Thursday, February 21, 2008

Postmodernism: Critique and Apology

I think Postmodernism has received a bad rap from much of Evangelical theology in recent times. Some of that criticism is deserving, but much of it is misplaced. In the following I want to try and critique the negative while commending the positive. Let me know what you think.

The Apology (Defense) of Postmodern Methodology:
While there are certainly negative, and even harmful, vices of the postmodern movement, we in the Evangelical church have much to learn from their methodology. Put simply, it makes sense to appeal to a culture for norms of style, approach and technique. In fact, this understanding is itself biblical. When Luke recounts the journeys of the early church in Acts he specifically points to a change in evangelistic approach based on the receiving culture. For instance, in Acts 17 Luke details the efforts of Paul in Thessalonica, Berea and Athens. In the first two cities, Paul went straight to the synagogues (as was his normal custom) to convince the Jews and God-fearing Greeks that Jesus was the Messiah who fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies. However, he tried this approach in Athens initially and discovered that they didn't have as thorough a knowledge of the O.T. as the other cities did and so he shared the good news by comparing God to their myriad of deities, and explicating His unique supremacy. All that to say, some methods work and others don't - Christ doesn't care (for the most part) how we approach people with His Word as long as that's what we're doing. Rock music is okay, jeans are okay, sandals are okay. It's the heart of man that matters right?

The Critique of Postmodern Philosophy:
While the methodology of Postmodernism may be useful, it's philosophy is inherently dangerous. I think a lot of the key promoters of the movement - think Brian McLaren, Tony Jones etc. - suffer from an apathy for (or perhaps ignorance of) the philosophical implications more than an actual desire to dismantle the Truth claims of Christianity (for in fact, as the atheistic postmoderns make clear, once we accept all the tenets of postmodernism there isn't even a metanarrative - or God's eye view - of the world anyways). With a postmodern hermeneutics the Bible loses all authority, and with authority, all meaning. With a Bible devoid of meaning we come to a life belief system devoid of truth. There truly is no reason in calling yourself a "Christian" unless by doing so you want to assert that, at the very least, you believe this belief system to be superior to others. I believe in God because I think He is superior to the other gods in this world. But this is impossible without an objective truth grounded in the mind-independent reality (which postmoderns tend to deny our access to). Postmodernism isn't all bad, even philosophically, unless it is taken to the extreme: toleration for a plurality of viewpoints is certainly a virtue, toleration for a plurality of "truths" most certainly is not.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

What is Saving Faith?

I have an assignment in my Epistemology class to compare the concepts of "belief" and "saving faith", with a view toward either differentiating the two or explaining their connection. I don't really know which way I am going to argue - I feel like a whole lot of peripheral issues are brought to the forefront when we explore this concept of saving faith. Is saving faith, along the lines of Gordon Clark, mental assent to a set of propositions? Is it belief plus some other mental state (such as trust) or emotional state (such as love)?

When I try to think of the possible necessary and sufficient conditions for saving faith, but really when I analyze the concept of salvation this way, I run into a paradox. Specifically, what could the necessary and sufficient conditions for salvation be. Since I am not a Calvinist I believe that human free choice has to be in there somewhere, but I want to maintain God's sovereign control at the same time. So, let me explain why the diagram below is insufficient.

Necessary Conditions: God's grace + Human acceptance
Sufficient Conditions: God's grace

These conditions say that for salvation it is necessary that both God's grace and Human acceptance be present - we usually call these individually necessary but jointly sufficient conditions. However, we have this individually sufficient condition of God's grace, but if God's grace is both necessary and sufficient then there is no need for any other condition. To show this through analogy imagine that we are trying to figure out what it means to be a legal citizen of fictional country XYZ. In this country, to be a citizen means that you are born within the territorial boundaries of this country. That's it, that's the only way to be a citizen of XYZ. So, in regards to citizenship, being born in XYZ is both a necessary and sufficient condition to achieving this status. Therefore, no other factors come into play. We can't say, for instance, that another necessary condition is that you be Christian since that would make being born in XYZ no longer an individually sufficient condition for citizenship. What this example shows then, is that, if we want to maintain that Human acceptance is a part of the salvation equation we need to make some adjustments.

So to solve this problem we say, okay then maybe God's grace is necessary but not sufficient. Will this solve the problem? Namely:

Necessary Conditions: God's grace + Human acceptance
Sufficient Conditions: None (individually)

While this will allow us to say that Human acceptance is a crucial part of the salvation equation, this turns out to impinge upon our other interest, the sovereignty of God. If we eliminate God's power to give salvation completely independent of man I believe we have done something to His greatness. We now have to say that God's grace is not sufficient alone to provide salvation for people. But what happened to Sola Gratia?

As well, we can easily dismiss the options that have Human acceptance as sufficient (as the early Christian heresy of Pelgianism).

So I guess my question in all of this is not specifically about salvation, but about this "saving faith". What does it mean? Is it an illusory concept as the Calvinists will have us believe, or is there actually something to Human free belief (or the combination of belief+trust+love)?

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Name the Author (without google)

This post is intended to illumine some of the real thoughts of the theological giants (keep in mind they are all giants) of the past:

1. "In this [fallen] state, the free will of man towards the true good is not only wounded, infirm, bent, and weakened; but it is also imprisoned, destroyed, and lost. And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they be assisted by grace, but it has no powers whatever except such as are excited by Divine grace."

2. "No man is excluded from calling upon God, the gate of salvation is set open unto all men: neither is there any other thing which keepeth us back from entering in, save only our own unbelief."

3. "God decreed to save and damn certain particular persons."

4. “Wherever we find the Word of God surely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to the institution of Christ, there, it is not to be doubted, is a church of God.”