“And All of Their Frustrations Come
Beating on Your Door” –
A ‘Transmodern’ Critique of The New
Perspective on Paul, with Reference to Proposed Kierkegaardian vs. Hegelian Modalities of Premodernity, Modernity,
Postmodernity & Transmodernity.
By Matthew Lipscomb
For Perspectives on the Apostle Paul
Dr. Barry Matlock – Fall 2011 – UTC
blames the one before.
And all of their frustrations
come beating on your door.
In the classic 80’s rock song In the Living Years, by Mike + The Mechanics, we hear the story of a intergenerational conflict between a father and a son, and how these conflicts are dealt with in terms of frustration, pain, regret and hope. It is arguable that the song opens up a window – through which we can see how multiple generations of people see and interpret the world around them from within the contexts of the biases of their cultural times and respective Weltanschauungen, or world views/ways of seeing how things are – and then how subsequently proceeding generations both contest and conflict with their own respective predecessors. In the world of Pauline studies – this is a very familiar metanarrative. The so-called New Perspective on Paul is in many ways a son – arguing about the wrong ways his father saw the world and his subsequent accounting of all his father’s frustrations that have ‘come beating upon the doors’ of present day Pauline scholars.
The Moving Models of Modern Man
What does it mean to be a ‘modern man’? Or – more importantly – what does it mean to be a ‘modern scholar’? This is the question that is being increasingly asked, in light of what is now being referred to as Postmodernity – and what some regard as it’s logical successor: Transmodernism. Postmodernism is generally seen as a rejection of what is referred to as the ‘modernity mindset.’ Advocates of Modernity typically see it as the end-all-be-all of cultural and technological socio-cultural evolution. What is thought to be ‘modern’ is presupposed to be greater and necessarily opposed to the inferior and technologically/culturally ‘pre-modern’.
A full explanation of the modern vs. postmodern fracas is certainly beyond the scope of this essay – but its essence can be fruitfully explained in the understanding that just as Modernity has rejected the rights and the adequacies of the pre-modern, Post-modernity has judged Modernity to be critically unauthoritative and limited in its own capacity to rhetorically encompass, technologically manage, and philosophically understand the whole of existence as it relates to both man, nature, and everything in between. Trans-modernity stands as an ontological abruption to the successive teleological rejections of the pre-modern and then subsequent modern understandings. It takes a meta – or an integrative (rather then rejection-mediated) approach – purposefully embracing and finding syntheses between prior rejections.
Regressing the Modernist Progression: a Proposed Pauline Interpretive Transmodernist Rubric, with Reference to Keirkaardian Post-dialectical Delineateism
When Søren Kierkegaard published his famous polemic against G.F.W. Hegel’s dialectical philosophy entitled Either/Or, he fully intended it to be to be a tool to justify the idea of separation as a means of progression –as apposed to the Hegelian dialectical synthesis-model, which advocated integration as a way of progressing ideologically and culturally. In this way, Kierkegaard stands – not just the ‘father of Existentialism’ – but also as the father of what might be called ‘the Delineation Imperative:’ that things should and ought often be separated, and that separation – the process of saying “Either this, or That” – is a good way of thinking.  In this way – Kierkegaard modeled the first modern mindset; in that he laid the foundation for the separation of the modern from the pre-modern (or Classicist) Weltanschauungen. Modernity rejected the pre-modern, just as Postmodernism would later delineate itself from the modern.
It is arguably doubtful that Kierkegaard – who often wrote purposefully self-defeating essays pseudonymously, which contradicted his own beliefs, as a way of underhandedly deceiving his readers into what he thought to be the truth and actually earned a masters degree in the subject of Irony – would have wanted a ‘delineation imperative’ to take on such massive influence on such a grand, epochal scale – at least in so far as the ways of seeing the world for eons would be summarily dismissed by forthcoming generations as inescapably passé. And yet with the dawn of Modernity – this is exactly what happened. And it was in an even much quicker fashion that Modernity itself gave rise to its own familial delinquents who sought to build their own house and their own ways of seeing the world for themselves. It is against this long-standing tradition of ideological and cultural delineation that Trans-modernism rejected its own rejection – and sought a synthesis with past delineations.
In order to better grasp the task of critiquing The New Perspective from a Transmodern perspective, three interpretive rubrics will be used – each with a unique contextualization as they each relate to pre-, modern, post- and trans-modern understandings of modernity: the issues of the possibility and acceptance of miracles and a supernatural/mystics worldview, the issue of Community, and the concept of Systematization.
