Monday, June 05, 2006

from mystery to reason to mystery

“It may broadly be said that the story of Christianity moves from mystery in the classical period, to institution in the medieval era, to individualism in the Reformation era, to reason in the modern era, and now, in the postmodern era, back to mystery.” Robert Webber, “Ancient-Future Faith,” 16
It's probably a little simplistic - but there's a lot of truth here. link

3 comments:

Brahm said...

hey i've got a wonderful idea for the postmodern period... let's make it all of the above :-)

Kevin Flatt said...

"Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler."
-- Albert Einstein

Webber's description is simplistic enough to be practically useless.

1) He's comparing apples and oranges by mixing up doctrinal, worship, and organizational categories. Saying Christianity has moved from mystery to institution to individualism is like saying that the Maple Leafs have gone from goaltending to playing in arenas to wearing jerseys.

2) The medieval church loved "mystery" -- probably more than the early/classical church which was worried about fighting the "mysteries" of gnosticism. It was also very "individualistic" in its spiritual focus on those who withdrew from the world and the wider community to lives of mystical contemplation, hermit-saints being the most extreme example.

3) The Reformation was just as concerned about replacing the medieval church institution with a biblically reformed institution as with "individualism" per se. The correct form and function of the church institution was a huge concern for the Reformation in Switzerland, Germany, Scotland, England, etc.

4) Reason is NOT a product of the modern era, nor has the modern era been more "reasonable" than other eras, nor has the modern church been particularly "reasonable". Reason has been an important tool of the church in understanding, communicating and applying God's revelation from the apostolic era (Paul is the outstanding example), to the days of the early church (seen particularly in the great creeds), to the medieval era (e.g. the theology of Thomas Aquinas), to the Reformation (the return to reason in reading Scripture). In fact, I would argue that the most significant departure from this use of reason occurred in the 20th century under the influence of modern secular thought like existentialism.

6) If Webber is arguing that the church is or should be moving from an emphasis on "reason" to an emphasis on "mystery", he should define his terms and then explain why this is/should be happening (perhaps he does this in his book?). He shouldn't rely on a gross misrepresentation of history to convince us.

7) I agree with Brahm -- the church at its best incorporates all of these elements if they are rightly understood, each with its proper place and function.

pastor mike said...

Obviously Webber, has condensed things here - he's painting with a roller not a fine brush. If I remember correctly, basically Rober Webber says, in other places, that the church is at it's best when it incorporates all these elements appropriately. The struggle is, and has been, keeping these things in proper / biblical tension. It is so easy [as we have seen thoughout history] to swing like a pendulum from one emphasis to another.