Everything’s Bigger in Texas — including Chiropractic memes

Today I came across this in my Facebook newsfeed:

chiro1

This deserves a much closer look. To my knowledge, Chiropractic is just another snake oil elixir, delivering essentially no benefits beyond the alleviation of lower back pain. Here is the claim:

“A 7 year study showed that patients whose primary care physician was a Chiropractor experienced the following results:

  • 60% less hospital admissions
  • 59% less days in the hospital
  • 62% less outpatient surgeries
  • 85% less in pharmaceutical costs”

I am extremely skeptical. My poorly-constructed-study radar is hitting 11 on this one. 85% less in pharmaceutical costs! That should be putting the entire industry out of business! What an incredible claim. But instead of outright dismissing these findings, let’s check out the study.

The fine print cites this:

chiro3

Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapy, May 20017, 30(4). 263-269. Richard L. Sarnat, MD, James Winterstein, DC, Jerrilyn A. Cambron, DC, PhD

Here are some things I’ve found:

  1. There is no journal that exists called the “Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapy.” There is one with Therapeutics as the last word, so I’ll assume these are supposed to be the same. This is the journal’s website.
  2. The journal cited is May 20017. I will give the benefit of the doubt as say they meant 2017, because 20017 is still roughly eighteen thousand years away. Nonetheless, how does this person have access to the journal for six months from now?
  3. Since the date is clearly unusable, here is the search results for “Sarnat” in the journal’s database.chiro4The meme claims to cite volume 30, issue 4, pages 263-269. So the second result is the target here. Sadly, both are paywalled, and I can’t view them unless pdf copies are floating around elsewhere online.
  4. This is everything I can get from the website: 

    Abstract
    Our initial report analyzed clinical and cost utilization data from the years 1999 to 2002 for an integrative medicine independent physician association (IPA) whose primary care physicians (PCPs) were exclusively doctors of chiropractic. This report updates the subsequent utilization data from the IPA for the years 2003 to 2005 and includes first-time comparisons in data points among PCPs of different licensures who were oriented toward complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).

    Methods
    Independent physician association–incurred claims and stratified random patient surveys were descriptively analyzed for clinical utilization, cost offsets, and member satisfaction compared with conventional medical IPA normative values. Comparisons to our original publication’s comparative blinded data, using nonrandom matched comparison groups, were descriptively analyzed for differences in age/sex demographics and disease profiles to examine sample bias.

    Results
    Clinical and cost utilization based on 70274 member-months over a 7-year period demonstrated decreases of 60.2% in-hospital admissions, 59.0% hospital days, 62.0% outpatient surgeries and procedures, and 85% pharmaceutical costs when compared with conventional medicine IPA performance for the same health maintenance organization product in the same geography and time frame.

    Conclusion
    During the past 7 years, and with a larger population than originally reported, the CAM-oriented PCPs using a nonsurgical/nonpharmaceutical approach demonstrated reductions in both clinical and cost utilization when compared with PCPs using conventional medicine alone. Decreased utilization was uniformly achieved by all CAM-oriented PCPs, regardless of their licensure. The validity and generalizability of this observation are guarded given the lack of randomization, lack of statistical analysis possible, and potentially biased data in this population.

  5. The references page (link) includes citations to these journals:

    J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2004 (their own research)
    Ann Intern Med. 1999
    J Clin Oncol. 2000
    Arch Intern Med. 2002
    JAMA. 1999
    N Engl J Med. 1993
    Am J Manag Care. 2006
    Health Care Financ Rev Annu Suppl. 1991
    CBO; US Government Printing Office, Washington (DC); 1993.
    Harv Bus Rev. 1994
    Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore; 1990.
    Health Care Financ Rev. 1992
    Manag Care. 2001
    Altern Ther Health Med 2002
    National Center for Health Statistics. Accessed September 15, 2006. (link included)
    Cancer. 2004

    Two things to note here: most of these are just cost-assessment studies, so it doesn’t matter how legitimate their scientific journal is; also, several of these are other alternative medicine journals, so take that with measured caution.

