The Marriage of Modernity to the Church

The English scholar, Oz Guinness, described modernity as “the character and system of the world  produced by the forces of modernization and development.”  The church belongs to God; the people who belong to God and are in a favorable relationship with God constitute the church. The church has a purpose, mission, and ministry which God revealed in the Word of God.  Modernity is a creation of a culture, specifically the western culture.  The culture and the church cannot be separated, but they should not be married.  The Church: First Thirty Years has a chapter titled, The Church Growth Movement.  The following quote explains  the essence of this blog:

Rationalism ends up in the world of subjectivity.  The quest to understand reality never completes the cycle, so the next step is to try something new or different.  The students of modernity have mastered this concept.  It is sad but true that the evangelical church has been persuaded by these disciples to become the vehicle to spread the message of modernity.

Modernity has powerful persuasive elements which indicate that “Modernity is not just a time but a set of passions, hopes, and ideas, a mentality that prevails in some circles more than in others, and nowhere more than the university, the primary agent of the ideology of modernity.”[1]   The university is the place theologians go for an education.  Many seminaries have university trained professors.  The question is:  to what extent have they been persuaded by modernity and how much of that persuasion will be passed on to the coming generations?  The evangelical church stands on the edge of the precipice of a plunge into a neo-dark age.  Should the church be fearful that modernity is standing ready to push her over the edge?

The potential threat of modernity to the evangelical church is probably greater than ever, but the opportunity for reformation is also greater than any time in recent history.  The children of modernity have attempted to secularize Christianity.  We see this a number of different ways, but primarily as “the pastor seeks to embody what modernity admires and to redefine what pastoral ministry now means in light of this culture’s two most admired types, the manager and the psychologist.”[2]  David Wells attributes the problem to the disappearance of theology.  If sound theology disappears then something must replace that theology.  I ask you to consider,  “The gulf between the truth-centered evangelism of Edwards and Whitefield and the technique-centered variety of industrialized religion…illustrated by Charles Finney… .”[3] Finney’s method of evangelism is one of many examples of how modernity threatens the good health of the evangelical church.  Although Finney’s theology is not well systematized, it is well documented that he believed “methods” were the key to the salvation of a soul.  Likewise, the church growth movement believes that methods will fill the pews.

Modernity has produced a progeny by its power and persuasion and now poses a threat to the church.  What can we do?  We can reject the “myths of power [and] popularity, [which] have led to an unhealthy preoccupation with superficial success,  methods  over message, technique over truth, quantity over quality”[4]  The greater question is how can we accomplish this?  Mike Horton responds to the question by reminding us of our world and life view.

The Bible commands, ‘Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind’ (Rom. 12:2).   While much fuel has been spent on trying to get people to act like Christians, the Bible insists that we must first think like Christians. The transforming of our minds takes place not through magic, superstitious techniques, or superficial devotions, but through serious and sometimes difficult study.  It requires that we know something about the Bible and the people to whom it is addressed, and that we know something about ourselves and the culture in which we live.  It is dangerous to pretend one is not worldly when one refuses to critically examine the ways in which one has been influenced more by the spirit of the age than by the Spirit of Christ.[5]

The Christian world and life view does not spring forth from the ground like an artesian well.  It is formulated by the laborious effort of the individual empowered by the Holy Spirit.  Christians do not devote enough time and effort asking the “why” questions of the Christian faith. Why should we use the tools of modernity is the question we must ask?  But all too often Christians are asking, “how may I use the tools of modernity?” rather than running from them.  Christians often ask the scientific question “how” rather than the philosophical question “why.”  The “why” question will always need to consult the Word of God to find the correct answer.  The Christian begins to use the tools of modernity, relativism creeps in and soon methodology becomes their god.  “In 1926 the Bible Crusaders of America formed:  its special mission was to “combat Modernism, Evolution, Agnosticism and Atheism.”[6] Today evangelicals are no longer contending against Modernism, they are embracing it.

[1] Thomas Oden, After Modernity…What?, p. 52.

[2] David Wells, No Place for Truth, p. 101.

[3]Michael Scott Horton, Made in America, p. 44.

[4] Ibid, p. 12.

[5] Ibid.

[6] James Davidson Hunter, Culture Wars, p. 138.

2 thoughts on “The Marriage of Modernity to the Church

  1. Any time a church or a pastor tries to be more successful in getting church membership by using tools such as loud music, spotlights, sermons that simply make a person feel good about himself and other such ruses, instead of the Biblical pattern of preaching the whole counsel of God through using the Holy Scriptures, whatever is gained won’t be permanent and it won’t be real. It will simply be a stimulus to add folks to the membership of the church instead of leading them into the Kingdom of God. Ann Varnum

    Liked by 1 person

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