've suggested recently that postmodernists always run in a straight line back to the notion that we should avoid making truth-claims with finality, clarity, or settled assurance. Everything (and of course I'm speaking in practical terms here, because absolute statements are deemed impolite in these postmodern times)—practically everything is supposed to remain perpetually on the table for debate and reconsideration.
Here's the kind of thing I'm talking about:
In a recent symposium on the Emerging Church movement (Mark Driscoll [et al.] Listening to the Beliefs of the Emerging Churches [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007]) Dan Kimball says the only doctrines he is really sure about these days are a short list of credos generally agreed upon by Christians and spelled out in the Nicene and Apostles' Creeds.
See if you don't think Kimball's perspective contains a classic echo of the kind of thinking I am suggesting colors the typical postmodern mind. He writes:
"When we move beyond what the Nicene Creed discusses, I feel that it is not as easy to be saying so confidently that we have things all figured out. I wonder quite often if, beyond the Nicene Creed, we end up shaping some theology or even choosing what theology we believe because of personality and temperament" (p. 92).
The position Kimball has staked out for himself is frankly hard to understand, because the Nicene Creed, in 325 AD, actually marked the start of several volleys of controversy about the person of Christ. In fact, the worst of the Arian controversy came after Nicea. And it wasn't until the council of Chalcedon, 126 years later, that a creedal statement was written which explained in simple terms the hypostatic union of Christ's two natures. That's what finally helped end a more than 200-year-long parade of heresies about the person of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity.
So it would actually be much easier to understand Kimball's position if he said he thought the Council of Chalcedon marked the final plank of vital orthodoxy. I would still disagree with him, but his position would make a lot more sense.
But he is definite about setting the boundaries of his certainty at Nicea. And the point Dan Kimball is making about this is not just an obscure, offhanded remark that I dug out of his chapter in order to have an easy target for criticism. It is virtually the main point of his chapter. It's also the one point he makes in his rebuttal to Mark Driscoll's chapter.
In short, Kimball gives the distinct impression that he thinks any doctrine not settled by the time of the first ecumenical council is not really worth fighting over.
Everything beyond that, he suggests, is negotiable—or at least he dismisses all differences on such matters as consequences of a person's genetic predisposition, personality quirks, or whatever.
Consider the implications of that: If that's really Dan Kimball's position, then he has in effect repudiated the Protestant Reformation, not to mention Augustine's refutation of Pelagius and the Council of Carthage's condemnation of Pelagianism (which occurred nearly a hundred years after the Nicene Council).
I have my doubts about whether Dan Kimball would really want to defend that position if backed into a corner. Perhaps he would, but it's a position that is certainly fraught with significant difficulties, whether you embrace Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, or anything more orthodox than the Christology of the Jehovah's Witnesses.
If you happen to read the book, let me know if Kimball's chapter strikes you the same way it struck me. Not only does it seem like Kimball has not really thought his position through very carefully; I got the distinct impression he wouldn't really care to give it much more serious thought. Frankly, the message that comes across in that chapter is that he really doesn't want to be bothered with doctrine. Like a lot of postmodern church members, he doesn't seem to have the stomach for propositional theology. I have a hard time interpreting what he says in any other sense.
Here's why I object so strongly to that: Without a commitment to sound doctrine and a strong sense of what is truth and what is error, you simply have no way to fend off heresy. Once you embrace postmodern qualms about the perspicuity, truthfulness, and authority of Scripture, you have already rendered any vigorous, biblical defense of the faith impossible.
Even the most conservative voices in the Emerging Church movement face this problem to some degree, because although they might not be self-consciously postmodern in their own thinking, they are too concerned with keeping "the conversation" going. Once someone abandons his or her doctrinal convictions to the degree Kimball advocates and embraces "the conversation" as a primary goal instead, the commandment in Jude 3 ("Contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints") becomes next to impossible to obey with a whole heart.