Jon Kennedy
Jon Kennedy


 

      Jon Kennedy's 'Postcards from
  the Nanty Glo in My Mind'
                                                           
   
  Modernism


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 meant—and it still means as it is used in academic contexts—and 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 they—by rejecting technological innovation—missing 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 point—and often involves throughout—the 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.'"

— Webmaster Jon Kennedy

 


 

 
 
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Thought for today

(The devil) always sends errors into the world in pairs—pairs of opposites . . . He relies on your extra dislike of one to draw you gradually into the opposite one.

C. S. Lewis (1898 - 1963)


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Jon Kennedy's latest book is The Everything Guide to C.S. Lewis and Narnia, now in stores, from Adams Media, F&W Publications. From May 9, 2007 through July 2, 2008 his blog entries or "Jonals" were articles inspired by readings in Lewis's work that didn't fit into the book. Click here for a list of all articles in the C.S. Lewis Overflow series. The book is available for purchase in support of the Liberty Museum in Nanty Glo and is also available on Amazon.

 


 

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