Friday, March 11, 2011


The following entries are not designed to be a doctoral thesis, but rather an overview that is intended to aid in our understanding of current cultural trends so we, the church, can navigate tendencies to go astray and prepare to minister effectively to and within the current culture. I will draw from six prevailing characteristics of modernity and the parallels present in postmodernity offered by Dr. Don Carson. Since historical periods blend, overlap and run together, I am not going to attempt to apply specific dates. Neither will I attempt to identify individuals who contributed to shifts that take place.

In order to understand the age in which we live I will refer to basic factors of the pre-modern age, the modern age and the postmodern age. The point of reference, as we consider these ages, will be their basic approach toward epistemology (how we know what we know).

In the pre-modern age, dominate intellectuals operated from the foundation that there is a God who possesses knowledge of all that can be known. As human beings, God created us in such a way that, as He has disclosed His knowledge to us, we are capable of knowing some of what God knows. This disclosure comes through the natural order, written revelation, reason, community, church, etc. Though there was disagreement about how much and what was disclosed, the discussion proceeded from a common epistemological foundation.

It seems that it is generally assumed that this epistemological foundation was determined to be insufficient and strategically discarded but there is good evidence that it did not happen this way. I believe it is important to understand that the way in which the shift from a pre-modern to a modern epistemology took place was as a result of emphasizing the importance of operating from a common foundation. Due, however, to the increased numbers of deists and atheists in the scholastic community who, obviously, could not employ the aforementioned foundation, efforts were made to identify a common foundation from which the theist, deist and atheist could operate. As these efforts were made, a bridge was inadvertently built which led into a significant epistemological shift. The common ground between the theist, deist and atheist was “I”. It appears as though Rene Descartes, a devout Catholic, believed that we could arrive at the same conclusions from either foundation since truth is truth. In order to be inclusive, the foundation was shifted to “I” as expressed in his noted, “I think, therefore I am”. This inadvertently led to a considerable epistemological shift.

Before describing the characteristics of the modern age that emerged, I would like to suggest that certain efforts being made by the church to engage the culture could very likely encourage a further detrimental shift in conjunction with certain postmodern concepts. The problem is not the desire to engage the culture but, rather, potentially careless ways we do so. One final point before I list the six characteristic of the modern age that Don Carson highlights in a lecture on the topic of postmodernism. I believe Christians must be leery of being directly identified by or connected with modernity or postmodernity. Our efforts must be to avoid the trends that weaken our ability to arrive at truth and serve to correct, not identify with, such trends.

Six important characteristics that surfaced as a modern epistemology are as follows:
1. It begins with the finite “I” as opposed to infinite God
2. Epistemological certainty is both desirable and attainable
3. Foundationalism
4. Focus on method
5. The assumption of “a-historical universality”
6. The rise (increase) of philosophical naturalism

In upcoming entries, I will expound upon these six characteristics and then comment on their connection with postmodernity.


Caleb Wilde said...

Which Carson book are you reading?

Michael Wolfe said...

I've actually been listeninf to some lectures. I think yoy'll find them at

Caleb Wilde said...

Thanks : )