A Theology for Hipsters (Part 23): Keeping The Fundamentals (Part 2)


Everyone these days is attempting to create a middle road. Theistic Evolution seeks middle ground between evolutionary theory and Biblical creationism. Moderate Republicanism seeks middle ground between conservative capitalism and social progressivism. Kid Rock has strangely bridged the worlds of bad rap music and bad country music. Much like these things (and the Reeses Cup) post-foundationalism is an attempt to create a middle way, this time between the objectivism of foundationalism and the relativity of non-foundationalism. It has become a majorly important term in the study of theology in a postmodern world; it also has a particular appeal to young hipsters coming out of the strict confines of Fundamentalism, but it is a dangerous path to take for escape.

Post-Foundationalism in theology offers a path to “truth” via communal agreement. In this view, then, we do not have the universal objective truth that conservative Evangelicalism affirms with the authoritative of Scripture, but neither do we have the complete individual relativism of personal perception. “Truth” in post-foundational theology is rooted in the consensus of the community. The general belief among post-foundationalists is that as contexts and cultures change so must theology. Rob Bell, then, compares theology to a trampoline with its flexibility, and Shane Hipps says that he cannot define the gospel since that is the job of each individual community.

There is a real temptation for young hipsters to think of themselves as real revolutionaries in every sphere of church life, even in the realm of theology. The truth of course is that after so many years of the church’s existence there isn’t really anything new. Most present day “revolutions” in theology are repetitions of old heresies, whether neo-orthodox or just straight liberalism. For the young hipster it is important at this point to remember that our responsibility is not to reinvent God and His Word, but to communicate the old “truths, once for all delivered to the saints.” Not all tradition is bad, and that is an important thing for hipsters to keep in mind. There is a danger that we can lose our roots, our history, and in the process lose not only an important Christian voice for the present, but the very revealed truths of God himself. Scripture is not something to be twisted and reinvented, theology must always be reexamined, but we must be careful that we do not abandon the foundation.

The real failure of post-foundationalism is that it denies the revelation of God. I can certainly agree with the philosophy that human objectivism is a myth, that all sorts of things play a part in the establishment of certainty (community, emotion, practice, etc). But there is a real foundation, a real base for authority and a type of certainty: The Bible. When Christians unthinkingly adopt any philosophy or hermeneutic that denies this they have lost all hope for obtaining real knowledge and truth.[1] So when trendy pastor Shane Hipps says that he cannot define the gospel because it is up to each of our communities to do so[2], he is following a post-foundationalist model. Likewise John Franke and Stanley Grenz have continued to popularize this model with their publishing[3], and it has become a preferred hermeneutical method for the emergent church. There is no right theology and wrong theology, then, only theology contained within a specific community.

The attractiveness of this among young Christian hipsters can hardly be overstated. The rebelliousness that comes with youth and the intentional break from Fundamentalism makes this path an easy one to move towards. The language of its major contemporary writers make it sound appealing too, as they contrast their “new and fresh” theological formulations with the “old, static” ways of thinking, of personal love verses cold sterile knowledge. Listen to just a few of the expressions from some of the leading emergent authors. Brian McLaren states that what we need today is not “absolute and arrogant certainty about our theologies, but a proper and humble confidence in God.”[4] Commenting on this passage Kevin DeYoung writes:

Fair enough. Who wants to be arrogantly certain about anything? But McLaren posits a false antithesis, suggesting that we can know God personally but can’t confidently know things about Him. The former kind of knowing is “personal knowledge.” The latter is “abstract, rational, impersonal certitude.”[5]

Likewise Rob Bell says, “Our words aren’t absolutes. Only God is absolute, and God has no intention of sharing this absoluteness with anything, especially words people have come up with to talk about him.”[6] McLaren, in the most forthright manner, states what he thinks of certainty when he writes, “Drop any affair you may have with certainty, proof, argument – and replace it with dialogue, conversation, intrigue, and search…”[7]

All of this type of speech does indeed sound “new” and hip and fresh and trendy, and for the hipster those are all good things. And when the authors intentionally paint a false dichotomy between their perspective and what they term the “old” “stale” and “arrogant” expressions of foundationalist theology then every hipster must bend towards their views to remain germane to their subculture. But these dichotomies so often painted are not genuine. The opposite of new and fresh is not arrogant and stale. The opposite of their formulations is, in fact, orthodox. And while orthodoxy may not be in the hipster nomenclature it is disastrous to sacrifice submission to God’s Word and God’s formulations for the sake of “cool.” Post-foundationalism offers us “new” at the cost of real genuine knowledge of God. In fact, contrary to Bell and others, it is precisely because God is absolute that we can trust His Word. When God deems to speak to us through revelation we can guarantee that he does not do so with ambiguity or falsehood, but with absolute certainty about who He is, what He does, and what He expects of us. The truth is, then, that post-foundationalist theology, with its aversion to certainty, does not do more justice to God, but in fact robs God of His character.

[1] For more on this subject I commend to the reader the outstanding work of John Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God. Philipsburg: P&R, 1987.  See also, D.A. Carson, The Gagging of God. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996. Chapters 2 and 3.

[2] This was the statement he made at the end of his lecture at the Atlanta Catalyst Conference in 2009.

[3] See Stanley Grenz and John Franke. Beyond Foundationalism: The Shaping of Theology in a Postmodern Context. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001;  John Franke. Manifold Witness: The Plurality of Truth. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009; Stanley Grenz. Theology for the Community of God. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000.

[4] Brian McLaren and Tony Campolo. Adventures in Missing the Point. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003. 43.

[5] Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck. Why We’re Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be. Chicago: Moody, 2008.  35.

[6] Rob Bell. Velvet Elvis. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005. 23.

[7] Adventures in Missing the Point. 84.

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