  6. Hooray! I found the study! Here is the pdf link.
  7. From the study: “In this article, we are not taking a position on the efficacy of any CAM treatment. Rather, we are interested in the current use of CAM modalities and cost effects of such use, regardless of treatment outcome.”
  8. The study is based on 7 doctors of osteopathy and 14 doctors of chiropractic. Osteopathic doctors are basically defined as non-chiropractic doctors of natural medicine, which does exclude pharmaceuticals and surgeries. This is a total of 21 doctors.
  9. This should be an enormous red flag: “The HMO’s quality control division, independent of the privately run IPA, distributed an annual survey to more than 45 000 members who were older than 18 years old and who had been enrolled in the HMO and IPA for at least 1 year. Stratified random patient surveys were used to analyze AMI’s lifestyle demographics and member satisfaction. Although the HMO’s quality control division provided these data, the details of the stratified random selection process were not available. Member satisfaction was measured within the survey by asking patients, “are you satisfied overall with your IPA’s performance? ” (emphasis added).
  10. Here we find an even larger, more enormous red flag: “Our initial report demonstrated a skewed enrollment population, with fewer children and more adults than the 2 matched control groups. For the years 1999 through 2002 we averaged 12% childhood enrollment vs the 2 control groups, whose childhood enrollment averaged 33% and 19%, respectively. We attributed this population age disparity to a deliberate IPA medical management policy of discouraging childhood enrollment. This management decision was put in place because of the limitations in the scope of practice our DCs and their inability to perform certain requirements, such as immunizations. Our PCPs licensed as medical doctors/DOs have no such limitations in their scope of practice. Accordingly, we have seen our enrollee demographics quickly change and even exceed the childhood enrollment percentages of the 2 matched control populations. In calendar year 2003, the IPA’s childhood enrollment increased to 31%; and by calendar year 2005, it had peaked at 56%. We attribute this demographic shift, above the 2 matched control groups’ childhood enrollment, to the unique group practice of our newly contracted medical doctors /DOs. Before their involvement with AMI’s integrative medicine IPA, they specialized exclusively in the 2 arenas of home birth and ‘natural medical’ childcare” (emphasis added).

    Later on, the study mentions this: “we were not able to control for differences in baseline characteristics between the integrative medicine group and the conventional IPA. If the baseline demographic or clinical factors differed between the groups, the data may be seriously biased in either direction.”

  11. Red flag number three: “The AMI’s enrolled population continues to demonstrate a smaller percentage of ‘well’ members (23.4% in Table 2) vs the 2 matched conventional medical IPA control groups (34.7% and 42%, respectively), as cited in our initial report. This gives continued credence to the premise that patients who go to CAM practitioners are not necessarily the ‘worried well’ and may actually represent an adverse selection of patients who are ‘medical failures’ in the traditional medical system.”
  12. Table 4 and its corresponding paragraph (Cost of Utilization) are surprising. Why is the company actuarially predicting 670.0 target units, when by the end of the year only 125 units were used? Either the actuaries are terrible at their jobs, or something is very wrong with the reporting mechanism for units used. This can be viewed as 19.0% of total costs used, which sounds great if you are a budget slasher or are trying to produce a study showing lower costs for Chiropractic. Or, it can be viewed as gross overestimation from the beginning. When all 6 years overpredicted by more than double the ultimate value, the process is broken.
  13. Then this appears: “As the necessary data for traditional statistical methods were unavailable to us, we attempted to assess possible population bias via other strategies. We acknowledge that the lack of statistical analysis may have led to a serious bias. However, even without the ability to complete a statistical analysis and with the potential for bias, these preliminary data are important to present within the medical community.” Actually, no. If there is the potential for serious bias, maybe it is better to not report the study’s findings in such plain terms, as if they can be taken at face value.

 

At this point I’ll put forward some possible explanations for what has happened here:

First, this is a single study. Ask a researcher who complies meta-analysis studies about the legitimacy of individual studies. This is why we reproduce studies several times. 10 researchers will conduct the same experiment, and 3 will find negative correlation, 4 will find no correlation, and 3 will find positive correlation. You would never know this if you looked just at one study. So, these authors are very correct in saying that this study “warrants larger independent third-party funding for multicenter, randomized controlled trials.” All studies do.

Second, the shift in population to a younger group undermines essentially all of the findings in this study. For one, why did the group become younger? The group became younger because in the 2003 iteration of the study, the researches decided to include the extra 7 osteopathy doctors, who had largely specialized in home, family and natural medicine. Now, this shouldn’t have had an impact unless these doctors were carrying over old clients from before the study began. So it looks like either that happened, or that they continued to advertise themselves in a way that would lead to more children than normal being consulted.

