MODERNITY: HISTORY AND THEOLOGY
HSST 2198, Spring Semester 2006
May 19, 2006
Purpose of this paper:
This paper will examine some of the key marks of modern church history in terms of the opportunities and challenges it poses today. It will do this in light of the course readings and lectures, but also will examine other sources, particularly those expressed by Stanley Hauerwas, PhD, Professor of Theological Ethics at Duke University.
In the supplementary reading, "Why Modernity Matters," that began our work in this course, the question is asked, "what kind of account of Christian hope are we prepared to give," in light of a passage from the first letter of Peter: "Always be prepared to give an account of the hope that is in you." For Dr. Johnson and this writer, as well, Christian theology asks a simple, yet profound question: What is the hope of Christian people? Note that this is couched in terms of a group or community, not an individual. The church is the inheritor of modernity's legacy. What, indeed is that legacy? Modernity's Legacy:
There are a number of items that could be listed as legacies of modernity. I would prefer, writing from a big-picture, wide-angle lens viewpoint, to express modernity's legacy to Christianity as one of offering hope and challenge. Modernity, whether in the thinkers coming from the Age of Enlightenment, the rise of the social gospel, liberation theology, or any of those topics, calls us to question our assumptions, and to not rely solely on dogma, doctrine, or tradition. Modernity called the church to probe, examine, and think about what it means to be Christian. Some responses to that call has been the rise of fundamentalism, Biblical literalism, racism, classism, sexism, the loss of community, the rise of an ethic of "me, my, and I," to name a few. So, while modernity gave us a new sense of curiosity and challenge, it has also given us a reactionary response to many of its gifts. Part of modernity's legacy is the creation of defense mechanisms against it that exist to perpetuate the old system, in which the church has been politicized. The church, rather than being about the politic of Jesus and his kingdom, can, and in some instances, has become, a slave to worldly politics.
This has become an acute problem in this country. Conservative, evangelical, and fundamentalist Christians tend to believe they are to fulfill their calling through that particular arm of government called the Republican Party. The mainline church, mobilized by the call to "preach" the social gospel and embrace liberation theology, often has been allied with the Democratic Party. Stanley Hauerwas, writing in his essay, "The Servant Community," believes these are flawed responses that distort the church's mission to the world in this postmodern age. He writes, " the first social ethical task of the church is to be the church-the servant community." He continues, " the church does not have a social ethic; it is a social ethic."
He believes the church is called to be a community of peace and truth in a world of fear. His worldview, and, I think the worldview the church in the postmodern world must adopt, is one in which the world is God's world, God's good creation. If, indeed, Christians are to bring hope and to be hopeful themselves, they must be a people with a fervent hope that sustains the world and themselves.
Hauerwas believes that the first question we must ask is not "what should we do," as church in the postmodern world, but "what is going on"? As noted above, while the gospel is political, it is not allied with secular politics, often characterized by insufficient politics based upon coercion and falsehood. The politics of the kingdom, as it were, are based not upon power and control, but upon servanthood. This premise owes much to the legacy of modernity, coming from H. Richard Neibuhr, who was influenced...