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

The Language of a Movement

Written by: on April 26, 2021

The key to understanding any social movement is to understand the language used to spread its narrative. In his book, Explaining Postmodernism, Stephen R.C. Hicks argues that postmodernism has become the language of the political Left. He writes, “Many deconstruct reason, truth, and reality because they believe that in the name of reason, truth, and reality Western civilization has wrought dominance, oppression, and deconstruction.”[1] The creed of Postmodernism is a skepticism toward metanarratives – the overarching stories of historical meaning, experience, or knowledge that our society adheres to – and a tendency to lean toward relativistic points of view. In a sense, our traditional narratives have been reopened to interpretation.

While on the surface this may seem innocuous or trivial, the reality is much different. One of the tools used to do this is the literary school of deconstruction. Conceived by Jacques Derrida, deconstructionism “assumes that all discourse, even all historical narrative, is essentially disguised self-revelatory messages. Being subjective, the text has no fixed meaning, so when we read, we are prone to misread.”[2] During my undergrad, I took a course on literary criticism and my professor explained it as a means of exploring a text through a new lens. Instead of a traditional reading of “good/evil”, reading through the lens of deconstruction would result in reading it as “evil/good”, turning the traditional reading on its head.

So what relevancy does this actually have?

It is my observation that a postmodern world has led to an identity crisis – particularly in the Western world. While I have no problem with reopening the traditional means of interpretation, my problem is that there is not a foundation waiting for people to land on. When we challenge our identity, we are left reeling and trying to find something to latch onto to give us some sort of stability.

I think this is ultimately what is leading to a rise in nationalism around the world. When most of our identities are becoming increasingly fluid, one of the base things we can latch onto is where we come from. From my observations over the Trump presidency, what I saw and heard was someone who took advantage of this and gave a “foundation” for people to land on – namely, to “Make America Great Again” or to put “America first”. While ultimately I think this was unsuccessful given the division it caused, I saw it as a reaction to the cultural swing in the United States.[3]

What any leader does is try to provide a foundation of identity for their followers. Some hold up stronger than others, but the key to understanding the trajectory of a leader is to understand the language they use. However, we cannot just take what they say on the surface. What is lurking beneath their words? What are the motives behind what they say? If what Hicks argues is true – namely, that postmodernism is the language of the political Left – then we must scrutinize with a critical eye the language that is being used just as we scrutinized the nationalistic language of the Right.

These questions of discernment are crucial for us to consider. What foundation of identity are we giving those who follow us? What language do we use?



[1] Stephen R.C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism (Ockham’s Razor Publishing, 2014), 10.

[2] Khan Academy, “Deconstructionism and Literature” (2021), https://www.khanacademy.org/test-prep/mcat/critical-analysis-and-reasoning-skills-practice-questions/critical-analysis-and-reasoning-skills-tutorial/e/deconstructionism-and-literature

[3] Again, I write this as someone who has been displaced from the US for six years. These are my observations from afar as I read the news and talk with friends and family.

About the Author

Dylan Branson

Small town Kentuckian living and learning in the big city of Hong Kong.

7 responses to “The Language of a Movement”

  1. Darcy Hansen says:

    Is it possible to move a divided people back to a place of a shared identity? As I type that, I think of Rwanda, and how Kagame has unified a nation once divided into opposing tribes by colonization. The language used is that there are no Tutsi or Hutu, just Rwandans. But the nation went through the depths of hell to get to the place where such vision could be cast. And even still, unification is held together by a benevolent dictator through a police run state. Identity is a fragile thing. How does a leader establish a foundation for a population in such a divided society without imposing excessive force? While I agree language matters, the platforms language streams through are so diverse, it seems impossible to have consensus for a shared identity?

    • Dylan Branson says:

      I’ll give two responses to this:

      1.) I think that unification in many instances is only possible through the grace of God. It may seem like a cop out answer, but in a world where sin and division is the norm, the One who unifies and brings peace has to be the one behind it.

      2.) When it comes to building a foundation, of shared identity, it has to start somewhere. I think it CAN be done without force, but there has to be a willingness of the people to embrace that identity. There is a cost to community and shared identity that involves a willingness to put away our own separate identities that are at the forefront of who we say we are.

      With that being said, it doesn’t mean we do away with our other identities completely. I think the job of a leader is to cultivate a common shared identity that gives freedom for people to also express the other parts of who they are. If we use the concept of putting our identity in Christ as the forefront, it isn’t that He gets rid of everything else. Rather, it gives a shared sense of identity (i.e., that we belong to Christ) and THAT feeds into how we see everything else.

      The other reality is that forming identity is a slow process. There has to be a chain of command to speak of motivating those who come after to embrace that new sense of identity. Also, I would say that again we need to own the mistakes that have been made under that identity. Every identity has baggage of some sort; but how do we learn from the baggage to move forward?

  2. Greg Reich says:

    Well said my young friend. The power of grounding people in a story is to me the power of the gospel. Discernment is needed more than ever, even when talking about Jesus. I have found even within the spiritual world there are many definitions of Jesus. To the LDS he is the brother of satan and one of many sons. To JW’s believe is not part of the trinity. Other see him as a prophet and teacher but not God. Even when discussing the death of Jesus within Christianity there are multiple views of the atonement, some even see it as godly child abuse. I think the struggle is that many view the Christian faith a clean united front. In my opinion it never was and wont be until Jesus returns.There has always been divisions and a differing of opinions. We even see it in scripture where Paul openly chastises Peter for showing preference to the jews. This doesn’t mean there can’t be a united effort to improve our world. I think we need to understand agreement does not mean unity and disagreement doesn’t have to mean disunity. People of different faiths and persuasions unite all the time to accomplish things. Capitalism and our political climate are proof of that.

    • Dylan Branson says:

      This is where we need to learn to live in the tension. I like the way Roger Olson describes Christian faith and tradition as a “mosaic”. There are so many bits and pieces that come together to give a richness to Christian doctrine. For the most part, there’s usually a grain of truth in different faith theologies, but I think we also don’t see the full picture. We need to step back to see the grand scope of the Christian story and where everything fits in.

  3. Shawn Cramer says:

    I agree with your assessment of an identity crisis. As institutional and long-held forms of identity are challenge and deconstructed there isn’t anything left to construct.

  4. John McLarty says:

    This tracks a bit with my comment on Jer’s post. It’s like if we can just lump everyone into a particular label we are then exempt from doing the harder work of diving deeper into the arguments and worse, into our own selves.

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