It has been an immensely enjoyable and educational experience to lurk as the postmodern Christianity debate has developed. The thought I’d like to develop here is a tangent suggested by that debate. I propose for consideration the idea that, while postmodernism has successfully attacked theorizing in terms of categories, it has left largely unscathed theorizing whose logic subsumes but extend far beyond what categories have to offer. By “categories” I mean sets whose members uniformly share common properties. A set conceived in this way lends itself to definition in terms of classical scholastic logic and sets up debates in which there are only three possible ways to handle exceptions to definitions: (1) sharpen the definition to exclude the exception or (2) rewrite the definition to include it, or (3) reject the definition. Since (3) requires no further thought, it is far and away the most popular approach. Postmodernists observe, correctly I believe, that the big ideas in terms of which we humans define our identities are almost always ambiguous, polysemic, and shot through with contradictions that make definitions in terms of categories conceived in terms of classical scholastic logic impossible. Then, however, the usual approach is the simplistic overextension of (3), the assertion that no definition is possible.
That conclusion would be right if the definition of “definition” were restricted to the classical notion that a definition is a list of necessary and sufficient conditions. Allow definitions to include maps of relevant spaces and lists of conditions that affect whether traversing the map takes you to one place or another. Describe the conditions in terms of probabilities. Run simulations to test the range of outcomes. Now both pomo and categorical mo look increasingly obsolete.
The question we and our students now confront is how to learn, use and teach the knowledge necessary in a world where, more than finding a place to say, “Here I stand,” we need to learn how to stay upright (maybe even do some fancy tricks) on surfboards riding waves of change.