8.21.2011

Grenz on Postmodernism and Christianity

In A Primer on Postmodernism, Stanley J. Grenz does something that I've never seen before in Evangelical philosophical discussions: he recognizes postmodernism's value to Christianity. I'm not saying that this never happens; but usually in Evangelical critiques of postmodernism, it is simply dismissed as self-refuting (which it is). Grenz lays out where Christians can agree with postmodernism and where they must disagree. He says that Christians can agree with postmodernism that modernism espouses too optimistic a view about human reason and the progress of knowledge (especially in science) and that the modernist emphasis on the individual, neutral, objective observer of the world is problematic. Christians believe that human reason is tainted by the sinful human will, whereas postmodernists distrust reason and point to the influence of one's community (and language) on the individual. The results of recent scientific discoveries highlight the double-edged sword that is knowledge: the splitting of the atom led to nuclear waste and threats of nuclear war. Grenz observes, moreover, that the postmodern shift in focus back to one's role in the community should be welcome in Evangelical Christianity, which, through modernism, has tended to focus too much on the individual knower having right beliefs and not enough on having a loving community.

Grenz draws a sharp line in the sand between Christianity and postmodernism when it comes to views on truth and reality. He notes that the postmodernist claim that there is no overarching narrative of humankind flatly opposes Christianity's assertion that the stories of each people group fit within a larger narrative that is centered on Jesus Christ and God's plan of redemption. Grenz also says that Christians ultimately do not share postmodernism's skepticism concerning reason. He realizes how Christianity has benefited from modernism's intellectual progress, even though human use of reason has sometimes led people away from Christ. He cites Pascal in noting the limits of human use of reason in matters of faith.

7.03.2011

God, Reason, and the Passions

"[I]n Scripture, God Himself is said to be angry without implying the least movement of passion. The word 'anger' is used because God's vengeance is effective, not because His nature is affective." -- Augustine, City of God, Book IX, Chapter 5

There has been some concern over whether God is affected by things outside Himself. If God's "emotions" are exactly like our emotions (the passions), then God changes and lacks sovereignty over all things. Our emotions toss us to and fro and affect our mental state. We can learn to control them with reason, but doing so is a struggle of the will. Considering God's eternal and infinite nature, it seems contradictory to say that God struggles to keep His passions under control, because this would imply that God is limited in His reason and His sovereignty by His passions. It would be saying that God is eternally conflicted.

Augustine points out a fundamental difference between God's "emotions" and our emotions. God's "emotions" are proactive, not reactive. God acts by reason in accordance with His own nature. So when we read that the Holy Spirit can be grieved over our sin (Isaiah 63:10; Ephesians 4:30), we must keep in mind that God is holy and always hates sin, as sin is opposed to His nature. God is being (eternally) consistent.