Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Church between Modernity and Post-modernity.

I was recently asked what I saw as the challenges to the Evangelical church in the Post-modern age. As I contemplated that question, I came across an article by Dr. Russell Moore at the Carl F. Henry Institute ( http://www.henryinstitute.org/ ) where he picks up on and expands on a discussion from his book “The Kingdom of Christ” in regard to the challenges to the emerging Evangelical consensus regarding the "already" and the "not yet" aspects of the Kingdom of God. Moore identifies those challenges as the issue of open theism, and Emergent church emphasis on community defining kingdom.

This article, "The Neo-Fundamentalism of the Evangelical Left: Post-Conservative Evangelical Proposals as Reversal of Evangelical Doctrinal Development" expands on those concerns, and in reading through and meditating on the things Dr. Moore is concerned with, it struck me that these two issues come from two world perspectives. My thesis is that the open theism view comes from a modern rationalistic world view, and community defining Kingdom comes from a Post-modern world view. In these two issues the Evangelical church is besieged from both sides.

Open theism comes as a rationalistic attempt to deal with the tension and mystery of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. In this rationalistic attempt, open theism has denied the real sovereignty of God. The tension is gone. The mystery dissipated. What I object to in this kind of rationalistic resolution of tension and mystery is that I can not hold this view without doing exegetical gymnastics that keep me from fully embracing the full meaning of those Scripture passages that clearly assert God’s sovereignty in all things. It is the tension and mystery between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility that allows me to let Scripture passages on sovereignty and responsibility to mean what they fully mean without engaging in exegetical gymnastics that defrocks either of those passages of their full intended meaning. This kind of attempt to rationalize tension and mystery has been the Achilles heel of Evangelical theological constructions coming from unrecognized modernistic rationalistic epistemological presumptions.

The issue of community defining Kingdom is much foggier and difficult to get a hold of precisely because it comes out of a Post-modern mind set where definition is, by Post-modern definition, “foggy”.

It is at this point the emergent church use of the word “community” becomes suspect. “Community” to be meaningful as a word, demands an objective content set in an objective context. At this point I am relying on Dr. Moore’s assessment of how the word has been, and is being used in the emergent church context. The community concept is indeed part of what the Kingdom is, and it is an aspect of the Kingdom that was not well understood or developed in the Evangelical world at large during the modern era. However, contrary to some emergent thought, community is not all that the Kingdom is. It is the Kingdom that defines the content and context of the community, not some concept of “community” that defines the Kingdom.

My point is that in a post-modern world, meaning and definition is meaningless and undefined. Yes, that is a contradiction, but it is basic post-modern existential epistemology and we are going to see that vagueness of meaning and definitions enter Evangelical theology and discussion.

On the one hand we have to resist the modern mindset that wants to rationalize everything and in so doing, erase the tension and mystery we find in Biblical theology. We resist that view of reason that says all questions can be answered. We also assert that rational apprehension of God’s truth is not enough to save, but there has to be with that apprehension the experiential (existential) encounter and communion with the God which that rational apprehension points us to.

On the other hand we resist that post-modern epistemology that makes meaning meaningless and definition undefined. Words have some objective meaning and definition. If that were not so, we could not communicate at all with one another and God communicating to man through His revelation of event and Word would be just as impossible. We resist the Neo-Orthodox view that the only “truth” is our existential encounter with a “God Word”. In reading the Bible we are not listening for the Word of God, we are listening to the Word of God; an objective Word given by God in time and space.

So what is a Post-modern Evangelical? Simply, it is one who is living in a post-modern age. Biblical Christian Evangelical epistemology calls me to embrace both objective (rational) reality outside of myself, and the existential experience of being able through that objective reality to know and commune with the Sovereign God of all creation as my Lord and Savior.

~ The Billy Goat ~

1 comment:

Collin Brendemuehl said...

Excellent post. The epistemological and some of exegetical issues that you raise are deal with in "Reclaiming the Center".