Over the past few years, evangelicals have learned how to “deconstruct.” With increasing frequency, social media users and readers of outlets like the New York Times are treated to the spectacle of once-prominent evangelical Christians “deconstructing” the religion of their youth, recasting it as totally lacking in transcendence – contingency all the way down. True to form, evangelicalism seized on this intellectual zeitgeist just as everyone else realized it was utterly spent. Even so, and despite their tendency to produce parodies rather than the genuine article, evangelical deconstructors have, in their better moments, identified some real problems in contemporary evangelicalism, and American Protestantism in general. And once one has “seen through” what one once took for granted, one cannot simply go back; we cannot recapture edenic innocence. Thus, Protestant “deconstruction,” the attempt to demythologize, expose, and relativize inherited forms of being and knowing in the world, is here to stay.
But as astute academics and commentators on the academy will attest, postmodern deconstruction is ultimately a dead end. Useful for undoing what should never have been done, it has nevertheless proven itself incapable of doing anything of its own; it is parasitic, leeching the life out of the organisms to which it attaches until there is nothing left. Postmodern deconstruction has, in a matter of decades, laid waste to the academic humanities and social sciences (the latter not necessarily unjustly), and it is currently moving into the hard sciences and, of course, to people in the pews. Since the academy, theological and otherwise, has determined it will move down this path, it will behoove those of us who know how parasitic relationships necessarily end to begin thinking about how we can emerge on its far side, not simply intact, but as matured agents ready and able to do the hard work of building again.
Few have participated in deconstruction with as much insight and then diagnosed its shortcomings with such forthrightness as Jason A. Josephson Storm, who has decided it is time to build again. Although not a Christian thinker himself, Storm’s previous book, The Myth of Disenchantment (University of Chicago Press, 2017) has already proven a vital read for Protestants (and, indeed, Christians of all stripes) seeking to understand post-Reformation modernity and post-modernity. His latest offering, Metamodernism: The Future of Theory (University of Chicago Press, 2021), is an epistemological tour de force, beginning with the stark realization that “postmodern skepticism was supposed to be liberating, but it failed us.” Rather than doubling down on failed postmodernism or trying to claw our way back to “modernist essentialism,” Storm insists we must move through postmodernism—and he thinks “metamodernism” is up to the task. If postmodernism is the negation or, less elegantly put, “problematization” of inherited categories and forms of knowing, metamodernism is the project of moving beyond postmodernism by negating it. In negating the negation, Storm hopes, we will not simply revert to the past, but, as a spiral passes “over its starting point while perpetually ascending,” so we will return to our past forms of knowing in a higher register.
In response to the publication of Metamodernism, Ad Fontes is hosting, in its Winter 2022 edition, its first ever written symposium dedicated to a single work, available now to our paid subscribers. We have invited Christian scholars from a variety of disciplines to reflect upon Storm’s book, seeking out what Christians can appropriate (which is a great deal), while also seeking to think critically about how, in Protestant hands, Storm’s proposals will be necessarily inflected by the catholic intellectual tradition. Contributions from Joseph Minich, Derrick Peterson, and D.C. Schindler have begun a vital conversation about how Christians navigate the future of theory. Storm himself graciously agreed to pen a response. In addition to these symposium pieces, our Winter 2022 issue also contains a stimulating mixture of other articles, reviews, and poetry.
It is often debated whether our postmodern, post-Christian moment is truly “unprecedented”. There is, of course, nothing new under the sun. And yet we cannot hope to navigate the decline of Christianity in the West if we are not attentive to our moment’s unique contours. As the cast of Shakespeare’s Tempest depart their desert island, the play famously ends with the sheltered Miranda declaring “O brave new world, that has such people in it!” Her wisened father Prospero wryly replies “‘Tis new to thee.” As we depart the desert isle of postmodernism into whatever lies beyond, our Christian witness must likewise proceed in the tension between these two dispositions – eyes keenly peeled for the new with feet firmly anchored in the old.
The goal of Ad Fontes from the beginning has been to recapture the riches of our past, not simply for the purpose of fixating upon it, but for the purpose of finding ideas, figures, and ultimately a legacy that can help us learn how to move well in our world. It is our sincere hope that this symposium will contribute to that end.
Onsi A. Kamel