Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Dying of the Light


Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minnesota is in turmoil. The source of the problem is that the historically evangelical institution has been going through a troubling shift in its understanding of truth. A website addressing the problem called Friends of Northwestern has been formed by some of the current faculty.

In one article Dr. Paul Kjoss Helseth, Associate Professor of Christian Thought, deals with what he believes in the primary problem at Northwestern. Dr. Helseth writes:


In my estimation, the leadership of the College has accommodated postmodernism and thus has endorsed a form of relativism that undermines its ability to: 1) make and defend objective truth claims, 2) formulate sound moral judgments, and 3) faithfully uphold the doctrinal foundation of the College. In short, whether wittingly or not, the leadership has endorsed a way of thinking that denies that human beings can have knowledge of reality as it really is, for reality (this way of thinking imagines) is always and everywhere a “social construction.” Reality, in other words, is what you and I perceive it to be, and since we perceive reality differently for various social, historical, and cultural reasons, we perceive differing realities, realities that are (conveniently) simultaneously both true for me and false for you. Representative of this mindset is a comment that I heard President Cureton make at one meeting of the President’s Task Force on Intercultural Competence during a discussion of a survey the committee conducted on campus perceptions of
intercultural issues. In an attempt to sum up the value of the survey, the President proclaimed matter of factly: “we all know that perception is 99% of reality.”

Whether one agrees with the President and the leadership on this point
or not, carefulobservers must concede that it is the kiss of death to the enduring integrity of the institution because: 1) it reduces truth claims to subjective – and therefore relative – assessments of reality, 2) depending on the particular circumstance, it regards moral values merely as expressions of personal taste or preference, and as a consequence it reduces moral judgments either to expressions of selfrighteous arrogance or, if some form of discipline is involved, to acts of judicial tyranny, and 3) it reduces doctrinal standards to noses of wax that must change from one age or social context to the next, for it regards doctrines not as summaries of what the Bible really teaches, but as interpretations of biblical teaching that must change because they are always bound to a particular time and place. In fact, the notion that “perception is reality” is not just evidence of the potential for drifting into theological liberalism; it is evidence of entrenched theological liberalism itself and of that which makes the dying of the light at Northwestern all but inevitable, for it locates the enduring essence of the Christian religion not in submission to the truth that God has clearly revealed in his Word, but in an altogether vague religious experience that is utterly devoid of objective doctrinal content.

Read the entire article HERE.

When churches, colleges, seminaries, and para-church organizations depart from biblical orthodoxy the result is always ruin. Southern Baptists have seen this in many of their institutions. By God's grace the Southern Baptist Seminaries turned back from their deadly drift into theological liberalism. However, many SBC colleges have not fared as well.

Are not the United Methodists, PCUSA, and the Disciples of Christ proof enough that when the truth is abandoned the light dies? Even the Southern Baptists, an historically orthodox group of churches demonstrates with their current decline that when truth is professed but practically ignored the effect is the same as when truth is denied.

1 comment:

rmkton said...

Whether this is the "dying of the light" (as you put it) or the turning on of the light (as I see it) we may disagree on...but one thing I think we would both agree on is that this THE issue of the evangelical church today... postmodernism with all of its philosophical and epistemological baggage.

What I don't like about this discussion though is feeling like we have to line up on one side of the issue or the other rather than dialoging about areas where we see common ground. I know a lot of Christians (myself included) who would tend to classify themselves as postmodern yet would not give into the notion of pure moral relativism, or the idea that all truth is personal (the extremes of postmodernism)

Instead of shutting the door to postmodernism as a whole let's find ways to engage with it...it is not all "evil". In fact some of it is quite helpful as a world view. It helps us see the planks in our own eye that come from culture, language, understanding, etc...which can make it seem (to us) that we are more righteous than others.

I don't see that as a "what does light have to do with darkness" issue.