Crumpled bits of paper
Filled with imperfect thoughts
I’m afraid that’s all we’ve got
Rubric One: Miracles
One element of the New Perspective is its seeming obtuse condescension of the supernatural. When Wrede writes that “Angels, in our time, belong to children and to poets; to Paul and his age they were a real and serious quantity,” it is hard to imagine that he was not sneering when he wrote it. Bultman is in the same vein, when he writes that all of the supernatural content of the bible – is essentially stories made up to convey discursive & cultural truths via mythological narratives. These ‘new perspectives’ are arguably not really as much new – as they are merely in keeping with the ‘ideology of the modern age’ in that they advocate secularity over the supernatural and scientific process over the divine essence. Modernist theologians who further took these ideas to their logical conclusions, created a great ruckus in the seventies. Harvard theologian Harvey Cox in his book The Secular City – in which he argued that all vestiges of supernatural belief would pass from the religious scene, and the so-called “death of God” movement, initiated in part by professor J.J. Altizer – all went down these paths.
Contrary to the prophets of its doom – a belief in the supernatural is not just flourishing, but growing exponentially within Christendom. The continued growth of the Pentecostal movement is both noted and seemingly lamented in Cox’s own most recent book The Future of Faith, whichgrudgingly seems to accept this reality. In this sense, the perspective of Paul’s own Weltanschauungen – how he saw and understood the world to work around him – remains relevant and integrated with the theology of millions of Christians, in a deep and systematic way that should not and cannot be ignored.
Rubric Two: Community
A second and equally important interpretive rubric for understanding the New Perspective as it related to Pre-,Modern, Post-, and Transmodernism is the issue of Community. The standing accusation against Luther is that his theological perspective was ego-centric, and that his own feeling of inadequacy served as a framework that presuppositionally mars an accurate understanding of Paul. But is this a fair assessment? Modernity is generally accepted as causing personal alienation and against this – Postmodernism archetypically emphasizes interpersonal relationships and community. A fair assessment of New Perspective thought must account for the ideological presuppositions of it own thinkers. Indeed Luther may have been persuaded to think on an individualistic level – but to what scope and degree New Perspective thinkers have been influenced by their own Postmodern presuppositions of community-centric thinking is a question that must be honestly posited.
Rubric Three: Systematizationality
A third, important interpretive rubric is the endeavor of systematization. The beginning of the Age of Modernity is often said to have been heralded by the invention of the cotton gin. The essence of Modernity can essentially be summed up in part by 1) a preoccupation with efficiency, 2) reproducibility, and 3) a correspondingly increasing complexity in both the planning of and the innate knowledge of the given subject matter. Systematization is the grand and illustrious fetish of the Modern world, and like an addict – the Modernist looks to both find and apply it everywhere.
But to what degree can we appropriately force a systematization of Paul’s thought? Is the idea of ‘solution-to-plight’ itself a good rubric, by which to understand Paul? Should we hold Paul to the same standard that we would hold a doctoral candidate in Systematic Theology? Volcanoes are acts of Nature that can be highly geologically systematized in terms of their origins and causes – but are also completely and frustratingly random and unpredictable in their presentation. Should it be inappropriate to also see Paul in this way?
So we open up a quarrel
Between the present and the past
We only sacrifice the future
It’s the bitterness that lasts
In so far as scholars of the New Perspective force a non-supernatural “modernist” view over and against the ‘pre-modern’ view of both Paul and current Pentecostals – they are themselves divisive and non-integrative, if not guilty of brute force ideological suppression and consequential sterility. If condescension against the vibrancy of an integrative-supernaturality persists, then these scholars risk being locked away in their ivory towers – far from the flourishing, growing truly-modern church.
Furthermore, in regards to community vs. individualist presuppositions – an honest accounting of New Perspective thought must take the contextual presupposition that its members are themselves subject to terms of a preference towards community-oriented interpretive tendencies. Otherwise, it is fair to say that Luther’s critics are as waylaid (of not more) then Luther was himself.
In regards to Systematization, are we just as guilty as Luther would have been in his supposed ego-centrism – to forcefully systematize and objectify Paul’s thought?
It is the opinion of this author that a synthetic understanding of cultural and philosophical understandings is crucial for an honest undertaking when looking at the New Perspective’s thinking. Without an open honesty in regards to the philosophical presuppositions mediated by one’s own epochal Weltanschauung – we become a slave to our presuppositions and become blind to other perspectives that can be seen when we have the courage to change our own perspective’s orientation. Too often we fall victim to the worship of our own perspectives – and worship at the altar of our own cultural interpretive dynamics; those Pre-, Modern, or Post-. We take our tools – and make foundations of them: having seen the beautiful efficiency of using hammers to build our home, we start to use hammers for the foundation of the house itself.
