Sunday, May 11, 2003

A recent conversation/collaboration about the "foundation" of postmodern thought started by andy m. from up/rooted's yahoo group.- geoff holsclaw

Ravi Zacharias tells the following story that addresses postmodernism

A few weeks ago, I did a lectureship at Ohio State University. As I was
being driven to the lecture, we passed the new Wexner Art Center. The driver
said, "This is a new art building for the university. It is a fascinating
building designed in the post-modernist view of reality."

The building has no pattern. Staircases go nowhere. Pillars support nothing.
The architect designed the building to reflect life. It went nowhere and was
mindless and senseless.

I turned to the man describing it and asked, "Did they do the same thing
with the foundation?" He laughed. You can't do that with a foundation.

You can get away with the infrastructure. You can get away with random
thoughts that sound good in defense of a world view that ultimately doesn't
make sense. Once you start tampering with the foundations, you begin to see
the serious effects.

(a) this is incredibly insightful
(b) this is completely bogus
(c) wait... the Simpsons is on...


Sorry to be pedantic, but that metaphor has been a bane for me for a while.

My knee-jerk reaction:

That sounds like a typical anecdotal response to post-modernism by evangelical
apologists. (Not that there is anything wrong with being an "evangelical" or an
"apologist".) I have read numerous stories like that in Schaeffer and have heard this
architectural metaphor a few times to argue against post-modernism.

But the architectural metaphor never really seems to work. It seems to bely a
fundamental misunderstanding of the Great Post-Modern Conversation. In fact, it
sounds like the assessment of someone who has come in on the middle of the
discussion and is never really aware of the whole story. In most post-modern
architecture (and most of what we think of as post-modern architecture is actually
late-modern as all good Chicagoans know) we have the conscious melange of
historical styles and tendencies as a conscious reaction to the material formalism
and economy of modernism (capitalism and architecture are very related). Post-
modern architecture is the conscious recognition that what our living and working
spaces look like "mean" something. Materials and forms have a "language" of their
own. Such structures as the Wexner are conscious of meaning through material and
form. The foundation itself is part of this network of meaning. It is a building. A
building itself is a place of meaning relative to its function. Buildings have
foundations. It couldn't be a BUILDING if it didn't have a foundation. It would be a
teetering socially pointless sculpture, not a building. Post-modernism is typically a
non-foundational enterprise (granted, this is the only way the silly metaphor works).
But non-foundationalism does not imply incoherence within a given system of
meaning. Ravi has it just the opposite. Because the building has a foundation, the
building has meaning. It becomes a building.

Ravi seems not to be able to graft himself into different language games and
coordinate his theology likewise. His concern is that Post-modernism is a
groundless enterprise. In light of D. Steven Long's comments about Post-
modernism being the broken record player of Modernism, this appears incorrect.
Post-modern architecture uses the forms of modern and (rarely) pre-modern
architecture to create forms of new and socially deeper forms meaning.

Sorry to be pedantic, but that metaphor has been a bane for me for a while.

M. Leary
Bindery Supervisor/Book Artist
Rolfing Memorial Library

"What's a book? Everything or nothing. The eye that sees it all."
(R. W. Emerson)

(Thanks Mike L for your comments on pomo architecture. I'm going the epistemology route.)

It seems that Ravi is taking some what of a cheap shot here, even though it seems persuasive to many b/c it taps into so called common sense. One main aspect of the postmodern critique of the modern is to bring to the fore that our thinking is mainly metaphoric. What makes a "foundation" a better metaphor than a "web" when it comes to knowledge? To say that postmodern doesn't have a firm foundation ignores the previously critique.

To move from a physical structure to the "structure" of thinking is not valid necessarily. People just as often speak of "ways" of thinking as if one were walking down a path (it is interesting that people generally pace while thinking, they don't build a foundation while thinking). Or why do people ask "Where did that great idea come from?" as if thinking were spatial? Maybe we need maps instead of foundations to track ideas?

