I must confess that I found out about “Transmodernism” by researching whether or not anybody out there was asking the same questions that I was. I had just come out of a period of time where I had exhaustively researched, from both sociological and theological perspectives the so-called modernist & postmodernist schools of thought. I think that it may have been initially kicked off by J. Gresham Machen’s book “Christianity and Liberalism” – wherein he argued against “modern Christianity”.  I have read elsewhere that he was reported to have struggled with the idea of changing the book’s title to “Christianity and Modernism” but decided against it. It would be hard to not have one’s ‘finger in the wind,’ as it were – in regards to theological trends, and to not hear all the buzz about ‘Postmodern Theology’ and/or its associated Postmodern theologians/spokespeople.

Secondary to this, a few people know that I had spent a great deal of time researching the history of Alcohol from both social and theological traditions – committing a great deal of that work down on paper. After I reached a point of 1k pages, I realized that, in some regard, I had ‘lost control’ of what I had intended to be a much shorter book/project; and instead it had morphed into a kind of systematic theology – one that in it’s own format/style/presentation was much less systematic (read as modern) but more so experiential-discursive in the way that would be read by a reader – assuming I actually ever gave it to someone to read (which I have only done once). I was reluctant to use the term “Postmodern” in describing it – though I came to understand that I had stumbled upon the inadvertent creation of a  postmodern systematic theology, in this ‘thing’ that I had created. But – owing to the fact that it did make use of a ‘narrative’ (in this case: Alcohol in theology and church doctrine), and that it also worked in a ‘discursive’ manner, in that it evaluated different ideas and conflicts and showed ‘relations’/dialectics between them; following a Kierkegaardian “indirect/subjective truth methology… I knew that that is exactly what it had become.

Sandwiched down inside the myriad of ideas, and admittedly ‘mad dogs & Englishmen’ length that I treat some things – there was a topic; one that seeming had taken on a life of its own – and was constantly re-writing itself into my own writing: it was the issue of “Reactionary Dynamics;” or essentially, how different ideas/traditions or forces/ontologies of power interact with one another – in terms of both ‘positive’ reactivities, and consequently also ‘negative’ ones. I had become sort of a ‘mad philosopher” in that in my years and years of reading philosophical and theological tomes, I had built something akin to a giant pin ball machine in my head. Adding in, perhaps a bit of my Asperger’s propensity for dichotomamtic systematization and elemental hyperfocusing – I had a built a huge machine, that could be set in motion by the smallest of things. Both a blessing and a curse – I found myself constantly faced with ‘reigning it in’ when a friends or casual acquaintance would mention something to me – and it would be as though its ‘on switch’ was flipped; gears would begin to spin faster and faster, lights blinking, steam pipes bellowing, and all the forces of my theological imaginations were engaged in true steampunk-like, eager complexity. I could only smile and pause -while trying to rescue some part of my mental bandwidth, by which to distill what was almost always flowing out in true fire hose fashion – or at least trying to. ‘It is hard to fill a teacup with a fire hose’- is a problem that I often mediated on. Madness and true creativity are often dance partners – and I suspected that at least one of them could be present, in my own re-evaluations of the often adamant/fundamentialist-like seemingly religious devotion to postmodern understandings that postmodernists were constantly assenting to in their own various arguments against the ‘intolerance’ and ‘hyperstructureality’ of advocates of ‘modernity’.

What if so-called “pre-Moderns,” “Moderns,” and subsequent “Postmoderns” where just reactions to their relationally ‘previous’ counterparts, both socially and in terms of time, chronologically. What would subsequent and ongoing, further ‘alienations’ and ‘refutements of the prior’ look like? Was I crazy – or was anybody else thinking about this as well? If I was on to something – and not genuinely blinkered, then someone else would have been doing it as well.

And that is how I found out about “Transmoderism” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transmodernism) As it turns out – Transmodernism, has been a round for a few years, and it’s ‘originator’ is Enrique Ambrosini (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enrique_Dussel). This is also how I found out about Ken Wilbur (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ken_Wilber) and his associated philosophy of Integral Theory (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Integral_Theory). I also spent a lot of time talking to some close friends at the time, who were very much immersed in the “integral worldview” and who saw it as a really great thing.

So naturally, I was greatly intrigued that someone was taking the principles of, or at least an understanding of various “Representatively epochal mindsets” (my term for the respective terms of ‘pre-,’ ‘modern,’ and ‘post-‘) and applying them. I was quickly disheartened.

