Friday, January 22, 2010

A new liberalism?

Good historical and pastoral observations from my friend Greg Wills, professor of church history at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

I would simply observe that the issues may be deeper than Greg suggests. I've long been convinced (and taught) that underneath the desire to meditate between scientific naturalism and theological orthodoxy is the fundamental epistemological dualism of the Kantian worldview. That is to say, the division between phenomena and noumena which has led to a distinction between knowledge and understanding, between scientific method and sentimental intuition.

That's why as long as evangelicalism emphasizes Christianity as simply a religion of the heart without any reference to the orthodoxy of the mind, she will always struggle with liberalism. And that's because anti-intellectual pietism buys into this Kantian/modernist epistemology that separates mind from heart, knowledge from intuition, science from religion, phenomena from noumena.

At its best, Christianity has emphasized knowledge, affections, and volition together; piety and learning united. Until we debunk the modernist epistemological presumptions that underlie theological liberalism (and much of conservative evangelicalism) we will continue to wrestle and fight against her.


localhist said...

I did not read the article you have commented on, but I have read a couple of the other articles in that publication. You are right about the need to address the presumptions of liberalism. Van Tilian apologetics seems to be the best way to do that, but it is the one least used by the American church.

Anonymous said...

the presuppositions of liberalism (and the emergents) can be addressed by Van Tillian apologetics, but a full front attack on anti-intellectualism requires much, much more. Apologetics that address all of the intellectual domains is required: Philosophical, evidential, historical, textual critcism, rhetorical, etc..

In my opinion, resorting to an exclusively pre-suppositional approach will keep us bound to the anti-intellectualism we are trying to escape.

Sean Michael Lucas said...

Hi, anonymous: I'm not sure what you'd think that I'm necessarily advocating Van Tillian apologetics. There are other pathways for bringing together these two spheres together in ways that could meaningfully address modernity/postmodernity. Just to name one: the work that Alvin Plantinga and Nic Wolterstorff are doing nods as much to Scottish Common Sense Realism and Thomas Reid as it does Dutch sources (depsite their names). sml

Anonymous said...

I agree with your assessment, SML, and just wanted to add an additional concern, if I may. One of the attractions that many of the new liberals are gravitating towards via postmodernism/emerging church movement is in reaction to the Kantian dualism which seeks to reject the dichotomy presented in scientific naturalism and other "modernist" problems.

So in addition to guarding against the fundamentalist impulse toward anti-intellectual piety, I also think that we must also be very cautiously aware of the syncretism occuring as a result of trying to appease the academic elite and culturally annoyed on their own terms. As Wills wrote, the gospel presents itself on its own terms. We can do both - incorporate a rigorous intellectualism that is informed, directed by, and founded on the gospel truth.IMO.