So, while Christ is the foundation of the church, he is also the Great Shepherd, and the Gate, and the Way, and the Life, and he is the High Priest. In one sense it is difficult for me to take abut foundations b/c buildings stuck in one place but we are a pilgrim people, nomads, wanders in exile, or we might say uprooted.

enough for now...
geoff holsclaw

Or if we want to take the metaphor for what it is, then Ravi's right. We can't do that with the foundation. But our foundation is not of concrete, or of stone or of wood. It is of life, of love, a living breathing foundation that cannot be nailed down so that we might build a building upon it. Any attempt to turn God into concrete is going to leave us with a really big mess to clean up - and I am reminded of the story of the people who tried to build a wall to keep God in - and they ended up walling him out.


Although I do not find Ravi's statement "(a) incredibly insightful," I am not so certain that Ravi is all that far off. We need to take his comment in context maybe even give him the benefit of doubt thinking he was simply trying to open up a discussion with the driver creating an opportunity to explain salvation and Jesus as a foundation for life (may be reaching here).

Ravi was responding to a comment "designed in the post-modernist view of reality" (staircases that lead nowhere, pillars that support nothing). If the post-moderist perspective on life is that it goes nowhere, like the staircase in the building, then I would have to say "Why build the building?," Unless only to find out where it ends up, kind of like completing a thought. Certainly, if we are honest, they could not do the same thing without the foundation or the nothingness above couldn't exist.

I think that Ravi was speaking of the foundation for thought. Foundation is something you build upon whether it is a building, a thought, knowledge, a belief system (modern or post-modern), etc you cannot build anything without a foundation. How can you have a thought without some form of foundation for that thought, even if it is based on a post-modern foundation? If the thought leads nowhere maybe one might need to reconsider previous thoughts and the basic foundations they stand on.

Geoff - "One main aspect of the postmodern critique of the modern is to bring to the fore that our thinking is mainly metaphoric."

How can one create a metaphor without referring it to something substantial, factual, foundational? Simply by definition a metaphor is anchored to a more solid, definable example. There is a foundation for a metaphor in order to gain perspective on another thought. How would we understand the comparison.

Geoff - "What makes a "foundation" a better metaphor than a "web" when it comes to knowledge?"

Nothing BUT even a WEB NEEDS to be anchored to something solid or else it floats away in the wind.

Geoff- " In one sense it is difficult for me to take abut foundations b/c buildings stuck in one place but we are a pilgrim people, nomads, wanders in exile, or we might say uprooted."

One can be nomadic and still have a solid foundation in their faith or the way they view the world. We are only pilgrims in this world solely because our foundation is in Christ. We know we are only visiting because we know we have a home prepared for us else where and that knowledge can only come with a firm foundation on the promises of God fulfilled though Christ. By the way, I like the way you worked in uprooted!

Andy - "Any attempt to turn God into concrete is going to leave us with a really big mess to clean up "

I think that “turn God into concrete” is a bit more far reaching metaphorically than comparing the foundation of a building to the stability of one’s thought process or world perspective. The scriptures speak specifically to foundations. The wise man built his house upon a rock, Jesus is the rock, God never changes; He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, Jesus is the cornerstone (foundational metaphor), etc…

"How about this...we are modeling after a man who walked on water! Water is fluid, moving, changing, full of living organisms...but Christ stood on it. That gives me a different picture of what qualifies as a "foundation".

I am not certain how this changes the qualifying elements of “foundation” as a foundation is something we build upon. The miracles of Christ would support a basis for him as our foundation not disprove what a foundation is. Try to build anything on water. First you need to create a base, a foundation, be it floating or drilled into the bedrock. I think the biggest issue here is that we need to define what our “foundation” metaphor would refer to and then keep within those parameters.

Growing with you,


Is the postmodernist perspective on life really that "it goes nowhere?" Is that the only meaning we can see in this image? Are we so linear in our metaphors as to miss the process, the experience? This is the same type of thinking that makes us focus more on conversions than conversations (to use an abused play on words).

