The Church has stood at the crossroads on numerous occasions. This has been the case since the ascension of Christ, and what brought about the Reformation. History is not static, it is fluid and because of its fluid nature, things are always in flux. Change seems to be inevitable. This has been the war that Christ’s bride has always been waging: to either be an agent to effect culture, or be a victim that has been affected by culture.
That is where we stand as the church today. Think about the following cultural issues: churches in the West (and in particular America) have begun to embrace divorce, abortion, homosexuality, cohabitation, and pluralism. Perhaps a generation ago, maybe two, these issues would have been non-issues. However, now they are non-issues, for another reason: the church has embraced them. How on earth did we come to this? In this series of posts about the current condition of the church and our culture, I’ll need to do some groundwork that you need to understand, for to understand where we are going, we need to know where we began. Why? Because you did not develop the ideas you hold personally on your own. You were handed your beliefs. Nothing happens in a vacuum, I assure you. So let me give you a brief history of thought.
Truth as far back as the Greeks was thought to be absolute. Plato conceived of the realm of the “forms” where absolute truth dwelled. These truths were universal. Aristotle likewise held to universal and absolute truths, although he took a slightly different route to get there.
In the New Testament, we get a glimpse into first century views of truths. Truth for the New Testament community was focused on Christ. Paul writes that we are to all have the “same mind” as Christ, for He is the goal (Philippians 2:5). Jesus described Himself in terms of absolute truth (See John 14). Scripture indicates that all people will be judged by the same criteria, alluding strongly to the existence of universal truth.
Through the middle ages, Christian philosophers such as Thomas Aquinas along with Muslim philosophers also held to firm absolute truths. However, they asserted that human reason could discover universal truth and defend it. Aquinas did not believe man was so fallen as to not have sound reasoning capabilities, something that the reformers would disagree with.
Now comes the huge shift in thinking (epistemology). In the period known as Enlightenment (1550-1940’s) a massive distinction was made. With the arrival of science and Darwinism, philosophers began making a distinction between what could be known for sure, what was pure speculation (fact/value). Immanuel Kant (who is probably the catalyst for postmodernism) described reality in terms of the knowable and the unknowable. The idea that came out of the end of the Enlightenment was that we cannot known things in themselves, but how they appear.
Here’s what we inherited from them: you can know for sure things you can prove empirically (through your senses) which is basically science. All other things are really unknowable. Since you cannot discuss religion empirically, then religion becomes something that is really beyond knowing, and even beyond existing (think Richard Dawkins here).
Postmodernism is the period we find ourselves at the mercy of. Postmodernism in essence is a reaction against: authority, absolutes and structure. The core thing I want you to see is that in postmodernism, absolute truth may or may not exist, but it doesn’t matter since we simply aren’t able to know it. We are stuck in our different ideas and presuppositions that will not allow us to think openly and clearly. This is why we cannot all agree on something. We see how authority structures cannot be trusted (political scandals and church scandals). We see how capitalism is corrupt (bank and corporate scandals). Therefore, no authority can truly be trusted because none has the answer. Postmodernism is the age of “since no one can tell me the truth, I’ll come up with truth to fill the void”.
Please pardon what may seem like a long winded and dry preface to this blog series, but this in fact the climate we live in. If you have children in college or headed to college, this is the overwhelming viewpoint of the majority of their professors. This is what they are taught about history, ethics and most importantly, religion. This is why Christian college students are so intimidated in class, and why some even walk away from their faith. This is why our government is in such disarray and this fully explains why the church has embraced the issues I mentioned in the beginning.
Stay tuned (you’ve already done the hard work of catching up to the why of our culture, now we’ll spend the next few weeks discussing the what). It’s a very serious situation that is going to affect the church for years to come.