Drs. Laura and Meyer

Have you been party to the recent brouhaha over Dr. Laura’s repeated use of the “n” word during a broadcast?  She was trying to show a caller that it really was just another word.  She came out looking like a racist.  Reverend Dr. Dale Meyer, president of Concordia Seminary, wishing to address postmodernism comes out looking like a postmodernist.

The article, Why Go to Church? is in the Concordia Journal, Spring 2010, 36:2, pp. 89-96. A seminarian emailed me asking me what I thought of these words of Dr. Meyer, “Postmodernism is a real blessing to understanding the true nature of faith, bringing the nature of faith into sharper focus than modernism ever did.  Modernism tempted us to believe we had possession of an absolute truth.  We didn’t and we don’t.  What we have is the Spirit wrought conviction of the truth that is centered in the revelation of God’s Son” (93).

The article starts from the premise that something is very different now than before.  Postmodernism demands we change how we approach people.  No longer are we to use Law and Gospel.  This you might recall started in our circles, to my knowledge, with the Reverend Doctor James Voelz publishing What does this Mean? in 1995 which called for new principles of Biblical interpretation for a postmodern world.

If postmodernism is such a new problem why do almost all the Chicken Littles out there proclaiming the sky is suddenly falling cite as an example of postmodern thinking the pre-modern Pontius Pilate quipping, “What is truth?” (Ibid. 90).  In addition to this pre-modern example of the postmodernism that he sees as a brand new problem, Meyer cites a modern example.  He cites Ernest Hemingway’s mock Lord’s Prayer (Ibid.). Actually what Meyer does is cite an authority on postmodernism who cites it.  It seems that those in our midst who are so exercised about the problem of postmodernism have always caught that fervor virus-like from someone else.

The best, least inflammatory, and most useful definition of postmodernism I’ve found is in a 1995 book also published by Concordia Publishing House, Corrective Love, by Thomas C. Oden.  Quite refreshingly he says, “All I mean by post-modern is the course of actual history following the death of modernity” (p. 20).  He dates modernity from 1789-1989.  If modernity is indeed ending then what follows is post-modernity.  He trenchantly observes, “This is less an ideological program than a simple succession.”

Back to what Dr. Meyer actually said. He said “We didn’t and we don’t” have  “possession of an absolute truth.”  That’s what he said on page 93, but on page 90 he says, “Today you and I remain convinced of the absolute truth of God’s Word….”  We have but we don’t have absolute truth?  This statement isn’t about others being wary of our truth claims.  Meyer makes that point elsewhere.  This is about Meyer saying we have but we don’t have absolute truth.  Our claims to having the infallible norm for all faith and life in Holy Scripture are grandiose, they are out there, they are laughable even to the world.  But they always have been.  It’s another matter for those in the church to say we don’t have the absolute truth.  Furthermore, if we really don’t possess the absolute truth, as Dr. Meyer claims, then how do we get “the Spirit wrought conviction of the truth that is centered in the revelation of God’s Son” (93)?

Two other places Dr. Meyer in a Dr. Laura-like way says postmodern two too many times.  Once again quoting the authorities on the epidemic of postmodern, Meyer says, “Since postmodernism has dismissed absolute truth, today’s lingua franca is emotions, ‘fragmented desires, superficiality, and identity as something you shop for’” (91).  He advocates that we have to speak to people on these terms.  This is where we get confessions of sins centered on being maladjusted people rather than being poor, miserable sinners who deserve temporal and eternal punishment because we have offended God Almighty by what we’ve done, haven’t done, and by what we are.

Finally, as if unbelief has never cried “deeds not creeds,” as if the social gospel had never been born, as if no one ever said to the church before “you’re so heavenly minded you’re no earthly good,” Meyer offers this as if it were news.  To our invitation, “’Come to church and learn about the way of salvation.’ The postmodern answers, ‘But what have you done for the homeless lately’” (95)?  The reporting of this doesn’t make him a Dr. Laura having become what he argues against.  Closing his essay with this sentence does.  “Just don’t tell me what a friend I have in Jesus until I see what a friend I have in you” (96).

Both Drs. Laura and Meyer, like in a classic “Twilight Zone” ended, ended up becoming what they sought to address.  Dr. Meyer did it with more dignity then Dr. Laura, but Dr. Laura did it in plainer words.

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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