Staircases that go nowhere. I remember many many times in my life, and my college journal attests to this fact as well, that many of the 'staircases' in my life have really gone, well, nowhere. I have tried this or that, and ended up have to backtrack and try again. I have pursued many a destination, tried many difficult endeavors, and pressed forward and upward only to realize that I have come to a brick wall. I realize that my muscles have been worked, oxygen has traveled through my body and the experience has made me stronger, and so I cannot completely say that the trip was a waste of time, or that I leave unchanged - so in a way I truly haven't arrived at "nowhere" and had to 'start over'. But I still have to return to some places to which I have already been, with that eerie feeling of deja vu tinted with a feeling of both exhaustion and renewed determination.

I haven't even been to this building, but I am sure that being there would help me understand this even more, feel it even deeper, and maybe even see it from a different perspective. Already I have gained insight into my past "nowheres" and seen how they make up a part of me, so that (in a rough paraphrase of M. L'Engle) I am 25 years old, but also 20, and 14, and 4.


I feel like your statement only helps support my previous comments. There can be many different meanings to this image and Ravi proposes one. I thought we were discussing whether or not this metaphor worked. Some said yes, some said no but we have to stay within that framework of reasoning. If one receives something else from the image it should be stated as such.

Our endeavours and life courses should never be considered a waste of time. God shapes us all differently and only he knows what we need or need to go through. I don't think that we ever really end up "nowhere" or at a dead end if we have Christ. It either brings us back to him (we all stray at times) or it grows us closer to him. But without Christ we do end up nowhere, unless, in the end, it all brings us to Him.


Hello, folks.
I've been watching this discussion for the past week (haven't read every
post, so I may be open to corrections from those who have already spoken). I
am a member of Ravi's generation---I think the way he does and have never
been much impressed with the whole post-modern discussion---I've seen
philosophical trends come and go---and try to stay fixed on Christian truth
(as distilled over the past 2000 years).
However, the current trend in Western thought is radically relativistic and
profoundly anti-Christian. (See Tammy Bruce---The Death of Right and Wrong:
Exposing the Left's Assault on Our Culture and Values). Today's college
students, when asked whether Hitler was an evil man for his part in the
death of millions of Jews, simply shrug and say they don't know---they
haven't walked in his shoes. Post-modern folks in the streets equate
President Bush with Hitler---or say that Saddam may be "bad" but Bush is
Christianity cannot make peace with relativism. (as Francis Schaeffer used
to say---Nature always eats up Grace.)
We either live in a world that was created, or we don't.
Our names are either written in the Lamb's Book of Life, or they aren't.
I am either born again, or I'm not.
Unbelievers are either damned, or they aren't.
Such Christian facts (and hundreds more like them) are not a matter of "how
you look at it" or whether you are a linear thinker or not.
If the issue is "How do we communicate the timeless gospel in this
relativistic age?"---well and good. Every generation must answer that
question. The challenge is to answer the question without losing the Gospel.
The Gospel has not changed---Christ is still building His Church---our task
is to follow Him as He does so.
Yours for training Christian leaders for the next generation,
Dave Holsclaw

Let me explain my thoughts a little further...
I hold firmly to the belief that there is unfailing truth. I don't
intend that to be irreconcilable with my analogy (water as a
foundation). Anologies always leave something lacking, they never
fully explain something from every facet.
That said, it is not unfailing truth that I build upon. I must live
with the knowledge of unfailing truth, but it is Christ Himself that
holds me up, He is my foundation. And He is indeed my rock. However,
He also talks about "living water".
So, if I build my faith upon Christ, then that leaves the water
analogy for more the theological side of things. I don't have to feel
like I'm "losing my faith" just because I'm shifting my theology. If
you'll remember the story I shared when I "introduced" myself, you'll
understand why this is important to me.
There is enough that remains consistent about water, yet it is
teeming with, and sustains, life. If I was building a house, I'd
build it on a rock. Since it is a life I'm building...I'll choose
When Peter kept his eyes on Christ he walked on the water, too.
Amy K.