Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Modern World

We live in the shadow of the Enlightenment. Some philosophers and theologians would argue that we are post-modern or post-Enlightenment or secular or post-secular, Christian or post-Christian. However, I wish to argue that we are none of these. I believe that we are still firmly grounded in the Enlightenment and that this is problematic for the Church today.

Before I start, I want to give a quick and dirty definition of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment is a philosophical movement that holds to a few key points:
  1. We are autonomous. We are self-governing, self-ruling individuals that do not need an outside authority to tell us what to do. On top of this, we should resist outside authorities, as they have no right to dictate our behavior or thoughts.
  2. Our thought is grounded on Reason. We have an ability to understand what is immutable, unchangeable and universal. We can run all of our thoughts, behaviors and beliefs through the filter of Reason and find what is really True.
  3. Reason is grounded in Nature. Everything that is True is True not due to human convention or language but because it corresponds to the Natural World free of the influence of the individual.
 What this means is that Truth is out there, in the Natural world for us to find and understand. If we get rid of our personal presuppositions and biases, we will then be able to seek and find Truth. When we get rid of bias and presupposition, we will find Truth.

Now, this attitude towards Truth posed a problem for the Christian Church. The Enlightenment attitude, according to Livingson, gave the Church two options:
  1. The Church and theology could find itself "adjusting itself to the advances in modern science and philosophy and, in so doing," risk "accomodation to secularization." (Modern Christian Thought, Livingston, pg. 6)
  2. The Church and theology could resist "all influences from culture and" become "largely reactionary and ineffectual in meeting the challenges of life in the modern world." (Livingston, pg. 6)
 Both options have been tried in the Church by different denominations. We have seen the Church fail by the strategies of accommodation and withdrawal. However, I wish to focus, in this series of posts to focus on how the Church failed by trying to accommodate the Enlightenment view.

Instead of jumping into the failure of the Church, we must see why the Enlightenment was attractive to the Church. What would make the Church and theology latch onto this thought process?

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