Third, and directly related to the previous point, if they inadvertently shifted the demographics of the population in this way, maybe they also shifted the demographics of the population in a less clear, less measurable way. The key variable in my mind is likeliness to reject pharmaceuticals, and that would obvious have a large impact on the total amount and therefore cost of pharmaceuticals distributed. I’d be willing to speculate, and this is very logically founded speculation, that people whose primary care physician is a Chiropractor are probably significantly more likely to also believe in alternative medicine, to use homeopathic cures, to reject established scientific literature and studies, and to be “educated beyond their own good,” meaning that they have done “their own research” which actually just amounts to googling something until confirmation bias is satisfied. The authors admit this with their caveat about the ‘worried well’ and the ‘medical failures.’ Each of these types of people would not register on a simple yes-no questionnaire about patient satisfaction, and I would be willing to bet that this category is much more skewed compared to the general population than the age category.

Fourth, the authors of this study did not have access to enough data to conclude that they have found anything of notable significance. What if, when controlled for any of the variables in the study, the correlation drops to 0.00? They do not have access to this data because of HIPPA laws, but usually accredited researchers have access to patient profiles without identifiable characteristics. So I’m not sure what the hassle was beyond bureaucratic red tape. But in any case, these descriptive statistics like “85% less in pharmaceutical costs” are uncontrolled variables relative to the real general population, to the best of my and the researchers’ knowledge.

Fifth, the solution could also be that Chiropractic doctors are not able to prescribe medicine. The osteopathic doctors can. But those were only 7 of the 21. The 14 Chiropractic doctors would likely have had to refer patients to a state-licensed medical doctor for that doctor to write the prescription. So then, you can see that prescriptions will not be written for things that either have no cure (the giant category of ‘wellness’ being at the top of this list) or things that are not very severe.

 

Finally, and this is only tangentially related to the actual study, someone on Facebook commented below the original shared article and wrote this:

chiro2

Chiropractics are constrained to the same free market effects of supply and demand and regular doctors (although perhaps more so because most insurance companies do not cover Chiropractic costs). Here is an example of the owner of a Chiropractic clinic using exactly this study to promote his business interests. It should not come as surprising that the Chiropractic industry, which in the United State is huge and growing, also are “people, and people are motivated by the love of money… not all [chiropractors], but many will follow the [alternative medicine] industry’s talking points by telling their patients things that are designed to promote the [alternative] medical “industry.”” The argument from greed and deception goes both ways.

Globalization research project

Today I start a research project on Globalization that I’ve been procrastinating for at least a few months now.


I bought five books from the nearest HPB and checked out two from my university library.

They are:

  • Malcom Waters — Globalization
  • Magdish Bhagwati — In Defense of Globalization
  • Mangers B. Steger — Globalisms, 3rd edition
  • George Soros — On Globalization
  • Koichi Iwabuchi — Recentering Globalization
  • Tang Suit Chee and Allong Wong, ed. — The Challenge and Impact of Globalization- Towards a Biblical Response
  • Stephen Kinzer — Overthrow

My goals for this project are:

  1. Read all seven books
  2. Write summaries of all seven books
  3. Write a 17,000 word minimum research essay
  4. Discover five new things in favor of globalization and five new things against
  5. Convert the research essay into a series of bit-sized, easily digestible blog posts
  6. From the book bibliographies identify fifteen new books for further study

I plan to do all this, limiting myself to eight hours a day, before I leave for a missions trip on January 3rd. I also will be gone a few days here and there, notably Christmas but also some other events as well.

A Bad Teaching Environment

I’m sitting in Sunday School and I’m thinking about teaching.

This may be the most distracting environment I’ve ever learned in.

  • A man across the room snores loudly, occasionally loudly enough to wake himself up, only to doze back off into another bout of noise
  • The party planning committee is setting up the food table at the far end of the room for the post-service luncheon. They unwrap seran and move about the room, whispering
  • A twelve foot fake Christmas tree with impersonal ornaments blocks my view of the teacher
  • The wood roof, the brick walls, the construction-grade “carpet” all make this gym less a gym and more an echo chamber
  • The heating unit at the room’s rear clicks and clicks like lame rain, inconsistently consistent, a drill against enamel
  • The maypole gossamer drapes from the fake tree to the room’s corners at just the wrong angle to block the PowerPoint screen

As a note to self, the learning environment is just as important as the teacher’s skill. Never, ever allow something like this. When you, Ross, are making room decisions as the mostly-irrelevant associate pastor in a church in 2028, keep this in mind, lest you become a truly-irrelevant associate pastor.

