Jonal entry 1123 | August 17 2010
What is . . . certain is the vast mass of doctrine which
I find agreed on by Scripture, the Fathers, the Middle Ages,
modern Roman Catholics, [and] modern Protestants. That is
true "catholic" doctrine. Mere "modernism,"
I reject at once.
C.S. Lewis, letter to H. Lyman Stebbins,
May 8, 1945
When my mother, taking clues from her favorite former
preacher Mr. Fargo,
spoke disparagingly about "modernism" in my youth, I
was inclined to be skeptical. I had visions of having to give
up our car for a horse and buggy and throw out the TV and radio
like the Amish. And we still hadn't gotten a telephone on the
farm at the time.
I was sorely ignorant of what "modernism"
actually meantand it still means as it is used in academic
contextsand neither was my mother well enough educated about
it to give an adequate definition of it. As a philosophy, modernism
was indeed a serious opponent to Christianity and any other traditional
religious belief, and as a theology it was pure heresy. And though
the Amish were agin' modernism even before the word had been coined,
being against philosophical and theological modernism does not
entail abandoning modern technology, media, and conveniences.
Despite the photogenic charms of the Amish and their
corners of the world, not only are theyby rejecting technological
innovationmissing much of what God has provided as gifts
to His people, they are failing to take on the responsibility
He has commanded of His obedient people. (This is not, however,
to deny that there are some positive contributions to appreciate
in their approach to farming, "cottage industries" like
quilt and furniture making, and their simpler lifestyle.) The
theology and attitude of the radical anabaptists, of which the
Amish are the most radical sects, originated in the seventeenth
century as a side eddy of the Reformation and Anabaptist movements
and must, ironically, be seen for the innovation they are in the
context of Christian orthodoxy and the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Their stance is, in the light of church teaching from the beginning,
biblically unorthodox and heterodox. And much the same must be
said of those fundamentalists on the fringes of mainstream Protestantism
who insist that God cares for souls but not cultures.
C. S. Lewis called himself one of the last of a
dying breed and a "dinosaur" because of his reputation
for championing ideals and ideas considered out of fashion, but
he also encouraged the Christians at his talks and at forums like
the Oxford Socratic Club to be in the vanguard of their fields
and keep abreast of innovations, and while defending "creation"
as foundational Christian doctrine, he also affirmed the scientific
discoveries and continued pursuit of evolution theory in biology.
The "modernism" that Lewis rejected in the passage from
his correspondence quoted atop this Jonal refers to the movement
among scholars and clergy in the churches, also known as liberal
theology, to recast and accommodate Christian doctrine to the
scientific faith popularized by the industrial revolution.
Lewis wrote in his paper, "Modern Theology
and Biblical Criticism," "...All theology of the liberal
type involves at some pointand often involves throughoutthe
claim that the real behaviour and purpose and teaching of Christ
came very rapidly to be misunderstood and misrepresented by his
followers, and has been recovered or exhumed only by modern scholars."
In other words, the early church was, in the view of liberal theology,
a conspiracy to gain power for its leaders and the New Testament
is a work of fiction supporting that conspiracy, which modernist
theology was out to correct.
In the same paper, Lewis says the proponent of
theological modernism "either denies the miraculous altogether
or, more strangely, after swallowing the camel of the Resurrection
strains at such gnats as the feeding of the multitudes.
"Thirdly," Lewis continues, "I find
in these theologians a constant use of the principle that the
miraculous does not occur. Thus any statement put into Our Lord's
mouth by the old texts, which, if He had really made it, would
constitute a prediction of the future, is taken to have been put
in after the occurrence which it seemed to predict. This is very
sensible if we start by knowing that inspired prediction can never
occur" (Christian Reflections, William B. Eerdmans
Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1967; reprinted 1994).
In the same vein, Crystal Downing, professor of
English and Film Studies at Messiah College in Grantham, Cumberland
County, writes in How Postmodernism Serves (My) Faith (Inter-Varsity
Press, 2006), "Influenced by the higher criticism of the
nineteenth century, these modernist Christians 'demythologize'
their Scriptures, as when theologian Rudolf Bultmann proclaimed
in 1941, 'We cannot use electric lights and radios and, in the
event of illness, avail ourselves of modern medical and clinical
means and at the same time believe in the spirit and wonder world
of the New Testament.'"
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