Preaching and Postmodernism: An Evangelical Comes to the Dance -- By: David L. Allen

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 005:2 (Summer 2001)
Article: Preaching and Postmodernism: An Evangelical Comes to the Dance
Author: David L. Allen

Preaching and Postmodernism:
An Evangelical Comes to the Dance

David L. Allen

David L. Allen is the W. A. Criswell Chair of Expository Preaching and the Director of the Jerry Vines Institute of Biblical Preaching at The Criswell College. Dr. Allen also serves as the Senior Pastor of MacArthur Blvd. Baptist Church in Irving, Texas. He is the author of a number of articles and is working on a commentary on Hebrews in the New American Commentary Series.


These days, everyone appears to be “dancing the edge of mystery” (the now famous phrase originating from David Buttrick in his Homiletic: Moves and Structures),1 so I thought I might visit the dance marathon as well. The phrase appears as the subtitle of Eugene Lowry’s book The Sermon and as the title of Cornelius Plantinga’s review of twenty books and articles from the New Homiletics in Books and Culture2 and can be found in the text or footnotes of virtually every book written from the perspective of the New Homiletic. “Dancing the edge of mystery” in many ways encapsulates what the New Homiletic is about: metaphor and symbol; evocation of an experience; unrestricted movement; and, of course, mystery. Interestingly, the phrase also describes postmodernism. I wonder if there could be some correlation.

My first encounter with a postmodernist occurred in a Ph.D. seminar on Rhetoric in 1984 at the University of Texas at Arlington. The professor made the bold statement that there was no such thing as truth with a capital “T”; there were only truths with a little “t.” He proceeded to illustrate this statement by asking the class what the degree of angle on a right triangle was, to which the class replied in unison: “90 degrees.” He then asked if this was always true. We said yes. With a big smile he retorted that it was not always true. “If one draws a right triangle on a cylinder, the degree of angle is not 90 but 92” he cheerily informed us. A moment of silence followed as I sensed that some of my classmates were immediately converted to postmodernism. I turned to Danny Akin who was seated beside me and by the gleam in his eye I could tell that he was thinking the same thing I was: the illustration merely proved that in plane geometry, a right triangle always had the angle degree of 90, and in whatever form of geometry you would call a right triangle drawn on a cylinder (the future Vice President of Southern Seminary and I weren’t particularly up on our mathematics) the degree of angle was always 92. After some discussion on this point, I am happy to report that Truth with a capital “T” survived.


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