Saturday, March 12, 2011


In my previous post, I listed six observations that Dr. Don Carson identified about modernity in a lecture on postmodernism. The first of these six is that a modern epistemology begins with the finite “I” as opposed to the pre-modern epistemology that began with the infinite God. Often, this is presented in such a way that it appears to be a very strategic, distinct break from a previous way of thinking. There is good evidence that this shift was much more subtle and much less intended as a rejection of God, Christianity or religion in general. In The Theological Origins of Modernity, Michael Allen Gillespie states, “The argument presented in this book suggests that it is a mistake to imagine that modernity is in its origins and at its core atheistic, antireligious, or even agnostic. Indeed, I will show in what follows that from the very beginning modernity sought not to eliminate religion but to support and develop a new view of religion and its place in human life, and that it did so not out of hostility to religion but in order to sustain certain religious beliefs. As we shall see, modernity is better understood as an attempt to find a new metaphysical/theological answer to the question of the nature and relation of God, man, and the natural world that arose in the late medieval world as a result of a titanic struggle between contradictory elements within Christianity itself.” He goes on to state, “I will argue further that while this metaphysical/theological core of the modern project was concealed over time by the very sciences it produced, it was never far from the surface, and it continues to guide our thinking and action, often in ways we do not perceive or understand.”

Whether or not Gillespie effectively supports his case is up for debate but, personally, I believe there is validity to this perspective. As I see it, the pre-modern perspective that placed God at the center, though this is proper, had other weaknesses that led to the shift in question. Since literature, including the Bible, had limited access to the common person, religious ideas, and therefore faith, took on an increasing air of superstition. Carelessly and foolishly, certain practices were encouraged and embraced that had little or nothing to do with Biblical Christianity. However, for many, these practices began to characterize Christianity. It appears as though the added emphasis on human reason was aimed more at the superstitious elements of religious practice than at the core values and truths of a theistic epistemology. Unfortunately, the imbalance that eventually surfaced pit reason against faith and science against religion. This is an unnecessary and inappropriate imbalance. There is an appropriate relationship between faith and reason and, it is very much the case that science is best founded on a theistic worldview than an atheistic worldview.

I believe it is accurate to say that the epistemology of modernity began with the finite “I” as opposed to the infinite God but I also believe that the original efforts in this change of perspective were not intended to remove, ignore or eliminate God. It was and has proven to be an unfortunate and counterproductive shift. This brings me to a HUGE caution as I evaluate current trends in the church in regard to postmodernity. I am very concerned that many activities and efforts employed among the ranks of the church will prove to be unfortunate and counterproductive. Some of this can be relegated to an immature and thoughtless (or maybe wise in their own eyes) segment of the church but some of it is coming from the intellectual corners. Descartes and Hobbes were huge intellects but it is wrong to assume that intellectuals cannot mislead a generation and a culture. Often, tactics that seem good in the immediate have a terrible backlash.

“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” (Proverbs 29:18, KJV)

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