Professor John Haldane of St. Andrews in Scotland has been appointed consultor to the Pontifical Council for Culture. From the article:

Western society, he said, had lost its sense of the transcendent and lost the sense of “something beyond themselves that is greater and better than human beings…Everything has become unserious and shallow and we have got to re-evangelise the culture. The church has to engage with artists, writers, musicians and speak through radio, television and the print media in an effort to try to re-transcendentalise things. We have to inspire culture with a sense of its own dignity.”

I couldn’t agree more. Haldane himself is no intellectual slouch. A first rate Thomist, he has published numerous books and articles, as his fun photographic Curriculum Vitae demonstrates. It will be interesting to watch (albeit from a distance!) as the Vatican undertakes the project of reconverting Europe.

On the other side of the Reformation, New Testament scholar Ben Witherington has a new book out criticizing the various strands of evangelical theology. Witherington first made his mark on me in his excellent treatise on the narrative theology of Paul. Now he’s out to examine four strands of evangelical thought–Calvinist, Armininan, Dispensational, and Pentecostal–and determines “that all of these evangelical theological systems are exegetically vulnerable precisely in their distinctives.” This interview by CT, however, also includes this interesting statement:

In addition, we are all children of the Enlightenment, so we’ve tended to treat the Bible as if it were a history of ideas, where topics like soteriology, justification, the new birth, sanctification, going on to perfection, and glorification were the main themes, and our job was to link one idea to another. But in Scripture, we’re not talking about a history of ideas but about spiritual realities in people’s lives, about people who have stories and encounters with God. If you read the Bible carefully, on or below the surface of all of these texts is narrative, especially the story of Christ, but also the Old Testament stories of Adam and Moses and Abraham, and the story of Christians as recounted in Acts and elsewhere in the New Testament.

I think part of the problem is that we are still doing theology in an Enlightenment frame of mind, as if it were a string of ideas that we should logically link together, and once we’ve produced a nice logical circle, then we’re home free. The truth is that life is a lot messier than that, and the Bible is more about stories than the history of ideas that are embedded in the stories.

I’m reticent to agree that Scripture is talking about “spiritual realities in people’s lives” rather than “a history of ideas.” It seems that any divorce between the the narrative from which Paul was writing and the propositions with which he wrote invites trouble.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

2 Comments

  1. I never knew the Enlightenment began in the fourth century!

    In all seriousness, though, Witherington’s claim about the evils of the Enlightenment viz a viz theology, while academically en vogue, is completely specious. If his ilk are going to be so insistent in separating narrative from a system of ideas (which Matt well-criticized as wrong-headed in the first place), they have to blame a much earlier era.

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  2. Enlightenment bagging is very, very cool these days. I just want to know what the Enlightenment was and who are some of those who just don’t pay attention to the uber-cool narrative.

    I’ve been reading Jonathan Edwards lately and I’m pretty sure he falls smack dab in the middle of the Enlightenment. He definitely contradicts the bizarre idea that all “moderns” don’t care about the narrative. He began to write a treatise on the History of the Bible, which is just like the project Witherington describes. To boot a postmodern leaning thinker, Daniel Fuller, looks up to Edwards’ History of the Bible as exactly what we need today.

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