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Christendom and Modernity

One of the trends I notice in contemporary political theology is how theologies tend to do one of two things regarding the cultural formations of Christendom and modernity.  On the one hand, some lump Christendom and modernity together as a sort of mother and child phenomenon that is either largely negative (Stanley Hauerwas, John Howard Yoder) or for the most part a good thing (Oliver O’Donovan).  Others, however view them as radically divergent political and social phenomena with modernity being first and foremost a rebellion against Christendom which was predominately a good thing, at least in theory (John Milbank, Peter Leithart).

However, clearly I think the relationship between Christendom and modernity is more complex that our desire to rush to pragmatic theopolitical analysis will usually allow.  Charles Taylor’s new book, A Secular Age, is a testimony to the radical complexity involved in making thorough judgments about the nature of modernity and its historical emergence.  Theology has yet, in my opinion to come seriously to terms with the cultural formation of modernity, though there have been substantial moves in this direction (Milbank’s Theology and Social Theory and Colin Gunton’s The One, the Three, and the Many are two of the best theological engagements with modernity and Christendom that I have yet encountered).  Taking seriously the historical complexity of the cultural formation of modernity remains a crucial task for Christian theology, especially in the context of late-modern capitalism.  All rushes to judgment, either positve or negative of the church’s location in modernity are always already defeats.


  1. Craig wrote:

    I think you are right to resist a “rush to judgment” re. modernity and Christendom. However, that of course does not mean that the truth lies in the middle. I would side with O’Donovan and Millbank in viewing Modernity as a rebellion against Christendom (and therefore bad), but I would not be ready to affirm historical Christendom as good either. Both Christendom and Modernity are deficient cultural embodiments of Christianity.

    Here I find David Schindler’s “Heart of the World, Center of the Church: Communio Ecclesiology, Liberalism and Liberation” very helpful. He uses Balthasar’s and John Paul II’s theology to critique modern liberalism as having a deficient anthropology and an inadequate (I would say heretical) view of freedom. What makes it complicated is that Communio ecclesiology has to critique Christendom and modernity in different ways and for different reasons, which makes it seem that sometimes one is Constantinian and other times modern, especially if one only hears part of the story.

    Monday, February 18, 2008 at 5:22 pm | Permalink
  2. Halden wrote:

    Dr. Carter, I certainly agree with you, especially about the helpfulness of Schindler’s book. It is a superb treatment of the issues from a Catholic perspective.

    You’re not becoming an Anabaptist turned Catholic, are you? : )

    Monday, February 18, 2008 at 5:34 pm | Permalink
  3. Phil Sumpter wrote:

    I’ve just downloaded a free lecture course from iTunes entitled “The Church and the World,” held by Dr. W. Andrew Hoffecker. Have you heard of him? Is he worth listening to? Its from Reformed Theological Seminary.

    Tuesday, February 19, 2008 at 7:28 am | Permalink
  4. Halden wrote:

    Can’t say as I’ve heard of him, Phil. You’ll have to let me know how it is!

    Tuesday, February 19, 2008 at 11:06 am | Permalink
  5. Craig wrote:

    Your question (as you well know) is actually quite a serious one. I have been a Baptist all my life and I understand that to mean occupying an ecclesial stance between Anabaptism and Anglicanism. Baptists are dissenters with one foot in each of these two streams. The foot in the Anglican camp has kept us catholic and orthodox, while the foot in the Anabaptist camp has kept us (sometimes) from being (totally) Constantinian.

    Therefore, the collapse of Western Anglicanism over the last half-century is most distressing to me. How can anyone regard the Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada as authentically Catholic anymore? When the prayer book was lost and Spong tolerated as bishop, the foundations were in trouble and the current furor over homosexuality is just the inevitable, sad, drawn out denouement. Our link with our Catholic heritage has been broken.

    On the other hand, I see in the contemporary Roman Catholic Church real hope of preserving catholicity (which for me also implies orthodoxy and apostolicity). In God’s providence, the pontificate of John Paul II saved the Roman Catholic Church from the fate suffered by liberal Protestants in general after the 60′s and the election of Benedict XVI is most encouraging. (On top of that, a cogent case can be made for regarding JP II as the first post-Constantinian pope. His role in the collapse of Communism is a perfect example of “Christ Transforming Culture Without Violence.”) The Evangelicals and Catholics Together movement makes perfect sense to me, given that Catholicity can no longer be mediated to us Evangelicals through Protestantism. We need ties to the Tradition. To be Evangelical and Baptist can never mean less than being Catholic or else we have left the Christian Church as schismatics and heretics.

    Wednesday, February 20, 2008 at 10:29 am | Permalink
  6. Halden wrote:

    Yes, it is a serious question indeed. One that I have often pondered on this blog and elsewhere. Thanks for stopping by and please visit the com box on this blog anytime!

    Wednesday, February 20, 2008 at 11:12 am | Permalink

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