postmodern christianity & the reformation

So, I disappear for weeks at a time and reappear to post twice in a single day.

It’s not because I’ve quit writing. I’m working on a long project, and it’s almost halfway done. The project is a departure from what I write here, though, and I’ve missed posting here for the world to enjoy (or tear apart – although pleasantly enough, I’ve never received hate-mail, probably because I rarely say anything controversial).

This Thanksgiving weekend, I am sick and staying at my parents’ house, so in lieu of something more energetic I pulled out three old journals and started reading. Those who know me well are aware that I reread my journals on a regular basis. I haven’t decided whether this betrays self-obsession or simply a desire to learn from the past. (I prefer to see it as the latter.)

In September 2007 I traveled from my then-home in southern Germany to Wittenberg, which is much further north. I’d been thinking about postmodernism and the Emergent Church, probably because some coworkers at the school had talked about it, and my thoughts about the new movement ran together with what I learned about the Reformation in Martin Luther’s hometown. Here’s what I wrote.

On the drive to Wittenberg today, I read a chapter from Francis Shaeffer’s book How Should We Then Live? about the Reformation, since we’re going to be seeing sites this weekend related to that movement. One thing he said (or rather, quoted from another writer) made me think about the postmodern/Emerging movement within the church. I am not saying I see exact parallels, simply that it’s fascinating to consider our contemporary movements in light of history, and how these turning points like the Renaissance and the Reformation were actual real-life movements that, like our current ones, didn’t know where they were headed. Here’s what Schaeffer wrote summarizing Burkhardt:

“He indicated that freedom was introduced both in the north by the Reformation and in the south by the Renaissance. But in the south it went to license; in the north it did not. The reason was that in Renaissance humanism man had no way to bring forth a meaning to the particulars of life and no place from which to get absolutes in morals. But in the north, the people of the Reformation, standing under the teaching of scripture, had freedom yet at the same time compelling absolute values.”

That seriously fascinates me: from what Schaeffer writes about the Reformation and its cry of “Sola Scriptura” (even putting the Bible on church altars – as if it is to be worshiped) I see how part of the postmodern argument rejects that idea, which has developed through western church history down through the ages. But while I don’t believe the Bible is to be esteemed above Christ himself, the Reformers certainly brought about much good. And Burkhardt has a point: freedom is great, but it needs absolutes to anchor it or it becomes just another type of slavery. There must be absolute truth and there is absolute truth. Two words from the lips of God are all the absolutes I need: “I AM.”


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