Funda-gelicalism is Too Modern-Part Two

In a previous post (here), I asserted that FG people are more modern than they realize.  One reader responded:

“…As a Catholic working in an evangelical institution, I can see this very clearly, but I’d love to know more about what underpins it, aside from what looks like a need for certainty, being told what to do, and a real discomfort with complexity.”

There is much that underpins it, much more than I could put in even several posts, but I will tease out one area here where I think we can see this and it is in the area of apologetics.  I will try to post more as to other areas in the future.

As we know, apologetics is that branch of theology/philosophy devoted to a defense of some belief, theology, philosophical framework, or reasoning.

What we note as “modernity” has many emphases and is not easily tied down to one source or time period.  Like some, I think the harbingers of modernity probably lie in the 13th and 14th Centuries, with thinkers such as Duns Scotus.  But as to FG people, we mostly think of the Reformation and the Enlightenment as providing the ethos of what we now think of as modernity or modernism.

Some of the hallmarks of the Enlightenment were that knowing whether something was true or not required certain “foundations” such as reason, empirical evidence, and scientific validation.  And reason was seen to be something neutral, something unhindered by context or bias; it was something universal and available to anyone.

Any view seen to be operating outside these “foundations” was viewed as, at least suspect, if not certainly false.  These foundations were the bar.  One had to rise to this bar or their views were not allowed at the table of respected and accepted “truth.”

This was the field upon which one was expected to play the game, so to speak.  And so, the FG people did.  They tried (See Ken Ham: See here).  They tried to show how their Christian beliefs were rational, scientific, and backed up by empirical evidence.  This is especially true in the whole area of evolution and young earth creationism. It is probably the best example of FG people saying, no problem, we will beat you on your own field (So far, that hasn’t turned out so well…)  The FG world wanted to make sure their views did not violate any of these “foundations.”

*James K.A. Smith put it this way:

“…too many Christians have bought into the modernist valorization of scientific facts and end up reducing Christianity to just another collection of propositions…knowledge is reduced to biblical information [just facts] that can be encapsulated and encoded…and so, in more ways than one, our construal of the Christian faith has capitulated to modernity…”

And, of course, this is why postmodernism is considered post-foundational.  The postmodern ethos eschews so-called neutral, universal foundations, and emphasizes the contextual, narrative, perspectival nature of knowledge.  Two reasonable, rational people can look at the same set of facts and come to different conclusions as to their meaning because they each might inhabit differing narrative perspectives, even if both prize science, reason, and evidence.  The presuppositions we bring to the evidence, the “facts” determine how we “see” and interpret those facts.  And presuppositions, by their very nature, are faith-based, philosophical, core beliefs about ourselves and existence itself; thus, they cannot themselves be “founded” in some neutral, universal, empirical, scientific, objective manner.

For some reason however, the FG world and their apologists never received the memo.  As *Andrew Davison notes:

“All thought begins somewhere, and there is more than one place to begin.  There is more than one way to think, and no one way is conveniently marked out as better than all the others.  Western philosophy came to see this over the course of the twentieth century.  This was part of the collapse of the Enlightenment project, which had supposed there to be only one way to be rational, namely the enlightened way.  This is a welcome collapse.  It is a genuine advance to acknowledge more than one mode of rationality, as is the realization that all thought involves prior [philosophical/metaphysical] commitments.”

Unfortunately, the FG world seems unaware of this “collapse” and continues to try and make their case by a set of ground rules, foundations, that are particularly modern and hardly Biblical—and ironically, hardly accepted academically anymore—the very world wherein they wanted to find acceptance.  Thus, they are, again, too modern and still mostly completely unaware of it.

  • For Smith see here
  • For Davison see here
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2 thoughts on “Funda-gelicalism is Too Modern-Part Two

  1. I agree with you that evangelicalism never got the memo. In fact, around the mid 90’s and following, everybody and their dog was writing books and articles about the perils of postmodernism and how biblical truth needed to stand against the onslaught of was erroneously seen as relativism with a fancier title.

    But in fairness, we should probably also note that the secular realm eventually produced a backlash against postmodernity as well. I can’t speak for everywhere, but in most Western countries at least, modernism is back with a vengeance and even more absolutist in its claims about truth than before.

    It’s probably fair to say evangelicalism never really understood postmodernism’s critique of their epistemology, but it’s probably also fair to say that, at least in the Western world, postmodernism’s critique is being rejected in many sectors – rightly or wrongly.

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    1. You are absolutely right. I should note that my critiques of the FG world also apply to secular fundamentalism as well–in fact any type of fundamentalism. And yes, I think most people reject postmodernism because they equate it with relativism (and some radical understandings might be) but such doesn’t need to be the case. All good points, thank you.

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