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7) Still battling modernism
From its inception, evangelicalism has been trying to figure out how to shed the bad of fundamentalism without losing the good. How to lose the chaff without losing the grain. This is an inherently difficult process, and I believe that doing it well requires a thorough knowledge of what fundamentalism was in its own turn reacting against, namely theological liberalism with its foundation in modernist thought. We often say that we are in a post-modern culture, and that’s certainly true, but I also think that modernism is still with us. Postmodernism is inherently reactive, negative – it represents a new posture towards the questions, not a new set up questions. The issues raised by figures such as Kant, Troeltsch, Schleiermacher are very much still on the table, and contemporary arguments against Christianity almost always seem like mere reincarnations of earlier arguments from the Enlightenment.
Lesslie Newbigin has suggested that both liberal and conservative Protestants are still somewhat enmeshed in the presuppositions of modernism – that while fundamentalism took a staunch stand against liberalism, it simultaneously allowed liberalism to set the agenda somewhat. Its identity was largely reactionary. The question that is in my mind is this: what does it look like to reject the unbelief of theological liberalism without letting theological liberalism determine the terms of our very rejection? Some thoughts:
1) Our apologetics shouldn’t be merely reactive and defensive. We should go on the offensive, onto the turf of modern thought, and show its inconsistency with its own presuppositions. We must go back to the modernist foundation of rationalism in Descartes, go back to the rise of German Protestant liberalism, go back to people like Tillich and Bultmann, and relentlessly expose the fragile foundations that undergird the whole system. We must not merely answer the questions modernism poses to the Christian faith, but ask our own questions about the alternative faith that modernism is built on. More of this in upcoming posts on Descartes and Kant.
2) The standpoint of our critique of modernism should be rooted in the presuppositions of Scripture and pre-modern historical Christianity. We must re-examine our Protestant and classical roots. Pre-modern Christianity can help us grow more critical of our own historical standpoint. Regaining a sense of historical rootedness can help us stay resist the errors of our own age. (This again is part of my interest in Anselm.)
3) We must let Scripture itself, not higher-critical scholarship, determine the categories of thought with which we approach Scripture. Within Scripture itself are the tools we need to defend Scripture. Resorting to defenses which grant the presuppositions of the higher-critical arguments made against the integrity of Scripture is like stapling cardboard onto a tank in order to defend it. Tanks don’t need our cardboard. They are just fine with the armor they already have. In the same way, Scripture doesn’t need our rationalism. It is the very Word of God, unchained, living and active, penetrating into our most sophisticated thoughts and reducing us before its living Author.