Taking Philosophers to Church

Modernity has powerfully
shaped the church, although we are often unaware of its assumptions and
commitments that reside in our theology and practices.  Postmodernity have challenged these
assumptions and commitments, putting many Christians (particularly evangelicals,
it seems) on the defensive.  I think
Smith makes a good argument that this cultural moment provides an opportunity
for serious work in philosophical theory to serve the practice of the
church.  As Francis Schaeffer did before
him, he believes that we must take philosophy seriously, as philosophy does
have practical implications.

I especially liked
Smith’s treatment of Michael Foucault, the postmodern philosopher who
criticized the formative nature of political, economic and societal structures.  Knowledge, Foucault claims, is not a
neutrally determined reality but a construct shaped by networks of power.  Smith uses the example of the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Next to
highlight how institutions attempt to shape people into what they perceive as
normative.  Discerning Christians can
concede much of Foucault’s critique of modernity’s power structures.  What mechanisms of control has the church
ignored, or even allowed to conform it into their image?  One thinks here of Constantinian Christianity,
when the church became nearly indistinguishable from the Roman Empire.  When denominations and their churches grieve
their numerical decline, I have to ask with some skepticism: Are we longing to
participate in God’s mission in the world, or do we long for the days when the
church held a privileged place in the cultural centre? 

Foucalt helps us to see
the role of discipline in our understanding of truth, which begs the question: Who
or what shapes our ecclesiology? 

However,
not all discipline is bad, explains Smith. 
Demonstrating how the church can respond to modernity’s emphasis on
consumerism and individualism by using its counter-forming practices, he
writes: “Discipline and formation are good insofar as they are directed toward
the end, or telos, that is
proper to human beings: to glorify God and enjoy him forever (Westminster Catechism,
question 1).”

 

Advertisements

About Corey Sharpe

Where do we get our beliefs? Three theological perspectives have significantly shaped my Christian identity: Evangelicalism, the early Methodist tradition and liberation theology. From my coming to faith in a Baptist church and throughout my education in a Baptist school and college, I was nurtured by convictions that emphasized a spiritual rebirth, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and the centrality of the Bible. Even when I disagree with certain aspects of evangelicalism, it has deeply influenced my sense of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. My seminary studies spawned my interest in early Methodism, particularly its approach to spiritual formation. Its leaders were convinced that only a foundation of doctrine and discipline would lead to a meaningful transformation of the heart and mind. In other words, having the mind of Christ enables me to be more like Christ. Life in a suburban culture obscures the increasing gap between the poor and rich, as well as the Bible’s close identification with the poor. My doctoral work in socio-cultural context exposed me to liberation theology, which helps me see redemptive history as a history of oppressed groups, written from the perspective of the powerless, about a God who is actively involved with the poor in their struggles. I am now the pastor at Huntingtown United Methodist Church in Calvert County, Maryland. Together my wife and I are raising 4 young theologians.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s