Whyte on Forgiveness

A teaser to David Whyte’s book Consolations, currently siting on my shelf, begging for my attention. Quote from Brain Pickings here.

Stranger still, it is that wounded, branded, un-forgetting part of us that eventually makes forgiveness an act of compassion rather than one of simple forgetting. To forgive is to assume a larger identity than the person who was first hurt, to mature and bring to fruition an identity that can put its arm, not only around the afflicted one within but also around the memories seared within us by the original blow and through a kind of psychological virtuosity,extend our understanding to one who first delivered it.

Forgiveness is a skill, a way of preserving clarity, sanity and generosity in an individual life, a beautiful way of shaping the mind to a future we want for ourselves; an admittance that if forgiveness comes through understanding, and if understanding is just a matter of time and application then we might as well begin forgiving right at the beginning of any drama rather than put ourselves through the full cycle of festering, incapacitation, reluctant healing and eventual blessing.

Breathtaking.

A line to echo: To forgive is to assume a larger identity than the person who was first hurt.

I have a large research project on Globalism coming up over the Christmas and inter-term break that will eat my time. Once I finish that, this book is coming next.

Evangelicals and Postmoderns Together (Part 3 of 3)

[This began as an essay for a class at Trinity International University on worldviews and Christian thought. It now runs more than triple the length of the original — because the internet, unlike my professor, has no page limit. This post is the final of three. After wrapping up the ideas in the second section, I give some starting points for future study.]

Conclusion

Postmodernity in its fullness and complexity has far more to offer than an undergraduate freshman could critique after reading one book.

In fact, Derridá, Foucault and Rorty probably rebutted every argument in this paper — in thousands of pages of detail — thirty years before I could read Clifford the Big Red Dog.

But for a tentative analysis that mostly rehashed things I already thought, this paper forms a foundation for further study. Like Erickson who dedicated an entire book to understanding others’ opinions before giving a one page initial reply of his own, my complete answer “will be the subject of a much larger work to follow” (154).

In the meantime, the argument of this paper has flown as follows:

  1. Human reason is conditioned sociologically
  2. Human reason is conditioned sinfully
  3. Therefore, human reason is not always reliable.
  4. Therefore, because of three, humans cannot state things objectively
  5. Claim four is an objective claim
  6. Claims four and five are mutually exclusive, yet simultaneously upheld.

It seems that the drivers of a proverbial car through my argument should have seen the “no outlet” sign at three, the dead end sign at four, but disregarded them and proceeded to five and six, where he now must perform a three-point turn to reorient himself into a workable argument. Otherwise, from there, point six trails off into the sunset, left for another day to be solved.

While normal life in the modernist paradigm continues, Christians can continue to receive and criticize attempts at an Evangelical-postmodern synthesis, because “all views, even those of postmodernists, insofar as they attempt to communicate their tenets and to persuade others of them, are assuming some basic rationality that is not distinctive of the modern approach” (157).

Evangelical Convictions mentions that “our study of Scripture can never be a mere academic exercise. It must be accompanied by meditation and prayer” (EFCA 151). It is difficult to stop myself from making everything an academic exercise. In my Cartesian mind, things are either true or false, determined by reason, evidence, and revelation. Why should some quasi-emotional or spiritual process be necessary? 

The postmodern shares with this view a rejection, however subtle, of the exclusivity of truth to determine reality. Non-rationalistic outlooks on the world have huge problems! Like, being wrong most of the time. Maybe I haven’t learned my lesson yet.

Before I mentally file this paper’s argument under “Reasons Why Post-Reformation Christianity is Full of Nonsense,” which admittedly is a bulking mental file, I will pursue further explanation of foundationalism and tentatively remain with the rejection perspective of Oden.

Further study

This article about the college debate league drama.

Foucault, Michel, 1983. Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Continued dialogue with my Old Testament professor, who is very knowledgeable of postmodern thought. He is currently writing his dissertation and I’d be surprised if it wasn’t focused on exactly this subject.

Exploring the connection between postmodern Christianity and the Emergent Church movement.

The work of John D. Caputo.

Smith, James K.A., 2009. Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.

—- 2014. Who’s Afraid of Relativism?: Community, Contingency, and Creaturehood. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.

Each of the six theologians in this book, especially their writings that Erickson criticized, and any response they give to Postmodernizing the Faith. 

Erickson appears to himself have written a follow-up book. Erickson, Millard J., 2001. Truth or Consequences: the Promise & Perils of Postmodernism. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.

