This article has two particular purposes, one of which is to provide
the information that will lead to an understanding of postmodern
theology threatening the scriptural integrity of churches of Christ.
The second raises the question of why our university Bible scholars
do not definitively inform the churches at the grass roots level
on the issues. Be assured your children are in their classrooms.
Names, titles, and labels mean nothing unless defined and explained
in context such as modernism, and postmodernism, and
conservatism, and liberalism. Words take on symbolic
significance when contextualized in religion or in a societal
setting. There are no rules of language, logic, or anything else
that make religion exempt from these influences.
Modernism is a multiple label that takes on special meaning
when attached to the concepts of theology in 20thcentury
America. Modernism is not a word of recent coinage. The
meaning and usage of the word is traced in philosophy and theology
from 18thcentury Enlightenment (Age of Reason) to the present.
The evolution of theology since 1885 for this article falls into
three categories-old modernism (social gospel), new modernism
(neoorthodoxy), and postmodernism (Jesus Seminar).
Conservatism in theology is the theological label in higher
criticism which defends the positions that Moses is the author
of the Pentateuch; that Jesus Christ is the incarnate Word born
of a virgin, and the bodily resurrection of Jesus. And its opposite
label, liberalism, in modern theology does not accept the
historical reality of such events as the virgin birth and the
bodily resurrection of Jesus.
Metamorphosis of Modern Theology
in the 20th Century
(1) The old modernism at the turn of the century is identified
with the amalgamation of the Graf-Wellhausen Documentary Hypothesis
of the Pentateuch (1885), with Form and Source Criticism of the
New Testament, and Darwinian evolution. One major outcome of this
was the emergence of the optimism of the "man-made"
social gospel that man is evoluting to ever-higher levels of social
conduct and justice.
(2) The beginning of the [new] modernism is dated by theology
historians with the 1922 publication of Karl Barth's commentary
on the Roman letter. Neoorthodoxy is the name given
the modern theology in the post-World War II period. Neo-orthodoxy
had become by the late 1950s a fully developed systematic
theology identified with the names of Karl Barth, Rudolph Bultmann,
and Paul Tillich.
Harry Emerson Fosdick was the first bulldog of Neo-liberalism.
He preached his famous 1935 sermon in New York titled "The
Church Must Go Beyond Modernism." This famed preacher had
indeed declared war against the conservative Protestant churches
with this 1935 manifesto. (How well do I remember the shock that
came in the middle 1940s while I was reading Fosdicks's Understanding
the Bible. I considered the book, then and now, as blasphemous
Neoorthodoxy reached its heyday in the 1950s.
In this period, this writer completed the B.D. program in
the Vanderbilt Divinity School, and came out with a good understanding
of modern theology which enables me to wage unrelenting warfare
against modern theology, and to name by name its major propagandists.
(Yes, I have read Matthew 18 which is the last refuge of pious
And by the year 1970, neoorthodoxy was so compromised
that it ceased almost over night to exist as a viable modern theology.
In the 1970s, neoorthodoxy found itself under attack
from within its own house. The attackers were the "death
of God" theologians who had been tutored in the new theology.
But the truth is that they realized that their theological inheritance
was the residual atheism which flowed from the theology of Bultmann
et al that the Bible is layered with historical facts, myths,
legends, folklore, and old wives' tales. They had been sold a
bill-of-goods which had been falsely labeled.
Their response shook modern theology to its very foundation. Their
solution was that Bultmann et al had killed God by destroying
the faith in Holy Scripture as the Word of God. The historical
Jesus was almost stripped of all characteristics attributed to
him in the Gospels. Bultmann left Jesus partially in the realm
of history and partially enshrouded in myth.
Their conclusion was that "God is dead" since all references
to God in the Bible had been reduced to little more than theological
nomenclature. What is dead is buried. What would come next?
(3) Postmodernism was the answer. It was not one thing,
but many things. Postmodernism is something new created
in the present and something old borrowed from the past. Postmodernism
is part and parcel of the old modernism plus a hundred years
of accumulated baggage. An apt analogy is comparing the generational
passage of theology to the evolution of the old Model T Ford,
a new Chevrolet, and a postmodern Cadillac.
