The Radically Orthodox Thought Police

Author James Smith wrote this book to honor the legacy of Francis Schaeffer, the compassionate Christian apologist and evangelist. Smith adds the caveat that he "might take that legacy in directions that Schaeffer would not." (12.) Indeed he does. Smith repudiates every substantive aspect of Schaeffer's apologetic. He does this in order to put a happy-face on postmodernism, which Schaeffer saw as the logical extension of modernism and inherently skeptical, p
John Defrog
Dec 10, 2018 rated it liked it
Lately I’ve been hearing a lot about how postmodernism is a major challenge to Christianity, but denunciations of postmodernism often sound unconvincing to me, if only because it often sounded to me like too many people use “postmodern” as a descriptor with little indication that they understand the underlying philosophy. This book by James K.A. Smith (who is both a Christian and a philosophy professor) argues that postmodernist philosophy is highly misunderstood by theologians, and that if you ...more
John Ellis
Sep 06, 2013 rated it did not like it
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
Apr 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
John Yelverton
Aug 26, 2015 rated it did not like it
The author attempts to make the assertion that if you look at postmodernism from a certain angle that it actually makes sense, and even supports Christianity. Of course, from a certain angle, the Holocaust was a novel way to control overpopulation. Then reality sets in, and you realize that no matter which way you look at it, both assertions are wrong.
Alissa Wilkinson
May 03, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: taught, theology
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. ...more
Ben Smitthimedhin
This is probably Smith at his worst. In an attempt to do too many things at once in 160 pages (covering the basics of postmodernism, telling the church how postmodernism works for discipleship, introducing radical orthodoxy, arguing for a presuppositional apologetic, bashing low-church evangelicals, using pop-culture references to illustrate postmodernism, arguing against evidential apologetics, etc etc), Smith ended up failing because he didn't cover his bases.

We don't get a thorough definitio
Dec 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
I'm giving this five starts not because I agree with everything the author says, but because there is an underlying attitude in his whole endeavor that is worth the highest possible praise. He doesn't just provide a well-written and fair summary of the 3 post-modern philosophers (although that's part of it). He does something which I rarely see even in philosophy, much less in theology--he actually engages with the ideas of others and makes them his own. He makes an effort to truly understand wh ...more
Dec 16, 2019 rated it liked it
I'm largely on the fence about this book. There is plenty of good food for thought, and it's worth reading for that. There are also a lot of ideas that challenge my own convictions (especially the description of a Radical Orthodox church service at the end, which I found almost offensive). There is also quite a lot of good analysis of the current situation in evangelicalism, and some helpful clarifications about postmodern thought. My verdict on many of Smith's conclusions will probably await fu ...more
Jackson Ford
Sep 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Very thankful for Smith’s astute summarization and analysis of Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault, as well as recognizing a dramatic sanctified significance that their work has to the Church.
Nathan Sexten
Jul 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Smith is excellent in this as always. The last chapter makes me want to read his Introducing Radical Orthodoxy (2004) book, and also had me asking "why am I still an evangelical?" whether that was the intended reaction or not. ...more
Jan 31, 2020 rated it liked it
I came to this book from Smith's most recent work, On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts. Occasionally in that book, Smith mentions Derrida and while he never lingers long on him, I got the impression that Smith was quite fond of the postmodern philosopher. So I decided to read this book, which deals with the subject head-on.

Originally published in 1998, the book feels a bit dated. This can be most clearly seen in how Smith gushes about the Emergent Chur
Mar 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
Fighting angst-filled insomnia, I picked up "Who's Afraid of Postmodernism" thinking to myself, 'reading philosophy may just put me to sleep.' At 3am I finished the book. I requested that my library purchase the book for their shelves so that I could acquaint myself with it after a fellow church member made some disparaging remark about how postmodernism will be the undoing of the church.

Jamie Smith does a great job of contextualizing postmodern philosophical concepts from well known Parisian p
Chris Brown
Jun 21, 2017 rated it did not like it
After four (of the five) chapters of this book, I thought I might be generous and give it 3 stars. A few interesting points were made about the trio of postmodern thinkers analyzed, although the author made no mention of some of the core tenets of their work that are incompatible with Christianity. In fact, it is somewhat ironic that postmodern Christians lament apologist attempts to reconcile scripture and the natural world, because this author is guilty of much the same thing - trying to recon ...more
Aug 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Joel Wentz
Apr 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is a fantastic, accessible introduction to some "big hitters" in postmodern thought: Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucalt. Smith brings their ideas 'down to earth,' directly countering common fears and assumptions that pop up in Evangelical circles, and even suggests ways to incorporate their suggestions into liturgy and worship.

I absolutely adored the approach of this book, and it sparked some inquiry into more postmodern thought on my end. Overall, the assertion that the Evangelical church needs
Mark Alan
Aug 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: theology
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. ...more
Jul 22, 2014 rated it it was ok
What really irks me about this book is the way Smith seems to devalue transcendence and timelessness for a type of performative tradition(alism) in which one "performs" and acts out one's *own* tradition. ...more
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. ...more
Sarahc Caflisch
Sep 28, 2009 rated it it was ok
I don't think I know about Postmodernism yet to know if this book is good or not. ...more
Pater Edmund
An amusing and clear introduction to Smith's version of radical orthodoxy. Much to sympathize with here, but a few missing distinctions. ...more
Ian Hammond
Nov 25, 2013 rated it liked it
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.
Jason Panella
Dec 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
I really liked this and probably should've read it years ago. But man, the cultural references in these kinds of books do not age well. At all. ...more
Aug 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
I got pretty excited in 2006 when this book came out - mainly because it was a Christian book with the word 'postmodernism' in the title. I added it to my reading list. Time moves on, and here we are, 11 years later, and now I've read it.

Ostensibly this is a defence of the idea that Christianity can have a productive dialogue with postmodernism, and is also a defence of that hotbed of such dialogue - the emergent church - which was causing all sorts of ripples in the mid-2000s.

I never had a pr
Feb 12, 2021 rated it really liked it
All-in-all, this is a useful, insightful guide into ways that Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault have often and tragically been misinterpreted, and how accurately reading their claims can position them as helpful in formulating the response and relationship of Christianity to culture. There's a lot of greatness here, notably in Smith's helpful explanations of what these thinkers' key concepts and ideas really mean. But the book also suffers from some inaccessibility and a high-minded vocabulary that ...more
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“We all - whether naturalists, atheists, Buddhists, or Christians - see the world through the grid of an interpretive framework - and ultimately this interpretive framework is religious in nature, even if not allied with a particular institutional religion.” 11 likes
“Worship, then, needs to be characterized by hospitality; it needs to be inviting. But at the same time, it should be inviting seekers into the church and its unique story and language. Worship should be an occasion of cross-cultural hospitality. Consider an analogy: when I travel to France, I hope to be made to feel welcome. However, I don't expect my French hosts to become Americans in order to make me feel at home. I don't expect them to start speaking English, ordering pizza, talking about the New York Yankees, and so on. Indeed, if I wanted that, I would have just stayed home! Instead, what I'm hoping for is to be welcomed into their unique French culture; that's why I've come to France in the first place. And I know that this will take some work on my part. I'm expecting things to be different; indeed, I'm looking for just this difference. So also, I think, with hospitable worship: seekers are looking for something our culture can't provide. Many don't want a religious version of what they can already get at the mall. And this is especially true of postmodern or Gen X seekers: they are looking for elements of transcendence and challenge that MTV could never give them. Rather than an MTVized version of the gospel, they are searching for the mysterious practices of the ancient gospel.” 9 likes
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