Ehrmann, Jacques, 1970. Structuralism. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Books.

The recent trend in describing the left’s SJW movement as “cultural Marxism,” which probably is right-wing code word for the integration of postmodern thought into leftist politics.

An Additional Response to Revitalized Residence Hall

This Letter to the Editor is in reply to the Johnson Hall article in the November 11 issue.
Please title this letter: An Additional Response to Revitalized Residence Hall

This publication’s November 11 issue contained an article glowing with praise about the Johnson Hall segregation of freshmen. The author mentioned a “possible detriment,” which should be corrected to “serious detriment.” I will explain the issue and provide two solutions.

The lack of interaction between Freshman and older students is tremendous. This extends beyond housing, where it has been intentionally crafted; it carries over to the rest of campus life. Many freshmen have minimal interaction with upperclassmen throughout the week.

Hopkins’s argument that “research overwhelmingly points to the need” to segregate Freshmen, and it has become “standard practice” reminds me of my former youth pastor who always made a similar point. Forget being original, or making decisions based on the needs of the community; if there is a “proven ministry strategy,” employ it.

The Freshman Experience planners have ignored one major difference between Trinity and the other schools where freshman segregation has worked: Trinity cares about the development of the whole person. A Christian institution sees no need to divide heart, mind, body and self. Integrative, intersectional experience is necessary for spiritual development. Do we value discipleship? Do we value inter-class mentorship and role modeling? I say that we must, and the Freshmen segregation experiment minimizes it.

This has become a spiritual problem in my own life since arriving. I have found it difficult to bond with other freshmen, and so I have sought upperclassmen as friends. But even these are notoriously elusive, an uphill battle from the start. I probably have gone farther out of my way than most freshman have gone or will go, and even still I have returned with mostly empty hands.

Seeing as there is no opt-out mechanism, I will be remaining in Johnson this spring. Since I hope that the administration reconsider the need for inter-class interaction, they has two solutions: returns to the model used before this year (which is unlikely given bureaucratic inertia) or build-in a new mechanism to intentionally develop these friendships. If neither, one wonders what unanticipated consequences to the spiritual climate will follow.

Ross Neir

346 words.
Please notify me of any edits to this letter before publishing.
Please treat each enter on this email as the need for a new line and an indention.

The Most Ironic Trend of 2016

The most ironic trend of 2016 will also lead to the death of millions.

I’m not talking about Harambe, or dank meme subculture going mainstream, or technocracy hitting only its second roadblock in 20 years, these, or political corruption being exposed DNC style.

The trend of 2016 is nationalism.

I noticed a slight uptick in Eastern Europe during the refugee crisis late last year, but who could have predicted everything since then? Brexit, Trump, potentially Le Pen, Erdogan, Xi Jinping, almost Hofer in Austria today, and Duterte.

This is incredibly dangerous for this reason: after WWII, which can be summarized as an attempt to destroy civilization using extreme nationalism, the world got together and decided that international cooperation, a good check against nationalism, could prevent this from ever happening again. So they formed the UN, NATO, eventually the EU, and big jumbo inter-national organizations.

Trump says that we will not “surrender this country or its people to the false song of globalism.” But contra Trump, globalism is the only thing that has prevented WWIII for the past seventy years, and even that almost didn’t work (cold war).

The stronger that nationalist parties get across Europe and Asia, the more likely we are to enter a giant international war. We have had giant international wars even in a globally-interdependent world, but they have all been proxy wars in dinky foreign countries with small populations and little international sway (vietnam, iraq, afghanistan, lybia, etc). The wars of nationalism are in major population centers, with major weaponry, with major escalation risk.

Trump’s phone call to Taiwan shouldn’t mean anything. But it does, because the more each country nationalizes, the more risky and higher variance everything becomes. Nationalism is the gunpowder; alliances are the matchbook; phone calls are the matches; what will be the spark?

Evangelicals and Postmoderns Together (Part 2 of 3)

[This began as an essay for a class at Trinity International University on worldviews and Christian thought. It now runs more than triple the length of the original — because the internet, unlike my professor, has no page limit. This post is the second of three, and consists of the main argumentative body of my paper. The forthcoming third post is an (unnecessarily long) conclusion.]

Evangelical Affirmation

Some aspects of postmodernism, as variously defined, can be accepted by Evangelicals. This section will look at those aspects.

Since postmodernism talks about knowledge, I should use a definition before continuing: knowledge is the body of all justified, true beliefs accumulated by an individual.

