Christianity in a Postmodern World

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Christian Belief in a Postmodern World: The Full Wealth of Conviction

Others have tried to do what Diogenes Allen, Professor of Philosophy at Princeton Theological Seminary, does in his book but none with his breadth or effectiveness. That is, others have attempted to exploit for theism's benefit the hard times now befalling the modern world's emphasis on scientific reasoning and pure rationality, which for quite a while had placed Christianity (and religious belief in general) on the intellectual and cultural defensive. Many of these earlier attempts made use of the Wittgensteinian concepts of "form of life" or "language game" to show that both science and religion depended on unproven assumptions and therefore rested equally on grounds without firm foundations. These kinds of attempts, however, could most always aim no higher than to make the world safe for fideism. And fideism is not to defend the faith. What makes Allen's contribution special and important is his effort to examine in a philosophically rigorous way what we mean when we say Christianity is true. He quotes Colossians 2:2 at the start of his book, but I Peter 3:15 is just as appropriate for what follows: "Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence."
Allen is very clear whom he is writing for and what his intentions are: "to give those who have no faith compelling rational grounds to become seekers and to those who have faith a greater degree of assurance and understanding than they can attain while constrained by the modern mentality." He divides his book into three parts. The first part begins with a mapping of our current intellectual terrain. In many ways, modernism committed the docetist heresy to human thought. It failed to see human thought as truly embodied and enculturated. Rather, human intellection consisted in pristine, pure rationality undisturbed by culture, bias, or the vagaries of historical situation. Modernism valued evidence and empirical confirmation and therefore strived to remain valueneutral to mirror a phenomenal world that was itself held value-neutral. The author challenges this way of human knowing and finds it insufficient and incapable of meeting the deepest needs of being human. In so doing, he sheds light on the relation between science and religion. Much of this material is rather provocative intellectual history, including a particularly interesting analysis of the Galileo affair and how it was used for polemical purposes by those hostile to theism.
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