Friday, March 9, 2007

Enlightenment, "Candide," and Mission

Just finished Candide by Voltaire and it was a wee bit confusing for me -until I read some commentary on it. It was a pessimistic book, which confused me in light of Bosch's (Transforming Mission) summary of the Enlightenment being, among other things, high on optimism to confront issues and a general "faith in humankind." After reading some commentary, it makes sense that Voltaire is rejecting an optimistic view of the world, but embracing the concept that man should do what he can to "tend his garden" for a tolerable life. The key point is that it is up to man to make his own way.

Bosch shares the effects of the Enlightenment on Christianity and mission. I'll first deal with the faith in general, and then look at mission. 1) Reason is supremely important, making God obsolete. The effect of this was the focus on experience, privatize religion, make religion a science, form "Christian socieites," and then, ultimately, embrace secular society. 2) Strict separation between subject & object made its way to theology, not just science. This eliminated purpose, instead focusing on direct causality. Progress is also assumed (closely aligned with Western culture), including the idea that all problems were solvable. And finally, Bosch notes that each individual is "emancipated, autonomous."

Most interesting in this chapter was the implications for mission. The Puritan/Calvinistic motivation for mission was God's glory, but a shift came into play as the Enlightenment worldview began to hold sway. The motivation became more "anthropocentric," human-focused. Motivation shifted from God's glory to God's love for mankind to those perishing without the gospel to the social gospel (Bosch 284-286). This brief survey of gospel emphases was jarring to me. I think the church, despite all the talk about postmodernism, still has an Enlightenment foundation, at least the circles I've run in. I'm definitely more comfortable there, which is why I find myself reading a fair diet of emerging church stuff.

I hadn't thought of these emphases that Bosch brings out. I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing - so long as the key elements of the gospel are there - sin, rescue through Jesus, and following Him.

I'm no Enlightenment, or even philosophical, scholar. If you have any insights, let's hear them. What do you think?

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