Perhaps I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself here, as I’m taking topics discussed by Webber out of order; however, I was reading a blog post this morning that got me thinking along these lines, and it seemed fitting to comment while my thoughts were fresh (their shelf-life isn’t that long anymore). I am thinking out loud, for the most part, so take that into consideration as you read.
It seems to me that one of the major issues with the Evangelical church (“Evangelical” in this sense referring to post-reformation churches, even though Luther used the term to refer to his movement) is that it is completely and solidly rooted in Modernism. One of the most irritating qualities of Modernism is the almost essential arrogance that comes from the belief in progress; that is, that “new” is better than “old.” Evangelicalism seems to exhibit the same tendency to believe in theological “progress,” as well as the resulting sense of arrogance in how they deal with past theological positions. While many would argue, especially in the case of fundamentalists, that this is absurd, I think in the “big picture” it makes sense.
With Evangelicalism, there are some basic presumptions that may not be true. One such presumption is that it is an advancement to think of theology almost as a science, being able to break large concepts down into minute detail and argue over the fine points. This scientific approach has, as Webber points out, reduced theology to a set of facts or propositions which can – and must – be believed. This systematic approach appears to have a goal of eradicating any sort of mystery from theology, believing that we can reason our way through our faith. Our faith (as Webber also points out) can then conceivably be conveyed to others in a logical, reasoned way, what we think of a “apologetics.” Evangelicals reason their way to truth, whereas the reformers simply proclaimed it.
Years ago I had a friend who was a Greek Orthodox priest, born and raised in Greece. One day a few of us were dialogging on matters of faith, and another friend of mind tried to get Father Nick to explain the Orthodox position on some hot theolgical topic. I was intrigued so much by Father Nick’s response that I have never forgotten it. He was somewhat frustrated with the conversation, and merely said, “We don’t think that way.” When my friend couldn’t believe that the Orthodox Church had no position on Biblical inerrancy, he replied, “we’ve just never questioned it.” He went on to try to explain his frustration with the Western way of picking things apart into little pieces, and how he felt more in common with a Muslim raised in the East than with a Christian from the West, because of the extreme differences in worldview. Who is more correct? What’s your criteria for deciding?
The Church of the West, especially the Evangelical church, presupposes that the Modern approach to theology and spirituality is necessarily better than what came before, that our perspective has been able to identify errors of the past and better refine the issues. It’s progress. Now, I won’t dispute that some discoveries of earlier manuscripts have allowed for a bit of Biblical fine-tuning, however, these things have been fairly minor. However, I think I am correct when I say that people like Augustine and Martin Luther would consider most if not all of the Evangelical church to be heretical. Is it progress, or simply a 200-year deviation?
Another issue with the Evangelical church today, which is in part a result of that “progressive arrogance,” is its lack of knowledge – or even interest – of anything outside of Evangelicalism. Some have a very loose understanding of the Roman Catholic Church, and Calvin’s been updated to fit some modern Reformed theology, but very few have even a mediocre grasp of what I will call Liturgical Christianity – the Lutherans, Anglicans and Orthodox. Infant baptism, for example, is argued against by people who really have no clue as to its theological and anthropological basis. Consequently, the resulting discussion is meaningless from a pre-Evangelical point of view.
Part of the problem is that Evangelicalism is largely an experience-based religion, and most Evangelicals have never experienced – or felt it necessary to experience – anything else. They were raised or converted in Evangelical Churches, and were also born and raised (for the most part) into Modernism, or converted from liturgical churches into Evangelical churches as having a more “modern” theology (more on this in another post). There are no catechism or church history classes, the creeds are not taught, and it’s lucky if these people even know the Lord’s Prayer. There’s a big emphasis on “Bible,” but only as interpreted by their own pastor or group.
The result is a perpetuation of a movement which may, in fact, be heretical. (As I mentioned, it is, by pre-Evangelical thinking.) Those indoctrinated into Modernism and Evangelicalism may now be reacting with some incredulity at this comment; that would be the arrogance I mentioned, that sense of needing to be “right.” It’s okay, it’s natural. I know, as I experience it myself; but, I’m trying to get over it.
This was not, by the way, a summary of Webber, just some of my thoughts as I’m reading a variety of things. I will outline some of Webber’s thoughts in the next few days.