This seems straightforward enough. There is a very technical objection to this definition, but ignore that for now. Without going there, the postmodern problem quickly surfaces anyway: what if the person’s method of justification needs justification? Once a person climbs the ladder of abstraction one layer up, how can they argue anything?

The main instance where justification needs justification is in cultural conditioning. It seems inescapable to say that culture strongly influences its members (additional factors being genetic and epi-genetic). Postmoderns argue that this influence doesn’t stop at fashion choices, spoken accent and median income. No, culture’s influence goes far beyond these material features; society influences the way that people think, and strongly enough to shatter their objectivity.

According to Grenz, thinkers cannot “stand outside of the historical process and gain universal, unconditioned truth” (91). This argument, called thesociology of knowledge,’ is everywhere. Much like that thing where a person notices something once and then realizes it surrounds them all day, I didn’t realize the ubiquity, the common-ness of this point. Obviously postmoderns talk about it frequently, but, perhaps less obviously, it crops up even in the writings of those who reject postmodernity. For example, Wells argues that “the external social environment provides the explanation of internal consciousness, that the way we think is a product of the society in which we live” (24). This occurs throughout the book. For example, Erickson himself uses this approach, perhaps unwittingly, when discussing Wells:

Wells’ approach to the issues is a function of his unique preparation and orientation. Wells is primarily a historian who taught in the field of church history before moving into the field of theology. This background is revealed by the fact that he generally does theology on the model of historical theology (23).

Yet the question remains, is this a Christian approach? More specifically, an Evangelical approach? We would hope so, because we cannot synthesize Evangelicalism and postmodernity without passing through this dilemma first.

The first problem is finding one person or group that represents all Evangelicals. Of everyone claiming to be Evangelical, the Evangelical Free Church of America would be a great source to consult on this question (though other groups like NEA and some cross-denominational groups would also suffice). I will demonstrate that the EFCA officially, though not explicitly, affirms this position.

Hey, look at that! The EFCA wrote a book. Evangelical Convictions is

  • a theological exposition of the EFCA statement of faith,
  • written by the denomination’s Spiritual Heritage Committee,
  • vetted by numerous EFCA pastors and others within the denomination,
  • including its then-President,
  • including members of several boards within the organization, and
  • including faculty from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (19).

Most books within the Evangelical publishing industry cannot be taken as authoritative of all of the Free Church, but if any book can, then here we have found it.

Peppered throughout the book are references to the sociology of knowledge. The authors acknowledge that

We believe that our Statement of Faith is a true reflection of the teaching of the Bible, but we are not so naive as to think that we can come to the Bible without preconceptions that influence our interpretation… We stand firmly within the Evangelical tradition, and our understanding of the Biblical gospel is informed by historic Evangelical theology” (EC 22).

“Preconceptions that influence our interpretation” ! Do they really mean that they may be incorrect? That their interpretation can be slanted by non-objective factors? This certainly fits with the perspectival realist umpire from Middleton and Walsh’s baseball metaphor.

This view acknowledges that Evangelical theologians “stand firmly” within their tradition. Tradition can be a touchy subject for Protestants; one of the reasons the Reformers broke with Rome was that Rome elevated tradition to a scriptural authority. Reformers thought that tradition was not authoritative. Here the EFCA takes a middle ground by recognizing that, though Rome was excessive, theologians will never escape Rome’s trap. We all exist within traditions.

But they swing harder:

“Just as a word finds its meaning only in the context of a sentence and then a paragraph, so a human life finds its meaning only within the context of a social and historical setting in which it is lived” (EC 101).

They give this statement in a description of the life of Jesus! Inasmuch as the EFCA represents Evangelical theology, they have here endorsed the sociology of knowledge. Using a metaphor of words, sentences and paragraphs sounds awfully deconstructionist…

But they swing once more, even harder:

“In our modern Western world, we think in individualistic terms which often deny real social solidarities such as nation, tribe and family” (EC 127).

The individualistic terms of modernity deny real solidarities. Solidarity is a term usually connoting standing with oppressed groups. One should highly doubt that this statement originates solely in Evangelical circles; this seepage originates from postmodernity. Moreover, these categories of “nation, tribe and family” are impacted by yet another socially-conditioned category, that of individualism.

If the EFCA does represent Evangelical theology, and if the above examples do not somehow grossly mischaracterize the authors’ intentions, then I can conclude that the Evangelical position resounds in clarity by allowing for and advocating the sociology of knowledge.

