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image of Mission Studies

Much has, and will continue to be, written on the mission calling of the Church in the West in an allegedly post-modern world. Quite a number of Christians begin from the premise that post-modernity is a more sympathetic environment for establishing the validity of Christian faith than modernity. Such a view often proceeds from a summary dismissal of the so-called "Enlightenment project," interpreted in an almost uniformly negative way as the exaltation of reason as the only, and universal, instrument for acquiring true knowledge of reality. Post-modernity is then seen as a welcome antidote to the human hubris implied in the consequences flowing from the "Age of Enlightenment." It appears to be more intellectually circumspect, more culturally sensitive and more aware of the danger of social and political dominance in the guise of instrumental reason. This article, whilst acknowledging that both modernity and postmodernity, for different reasons, provide a radical challenge to the Christian faith, find them both unsatisfactory as ways of interpreting and approaching contemporary society. The problem for modernity is that its over-confidence in the ability of human reason alone to fathom the meaning of existence leads to a reductionist impoverishment of life. The problem for postmodernity is that its "playful" relativism is self-defeating, being unsustainable both in theory and in the real world. In the light of these criticisms, the article explores the thesis that there is a cultural crisis in the West, engendered by the failure in principle of both perspectives to overcome crucial dichotomies in thought, being and action. In turn, these latter are the result of a failure, beginning in the second part of the 17th century, to maintain united the study of God's word and God's world. The article argues that a proper missiological engagement with current western culture needs to begin by showing that the divorce between word and world, between knowledge based on responses to the givenness of revelation and knowledge based on responses to the givenness of the natural world, was an historical accident. It will then go on to show that, only by rediscovering an appropriate unity between the two, can human knowledge, wisdom, moral action and being be reintegrated.

Affiliations: 1: University of Birmingham, UK


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