Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Engaging Unbelief

 Posted by Hello

Curtis Chang ministered amongst Harvard, MIT, and Tufts University students via Intervarsity CF for 9 years. One CF got 'banned' for refusing to allow a
gay advocate into leadership...

Reminds me of the 'underground' Anderson CF, where I used to serve... Also how lax CFs could be, in terms of discipline/doctrine. Heard a story that Oneness Pentecostals 'took over' a local college CF not too long ago. Pretty scary.

Anyway I'm fascinated by his book "Engaging Unbelief", a refreshing look at how Augustine and Aquinas adopted similar strategies to engage fragmenting Rome and emerging Islam respectively...

and how we can learn from them in our own 'epochal challenge' - postmodernism.

It's refreshing bcos' it doesnt pretend to 'go alone' where no one has gone before. There is a rich legacy in our tradition, how our past heroes have responded to the world with the gospel.

Not only that, it points the way forward - an Incarnational theology where we "enter" the world of our critics, learn their grand stories even better than they were, thereby able to retell that story Christianly, revealing their 'tragic flaw' and capture every thought to the lordship of Christ.

Download a free Chapter today!


jacksons said...
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tfleong said...

When I read Curtis Chang’s book I was thrilled as it confirmed an approached I had been using, as illustrated by the following encounter I had with an Asian card-carrying postmodernist.

I was invited to the home of a Christian couple (both Asians) for dinner. We were discussing a theological dispute when their adult son suddenly chipped in: “We cannot be sure of anything!” I replied, “Yes I agree!” I explained why I agreed and that led to a meaningful conversation and friendly debate on postmodernism. I first took his side and exposed the (Cartesian) foundationalism in the thinking of many Christians, including theologians (which I suspected he was already well aware). Later his parents told me that that was the first time he opened up to a Christian worker. They said he would make fun of pastors and missionaries who visited their home.

This young man had his primary education in a British school, his secondary education in an American school, and his tertiary education in an Australian university. So you understand why he is unlike most Asian young men, who even though they may have caught the postmodern spirit would not or could not defend postmodernism intellectually. His wife was like any Asian girl who had an Asian education all the way to university. I was able to break through to him only because I began not only by speaking his language but also by taking his side.

I did this by pitching the valid insights of postmodernism against modernism (Enlightenment philosophy), the intellectual archenemy of the Church for more than 200 years, which now still is a Trojan horse within evangelicalism. With all the powerful intellectual weapons postmodernism has made available, it is not difficult to bring modernism to its knees, provided we do not succumb to the fallacies of postmodernism, such as making the claim that there is no absolute truth (i.e., except the absolute truth that there is no absolute truth, a self-defeating claim which a modernist would gladly point out, smugly thinking that this would take care of postmodernism).

Having spoken his language and taken his side in demolishing modernism, I took postmodernism to its logical (or illogical) conclusions. I pointed out that he could not live out his beliefs in his everyday life. His wife (then his fiancée) excitedly chipped in saying, “Yes, yes, he certainly does not live according to what he has just been saying”. He had no response to that. I then pointed out how he came to think the way he did. He acknowledged that if he had had a different educational experience he would likely not be thinking this way. Then I said, “This thinking got into you without your knowledge or permission”. He just stared at me.

By pitching postmodernism against modernism and taking postmodernism to its logical conclusions, I tried to kill two birds with one stone. I think I then showed him that the postmodern arguments that so effectively destroy modernism did not need to lead to the postmodernist conclusion that there is no absolute truth. This conclusion seems necessary only if we assume God does not exist. For if there is not an absolute point of reference that transcends human culture, all “knowledge”, as (valid) postmodern arguments would suggest, has to be culturally constructed. If we, for the sake of argument, admit the possibility that God exists, the whole situation changes. And since modernism is intellectually indefensible and postmodernism is practically unlivable why not do this?

I did not manage to “convert” him that evening. But that was the first time he discussed his beliefs with a Christian.

I cannot remember how I explained to him (if I did) the Biblical position with respect to the modernism-postmodernism dilemma. It may have sounded like this (he was familiar with the Bible):

The first sin as recorded in Genesis 3 was basically one of exerting moral autonomy (from God). Moral autonomy logically and finally led to epistemological autonomy.

Modernism rejects God and claims that (unaided) human reason is the foundation of knowledge. Postmodernism adequately refutes that claim. But without returning to God it has to, by default, replace reason with nothing (actually, emotion) as the foundation of knowledge, and then ironically use reason to defend such an unlivable position. Postmodernism deconstructs modernism and then self-destructs. We are in a dead end unless we bring in the God of the Bible.

The Bible says the fear of God is the beginning of knowledge. Jesus says whoever is willing to do the will of God will know if His teaching is from God (John 7:17). That means the willingness to submit to God is necessary to know truth, especially truth that has spiritual and moral implications. We accept the Biblical teaching that the fear of God is the beginning of knowledge by faith (i.e., acting on a belief that, “beyond reasonable doubt”, is trustworthy). After all, the alternatives have either been deconstructed or self-destructs.

Also, without faith we cannot live. Though you would not walk into a building you have reasons to believe is unsafe, when you do walk into one you do so by faith as you cannot be sure that it will not collapse. The same goes for the food you eat everyday, and so on….

The Hedonese said...

Wow, Dr Leong, that comment deserves to be a post on its own!


That's an innovative approach, in taking his side and 'killing two birds with one stone', I'd try it out the next time I meet someone like tat!

Fuller said...


I'm very impressed by Dr Leong's very excelent argument for the existence of God, but as in my philosophical readings, I find the same problem with his argument as I find with many others, God appears to be a leap of faith.

Whilst I find the philosophical cosmological argument most convincing, there is certainly nothing in any of the arguments (Paley, Anselm, Acquinas, Descarte, Pascal etc) or the good Doctors own discussion above give any credence to a Christian God or any particular type of God for that matter.

Sorry to make this a matter for the existence of God, I was actually more interested in teh use of post-modernity and modernity in your religous discussions and wondered if the Dr Leong has considered Nietzsche's Genealogy of morals in its full extent? I'm sure you probably have, but at no stage do discuss the ramifications of arguably the father of post-modernism's clear disgust with the christian morality and its hypocrisy.

I guess the reasons for this are similar to Hume's disregard for the fact that he considers that we essentialy do not exist! As the Doctor said: "postmodernism is practically unlivable"... why not bring God into the argument - because all God represents then is an excuse, God becomes by definition really 'that which we cannot explain.'

This to me is an equally unlivable and untenable philospohy to live life by, so please excuse me while I go join Hume and play cards and enjoy my life in what you may label a very unchristian, unreligous, and selfish 'post-modern' way.

Whislt you suggest that I cannot live life how I wish and may discuss Foucault and consider whether the way i wish to live is really the way I wish to live or if it is just societies way of wanting me to live, the argument applies equally well to religion; are you living your life how your religion wishes you to live it, or jsut how society wishes you to think your religion wants you to live... Confusing hey. Foucault has to be at least slightly mad, but he has a point, and he would defintely argue that mad is not necessarily a bad or unintelligible thing.

Thanks for reading! No offense intended.