Friday, December 12, 2008

Being spiritual...and being postmodern

Sorry for the recent inactivity - finals week kept me kinda busy, but I know a lot of you reading were in the same boat. I want to include a little more on the "spiritual" conversation that Austin started. I was reading some Jonathan Edwards this summer and ran across his definition. The quote is from an updated version of his work (kind of the Message:Remix version of Edwards, or maybe the CEV), so you don't get the fun of wading through complicated sentence structures and archaic language like you normally would with Edwards. Sorry to disappoint. In "Religious Affections" (as edited by James R. Houston) he said:
"In the New Testament, persons or things are termed spiritual in relation to the Spirit of God. 'Spirit' is the word that is used to signify the third person in the Trinity. It is therefore substantive of what the Scriptures mean by spiritual...Thus, it is only in relationship to the Spirit of God and His influences that persons and things are called spiritual."

So I guess that we can look to fruit of the Spirit (in character) and expression of the gifts of the Spirit (in service) as well as the desire for and application of spiritual truth as things involved in growing spiritually. In speaking to those outside the church, this will need to be clearly defined, though. They may just as easily think you're going to Yelm to consult a medium or learning to connect with the environment when you talk about being spiritual.

Concerning postmodernism: I love how just saying this word makes us as evangelicals feel like we're relevant. I keep watching the youth culture of our country to see whether they are going to continue to progress in postmodern thinking or react against it. Probably just when the church learns to speak effectively to postmodernism, we'll realize that it's past and a new trend has taken it's place. But this is job security for Christian thinkers, eh?

But right now we have a culture using this system as a grid for interpreting reality. Or so they claim. In fact, I think the skepticism and subjectivity is applied to morals, religion and literature, but not to decisions of everyday life. If you want to see a postmodern thinker abandon his or her commitment to skepticism, try questioning evolutionary theory or the science that indicates global warming is in danger of wrecking the world and is man-caused. These things, which are based on extrapolations of data from the present into the past or future, don't seem to be questioned much in the secular, postmodern academic climate. To live everyday life requires making a large number of assumptions that show people operate not with a mindset of absolute uncertainty, but have a range of possibilities that they accept as plausible, and others they write off as ridiculous.
We ought to be advocates to the postmodern world of a range of plausible options for reality that allows us to eliminate others as implausible. There must be room for interpretive differences when we approach Scripture and religious matters in general, but within a certain range. There is room for warranted confidence, even if their isn't for objective certainty.
I'm not really responding to Austin's post above, but giving other thoughts on the topic, since he brought it up. If we take the good elements he mentioned in our approach to theology and combine them with an apologetic stance that refuse to deny the possibility of knowing God as revealed, not as we make him up according to our perspectives, and of being able to accept God's authority on moral matters, although we can't be very certain based on our own sin-tainted reasoning, then we are in good stead.
Historic orthodox Christianity is based on historical facts communicated in literary form, however, and we can't allow our theology to be divorced from facts, and thus we must be able to note our interpretive presuppositions so that we will not be ruled by them, but not allow the fact that people have presuppositions take away our right to claim warranted and reasoned belief that cannot be proved beyond a shadow of a doubt, but is certain enough to live our lives by.


faithbornfromdoubt said...

good point about global warming and evolution. Do you think that we'll become more cynical about these things or do you think we separate scientific truth and religious truth so much that they don't really affect each other in our thought?

I agree with what you are saying about objective/absolute truth (even though you didn't use the phrase this is what you are talking about!). I tend to like approaching God with uncertainty better than approaching God having Him all figured out and packaged in a neat little box, but your complaint against postmodernism in this regard is quite legit.

Thanks for the discouraging news that as soon as we have all this figured out everybody'll have moved on. You're probably right, jerk.

Thanks, Nate, for the balancing thoughts!

VentiAmericano said...

Thanks for the thoughts! Your thoughts seem to explain how we can learn from the challenge of postmodern thinking and serve God in these times.
It does seem, as Matt said, that there is a sharp distinction between scientific and religious truth. Alas! This may keep evolution and global warming as Post-modern sacred cows despite the climate of uncertainty that plagues the moral and religious realm. I wonder where we are going next...