Modern Christian epistemology

In my last post I briefly discussed the origins of modern epistemology (that area of philosophy concerned with what we know and how we know that we know what we know), for the purpose of providing some background to discuss modern Christian epistemology and post-modern epistemology.

Recently I received an e-mail which linked to recent articles appearing on Christianity Today online, with the subject line, “Apologetics makes a comeback…”  Apologetics historically is the systematic defense of Christianity. The Apostle Paul is considered the first Christian apologist, first using the word apologia as recorded in Acts 26:2. At its most basic, apologetics is providing the basis for your faith; however, under modernism, apologetics has often come to mean the systematic proof of Christianity. Modern apologetics includes philosophical arguments relying heavily on Aristotelian logic, as well as scientific and historical arguments. With modern apologetics, reason tends to reign supreme – even more so than with much of modern materialism.

As with its arch-rival, philosophical materialism, modern Christianity (especially evangelicalism) has been to some extent running scared from the West’s newest worldview, postmodernism. Postmodernism started as an architectural style, a move away from modernism’s boxy steel & glass that now dominates our cities’ skylines, and philosophers began using the term. Philosophically, it is very hard to define, other than that it is a purported deconstruction, critique and rejection of many of the failures of modernism. In some ways, it is not a philosophy so much as a non-philosophy. However, the major issue with regard to Christianity has been the tendency to reject the notion that anyone can claim any hold on truth. Truth claims are seen as methods of control (which often they are; no one has either the ability to know what is true or the right to enforce that view on others. We all choose our own paths, our own truths, blah, blah, blah.

So, when Christianity Today starts publishing “apologetics isn’t dead” articles, what’s behind it is this fear that postmodernsm will put modern apologetics out of business.  However, CT’s article A New Day for Apologetics quotes author Lee Strobel:

“It wasn’t too many years ago that scholars were writing off apologetics because we live in a postmodern world where young people are not supposed to be interested in things like the historical Jesus,” Strobel says. “The biggest shock is that among people who communicated to me that they had found faith in Christ through apologetics, the single biggest group was 16- to 24-year-olds.”

A 2nd CT article turned out to be an interview with an old friend of mine, Mark Mittelberg, who has recently published a book entitled Choosing Your Faith: In a World of Spiritual Options (Tyndale, 2008). This book – while I admit I haven’t even seen a copy yet – is a bit different than some of the older apologetic books, as it is focused on evaluating truth claims in a culture where truth seems to be up for grabs. Mark says,

I would urge my fellow believers to not let go of one of the most important things God has given us: logic, evidence, old-fashioned apologetics, which Jesus often appealed to when he was questioned. He would say, “Don’t just listen to my words, but look at my works, look at my miracles, look at the fact that I am fulfilling the roles of the Messiah in the prophecies. Look to the fact that I will rise from the dead.” And then to Thomas the doubter, he said, “Look at the holes in my hands and in my side. Look at me; it’s Jesus.” Over and over he pointed to the facts, the evidence, as did the apostles and other writers of Scripture. I’m not saying it’s the only approach; I’m just saying it’s an important approach that we need to use well…

If we can call this The New Apologetics, it seems that besides offering logical evidence for Christianity, it is also to an extent an apologetic for modernism; saying, “don’t give up on logic, reason and evidence.” Here, oddly enough, even The New Atheists would be in agreement, but disagree as to what constitutes evidence. However, even at modernism’s peak (the pre-Vietnam era), there were many for whom logic, reason and evidence simply weren’t enough.

So, in the early 21st Century, we are told on one hand that we are living without a doubt in a postmodern culture. On the other hand, interest in science, technology and apologetics seems as strong, if not stronger, than ever. What gives?

Stay tuned for the possible answer to this question, and more …

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