The Rejection of Enlightenment Thinking

This from David Wells, Above All Earthly Powers. What do you think specifically of the part I’ve bolded.

There are, of course, two sides to this rejection of the Enlightenment outlook and the search for an alternative way of thinking to take its place. The collapse of the Enlightenment ideology is long overdue and the disappearance of its coercive humanism is no small boon. In science, for example, the embargo on mentioning God when discussing the origins of the universe has been lifted. The narrow humanistic confines in which Enlightenment reason chose to work have been overthrown and the world has been opened up to what is unpredictable and maybe even miraculous. In the Christian domain, this could well mean that the disintigrating Enlightenment will take down with it much of the critical apparatus that has been developed in biblical studies, which would open the way for more fruitful methodologies. The rejection of the idea of progress means that earlier developments in the Christian story, such as those of the patristic period, take on fresh currency since they can no longer be seen as intrinsically inferior to the present. There are new prospects for Christian thought.

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7 thoughts on “The Rejection of Enlightenment Thinking

  1. I would love to see him explore this further. It is true that the enlightenment influenced Christianity as it regards rational, propositional and critical thinking in scholarship and teaching. I would probably agree that within our teaching and preaching there may be an overemphasis on merely propositional teaching. On one hand propositions and doctrines need to be taught and defended, and a thorough hermeneutic needs to be employed. However the idea that scripture also includes not just doctrine, but the “story” of God is beneficial to our thinking and to our teaching. For example, statements of faith are so important, but when was the last time you heard of someone coming to Christ through reading one? Or for that matter, when was the last time you have been blessed yourself from reading one? I’m sure this doesn’t happen often. If someone is blessed by reading a statement of faith it is probably because such an individual knows the context and “story” that in which the various dogmas are couched. This illustrative and personal side of scripture has probably been too often neglected. Some new methods are probably in order as David Wells suggests. However, it is dangerous to allow the important systematic doctrines to be compromised by these new methodologies. I do wonder what he means by “the rejection of the idea progress.” Is he denying the progress of revelation? That idea, I think would be hard to dismiss.

  2. “I do wonder what he means by “the rejection of the idea progress.” Is he denying the progress of revelation? That idea, I think would be hard to dismiss.”The idea that we are progressively getting better. For instance, we throw out what other people have said earlier because we think our citical methods have progressed beyond what they could know.

  3. Oh ok, I see. Now looking back I wonder if I got the gist of what Wells was actually trying to say. Could you elaborate Matt on exactly what “methods” he was referring to in relation to the scriptures?

  4. I thought you understood. That’s the thing. He doesn’t say what he means, just throws that bit in his book and leaves it there. Like you I wish he would eloborate.

  5. It’s very interesting to me that you are discussing this, Matt. Are you reading David Well’s book? I went to a workshop on these subjects at the GARBC conference in Michigan. It was both fascinating and frightening to consider the Enlightenment influence on our kind of “Christianity.” It proves a tremendous challange for us as we face the future. How will this change our preaching? How will this effect how we present the gospel? How quickly will these changes impact our churches? Will we be able to change our methods quickly enough? Are we open to change? What kind of changes are biblical? What kind of theology (Biblical, systematic, etc.) should we be relying on? I guess, at first, I saw all of this from a very negative/fearful view, but it does open up new possibilities to us as far as methodology. We face the challenge of listening to how young people are thinking, while at the same time being willing to confront an erosion of belief in the authority of the Scriptures.

  6. Amy, I am reading David Wells book (Above All Earthly Powers). Frightening might be an appropriate word. Have you read NT Wright on the authority of scripture? The link is under the Rob Bell post. When try to think of “new” methodologies that’s what comes to mind… What could he mean. If you have some notes from the seminar give us some examples. Or could it be that the errosion of modernism will instead illicit a healthy appreciation for what we hold tightly in the right hand and what we can loosen in the left? In other words our view of the perspecuity of scripture on given issues will help us to not be so dogmatic about everything? Could unity in the church be possible? What are your thoughts?

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