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-by Roger Lundin


Toasting the Eve of Destruction (Part 3)

(Third of three parts; click here to read Part 2)

The pragmatic nonchalance of Grenz on this point is disconcerting. Without apparent reservation, he trades away the linguistic and liturgical history of the church and receives in exchange only the desperate nominalism that undergirds the structuralist view of language and the postmodern view of the self. In a structuralist theory of language, words are signs that reveal nothing but their differences from other signs and their origins in contingent and arbitrary human longing. The father of modern structuralism, Ferdinand de Saussure, put the matter directly in the classic text on the subject: "Language is a system of arbitrary signs and lacks the necessary basis, the solid ground for discussion. There is no reason for preferring soeur to sister, Ochs to bouef, etc. . . . Because the sign is arbitrary, it follows no law other than that of tradition, and because it is based on tradition, it is arbitrary."

Saussure's judgment about the arbitrariness of tradition dovetails neatly with the view of culture underlying these three different books. To employ the categories of H. Richard Niebuhr's Christ and Culture, these works approach the question of contemporary culture from a "Christ against culture" position. That is, they operate from the assumption that culture has little or no legitimate claim to our loyalty and is, in some fundamental way, inimical to the lordship of Christ. These contemporary Christian books sound a good deal like a series of works that Niebuhr calls "the best loved books" of the second-century church. Those early Christian works "present Christianity as a way of life quite separate from culture," and whether they see grace or law as the essence of the Christian life, "in any case it is life in a new and separated community. What is common to second-century [and these contemporary evangelical] statements of this type is the conviction that Christians constitute a new people, a third 'race' besides Jews ...

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