Reformed Theology in a Postmodern World?

One friend in a Christian website commented on my post about “The Religious Foundations of Theology.” He said, “I can only assume that you are talking about Christianity and not the world religions. There can be an interesting argument that there are things in which all religions share. For myself, I think that there is truth in all religions…”

My Response

In my study of world religions during my doctoral course, I happened to dig into Hinduism and I am impressed with what I found. I also heard my colleagues reporting on Islam, New Age, etc. That is a very enlightening experience. At the end of the class, each of us has his own conclusion how to relate Christianity to world religions. Even our professor dare not assume to understand the relationship. All of my colleagues except one are coming from the field of Christian Education and that is why they find theological discussion too difficult for them to grasp. Even our professor dared not to make a conclusive statement. Only me and my other classmate who is coming from the field of philosophy were very vocal that time. The consensus of the class was inclined towards affirming the commonality of all religions including Christianity. And we reminded ourselves not to be judgmental of other religions.

I affirmed that for too long Christianity has been arrogant in the way it relates to other religions. But still, I also affirm that Christianity can be qualified as both an inclusive and exclusive religion. By inclusive I mean as you said, there are things that all religions of the world share in common such as belief in higher being, practices of spirituality like prayer and fasting, etc…However, Christianity for me is still exclusive in its claim that the only way to salvation is through the CROSS of Jesus. The CROSS might appear weak and foolishness to others but to Christians, it is the wisdom and the power of God.

My decision to study Bavinck is prompted by a realization that in the postmodern world, we are now living in an age where every thinker is given the right to be heard no matter how “heretical” it might appear in the ears of others. We are living in a world of theological pluralism. I acknowledge my unpreparedness to live in such a world and I want to make my own contribution in that world. To do that, I must first know where I stand and that is why I am digging into my own tradition.

Due to my exposure to world religions, I realize the vastness and the complexity of the subject. So after at least having a general understanding of world religions, I find it my obligation to know my own religion, which is Christianity. And even within Christianity, the field of study is still too vast. We have the Roman Catholic, the Greek Orthodox, and the Protestants. My theological persuasion is under the boundary of the Protestants so I must dig into the world of Protestantism. But Protestantism has so many branches and I happened to be schooled in the Reformed theology.

At first I thought, Reformed theology is just one school of thought. I was surprised realizing that even within our camps, there are various expressions of Reformed Theology. Reformed theology cannot be confined in just one single country and in a single creed. Swiss reformation is different from Scottish reformation, and so is English reformation different from Dutch reformation and so on…Zwingli differs from Calvin, Calvin differs from Bullinger, and Bullinger differs from Heppe, etc…

So in such a “confused” theological world even just within the small camp of Reformed theology, who am I to dare say that I am equipped to meet the challenge of the post-modern world? I am just starting to follow one tradition within the Reformed theology. All I can say is that I want to find my roots and by finding it, I hope I can share what I believe.

Following Cornelius Van Til, as far as my present understanding is concerned, I am seeing seven streams of theology in the post-modern world:

1. The most popular of course is Karl Barth. Some would label his thought as Barthianism, new Orthodoxy, or new Modernism. I think the ideas of Barth made a major contribution in today’s ecumenical movement

2. New evangelicalism. I think it is not unfair to say that the thoughts of Carl F. H. Henry represents the new evangelicalism and this is the most popular version of evangelical Christianity today.

3. The Kantian idea of historical consciousness, existentialism, and process theology. The British-American branch is different from the German branch as represented by Heidegger. Heidegger I believe pioneered the postmodern ideas.

4. Hoeksema’s idea of Common Grace. He is coming from Reformed theology

5. Berkouwer’s attempt to combine the theology of Roman Catholicism and the theology of Karl Barth. He is also a Reformed theologian.

6. Three versions of cosmonomy: Vollenhoven, Stoker, and Dooyeeweerd. A very controversial subject within the Reformed camp.

7. And finally, we have the Classical Reformed Theology as represented by Benjamin Warfield in America and Abraham Kuyper in the Netherlands. Abraham Kuyper was succeeded by Herman Bavinck. Bavinck knew the background of the post-modern world. He knew both the classic protestant and the liberal thought. He engaged seriously with other theological traditions such as Roman Catholicism, Modern Liberal Protestantism, Patristics, and Medieval thinkers. However, since most of his writings are in Dutch and not readily available to English readers except just recently, the thoughts of Herman Bavinck are still new to many theological students here in our country. I decided to make this journey of studying Bavinck with the intention of understanding the post-modern world. Of course, none would replace understanding the post modern ideas except for a first hand knowledge of Heidegger, Kuhn, Derrida, Foucault, Lyotard, Rorty, and others. At present, I still feel unequipped for such a task.


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