When we address, in the postmodern world, our brethren as liberals
there are some facts we need to know. We must first come to an
understanding of postmodernism as opposed to modernism. And we
must learn the relationship between modern theology and postmodern
theology, and what this means for churches of Christ. Only a handful
of academicians in our colleges can trace this thin dividing line
and make distinctions.
Modern civilizations are moving into a postmodern global age that
will make all the previous ages beggar in comparison. Who would
be so presumptuous as to gaze into his crystal ball and see the
paradigms of the 21st century which will not be one thing, but
a vast complexity of many things, events, and forces which will
be as radically different as the Renaissance was from the Middle
Ages. I even find it grimly amusing to read what the editors of
Wineskins claim to know about the changes churches of Christ
must make to survive.
What are the energies that will drive the engines of the 21st
century? This new epoch of man may very well be dated from World
War II and the beginning of the nuclear age. This is the end of
the age of the Greyhound bus, Freud and Marx, the theology of
neo-orthodoxy, and the philosophy of existentialism.
In cataloging the events of such magnitude from Leonardo's sketch
of the flying machine in the 16th century to the space shuttle
in the 20th century, the anticipation of future changes is mind
boggling. When we contemplate the intellectual achievements of
the great minds from Newton to Einstein, the babbling of the "change
agents" in the church about "shifting paradigms"
becomes as comical as the antics of a clown in a circus.
This article centers on a selection of theological words and phrases
to help explain major movements from modern to postmodern theology.
We are doing this for the information of the brothers and sisters
in the pews. They need to know that postmodern liberal theology
is contaminating the teaching of the Bible in churches of Christ
and our schools.
And painful though it may be, the "hot beds" of postliberal
theology are tracked to their primary sources - colleges and their
satellites - Bible departments, lectureships and workshops, the
Restoration Forum, and Christian Scholars Conference.
(I am not against our schools, only against our liberal brethren
who are destroying time-honored Bible traditions. I want to say
that the immediate members of my family hold degrees on every
level from schools as diverse as David Lipscomb College, Catholic
University, Vanderbilt, and UCLA. I believe in education and do
not think that ignorance ever qualified anybody for useful pursuits
A Definitive Glossary
As a carpenter is known by his chips, so are our liberal brothers
identified by the words and theological references which they
use to express their liberal ideas. At the very outset, it is
necessary to point out that the selections of the words and phrases
which put handles on the religious rhetoric of our liberal brethren
go back thirty years. Our liberal brethren picked up on them in
the prestigious schools of religion where they did advanced graduate
The best way to attach a handle to postmodern theology is to
use the common classifications of history over the past 2,000
years. We have in mind the passage of time from the Ancient
period to the Middle Ages and to the Renaissance.
We move next from the Modern to the Postmodern period
which is our own time. These two time references include and transcend
all particular human events which show the flow and inter-connections
of the ages in transition. Neither age was necessarily a denial
or despair of one age giving way to another.
Ancient theology: The development of historical theology
dates from the last century to 590 A.D. This general period embraces
the apostolic period recorded in the writings of the apostolic
fathers through Augustine (4th century).
Medieval theology: The medieval period lasted from 590
to 1517 to the beginning of the Reformation. The Renaissance and
the Reformation periods were propelled from the vortex of 1000
years of what is sometimes called the "Dark Ages."
Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation: This
period set up a transition epoch from the end of the Middle Ages
to the beginning of the modern period. The Renaissance witnessed
the emergence of Protestant theology, the emergence of national
states and capitalism, the age of discovery, the scientific revolution,
and numerous other monumental events.
Modern theology: The roots of modern theology are traced
back to the 18thcentury Age of Reason, and to Immanuel Kant,
who maintained that man could only know God through reason. It
is a long way from Thomas Aquinas to Immanuel Kant, and eventually
to Rudolf Bultmann who embodied the spirit of neo-orthodoxy. The
roots of Modernism are discovered in man's reason which rejects
the supernatural and the inspiration of Scripture, and relies
solely on the scientific apparatus.
