I have just finished reading an assignment that has rocked my world a bit.
The reading was from a couple of sections of Alister McGrath’s book, “A Passion For Truth.” Specifically, the Introduction and chapter 4 (“Evangelicalism and Postmodernism”). In the Introduction, McGrath states that Evangelicalism – especially in North America - has steered a course away from “Academic Theology” (a theology whose agenda is dictated by the values and goals of the academy). For those evangelicals that have tasted of Academic Theology, the response is probably: “Duh – of course!” McGrath says it is because of a fundamentalist heritage, a pragmatic orientation, the secularism of the academy (which has lost touch with theology’s prophetic role), and the elitism of academic theology (it has lost touch with its pastoral role).
McGrath’s observations and conclusions are very helpful – and not surprising to any evangelical who has dipped a bit into the murky waters of “academic theology.” However, the interesting bit (for me) came in chapter four where McGrath challenges evangelicals to re-consider their unspoken (and unconscious) assumptions in the face of a new societal hermeneutic – the infamous “postmodernism.” Oh, yes! Postmodernism clearly has a meta-narrative.
The Enlightenment and Modernity (consider those terms synonymous) are based on the notion that reason was able to accomplish anything. What is troubling is that, generally, evangelicals have uncritically bought into that notion for three hundred years. As modernity has influenced great theologians of evangelicals, it has influenced – for the worse – evangelicals understanding of several key areas:
* The nature of scripture – ignoring the clearly emotive and narrative nature of most of scripture, evangelicals have been sucked into looking only for propositional truth
* Spirituality – having ignored the emotive characteristic of scripture, evangelicals have tended to purge emotions from their culture
* Apologetics – evangelicals have assumed there is a universal rationality and ignored the observable facts that Christianity is not purely rational and that not everyone interacts with their world in the same manner
* Evangelism – a misunderstanding of Biblical truth; “Truth” has been assumed to be propositional in nature and all truths of scripture are “logically consistent” with each other; yet this is not itself consistent with the evidence (N.B. the irony). Biblical “Truth” is more related to “trustworthiness” and is very personal: Jesus *is* truth
This is not to deny that there are rational and cognitive elements within the Christian faith, it is merely to note that we can appreciate postmodernism for its help in freeing the faith from a foreign worldview.
As a thoroughly indoctrinated modernist, much of postmodernism is disrupting to me, of course. However, in facing my own mental filters, it is this transition into a postmodern world which facilitates my better understanding – and greater commitment to – a Biblical Christianity.
I note that in a postmodern world, Christianity is clearly relevant. It is relevant to our fundamental questions: Why do we and the world exist? Why are things this way and not another? The question for a postmodern looking at Christianity is not just is Christianity true for the writer of this blog; but is it true also for the reader?
Evangelicals don't need to adopt postmodernism - there is plenty in that framework that is hostile to Biblical thought - but postmodernism can help Evangelicals to strip off the incompatible accoutrements of the Enlightenment.