While I have taking a long time to ‘get’ to this part of actually discussing Entegral Theory – it would honestly be the topic of an entirely different, and probably much longer essay/post to actually go into deeper – I should say that the ‘result’ of my evaluation of it, thus far – would most markedly delineate it as a very liberal understanding of Christianity. I would argue that Ken Wilber may not actually understand Christianity to begin with, and may have much better grasps of both Transmodernity and Buddhism. Integral Thought is argued to ‘integrate’ both Christianity and Buddhism, as well as other world religions, using the Transmodernism as a kind of ‘sublimation layer’ or interpretive rubric.

While I think that it is certainly very interesting – it certainly *is not* Christian. And while it may be interesting and potentially useful and enjoyable (with responsibility) it is just like Alcohol –  (which, ironically, began my own process of serious theological and philosophical explorations [the ‘door’ that I ‘fell through’ and was never able to ‘climb back out of again’ ] ) it is certainly not safe.

It is just like many other ‘liberal’ endeavors – in that in its attempt to eschew what it considers to be Fundamentalist (read as essential/basic) or Conservative (read as unchanging/traditional) it formulates something that is so estranged from what it is trying to escape (read as ‘reacting to’ [also, in this case “negatively”] ) that it becomes something not just estranged and alienated, but also irrevocably disfigured.

If Integral Theory is Transmodernism’s answer to Christianity – then I am sure that I know what the Question was – but what Ken Wilbur has done is sure not the answer.

Allow me explain, just a bit.

Many ‘social justice’ advocates often cite examples where Israel was punished by God, when its “Elites” (read as its educated class, namely political rulers and religious priests) failed to promote justice and mercy. This is true. But is only one side of the equation. God demanded not just social justice, but also ritual and observance. Each – reflected upon the other, intrinsically. By themselves, the sacrifices and ordinances were worthless.

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(Amos 5:7-24 /  The Message Version)

Raw Truth Is Never Popular

7-9 Woe to you who turn justice to vinegar
and stomp righteousness into the mud.
Do you realize where you are? You’re in a cosmos
star-flung with constellations by God,
A world God wakes up each morning
and puts to bed each night.
God dips water from the ocean
and gives the land a drink.
God, God-revealed, does all this.
And he can destroy it as easily as make it.
He can turn this vast wonder into total waste.

10-12 People hate this kind of talk.
Raw truth is never popular.
But here it is, bluntly spoken:
Because you run roughshod over the poor
and take the bread right out of their mouths,
You’re never going to move into
the luxury homes you have built.
You’re never going to drink wine
from the expensive vineyards you’ve planted.
I know precisely the extent of your violations,
the enormity of your sins. Appalling!
You bully right-living people,
taking bribes right and left and kicking the poor when they’re down.

13 Justice is a lost cause. Evil is epidemic.
Decent people throw up their hands.
Protest and rebuke are useless,
a waste of breath.

14 Seek good and not evil—
and live!
You talk about God, the God-of-the-Angel-Armies,
being your best friend.
Well, live like it,
and maybe it will happen.

15 Hate evil and love good,
then work it out in the public square.
Maybe God, the God-of-the-Angel-Armies,
will notice your remnant and be gracious.

16-17 Now again, my Master’s Message, God, God-of-the-Angel-Armies:

“Go out into the streets and lament loudly!
Fill the malls and shops with cries of doom!
Weep loudly, ‘Not me! Not us, Not now!’
Empty offices, stores, factories, workplaces.
Enlist everyone in the general lament.
I want to hear it loud and clear when I make my visit.”
God’s Decree.

Time to Face Hard Reality, Not Fantasy

18-20 Woe to all of you who want God’s Judgment Day!
Why would you want to see God, want him to come?
When God comes, it will be bad news before it’s good news,
the worst of times, not the best of times.
Here’s what it’s like: A man runs from a lion
right into the jaws of a bear.
A woman goes home after a hard day’s work
and is raped by a neighbor.
At God’s coming we face hard reality, not fantasy—
a black cloud with no silver lining.

21-24 “I can’t stand your religious meetings.
I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions.
I want nothing to do with your religion projects,
your pretentious slogans and goals.
I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes,
your public relations and image making.
I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.
When was the last time you sang to me?
Do you know what I want?
I want justice—oceans of it.
I want fairness—rivers of it.
That’s what I want. That’s all I want.