The Westmar Institute and the Jesus Seminar
The current update of postmodern theology in its most radical
form ends up eventually on the doorsteps of the Westmar Institute
and the Jesus Seminar. And this becomes a nightmare for the avant-garde
Bible scholars in our schools. They do not want this poisonous
theological label attached to their names. But there is no avoidance
of the stigma.
John Crossan, Robert Funk, and associates are the new-kids-on-the-block.
They are the most talked about radical theologians in these times.
The Jesus Seminar made the front covers of Time, Newsweek,
and U. S. News and World Report during the 1996 Easter
A series of my articles was printed in 1996 and 1997 in the Firm
Foundation laying the foundations for an understanding of
postmodern theology such as Derridean "deconstructionism,"
and "church growth" paradigms such as Willow Creek and
the Third Wave. (DLU's new CEO would be greatly profited if he
would call upon his DLU Bible department heads to brief him on
A mere policy statement from the president's office will not sweep
these things under the rug. Why is it that our scholars in the
"Scholarship Movement" are muted as the grave when it
comes down to addressing postmodern theology and church practices?
Robert W. Funk founded the Westmar Institute in 1985. The Jesus
Seminar is part and parcel of the Westmar Institute. The
seminar is made up of a small selected association of academic
scholars who meet twice a year to debate the historical Jesus.
The Jesus Seminar begins with the assumption that the Gospels
are not accurate histories.
Their task is to determine the actual words spoken by Jesus in
the synoptic Gospels. The scholars vote by casting colored beads
in a box: the red, words are his; pink, could be; gray not his,
but close; black, not his words, but created and embellished by
his disciples. The Jesus Seminar attributes only 18 percent
of the words of the New Testament to Jesus.
What the Westmar Institute scholars thought about the historical
Jesus is fully documented in the books they wrote. The first work
is the Five Gospel: The Search for the Authentic Jesus with
translations and commentary by Robert Funk, and others of the
Jesus Seminar. This is described above.
The second is a companion study of the Five Gospels, written
by Burton L. Mack titled The Lost Gospel: The Book of Christian
Origins. A German scholar hypothesized there was a fourth
document in existence that Matthew, Mark, and Luke used as a common
source book for a part of their accounts. It was called Quelle,
(German for source). This fictitious document never existed
as a proven fact.
Funk, Mack, et al, conclude that Christianity is a mythologized
religion (like Buddhism rooted in a historical figure and teachings
quite unlike the historical realities of the period).
The third is John Dominic Crossan's The Historical Jesus: The
Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant. The book is about
what Jesus did and said. To make a long story short, this is the
book that pictures Jesus as a Jewish Socrates, who was a political
troublemaker in his day. He is pictured as a societal rebel who
preached the equality of all men, and who is pictured as conspiring
against both the church and state. Both the Romans and Jews conspired
to kill him.
What must be the latest "vomit of Satan" in this century
is Crossan's picture of the crucifixion scene -Jesus is buried
in a shallow criminal's grave on the crucifixion grounds from
which scavenger dogs dug up his body while croaking crows flew
Not a single article has appeared in Wineskins dealing
with Postmodernism "church growth paradigms" and theologies.
Their dodge is-"We don't go down to the plains of Ono to
talk with the children of Ashdod." The fact is that this
is their native habitat. The best way to put the fear of God into
souls of the "change agent" scholars is to deal with
Gary Holloway and Michael Weed come up to the edge of postmodern
theology and church practices in their 1995 DCHS paper. They mention
other voices for our scholars called "neo-conservatives"
and "moderates." There is a half-good apple, but not
a part-good egg which is rotten in the whole.
Postmodern theology is rotten in the whole. Somebody ought to
break the news to the GA editorial staff that there is no "middle
ground." We do not read where David Lipscomb and B.C. Goodpasture
thought so. They also called names, and they also knew Matthew
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