Many varied forms of modern theology have evolved from the "Old
Modernism" which dominated the theological scene in 1900.
The old modernism was a syncretism of the late 19thcentury
documentary hypothesis of the Mosaic law, form and source criticism
of the New Testament, and which embraced the evolutionary hypothesis.
This syncretism took the shape of the Social Gospel which dominated
the modern theological scene until the horrors of World War I.
This brings us to 1919 to the birth of neoorthodoxy (also
called dialectical theology) where "God talk" and man's
theological "human talk" sought common ground for the
"divine-I-thou encounter" with God. Bultmann said Scripture
is encrusted with millenniums of myth and folk stories. Tillich
reduced God to a philosophical "ultimate ground of being."
Terminology of Postmodernism
as Distinguished from Modernism
Postmodern theology: This movement has not discarded the
baggage of modern theology identified in the minds of most students
with the theological systems of Barth et al. Their influence as
leading spokesman of neoorthodoxy was buried under the avalanche
of the charismatics and "death of God" theologians in
the 1960s and 1970s.
Our liberal brethren are now introducing theological expressions
into churches of Christ as if they were their own brain children.
Nowhere is this more evident than in college lectureships and
the Christian Scholars Conference. These new terms, their meaning,
and uses are hidden deeply in the dark recesses of postmodern
theology. It is imperative that we understand their sources and
meanings in order to learn what liberal brethren are not inclined
to tell us.
Paradigms and parameters: Two of the words most often bandied
back and forth are paradigm and parameter. Thomas
Kuhn (1970) introduced the word paradigm into the scientific
community. A paradigm is a working model of something. A parameter
is an unstable circumference around something which keeps shifting.
Kuhn used the working models (paradigms) of Ptolemaic astronomy
and Copernican astronomy to show the shifts which take place with
the discovery of new knowledge. Each of these paradigms worked
as well as the other because each showed the fixed positions of
the heavenly bodies to the earth. The first was just a model.
The second model showed how the universe actually works. The Copernican
model, in turn, gave way to Newtonian astronomy.
Kuhn meant to show that paradigms shift with the discovery of
new knowledge. Kuhn's paradigm (model) concept also found a common
acceptance and use in politics, philosophy, theology, and literary
criticism. Our liberal brethren should not think us to be so ill
informed that we are groping in the darkness of ignorance on these
They tell us of the urgent need for the old hermeneutic (paradigm)
to be replaced by a new hermeneutic (model). They tell us the
churches of Christ are now in a paradigm shift moving from an
outmoded, obsolete old hermeneutic to a fresh and viable form
of a new hermeneutic, but never explained.
Deconstructionism is another new term about which little
is known outside the colleges. The old modernism is dying though
its strength is not completely spent. Postmodernism poses even
greater dangers because the theology repudiates and undermines
all notions of coherent and unitary truth in the Bible.
The philosophy of Jacques Derrida is little known outside academic
circles, and not favorably there. His philosophy of ideas is known
as poststructuralism or deconstructionism. He maintains that the
meaning of language is hidden and elusive. Radical postmodernism
says nothing can be known for certain and best to steer clear
of all ultimate truth claims. Derrida's suspicion of all literary
texts, including the Bible, is an affront to man's intelligence.
The two prime examples of the content of postmodern theology are
Elizabeth Fiorenzo-Schussler's theology of the women's liberation
movement which calls for a complete radical "deconstruction"
of what she terms to be the androcentric, or male dominance
of the biblical message. And the second example of "deconstructionism"
is to be found in the work of the Jesus Seminar best represented
by the writings of John Dominic Crossan, and especially in his
treatment of the life and crucifixion of Jesus.
The theme of deconstruction as advanced by our brethren is more
or less hidden from the uninitiated. Some of their "destructive"
tactics come out in their most publicized writings, e. g., The
Second Incarnation, The Peaceable Kingdom, and Will the
Cycle Be Unbroken, authored by Rubel Shelly, Carroll Osburn,
and Douglas Foster. We think that our liberal brethren will be
given cause to regret that they have opened up on these matters.
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