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Liberal Christianity asserts that Social Justice is the only dimension that needs any attention, and that any calls for a commitment to Traditional Dogmatic Orthodoxy is greatly overrated and a distraction. The honest truth is that this is “Ox Cart” Christianity.

In the Book of Chronicles we read where King David is bringing the Ark of the Covenant home, from where it was been in enemy hands (remember the box from Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark?) and we are told the story of how it was all being done with a great celebration. The problem was, that the Israelites had been given a specific set of instructions. The arc was to be carried on the shoulders of the priests using rods. But the ‘instructions’ had been forgotten long ago – and so they just did what was usual and conventional, if not completely (for them) modern; they put it on an ox cart. Chronicles 13:1-14 tells the story of David’s failure to ‘follow the code’.

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Chronicles 13:1-14 / The Message

David Breaks ‘The Code’ of the Ritual and Someone Pays the Price

13 1-14 David consulted with all of his leaders, the commanders of thousands and of hundreds. Then David addressed the entire assembly of Israel, “If it seems right to you, and it is God’s will, let’s invite all our relatives wherever they are throughout Israel, along with their relatives, including their priests and Levites from their cities and surrounding pastures, to join us. And let’s bring the Chest of our God back—the Chest that was out of sight, out of mind during the days of Saul.” The entire assembly of Israel agreed—everybody agreed that it was the right thing to do. So David gathered all Israel together, from Egypt’s Pond of Horus in the southwest to the Pass of Hamath in the northeast, to go and get the Chest of God from Kiriath Jearim. Then David and all Israel went to Baalah (Kiriath Jearim) in Judah to bring back the Chest of God, the “Cherubim-Throne-of-God,” where God’s Name is invoked. They moved the Chest of God on a brand-new cart from the house of Abinadab with Uzzah and Ahio in charge. In procession with the Chest of God, David and all Israel worshiped exuberantly in song and dance, with a marching band of all kinds of instruments. When they were at the threshing floor of Kidon, the oxen stumbled and Uzzah grabbed the Chest to keep it from falling off. God erupted in anger against Uzzah and killed him because he grabbed the Chest. He died on the spot—in the presence of God. David lost his temper, angry because God exploded against Uzzah; the place is still called Perez Uzzah (Exploded Uzzah). David was terrified of God that day; he said, “How can I possibly continue this parade with the Chest of God?” So David called off the parade of the Chest to the City of David; instead he stored it in the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite. The Chest of God was in storage in the house of Obed-Edom for three months. God blessed the family of Obed-Edom and everything around him.

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In the end of the Movie, Raiders of the the Lost Ark – we get a taste of what it may have looked like to have been Uzzah (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m83JcNoNQ-4&feature=endscreen&NR=1). Whether he literally exploded, or his face melted off – is not really important. What it important, is that there was just a very slight technicality – and it had drastic consequences, and regardless of how someone might try to explain it away (were they to even try to) it had absolutely nothing ‘Social Justice’ but everything to do with God’s ritualistic law.

The point is that it is not just Social Justice (Amos 5) but also following the Code/Ritual (Chronicles 13). In each case – drastic consequences were the result. They are *both* important. Liberal Christianity wants to push aside the harsh legalisms of ritualistic code in favor of the Schleiermachian (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friedrich_Schleiermacher) ‘feeling’ that an emphasis on Social Justice provides. Orthodox Christianity (for the purposes of this conversation: ‘Conservative’) argues that Christ is the fulfillment and pinnacle of the summation of the Jewish Law with all of its ritual, meaning, and rigor. Whereas we may not sacrifice a lamb – we do believe that Christ was the Final Lamb. The how and why of all this makes for a meaningful and powerful conversation/exploration. For instance – it is fascinating to dive into the arguments in the so-called “New Perspective on Paul” which argues for a new understanding of Paul and the contextual Judaism that he both spoke from and worked within. But all will agree – Christ’s sacrifice is pivotal and crucial. It is the height of the meaning of Christianity. Faith in Christ as Lord, Savior and Redeemer is necessary. It can be said that this same Multidimensional (Lord & Redeemer) understanding is bankrupt without Social Justice. The opposite is also true. And this is exactly what Much of Liberal Christianity is.  It is what Bonhoeffer described as Cheap Grace.

“cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”

Bonhoeffer contrasts this with “Costly Grace”

“costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: “

My yoke is easy and my burden is light

.” ” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cost_of_Discipleship)

I have said it once before – and I will say it again: “I know what the question was…” and it was what does Christianity look like from the perspective of an understanding of different interpretive stages, throughout history… pre-modernity, modernity, and postmodernity. What I know is that much of this discussion, at present, takes place on a ‘micro’ level within Conservative Christianity. The great truth, I also believe, is that many who will talk about “Modernity” and its problems or “Postmodernity” and its ‘superior interpretive capabilities’ do so with disingenuous intentions. They are bringing their own ‘ox carts’ and trying to remake Christianity into something else. Just as  F.D.E Schleiermacher, the theological “father of liberal Christianity” told his dad that he could no longer believe in Christ as the source of atonement for a broken world…

“Faith is the regalia of the Godhead, you say. Alas! dearest father, if you believe that without this faith no one can attain to salvation in the next world, nor to tranquility in this — and such, I know, is your belief — oh! then pray to God to grant it to me, for to me it is now lost. I cannot believe that he who called himself the Son of Man was the true, eternal God; I cannot believe that his death was a vicarious atonement.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friedrich_Schleiermacher)

One wonders just how far Brian Mclaren’s own statements go against a Cross-centered theological understanding of Christianity…

“…. Alan Jones is a pioneer in reimagining a Christian faith that emerges from authentic spirituality. His work stimulates and encourages me deeply.” (Brian McLaren’s comments on the back flap of Alan Jones’ book Reimagining Christianity where Alan Jones states the following about the Christ’s crucifixion: “The Church’s fixation on the death of Jesus as the universal saving act must end, and the place of the cross must be reimagined in Christian faith. Why? Because of the cult of suffering and the vindictive God behind it.” (p. 132)
“The other thread of just criticism addresses the suggestion implicit in the cross that Jesus’ sacrifice was to appease an angry god. Penal substitution [the Cross] was the name of this vile doctrine
.” (p. 168) (from http://thinkerup.blogspot.com/2006/09/brian-mclarens-unorthodox-quotes_07.html)

So what of all this?  I believe that if any ‘work’ has been done in terms of a ‘Transmodernity’ – or to, again, just be very specific in saying; ‘…any project that would seek to incorporate, reconcile, or at least honestly account for the differences in mythologic/pre-modern, modern and postmodern understandings…’ then the largest majority of that work as been done by Liberal Christianity. I am also compelled to say that I feel it is a very, very, generous statement to include “Integral Thought” into a “Christian” Category. In the interest of honesty, I would admit that I can only do this from a sociological-academic understanding of what would be loosely understood as more of a ‘Cultural Christianity’ which is what much of Liberal Christianity represents any way – and not a honest accounting of any true theological candor and honesty. In the end, I am brought back to J.Gresham Machen – himself writing against the liberalism of his own day, which was couching behind the facade of ‘modernism’…

As over against . . . [the pragmatist, modernist] attitude, we believers in historic Christianity maintain the objectivity of truth. . . . Theology, we hold, is not an attempt to express in merely symbolic terms an inner experience which must be expressed in different terms in subsequent generations; but it is a setting forth of those facts upon which experience is based.

Machen understood that times change, and understandings of the world around us change – but the Gospel is timeless. More importantly, that the world is lost and dying, and that there is only one hope for all of mankind: a crucified and risen savior.

That Church is still alive; an unbroken spiritual descent connects us with those whom Jesus commissioned. Times have changed in many respects, new problems must be faced and new difficulties overcome, but the same message must still be proclaimed to a lost world. Today we have need of all our faith; unbelief and error have perplexed us sore; strife and hatred have set the world aflame. There is only one hope, but that hope is sure. God has never deserted his church; his promise never fails. (from http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/biographies/j-gresham-machens-response-to-modernism)

In conclusion – if we are to first agree that Christ and his sacrifice must still be central to any understanding of Christianity – then Ken Wilber’s understanding of Christianity is something very remote. I understand – that for him it is a ‘step’ or a ‘phase’ or what he sees as a progression; but it is in this ‘progression’ that he himself is guilty of a regression. He is not a ‘progressive’ in this sense, but digressive; he moves the focus, I believe, because he understands Buddhism far more comprehensively then he understands Christianity. And because, essentially he does not understand it – he his poorly suited to interpret, contextualizes or systematize it, in any way, shape or form.

So this opens up yet another question.. if Ken Wilber has failed – who would succeed? And what would a successful Transmodernity as it relates to Christianity look like?

I have some really good ideas about that…

but I will wait to share them in a separate post;)

all my best,

-matthew

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transmodernism