In addition to the sociology of knowledge, Erickson emphasized the noetic effects of sin, a doctrine consequent to Original Sin. Grenz’s criticism of human reason most clearly illustrates: as a product of man’s sinful nature, the mind can become blinded to truths (91). This means that even if he could exist in a culture-less, presupposition-less vacuum, the mind itself still cannot reason objectively.

This has been a topic of debate since roughly the time of Calvin, though it wasn’t very significant in his time. Abraham Kuyper and Karl Barth along with the fideistic movement in the early twentieth century argued that faith is more important than reason, though they phrased this is various ways, and at times argued the opposite. Some said that only spiritual truths are blinded by sin, while other things are less blinded. This argument assumes a very simple, reductionist model of the spiritual realm: some things are spiritual, and everything else is not spiritual. But at any rate, this doctrinal position almost seems to undermine every other doctrinal position, because if one cannot understand things (especially spiritual things) rationally, then can the rest of theology really make sense? Who can articulate and systematize the unknowable?

At one point in the book Erickson makes the point that modernism assumes that humans are like “Descartes’ autonomous, rational substance encountering Newton’s mechanistic world.” This means that humans think objectively, like Descartes’s idea “I think, therefore I am” implied, and that the surrounding universe also is rationally built, with sensible laws and consistent procedures, like Newton’s laws of plenary motion imply.

But because of the sociology of knowledge humans are not autonomous; because of the noetic effects of sin, humans are not rational (84). Therefore, whether the world around us is rationally built and sensible does not quite matter, because we can’t know so anyways.

This leads to the uncomfortable conclusion that some truth lies beyond human reason, or at least is not immediately accessible to human reason.

Notice how another set of postmodern thinkers tie this concept to the critical concept of social oppression:

Middleton and Walsh grant that there is some basis… for the postmodern suspicion of metanarratives. The former stems from the fact that those who develop and set forth metanarratives and worldviews are finite human beings. There are therefore incapable of gathering all the data necessary to create a total view, but beyond that, being sinful, they will inevitably tend to use such ideologies for their own purposes, which results in oppression of others (112).

Here they go beyond being “incapable of gathering all the data necessary.” If that were the only problem, then something like the scientific method, or an advanced computer program, or consensus, or lots of arguing could solve the problem by whittling away all bias and subjectivity until just the truth remains. But the problem is more than this. “Being sinful,” or, as a result of the person’s very nature, they cannot wield a metanarrative healthily.

But is this an Evangelical doctrine, or have Grenz, Middleton and Walsh, and company pulled ad hoc from heterodox, far out views on the human condition to justify this argument? Once more, Evangelical Convictions, with its diverse (yet Evangelical) composition and extensive vetting, provides input:

Every part of us, every human faculty, is infected with and affected by this dreadful malady [sin] — our mind, our will, our emotions and our conscience. None of them can be trusted as objective guides of truth, because all of them are in collusion against God, caught up in this tangled web of sin (EC 84).

So, Evangelicals can draw from the sociology of knowledge and the noetic effects of sin to argue that human reason is insufficient to justify truth. The scoreboard now reads, “Postmoderns 2, Fundamentalists 0”.

Two Conflicts

Sunken deep into the postmodern mindset is a great dilemma: postmodernism makes a whole variety and number of claims about the external world, but among those is also the claim that individuals cannot reasonably make objective claims about the external world!

This amounts to the postmodern thinker tying together all the lose ends of philosophy into one big knot and declaring, “Solved! Deconstructed! I have eliminated structural violence by decategorizing that which was arbitrary from the start!” yet never bothering to pull a little on the ends of their knot. If they had, the whole knot falls apart into its constituent ideas and they prove the system much less sound than they had thought. This epistemic slipknot usually comes in the form of small claims whose object both

  1. finishes the claim and
  2. undoes the claim.

For example, the statement “there are no absolute truths” is itself a statement of absolute truth. On what grounds can the postmodernist make this statement? Moreover, when discussing the grand metanarrative of life, Erickson summarizes that

Postmodernism, for all of its criticism of metanarratives, especially modern metanarratives, is actually something of a metanarrative itself. Postmodernism is therefore caught in what Middleton and Walsh call a “performative contradiction,” arguing against the necessity of metanarratives by surreptitiously appealing to a metanarrative of its own (111).

