Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Bishop of London and Post-Modernism

On Saturday, I attended the School of Theology at HTB and this week our guest speaker was the Bishop of London (Church of England) and he spoke on some very interesting topics. During our tea break, I was able to corner him and ask him about my post-modernism question. He had the most interesting answer…

Coming from an established church and seeing his numbers decline (like most mainline churches), he advocates a post-modernist type approach to the Scriptures. He compared the mainline churches to the man who sees a butterfly flying in the field and being captivated by its beauty. Therefore this man captures the butterfly and goes back to the scientific laboratory and dissects it to discover the secret to its beauty. After scattering butterfly parts all over the laboratory table, he finds himself a little disappointed with the result. He may have intimate knowledge of how a butterfly works, but is no closer to understanding (or even seeing) the beauty that was originally so attractive.

He believes that many mainline churches, affected by the Enlightenment’s love of reason, have taken the Scriptures apart and destroyed some of the mystery and beauty of God’s Word. The Bishop articulated his belief that the Scripture is not God’s literal words, but instead the way that He reveals himself to His creation. Therefore since revelation is not rational and logical, the Church, using the Scriptures as the agreed starting point, need not be afraid to incorporate many of the appealing ideas of post-modernism into our theology so that we can love God with all our hearts, souls and minds.

Sensing that the Bishop was embracing post-modernism as a way to connect to people, I then asked if the more mainline churches would be embracing post-modernism with an emphasis on emotions over the “rules” of Scriptures when dealing with the public at large and in outreach specifically. It was then that he threw me for a loop!

The Bishop then argued that when the Church is dealing with the society at large it needs to continue to be the standard bearer of tradition and stand up for many of the institutions that post-modernism seeks to subvert or tear down (marriage, trust in gov’t, traditional families, etc). He stated that since society’s baseline is reason we should speak their language and rejects the irrational position of post-modernism as a way of organizing a society because of the potential corrosive effects.

There seem to be some internal contradictions in his belief, but I thought it was interesting. I just wonder how his beliefs would be worked out. How can the Church be saying to those outside, we believe in this, this and this traditional belief, but at the same time be looking to transform its internal workings to allow people to challenge long-held beliefs, theology and institutions? I’m not sure I agree with the Bishop, but he did make a good point that this post-modernist philosophy may not be an all or nothing debate.