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?
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,