Tuesday, April 26, 2011

GIANTS IN THE LAND - METHODS & MADNESS

Modernism…
…focused on method in reference to arriving at truth. As a statement of clarification, I am not attempting to defend modernism against postmodernism. Ultimately, Biblical Theism transcends any and all cultural atmospheres produced by philosophy. There is potential overlapping in regard to specific points but as a “system” of thought or overall perspective, my premise is that Biblical Theism captures the real and true picture. Of course, it takes study and effort to understand and refine this perspective but I maintain that it is, whether we believe or understand it, the TRUTH.

Regarding the issue of method that is characteristic of modernism, this is very much related to its shift toward naturalism and empiricism that comes with the age of science. The main point to be made regarding postmodernism is that the skepticism it has produced assumes that methods are merely efforts employed by specific communities (whites, males, conservatives, etc.) to further their agenda and are therefore simply self-serving. The postmodern conclusion is, therefore, to be done with the illusion that recognized methods employed for arriving at truth are actually objective and neutral and useful for leading one to Truth.

Surely, special interest groups can and have propagandized in subversive ways. However, the conclusion that this is all we have in the search for truth is a very extreme tendency. It must not be thought that every proponent of postmodernism fully embraces this approach in a practical way but it is the detrimental atmosphere of postmodernism which is influential. The fact is, postmoderns use this method to further the agenda of their community.

"Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless, and leads to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent (study – KJV) to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth. But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness…" (2 Timothy 2:14-16, NASB)

Monday, April 18, 2011

GIANTS IN THE LAND - IF THE FOUNDATIONS ARE DESTROYED

Modernism emphasized…

3. …foundationalism

Postmodernism is anti-foundational and emphasizes that epistemological foundations are, in a sense, arbitrary structures devised by finite, limited beings that do not aid in the process of arriving at “true truth.” Quoting from Francis Schaeffer (as I had in an earlier entry) in The God Who is There we read, “What were these presuppositions? The basic one was that there really are such things as absolutes. [Modernity or what Schaeffer referred to as the age of reason] accepted the possibility of an absolute in the area of Being (or knowledge), and in the area of morals. Therefore, because they accepted the possibility of absolutes, though people might have disagreed as to what these were, nevertheless they could reason together on the classical basis of antithesis. They took it for granted that if anything was true, the opposite was false. In morality, if one thing was right, its opposite was wrong. This little formula, ‘A is A’ and ‘if you have A, it is not non-A,’ is the first move in classical logic. If you understand the extent to which this no longer holds sway, you will understand our present situation.” It should be easy to see that assuming an anti-foundational position is worse than building upon the sand, it is an effort to build upon nothing, an impossible task. It is one thing to debate the nature of the right foundation but another thing to defend the lack of such. In fact, such a position, as with all false ideologies, is self-refuting in that the denial of a foundation is, in effect, a foundation.

“In the Lord I take refuge; how can you say to my soul, ‘Flee as a bird to your mountain; for, behold, the wicked bend the bow, they make ready their arrow upon the string, to shoot in darkness at the upright in heart. If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?’” (Psalm 11:1-3, NASB)

“According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it. But let each man be careful how he builds upon it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:10-15, NASB)

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.’” (John 14:6, NASB)

Monday, April 11, 2011

GIANTS IN THE LAND - I AM COMMITTED TO NOT BEING COMMITTED TO ANYTHING BUT NON-COMMITMENT

Modernism…
1. …begins with the finite “I” as opposed to the infinite God.

2. …sees epistemological certainty is both desirable and attainable.

Postmodernism lines up with number one above but, instead of correcting this inappropriate focus, pushes even further in the wrong direction. Modernism was a shift away from grounding the core of reality in the eternal, personal, Creator toward a man-centered perspective. Though it was not a shift that necessarily eliminated God, it surely displaced Him. Jewish philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel once stated, "God is of no importance unless He is of supreme importance." As well, it was not a shift that eliminated the recognition of objective reality but it turned attention in the direction of subjectivity. Postmodernism, or what some have referred to as “late modernism”, moves further in this direction, leading some to deny the existence of absolute, objective truth or, at least, assume a position that emphasizes the impossibility of knowing absolute, objective truth. Whereas modernism insists that epistemological certainty is both desirable and attainable, postmodernism tends to emphasize that it is neither desirable or attainable. Such certainty is seen as narrow-minded and discriminatory prejudice and, therefore, is to be avoided. Though it is true that there are subjective limitations in dealing with objective reality, postmodern thought allows such limitations to consume any ability to deal with objective reality, claiming that such certainty is arrogant, bigoted, “out of date”, totalizing, manipulative and controlling. It is thought that insisting upon such a thing as THE truth eliminates the richness of diversity and is therefore undesirable.

