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Switch to Forum Live View Is a "Modernist Church"
9 years ago  ::  May 27, 2009 - 11:32PM #1
Posts: 64

necessarily a church "ruled by unbelief," as Machen equated the terms in the article posted earlier??

Can a church be "modern" - or, for that matter, "postmodern" - and still be true to the gospel?

Can a church be "modern" - or, for that matter, "postmodern" - and still be considered to be within the Reformed tradition (yes, I see the irony in the question)?

Does a "true" Reformed church have to be politically conservative? Are more liberal understandings of the faith, which subsequently translate into more liberal political expressions, immediate markers that the church in question is off the ranch when it comes to being a good Presbyterian church in the Reformed tradition?

Can Reformed churches gain any benefit at all from modern theologians - say, for example, Black Liberation theology or Feminist theology, as just two "modern" theological streams? Can they draw from these streams and still be faithful churches, not "ruled by unbelief", and still be good Presbyterian churches in the Reformed tradition?

Inquiring minds want to know...

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9 years ago  ::  May 29, 2009 - 9:55PM #2
Posts: 1,395

When I said, "Say something controversial so I can disagree with you," I didn't know you'd come up with so much so quickly. Good job. It may take me awhile to reply to all you have said.
I don't think a "true" Reformed church has to be politically conservative. For one thing, conservative is a pretty broad term and a lot of what passes for "conservatism" is not necessarily Christian. I think that Christians can believe that the underpriviledged need help or that society should care for the widows and orphans. I don't think that welfare programs are necessarily unchristian. I do think however that latent consequences of many welfare programs as run by the government have not really been to the ultimate benefit of the recipients.
An example of a non-conservative position might be the case of slavery. The abolitionist movement was largely a Christian effort and was not considered the politically conservative position. (I know this is reaching into the past, just using it as an example.)
I think the church should stand up for economic justice. Now, many people might have differing opinions of the best way to achieve this and many of these opinions could be cosidered to be Christian.
On the other hand I think there are some "liberal" positions that I find hard to reconcile with being truely Reformed such as the pretty much unrestricted access to abortion as it exists currently in the U.S.
More to come later.

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9 years ago  ::  May 30, 2009 - 10:20AM #3
Posts: 64

Greenponder, thanks for diving in. As you can see, I was tring to stir the pot in several different directions all at once, just to see if at least a couple directions might turn into a conversation. I didn't even have time to really express my own views on the questions, but as they start to get some traction, I'm happy to jump in on any of these questions with specifics. For what it's worth, I don't think I disagree with anythin you wrote here. I disagree with the general perception that caring for people's needs is something that is not "conservative" - Christian or otherwise. And I think that many, if not most, of the actions taken by secular agencies in order to help solve those problems have in fact, made the situation worse, not better.

(It's actually kind of funny - based on my opinion regarding the role of gays and lesbians in the church, some here might think I'm a flaming liberal, theologically and politically. The fact is quite the opposite. Most people examining the entirety of my theological and political beliefs would, on balance, consider me very conservative.)

In any case, I think it's important that we understand that "modern" - and now, "postmodern" - are not dealbreakers to our Reformed tradition. There is much that we can learn from theological expression since the Reformation. We don't want to throw the baby out with the bath water, but we need to recognize that even while the Reformers were trying to get back to the basics of the faith, they were doing so in a way that spoke to the culture that they were part of. They searched for God's truth, and expressed it in ways comprehensible in their own very specific time and place - and that time and place has both similarities, and differences, from our own.

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9 years ago  ::  May 30, 2009 - 8:59PM #4
Posts: 1,395

I would like to preface my comments with the observation that it has been said that only God and VanTil really understand what VanTil was talking about. I would add that I don't think even God knows what Derrida is talking about.
I found these quotes in an article about Jacques Derrida and Conelius VanTil
"Instead of having an objective reference point, words gain their meaning from a constant process of negotiation with other signs. Meaning as such has no outside foundation and is constantly in flux. Instead of trying to deny the possibility of objective reality, Derrida wants to point out the deep complications that arise when one considers how words relate to the world outside of us. As defined by Derrida, postmodernism is, if any one thing, a revolt against the western metaphysical idea that there is a being, or logos that grounds knowledge, meaning and language."
This article briefly states the principles of modernism as being "the law of non-contradiction, causality, the general reliability of sense experience, reason, etc." The article goes on to say, "For many Christian apologists, these principles [of modernism] must be maintained in order to keep knowledge from collapsing into a quagmire of relativism. However, one of the problems of this approach is that it achieves nothing more than reasserting the same modernistic notions that postmodernism rejects. Therefore, no constructive gains are made in dialogue."
Interestingly, the article compares VanTil to Derrida because VanTil also recognized that western thought was ultimately bankrupt because it is grounded in arbitrary, impersonal metaphysical principles which then leads to nihilism. So in some ways Derrida and VanTil are in agreement in their critiquesof western philosophy. Here's where the disagreement arises. Derrida says that meaning and knowledge are grounded in language. VanTil says that knowledge, meaning and language can only be grounded in a personal, infinite, omniscient “being”.
VanTil says knowledge of God is not deduced or derived from evidence, facts or observation. It is apprehended from God's self revelation in nature. It is the basic presupposition on which ontology is based.
Basically, I think that the language has meaning because it is an aspect of God's self revelation in nature, while Derrida is saying that language is the basis of meaning.
So, in answer to your question No the church cannot be "modern" or "postmodern" and be true to the Gospel and if it is not true to the Gospel it is by definition not Reformed.
If Derrida is right then even a simple statement like, "That leaf is green," is meaningless and subject ot deconstruction. Which, on the face of it, is absurd because everybody (except maybe the colorblind) can agree on that.
My position would be that we need to understand, as much as is possible, where postmodernists are coming from and be able to show them that we as Christians have a better message.

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