This is a major argument against the postmodern mindset; for if one cannot know anything, how can they know that they do not know anything? Ought philosophers and theologians “sit rapt in unconditioned contemplation of their own consciousness like an Aristotelian god,” doomed to forever question the foundation of their anti-foundationalism? (link).

Over the years I have noticed even fundamentalists — of all people — crash into this wall. In a presentation that Youtube has since removed due to an Answers in Genesis copyright claim actually is still available at this link, Dr. Jason Lisle made an extensive argument for Christianity that began by claiming that there is no middle ground between evolution and creation to objectively evaluate the evidences; both sides must look through the lens of their worldview. But not twenty minutes later he built a Platonic argument for the existence of God on his rejection of moral relativism!

If one can know what is good (morality) based on objective criteria, one can also use those criterion to evaluate what is true (evidences). So which is it, or does he have some other, necessarily more complex approach to synthesize them? None are provided.

Francis Schaeffer dodges this paradox by saying that the Christian presuppositions work the best in real life, but this does not itself justify the claimed truth, only its functionality (77). His argument does nothing to counter the claim that Christianity is a useful shoulder to cry upon, a crutch in hard times, and the opiate of the masses, yet false.

This problem recurs in a second issue with postmodernity. The prefix post- denotes that an era comes after another which preceded it. But is post- necessarily good? Is something necessarily more true because it comes later? Erickson borrows Oden’s term “chronological chauvinism” to describe this trend; the chronological chauvinist has

a predisposed contempt for premodern ideas, a vague boredom in the face of the heroic struggles of primitive and historical human communities, a diffuse disrespect for the intellectual social and moral achievements of previous periods (48).

But why post- and not anti-modern? Isn’t the contention supposed to be that postmodernism opposes the tenets of modernism?

In Italy the two main parties hold opposing tenets, yet they call themselves the People of Freedom Party and the Democratic Party, not the “post-democracy” and “post-freedom” parties, respectively. Usually opposing movements choose entirely separate names, like realism and impressionism in art; no historian of art uses the term “post-realism” as a surrogate for impressionism, nor “pre-impressionism” as a surrogate for realism.

The prefix post- necessarily connotes progress, which is a modern, rather than postmodern idea (29).

I’m not just complaining about their choice of a title. They could have gone with any title, but if they at all included a theme of progress, this criticism would still be valid. Their vision of having transcended modernity is the problem, labels aside.

Postmoderns do not treat progresses like an assumption, which they regularly criticize in others, but as self-evident, as a truth not worth questioning (46). Yet I argue that it deserves questioning. Wells gives this explanation: behind the constant desire to be post- is belief in

the ability to move from one level of achievement to another… So we speak of being post-Puritan, post-Christian, post-modern, post-Vietnam, post-Watergate, and post-Cold War. Wells observes that while it is understandable that our society would want to leave behind these other experiences in favor of what it deems to be superior to them, it seems strange that people today would want to put behind the modernity that has made us what we are. Beyond that however, Wells raises the questions of whether it really is possible to move beyond the modern (26).

On a related note, postmoderns, and especially Evangelicals attempting synthesis, must stop conflating the terms new and good. This is especially true for Evangelicals, whose faith is not new in any sense, yet good in every sense.

When a person substitutes “new” or “good,” they also buy into the progressive narrative of abandoning the old and accepting the new, just for newness’s sake. Cannot old things be good? Cannot new things be bad? This can be difficult to expunge from regular speech, but nonetheless Oden argues that anyone who cares should go “cold turkey… as part of a postcritical consciousness” (48) to break this habit.

Thomas Cornman, the Dean of Trinity College, in a chapel sermon near the beginning of the semester criticized the political reasoning of his children. Their justification for supporting one of the Presidential nominees consisted solely of not wanting to be “on the wrong side of history,” a common refrain among Millennials and progressives alike. In Cornman’s view, this amounts to nothing, a nonargument, except perhaps that they reluct to think outside the majority opinion (if majority can be defined as the opinions they perceive most will hold in the future).

Postmodernism argues that progress or regression do not correlate with time, that society is stagnant in the long run and lacks a metanarrative or direction. This glaring contradiction supports Oden’s view that postmodernism isn’t post- at all; it is late-stage, terminal, geriatric modernism about to give way to something different.

Postmodernism claims to reject all metanarratives, yet is itself a metanarrative; until this problem finds resolution, it cannot be synthesized with any theology, or even stand on its own. The scoreboard now reads “Postmoderns 2, Fundamentalists 2” .