Monday, August 07, 2006

Post-modernism and Statements of Faith

Recently a friend of mine attended a class being offered at a Christian school. The Christian school has a statement of faith and tries to be quite energetic in making sure that all of their faculty adhere to the statement of faith. What was interesting is that the professor turned out to be a post-modernist. The professor thought that all the truths of Christianity are really culturally constructed and can vary from culture to culture. As a result, the faculty member made it clear that theologies of different cultures could differ and that it was appropriate to evangelize people by co-opting the rituals and ceremonies already prevalent in their own culture. The faculty member denied the existence of objective propositional truth or the accessibility of objective propositional truth about God to human beings. With this kind of an attitude, it is difficult to understand how this faculty member could be seen to have an orthodox view of Christianity.

As the dean of a Christian law school, I take my part in the enforcement of the Evangelical Free Church’s Statement of Faith very seriously. We carefully interview all of our faculty to try to make sure that they actually adhere to the principles of the Statement of Faith. But if someone does not believe that the words in a statement of faith have a definite meaning, if they believe that words can be made to mean whatever their culture would want them to mean, if they believe that there is no such thing as objective truth, how can they be detected through a standard statement of faith? I am curious what readers think about this problem. Certainly some people are likely to say that the post-modernists are right and there is no such thing as objective truth as opposed to culturally constructed truth. I cannot agree with that point of view. Second, some people are likely to think that post-modernism is in the area of the indifferent rather than in the area of core truths. But if someone believes it is impossible to have and hold specific core truths that have a fixed meaning, how can one then be said to believe in and adhere to the core truths of the Gospel?

The post-modern attitude is becoming quite widespread in academia. It is entering into the church through the emergent church movement. It also is tied into the resurgence of Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism among former Protestants. The Eastern Orthodox Church tends to be less specific and more mystical. The Catholic Church has always relied upon cultural construction in the form of the teaching magisterium of the church. The Protestant view is, or at least was, that the teachings of the church should be based upon the truth of an objectively accessible Scripture.

I have not in any way been involved in the Evangelical Free Church’s recent enterprise of evaluating and revising its Statement of Faith. But I am curious whether they have considered adding any clauses that would deal with the problem of post-modernism. Perhaps a statement of faith that forecloses post-modernism would need to acknowledge what people reject as well as what they say they believe? I think this is an important question because post-modernism is slowly invading and transforming our institutions in the same way that Unitarianism invaded and destroyed the value of the old New England universities and in which liberalism and pragmatism conquered American academia in the late 1800s.

I hope that sound biblical response to the errors of post-modernism can be had without the extreme bitterness, grumpiness and divisiveness that often accompany theological battle. But I strongly suspect that something needs to be done. Post-modernism does have some advantages. Its rejection of the radical politically liberal view that religion is irrelevant to everyday human life has helped restore Christianity to an influential place in the public square. But the place of the Logos of God is obviously not honored in a philosophy that is inherently anti-logocentric. How can truth be proclaimed in love to a people who reject the existence of truth itself? How can people expect to know and experience God without knowing anything about Him to define whether He is the real God or some imposter or impersonator?

1 comment:

Gordon Cloud said...

Very nice post. This effort of the pomos to adopt relevant culture as a means of presenting the gospel will only lead to a lack of transformation in those who receive this "gospel".

Can anyone say "lukewarm"?