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The Western Story: Roots of Modernity Living at the Crossroads Chapter 5.

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Presentation on theme: "The Western Story: Roots of Modernity Living at the Crossroads Chapter 5."— Presentation transcript:

1 The Western Story: Roots of Modernity Living at the Crossroads Chapter 5

2 Incomparably the most urgent missionary task for the next few decades is the mission to ‘modernity’... It calls for the use of sharp intellectual tools, to probe behind the unquestioned assumptions of modernity and uncover the hidden credo which supports them... - Lesslie Newbigin

3 Telling the Story  Roots of Modernity: Classical culture, gospel, medieval era  Development of Modernity: Renaissance to present  Currents of Today: Postmodernity, Globalization, and Consumerism

4 Spiritual Direction of Western Culture  Confessional humanism  Illustrated by Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) in ‘The Madman’

5 We have killed God- we ourselves not become gods “We have killed God--you and I! We are his murderers!... “How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers?” the madman asks. “Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”

6 Western Faith: Rationalistic Humanism Autonomous man is capable of defining the world (Creator) and solving problems of world to bring about a new world of freedom, prosperity, justice, and truth (Savior) with his own rational resources.

7 Death of God and Confessional Humanism  If God is dead, we must replace him as Creator  If God is dead, we must replace him as ruler of history  If God is dead, we must replace him as savior and redeemer

8 “Man... alone is responsible for the realization of the world of his dreams, [and] has within himself the power for its achievement” (Humanist Manifesto) Humanism “assigns to us nothing less than the task of being our own savior and redeemer” (Corliss Lamont).

9 Humanism...  Secular  Naturalistic  Rationalistic  Scientific

10 Also called...  Enlightenment worldview  The modern worldview  Modernity

11 Deadly foe? Western modernity may be “a much deadlier foe than any previous counter-religious forces in human history.”

12 Modernity...  Formed by long history of interaction between classical humanism and gospel  Polanyi: Explosion of modernity result of ignition of flame of classical humanism in the oxygen of the gospel

13 Historical Development of Rationalistic Humanism  Roots in pagan/classical period (to 5th c.)  Preserved in medieval synthesis (5th-14th c.)  Re-emerged at Renaissance (14th-15th c.)  Salted by gospel at Reformation (15th c.)  Given tremendous thrust forward in Scientific Revolution (16th-17th c.)  Came to mature expression in Enlightenment (18th c.)  Given social embodiment in social, industrial, and political revolutions (19th, 20th c.)  Under attack today (late 20th, 21st c.)

14 Until lions have their historians, hunters will always be the hero of the story. -African proverb

15 Eras:


17 Another way to designate eras:

18 Historical Origins of Confessional Humanism in Greece  Emerged in pre-Socratic philosophers over against pagan religion of Greek culture  Culminated in Plato and Aristotle  Spread throughout ancient culture by Alexander the Great  Embraced by Roman empire

19 Seeds of Western Worldview  Rationalism: human reason alone is capable of understanding world  Naturalism: world can be explained by natural causes  Humanism: autonomy of human beings from any transcendent authority


21 Plato (427-348 B.C.) Aristotle (384-322 B.C.)

22 Platonic Worldview rational soul body

23 Plotinus (205-270 A.D.) & Neoplatonism  basic division between good spiritual world and evil material world;  human beings made up of inferior material body and superior rational soul;  bodily life in this material world is inferior to spiritual life;  human life has an otherworldly, spiritual orientation.

24 Roots of Western Worldview in Gospel  Gospel enters Roman culture as an alternative, comprehensive way of life  Confessed Jesus as Lord over against Caesar  Declared itself to be public community, new humankind and not private religion

25 Roots of Western Worldview in Gospel  Gospel enters Roman culture as an alternative, comprehensive way of life  Two comprehensive visions of life: Clash inevitable  Gospel also translatable  Danger of contamination and unfaithful contextualization

26 Changing Relation to Culture  In Roman empire church lived in antithetical relation to culture  With Constantine (311 A.D.) Rome became “Christian”  Church established as part of empire  Vulnerability to idolatry of empire

27 Medieval Synthesis


29 Plato and Augustine (354-430)  Plato’s philosophy: New expression in Plotinus  Plotinus pivotal in Augustine’s conversion  Merges Platonic philosophy and gospel  Both Scriptural and Greek strands in thinking  Synthesis influential in Western culture

30 ... it was Augustine’s formulation of Christian Platonism that was to permeate virtually all of medieval Christian thought in the West (Tarnas).

31 Escape from this world to the next, from self to God, from flesh to spirit, constituted the deepest purpose and direction of human life.... In Augustine’s vision [carried on in medieval period]... the transcendent spiritual realm was the only realm that genuinely mattered (Tarnas).

32 Biblical Story

33 Platonic Vision

34 Biblical Story Recast by Augustine

35 Post-Augustine Otherworldliness...especially after Augustine, salvation was seen less in such dramatic historical and collective terms, and...could be fulfilled only when the soul left behind the physical world and entered the celestial state... Escape from this world to the next, from self to God, from flesh to spirit, constituted the deepest purpose and direction of human life (Tarnas).

36 Neoplatonic Christianity The early Judaeo-Christian belief in redemption of the whole man and the natural world shifted in emphasis, especially under the influence of Neoplatonist Christian theologians, to a belief in a purely spiritual redemption in which man’s highest faculties alone--the spiritual intellect, the divine essence of the human soul--would be reunited with God... the devout Christian perceived himself as a citizen of the spiritual world, and his relation to the transitory physical realm was that of a stranger and pilgrim (Tarnas).

37 Sense of Universal History The Hellenic sense of history was generally cyclical, the Judaic was decisively linear and progressive, the gradual fulfillment in time of God’s plan for man... Augustine’s strong sense of God’s government of history- -as in his dramatic scenario of the two invisible societies of the elect and the damned, the city of God and the city of the world, battling through creation’s history until the Last Judgment--still reflected the Judaic ethical vision of God’s purposefulness in history (Tarnas).

38 Late Medieval Synthesis (13th-14th c.)


40 Plato (427-348 B.C.) Aristotle (384-322 B.C.)

41 Aquinas’ Two Realm Theory Fits in Aristotle


43 Tension of Thomas’ Two Storeys The Christian mediaeval synthesis presented by Thomas is one of extreme tension, and in the dynamic of historical development had effects which were to prove self-destructive: there was to be an unprecedented and all-embracing movement of secularization and emancipation ‘at the lower level.’ (Hans Küng)

44 Limited Autonomy to Total Autonomy While scholastic theologians [had] granted a limited degree of autonomy to the realm of our natural life (and natural reason), the Renaissance humanists so greatly expanded the autonomy of nature that there was no longer any need for the realm of grace. If God and Christianity were already basically irrelevant to most of life, why not make their irrelevance complete?

45 Salting Effect of Gospel The medieval period was “the first great attempt to translate the universal claims of Christ into political [and cultural] terms.” As a result of the one-thousand-year synthesis, “the Gospel was wrought into the very stuff of [Western Europe’s] social and personal life.” “We still live largely on the spiritual capital which it generated” (Newbigin)

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