Problems inherited from the enlightenment

Webber’s Ancient Future Faith strikes a positive note most of the time. It’s not one of those Christian works where “unfortunately” appears within the first paragraph of each chapter. However, some of his very best comments come from a section in each part of the book titled “Problems Inherited from the Enlightenment”.

Here’s a quick breakdown (a mix of my comments and his):

Problem: The foundation of faith shifting from the person to Jesus Christ to the Bible. The center of our faith went from the God who ACTS to the God who SPOKE. Do we believe in a book or a person?

An emphasis on pragmatism has resulted in an a-theological view of the church. Emphasis on practical ministry and church growth, to the exclusion of theology seems to get results for a while, but you end up with the next generation not knowing what they believe.

The emphasis on individualism has resulted in an a-historical view of the church. This is a biggie. We can’t see farther back than when our own congregation was founded (1970 and 80’s for many American churches). We are often largely ignorant of the 2000 year-old traditions, and even the 500 year old reformed ones.

A loss of a theology of worship. On one hand we have the heady enlightenment emphasis on reason that makes the didactic sermon the center of worship. On the other hand is the romantic stress on emotion.

A rejection of an order of worship and a generally stable liturgy may seem exciting and powerful to one generation, but they are unable to pass it down to the next generation since it has no foundation. Faith transmission falters with free-form corporate worship.

The rejection of symbolic speech. The dominant word-oriented culture inherited from the Enlightenment is based on conceptual language: reading, notions, abstractions, precision, intelligence, clarity, analysis, idea, explanation, linear sequence, and logic. The use of imagery, symbols, and even subtle language is relatively unknown among many of us.

We fail spiritually when we ignore the resources the Holy Spirit has given us throughout the history of the church. For fifteen centuries prior to the Reformation a vast reservoir of spirituality had developed within the church: hours of prayer, exercises of devotion, personal and corporate discipline, communal values, and harmony with nature had been introduced, to say nothing of schools of spirituality such as the monastic movements, the spiritual writings of the early church fathers, etc. Unfortunately, when the Reformers attempted to rid the church of its bad devotional habits, such as the excessive emphasis on Mary, a preoccupation with the saints, the worship of relics, and devotion to the Host, they failed to retain other positive approaches to spirituality that had emerged in the early church. There are loads of these remaining to be recovered.

There are a couple more, but they mostly go back to the emphasis on individualism. That and the reformers being enamored with rationalism.