I moved to Grand Rapids from Alpena when I was 18 to study at Cornerstone University, an evangelical school.
Though I had been to Grand Rapids before, moving there was something of a culture shock. Until then, I had never driven on a highway other than the long and empty stretches that surround Alpena, and my friends had to snatch me out of the street more than once as I went to cross an intersection without waiting for a traffic light to change. Leaving the patterns and people of my small hometown was disorienting, to say the least.
As if I wasn’t disoriented enough, I chose to study philosophy, the discipline designed to explore and question all of your most basic beliefs. Among the many complicated ideas and thinkers I encountered for the first time, none was so confusing and frustrating as the idea of “postmodernism,” which, in philosophy, has to do with a group of notoriously difficult philosophers whose writing is sometimes even more challenging than their philosophy.
By way of example, I recall trying to learn what the postmodern French philosopher Jacques Derrida meant by the term “deconstruction.” I turned to another philosopher, John D. Caputo, for help. In a book called “Deconstruction in a Nutshell,” Caputo writes that deconstruction “is the relentless pursuit of the impossible, which means, of things whose possibility is sustained by their impossibility, of things which, instead of being wiped out by their impossibility, are actually nourished and fed by it.”
Now at 30, I find Caputo quite helpful. But, at 19, without much training, I didn’t exactly find such a definition clarifying.
I asked my philosophy professor, Matthew Bonzo, for help. He suggested that I spend the summer reading a little book called “A Primer on Postmodernism,” by the Christian theologian Stanley J. Grenz. Back in Alpena, I struggled through the text over the next few months. Slowly, reading summaries of Derrida and others, I found that Grenz gave me the tools to orient myself again, both in philosophy and in my own Christian faith.
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