Does Evidence Still Demand A Verdict? The Church’s Apologetic Task And The Postmodern Turn
By Stanley J. Grenz
In many respects I am a quintessential baby boomer. Because I grew up in the u.s. in the 1950s and 1960s, I am naturally imbued with many of the views that typified the scientific culture of the modern era. Moreover, as a Christian who was spiritually formed in an age when science reigned, I developed an understanding of the apologetic task of the church that sought to link faith with the scientific enterprise. I paid special attention when my high school Sunday School class studied a series of lessons that explored the intellectual credibility of Christianity. As a university student I devoured the writings of Francis Schaeffer and C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. And as a fledgling philosophy major in my junior year I became enamored with the apologetic value of rational arguments for the faith. I concluded that intellectually astute Christians had an array of invincible weapons in their arsenal that could confirm the credibility of the faith in the face of the challenges leveled against it and could also carry the day in their evangelistic efforts. In short I believed, as Josh McDowell has reminded us, that Christians possess “evidence that demands a verdict.”
Much has changed since 1973 when I graduated from the University of Colorado. I realize that some pastors minister in a church culture that continues to carry many of the values and beliefs endemic of the modern era in which it arose. Yet, in many respects, the church culture that many people are comfortable in is becoming increasingly alien to the 21st-century world in which we live. Nowhere is this more evident than in the apologetic mission of the church. The thoroughgoing shift in culture transpiring around us raises the question: Does evidence stilldemand a verdict?
In this second installment in our series, I want to explore the disconnect between the orientation toward evidence that demands a verdict and the contemporary, postmodern climate. To facilitate this we must examine how science came to rule the roost in modern society, and the major ways in which Christians have sought to engage apologetically with the modern perspective. Finally, we must understand in what sense the postmodern turn has undermined the entire orientation that Christian apologists in the past have shared with the people to whom they sought to demonstrate the truth of the faith. Then, we might hear the Spirit speaking afresh to us in today’s context.
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How Science Came To Rule The Roost
The desire to put forth verdict-demanding evidence was an attempt by well-meaning, concerned Christians to engage in an era when science reigned. It was a response to the particularly modern understanding of the nature of faith and religion.
In many respects, the modern outlook toward religion began in an era known as the Enlightenment (17th and 18th centuries). In the wake of the military conflicts that ravished Europe in the early 17th century that pitted Protestants and Catholics against each other, intellectuals sought to overcome the struggles produced by religious differences. They concluded that the solution was to discover the truth that is available to humanity through reason.
The elevation of reason became the arbiter of truth. Enlightenment intellectuals acknowledged religion only if it could be proven reasonable. The German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, a Lutheran, articulated this idea in his book, Religion Within the Bounds of Reason Alone. Enlightenment thinkers like Kant believed a truly reasonable religion focused on ethics rather than dogma, and on the natural rather than the supernatural. In effect, they looked to religion to provide a transcendent sanction for codes of conduct. They believed such a religion would see God in the natural laws of the universe rather than in questionable miraculous occurrences. In keeping with this perspective, Kant said two things filled him with awe: “the starry heavens above and the moral law within.”
The elevation of reason eventually led some intellectuals to separate faith and reason into different realms. They concluded that the truths discovered through reason (especially scientific knowledge), and religious truth, which comes by faith, deal with two different aspects of the world…