Philosophic and cultural shifts are surely characteristic realities of life on planet earth. My main concern relates to the impact such thinking has upon the mission of the church. Under the guise of “engaging the culture” (a legitimate and necessary practice within the mission of the church) we run the risk of simply reflecting or becoming the culture. If Christians abandon belief in objective reality and absolutes, we have no mission. If having no mission is seen as preferable due to the desire to avoid being perceived as too narrow in our beliefs (arrogant, bigoted, “out of date”, totalizing, manipulative and controlling) we have simply erased the line of distinction between Christianity and everything/anything else. This obviously eliminates the mission of the church. What we have at this point is placing more value on human/earthly culture than on the kingdom of God. Human culture and opinion transcends Biblical revelation and, therefore, such an emphasis as “our citizenship is in heaven” or “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” becomes subject to the higher standard of “how will I be perceived if I emphasize such ideas?” There is, therefore, nothing to actually believe in, be committed to or stand for.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

GIANTS IN THE LAND - WORDS AIN'T WHAT THEY USED TO BE

The German, French and Anglo-American academic communities began a trickle-down effect that contributed to major, influential epistemological changes. As we proceed, it is important to realize that there are shards of truth in most of the ideas propounded. Effectively separating the shards of truth from body of lies is an overwhelmingly monstrous challenge.

Out of France we can track movements that emphasize that language eliminates the possibility of objective, absolute understanding of truth. The relationship between words and what they describe are so arbitrary and changed by usage that it’s useless to maintain that we can actually arrive, conclusively, at the intended meaning of the source. Meaning becomes objectively impossible and we are left with pure subjectivism. Michel Foucault suggests that the postmodern motive is to sexually and morally set people free from the bondage of oppression so getting rid of meaning and moral “standards” serves this purpose. Deconstructionists also suggest that what is assumed to be the meaning of a body of writing is merely camouflage for some form of manipulation and control since all cultures are inherently oppressive of some factions within the culture. Language always reflects an underlying effort to engage in sexual, gender, economic, religious, political oppression by using, for example, generic words (signifiers) like “he” to oppress women.

The Anglo-American contribution to this shift is largely seen in the “social sciences.” It is thought that “meaning” is defined in cultural groups or, what is known as, interpretive communities. We only believe what we believe because of the group within which one has been raised. Therefore, no group has the right to tell any other group that one is right and one is wrong, we all simply have our interpretation of “reality.”

For the common person, such ideas likely seem quite foolish, however, this type of thought is quite forcefully and directly propagated in universities that train the next generation of teacher, politicians and, yes, pastors. It is packaged in ways that the young and naïve who meander off to university will ingest like the high sodium content of a cafeteria lunch.

Monday, April 04, 2011

GIANTS IN THE LAND - WINDS OF CHANGE AND SANDS OF TIME

Modernism…


1. …begins with the finite “I” as opposed to infinite God

2. …assumes epistemological certainty is both desirable and attainable

3. …employs foundationalism

4. …focuses on method

5. …embraces the assumption of “a-historical universality”

6. …encouraged the rise (increase) of philosophical naturalism

With these six prevailing characteristics of modernism identified by D. A. Carson before us, we can consider certain aspects of the epistemological shift toward postmodernism. Knowing that history does not provide sharp edges to its distinctions, we can say, in a general way, that a postmodern epistemology reverses or revises the six points above. As these blog entries are not designed to provide great amounts of detail I will simply say that influences coming from many sources resulted in weakening longstanding claims in the area of ethics, meaning, truth and value. The Romantic Age in literature shifted attention away from placing value in truth and meaning, turning it to beauty and expression. The rise of existentialism shifted attention away from placing value in truth and meaning, validating our human value in experience and decisions (decisions “unhindered” by moral restrictions). The German, French and Anglo-American academic communities began a trickle-down effect that contributed to major, influential epistemological changes. As we proceed, it is important to realize that there are shards of truth in most of the ideas propounded. Effectively separating the shards of truth from body of lies is an overwhelmingly monstrous challenge.

From Germany, we trace changes in hermeneutical considerations. According to this perspective, one’s background, race, past experience, age, etc. change the way we interpret any text, making it nearly impossible to arrive at objectivity. The nature of “self” changes our conclusions in such a way that no one is neutral. I change the text and the text changes me in a spiraling, irresolvable way. This obviously alters assumptions related to foundationalism and the previous emphasis on accepted methods of study. It is no longer simply “text, tools, conclusion.” We can only expect to arrive at our idea of truth. This model erodes or, when pushed far enough, eliminates objective truth.

In my next entry, I’ll consider the contribution to this epistemological shift coming from France.