This week, I am summarizing the work of two evangelical theologians regarding the way forward in this postmodern era. David Wells, in Above All Earthly Pow’rs: Christ in a Postmodern World, argues that evangelicals should, for the most part, resist the postmodern turn. Carl Raschke, in The Next Reformation: Why Evangelicals Must Embrace Postmodernity, believes we should, for the most part, embrace the new postmodernism. Today, I am summarizing Raschke’s Next Reformation.
Setting the Record Straight
Carl Raschke’s book attempts to accomplish three main purposes. First, he seeks to set the record straight for evangelicals by offering an accurate portrayal of postmodern thinking and countering the misrepresentations of postmodernism he finds in the writings of those critical of the new philosophy.
Raschke argues that postmodernism does not necessarily entail a denial of absolute and objective truth. Rather, postmodern philosophers merely question human ability to distinguish between truth and falsehood.
What postmodernism denies is the correspondence theory of truth – a view that perceives truth as something “out there.” Instead, postmodern thinkers call attention to the “finite boundaries of human knowledge and meaning,” a move which sets God free to communicate truth to us in his own way.
At its very core, postmodernism is a theology of language. God’s word to us is not logical or propositional. It is vocative. It is the language of relationship. “We are not reading a thing, but a Person.”
In focusing upon the revelation of God to human beings in finite language, postmodernism endeavors to “go beyond the identification of God with Being; it has positioned itself to transcend the metaphysical, or rationalist conception of God.”
Turning the Tables
Raschke’s second purpose in writing The Next Reformation is to turn the tables on the critics who believe postmodern theology is misguided. He seeks to accomplish this task by exposing an “unholy alliance” between evangelical Christianity and Enlightenment thinking that has existed since the seventeenth century.
According to Raschke, evangelicals mistakenly embraced Cartesian rationalism and moved away from the insights of the Reformers, especially sola fide and sola scriptura, and therefore went back toward the kind of rationalism that the Reformers had rightly sought to expunge from Catholic doctrine just one hundred years earlier.
Raschke believes that today’s evangelicalism is steeped in modernism, an idolatrous system of thought that puts a premium on the ability of the individual to use reason to discover truth. Therefore, fundamentalism and liberalism wind up being two sides of the same coin. Both movements seek to ground faith in reason, a disastrous idea that “empties faith of its content” and transforms it into moral imperatives and propositions.
Raschke believes the mystery of God cannot be explained in propositional argument and empirical confirmation. “Language from the Creator’s vantage point is not propositional at all. It is intersubjective. It is relational!”
Arguing for a personal God, Raschke challenges the “unholy alliance” made with Enlightenment philosophy. “The God of the philosophers is logical. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is relational.”
One may ask how evangelicalism has been so successful if it has been improperly aligned with modernism. Raschke argues that conservative Christianity has succeeded in America because of its emphasis on preaching and conversion, not on its reasoning from absolute, biblical principles.
Returning to the spirit of the Reformation will lead to an embrace of postmodernism. A new reformation will bring about radical humility in our thought, not just in our lives, which means that metaphysical disputation must give way to the cross, gospel, and grace.
Postmodernism as Opportunity
Raschke’s third purpose is to call evangelicals to see the postmodern turn in Western thought as an opportunity for true Christianity to flourish once again.
Embracing postmodernism means we must reject the correspondence theory of truth because “it cannot under any circumstances count on the temporal exactitude of correspondence between an assertion and its verification.”
Our attempts to find a firm foundation other than faith are futile. “Theology ends where faith begins.” Only faith is prior to presuppositions. To look for ultimate security in anything other than our faith in the Lord (including ontological or scientific foundations) is to pursue an idol.
Raschke calls evangelicals to abandon the idea of Christianity as a philosophy and to embrace its identity as a “relationship” – one that connects us to the everlasting God whose limitlessness exposes more and more our own limitations.
Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at David Wells’ Above All Earthly Pow’rs. Then, on Thursday and Friday, I’ll weigh in with some thoughts regarding the strengths and weaknesses of both of these approaches to postmodernism.
written by Trevin Wax. copyright © 2009 Kingdom People Blog.