The foundation that we ought see – is Transcendence. The integrative, synthetic mediation of a Trans-modern Weltanschauung can move across these categories of epochal understandings and presumptions more easily – and is less prone to the condescension of disregarding the ideas of our theological and philosophical fathers before us. Rather then fall for the same successive rejections of things prior, we can and should use the frameworks of the past as rubrics in and of themselves: apt tools for an archeology of knowledge. For many of us – it will be too late when we ourselves come of age – too late to tell our fathers that the things they told us, eventually came to ring just as true for us – as those things we first sought to sing within our own hearts.
So Don’t yield to the fortunes
You sometimes see as fate
It may have a new perspective
On a different date
And if you don’t give up, and don’t give in
You may just be O.K.
– Mike & The Mechanics, The Living Years
About.com. The Cotton Gin – Eli Whitney. Mary Bells. 30 11 2011 <http://inventors.about.com/od/cstartinventions/a/cotton_gin.htm >.
Ali, Salwat. Interview: Transmodernism: the way forward | Magazines | DAWN.com. 22 May 2011. Dawn.com. 30 Nov 2011
Bultman, Rudolf. Kerygma and Myth: A Theological Debate . New York: Harper Collins, 1961.
Casserley, J.V. Langmead. The Retreat From Christianity In The Modern World – The Maurice Lectures For 1951. New York: Longmans, 1953.
Cox, Harvey. The Future of Faith. New York : Harper Collins Books, 2009.
—. The Secular City. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1966.
Ellul, Jacques. The Meaning of the City . Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1973.
—. The Technological Society. New York: Vintage, 1964.
Fosdick, Harry Emerson. Dear Mr. Brown – Letters to a Person Perplexed about Religion. New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1961.
Galloway, Dale and Warren Bird. Innovative Transitions – How Change Can Take Your Church to the Next Level. Kansas City : Beacon Hill Press, 2007.
Kierkegaard, Søren. The Concept of Irony, With Constant Reference to Socrates. Trans. Lee M. Capel. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1965.
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Sponheim, Paul. Kiekegaard on Christ and Christian Coherence. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1968.
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Westerholm, Stephen. Perspectives Old and New on Paul. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004.
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 A term for ‘worldview’ or a framework for presuppositionally understanding the world and how it works. (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/weltanschauung)
 Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church, by James K. A. Smith, pg. 29.
 Teach yourself Postmodernism by Glenn Ward, pgs. 14-15.
 Kierkegaard on Christ and Christian Coherence, by Paul Sponheim, pgs. 18-19.
 Kierkegaard’s term for this was ‘Indirect Communication’. Kierkegaard for Beginners, pgs. 24-27.
 The Concept of Irony by Søren Kierkegaard
 There is within the New Perspective a diversity of theological traditions, Evangelical only being one of them. Anti-supernaturalist Liberals remain significant contributors to Pauline interpretation in both the past, present & future. Past liberals include Harry Emerson Fosdick, who in his book Dear Mr. Brown – Letters to a Person Perplexed about Religion (1961), in chapter entitled What about supernaturalism?, writes about “the supernaturalism I deplore” (pg. 47). Elaine Pagels writes about Paul in Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, arguing against the authenticity of his letters (pg. 23-25) and that there was a Gnostic influence upon them (pg. 62). Arch-liberal John Shelby Spong writes about Paul and his interpretations of him in his book A New Christianity for a New World, pgs. 86-89.
 Perspectives Old and New on Paul, Westerholm, pg. 103.
 Kerygma and Myth: A Theological Debate, by Rudolf Bultman, 1961.
 The Retreat From Christianity in the Modern World, The Maurice Lectures for 1951.
 The Secular City,pg. 3.
 Alitzer submitted a paper entitled “Theology and Contemporary Sensibility” at the Conference on American and the Future of Theology” at Emory University in November 1965. After Auschwitz, Radical Theology and Contemporary Judaism, by Richard L. Rubenstein, pg. 247.
 Innovative Transitions – How Change Can Take Your Church to the Next Level.
 Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.
 My Emancipation from Modernism from Stories of Emergence, Moving from Absolute to Authentic, pg. 121.
 The French theologian Jacques Ellul has written extensively regarding this issue of ‘modernism and technique’. In his book The Meaning of the City, Ellul explores the idea of industrialization and increasing civil complexity as a form of humanity declaring an independence from God. In his book The Technological Society, he writes of the ‘oppression’ that ‘progress’ has incurred with the ‘rule of technique’.