Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Postmodernism, Hicks and Ordination Rooms

Written by: on October 27, 2023

It is the moment that I can’t stop thinking about. It occurred during my ordination interviews in the dreaded Theology Room. I had written about the temptations of Jesus and offered an interpretation of Jesus struggling with self-reliance, power, and self-preservation. The critique came: “Being middle-class, would you read this story differently if you were a refugee seeking to come into this country?” I hesitated to offer an answer because I got lost in the observation that I was middle-class and whether I could put myself in the shoes of a refugee. How could they assume my social location, nor what if feels like to be a middle-class person? How could I offer an interpretation of the scriptures from a life I never lived? While I didn’t get to explore these questions with the committee, I was rescued with the observation that my hesitancy gave the answer they wanted – “there are different ways to read this story.” 

Perspective of Explaining Postmodernism 

This is the social, political and theological climate that is explored by Stephen R. Hicks in his book, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault. Hicks offers the historical rise of postmodernism as the natural critique to modernist thought that began to emerge after the Enlightenment. Postmodernism speaks to the failings of modernism, yet its natural outcomes lead to nihilism.[1] The strength of Hick’s work is distillation of postmodern thought to the current political and social rhetoric that permeates the news cycle, social media, academia, and, perhaps, ordination interviews.[2] Hicks shows that modernism’s strength is the premises that can be reasoned and critique toward the desired end, yet postmodernism’s chief end is deconstruction in favor of relativistic perspectives that have no basis in reality, which is the point. 

This leads Hicks to his two main thesis. One is historical as he charts the course of postmodernism’s rise as intellectual thought. The second thesis is his critique of postmodernist thought and his reasoning for why it prevails in academic circles. The first thesis offered by Hicks:

Postmodernism is the first ruthlessly consistent statement of the consequences of rejecting reason, those consequences being necessary given the history of epistemology since Kant.[3]

Charting the historical trajectory of modernism, Hicks offers this summary to the current philosophic thoughts of postmodernism. As he states, “Metaphysics and epistemology are at the heart of this account of postmodernism.”[4] Hicks observes that the main project of postmodernism is to question both reality and knowledge.[5] 

The second thesis that Hicks offers gets to the motivation behind those who are picking up the postmodern project. He stats:

Postmodernism is the academic far left’s epistemological strategy for responding to the crisis caused by the failures of socialism in theory and practice.[6]

Here, Hicks is observing that postmodernism was tied to the socialist experiment in politics. Once socialism was shown to be a failed ideology, he argues that those who held to Leftist-politics were faced with an existential crisis that would result in giving up cherished ideology or undermine the opposing systems of thought.[7] He even goes on to say that postmodernism is “a symptom of the far Left’s crisis of faith.”[8]

Can I Imagine Being a Refugee?

Admittedly, postmodernism is offering a worth-while critique of modern thought. Heidegger’s observation that “reason always reaches contradiction whenever it attempts to explore deep metaphysical issues.”[9] As a person of faith, I would agree with that statement as I believe that questions of metaphysics and epistemology cannot be answered by reason alone. In many ways, I more sympathetic to the existentialist Kierkegaard trusting in a “leap of faith.” 

I do wonder about the limits of language. Our words, after all, are metaphorical and given meaning due to a sort of collectivist agreement to what anger feels like in my emotions and what it must mean to be feel middle-class, yet as postmodernist point out, it is impossible to have meaningful conversations without reason and objectivity. Vincent Lloyd is right when he observes, “Our struggles are not only external, against laws and institutions, but internal, against our own malformed habits, feelings, and values. In this sense, we all participate in dignity because we all struggle against domination.”[10]

I don’t think I can imagine what it is to be a refugee because I have not been one. I also cannot offer an interpretation of a Biblical text from that social location, yet I can be in community with people that are different. As I hear their stories, I can share in their realities as we connect by shared meaning. While I can’t know the mind or reality of a refugee fleeing to this country or a first century Jew grappling with a divine mission, can know what it is to be human and through that grow the reality I inhabit with them.   

‌1. Stephen Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault (Redland Bay, Qld: Connor Court Publishing Pty Ltd, 2019).p.201. 

2. Summary of Postmodern Cultural Themes. Ibid, 19. 

3. Ibid., 81. 

4. Ibid. 

5. Ibid., 82. 

6. Ibid., 89. 

7. Ibid., 90. 

8. Ibid., 181. 

9. Ibid., 60. 

10. Vincent W Lloyd, Black Dignity. Yale University Press, 2023, 17-18. 

About the Author


Chad McSwain

Chad is a systematic creative serving in pastoral ministry for nearly 20 years, Chad is a professional question-asker and white-board enthusiast, who enjoys helping people discover their own passions and purpose. A life-long learner, he has a B.A, Philosophy - Univ. Central Oklahoma, M.A Theology - Fuller Seminary, M.Div. Perkins School of Theology at SMU and is pursuing a Doctor of Leadership - George Fox University. He is an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church, currently serving as Lead Pastor of Whitesboro UMC. Chad and his wife, Brandi live in Prosper, Texas along with their three children, two pugs and a chameleon.

6 responses to “Postmodernism, Hicks and Ordination Rooms”

  1. Kristy Newport says:

    great summary
    “While I can’t know the mind or reality of a refugee fleeing to this country or a first century Jew grappling with a divine mission, can know what it is to be human and through that grow the reality I inhabit with them.”

    This ” reality of inhabiting with” is important. i like this.
    I think you were wise to hesitate and consider how to answer the refugee question. That was interesting how they put this question to you. How interesting that they gave you the label of white middle class. I appreciate your thoughts on language as well and I like how you wove in the quote from Lloyd.
    Great work Chad! I enjoyed this

  2. mm David Beavis says:

    Hey Chad,

    I appreciate you balancing out the arguments of Hicks with the recognition that reason and language have their limits. We all inhabit different social locations and, therefore, have different perspectives. Thank you for pointing that out!

  3. Caleb Lu says:

    What a question to have been posed!

    Near the end something you wrote resonated with me: “As I hear their stories, I can share in their realities as we connect by shared meaning.” As I have the chance to interact with more people and hear their stories, I find a wide range of immediate circumstances and past experiences, and yet somehow there are emotions and feelings that seem to be universal to being human. Thank you for that reminder!

  4. Michael O'Neill says:

    I think you were wise to hesitate and equally wise to recognize that you did in fact answer the question. There are limits in our environments, backgrounds, socioeconomic status, and many other categories but not in faith. That is a safe place to land. I concur with your trust in “a leap of faith” and really enjoyed your overall summary. It was thought-provoking and on point. Thanks!

  5. Tonette Kellett says:


    Like the others, I enjoyed your post and agree that though we all have different backgrounds and statuses, as believers, we share a common faith. Michael said it well… “That is a common place to land.” Your post was great. Thank you!

  6. “I do wonder about the limits of language.
    Yes! Isn’t it interesting how Christians fight about different interpretations of Scripture, as if we’ll ever REALLY understand everything on this side of heaven. I have taught my girls to be leary of anyone who believes they have the sole answer to any big question of life. We’re all seeking to uderstand, learning new ways of thinking, and we’re all living by faith. I guess that makes me a bit postmodern, huh?!?

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