One of the hallmarks of postmodernity is its suspicion of Reason as the final arbiter of the “Truth.” Christians in the Emerging Movement (which is heavily engaged in the postmodern turn) are sympathetic to this skepticism of Reason. As we see it, if Rationality (or “Reasoned Arguments”) is placed as the ultimate authority in our finding truth, then we had better look at who is on the throne: it is no longer God, it is Reason. Rationality needs to find its place somewhere below, and God and the story of his interaction with humanity needs to be placed above.
This is not a new way of thinking. It was Martin Luther who first distinguished between the magisterial and ministerial roles for Reason. What postmodern Christians (those in the emerging church conversation) are reacting against is the increasing magisterial role that Reason has gained over the last century. Much of Western Christianity has allowed a syncretism to occur in which Reason has blended with faith. We are reacting against a Christianity that seeks to legitimize the faith by way of Reason, which places the faith under Reason as its magistrate. In many modern churches, Reason stands over and above the gospel, acting as judge so as to legitimate the gospel. This is what Martin Luther was warning against.
The ministerial role of Reason, however, makes it the “handmaid of theology.” Reason is merely one of the tools we have at our disposal to understand our faith. Postmodernity is a reaction against the ideology that Reason and Science would give rise to a moral society. They are skeptical of Reason because, in the Modern age, it has been shown to be such a bad magistrate of what is true. When Reason is placed in the magisterial position as the final arbiter of truth, the results have been disastrous. Look at the holocausts of the 40's and 50's. Germany was the pinnacle of reasoned ideology, the ultimate enlightenment civilization. The gas chambers were a scientifically sound and reasoned way to bring the solution to those “genetically deficient Jews.” America was the world leader in scientific progress. Scientific objectivity and reasoned argument brought about the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These events showed the moral deficiency of objective rational thought and gave rise to postmodernity. These events made philosophers begin to question the entire enlightenment ideology of "objective” reason.
I, as an “emerging Christian,” affirm this. I am simply seeking to place Reason back in its ministerial role. Call me a postmodern Martin Luther.
technorati: emerging church, postmodernity