Illustrations from Tim Keller’s Sermon “The Gospel in a Pluralistic Culture”

Tim Keller sermon from 1/13/2013

Time Stamp 11:30 in the sermon. A longer version of the Toyohiko Kagawa quote about his conversion can be found here.

I am grateful for Shinto, for Buddhism and for Confucianism. I owe much to these faiths. Yet these three faiths utterly failed to minister to my heart’s deepest needs.

I was a pilgrim journeying upon a long road that had no turning. I was weary, I was footsore. I wandered through a dark and dismal world where tragedies were thick.

Buddhism teaches great compassion … but since the beginning of time, who has declared ‘this is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many unto the remission of sins’?”

Islam, of course, proclaims the mercy of God. Each chapter of the Qur’an is introduced by the words “In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful.”

But they do not tell of a costly and historic display of God’s mercy as portrayed by the cross and spoken of in each Gospel.

In Islam, Allah is merciful to the meritorious, those who pray, give alms, and fast in Ramadan.

In Christianity God is merciful to sinners not because of their good works but because of Christ’s sacrifice for them on the cross.

–Toyohiko Kagawa

At minute 25 Tim begins an illustration of an anthropologist in Africa dealing with the question of whether anthropologists should be non-judgmental in their work or take positions critical towards the cultures they are studying. I found the article he mentioned. It is by Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban. Here is the link.  Here is the conclusion to her piece:

Personally, I would go further: I believe that we should not let the concept of relativism stop us from using national and international forums to examine ways to protect the lives and dignity of people in every culture. Because of our involvement in local societies, anthropologists could provide early warnings of abuses — for example, by reporting data to international human-rights organizations, and by joining the dialogue at international conferences. When there is a choice between defending human rights and defending cultural relativism, anthropologists should choose to protect and promote human rights. We cannot just be bystanders.

At minute 27 he references Edward Docx in Prospect Magazine “Post-modernism is Dead”

Quotes from this piece (not the sermon):

So, for instance, the priest might use a word, say “truth,” in a very different way to the scientist, who in turn would understand the term in quite a different way to the policeman, the journalist, the philosopher, or the artist. In this way, the notion of a single, overarching view of the world—a dominant narrative (or to use the jargon, meta-narrative)—vanishes. There is no single narrative, no privileged standpoint, no system or theory that overlays all others. Hence, Lyotard argued, all narratives exist together, side by side, with none dominating. This confluence of narratives is the essence of postmodernism. (Lyotard was an adherent of Marxism, one of the most potent meta-narratives of the modern age. But he turned his back on Marx. In this way, the origins of postmodern thought can be seen as, in part, a rejection of the totalitarian impulse—also, and not coincidentally, at its most powerful in the 1920s and 1930s.)

And the epistemic confrontation of postmodernism, this idea of de-privileging any one meaning, this idea that all discourses are equally valid, has therefore lead to some real-world gains for humankind. Because once you are in the business of challenging the dominant discourse, you are also in the business of giving hitherto marginalised and subordinate groups their voice. And from here it is possible to see how postmodernism has helped western society understand the politics of difference and so redress the miserable injustices which we have hitherto either ignored or taken for granted as in some way acceptable.

The second point is deeper still. Postmodernism aimed further than merely calling for a re-evaluation of power structures: it said that we are all in our very selves nothing more than the breathing aggregate of those structures. It contends that we cannot stand apart from the demands and identities that these structures and discourses confer upon us. Adios the Enlightenment. See you later Romanticism. Instead, it holds that we move through a series of co-ordinates on various maps—class, gender, religious, sexual, ethnic, situational—and that those co-ordinates are actually our only identity. We are entirely constructed. There is nothing else. And this, in an over-simplified nutshell, is the main challenge that postmodernism brought to the great banquet of human ideas because it changed the game from one of self-determination (Kant et al) to other-determination. I am constructed, therefore I am.

In other words, increasingly, artistic success has become about nothing except money; and, increasingly, artists have come to judge their own success that way, too. This is the reason today that we feel the genre writer’s cry “I sold millions” so powerfully, even though in truth it can say little about the art form other than “it sold millions.” Changing disciplines, if we take this commoditisation of art to its natural limit, we arrive at Damien Hirst’s diamond encrusted skull, For the Love of God (2007). Commoditisation has here become the only point. The work, such as it is, centres on its cost and value and comprises also (I would say mainly) the media storm surrounding it: the rumours that it was bought for £50m, or that Hirst himself bought it, or that he offset his tax bill by claiming diamonds as tax deductible artistic materials, or that he didn’t buy it at all, or that nobody has bought it… And so postmodernly on. The paradox being this: that by removing all criteria, we are left with nothing but the market. The opposite of what postmodernism originally intended.

And, of course, there’s a parallel paradox in politics and philosophy. If we de-privilege all positions, we can assert no position, we cannot therefore participate in society or the collective and so, in effect, an aggressive postmodernism becomes, in the real world, indistinguishable from an odd species of inert conservatism.

About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
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