A Study Of Modernism As A Method -- By: Warren Vanhetloo

Journal: Central Bible Quarterly
Volume: CENQ 02:1 (Spring 1959)
Article: A Study Of Modernism As A Method
Author: Warren Vanhetloo


A Study Of Modernism As A Method

Warren Vanhetloo

Dean of Central Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary
Minneapolis, Minnesota

One of the most significant and most concise characterizations of modernism is contained in a 48-page booklet by Professor Lewis Berkhof entitled “Recent Trends in Theology” (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1946). He comments on page 14 that though the majority of Christians still think of modernism primarily, if not exclusively, as a system of doctrines that are contrary to the Word of God, “Modernism should be regarded, not as a type of doctrine, but as a method.” Modernists may each decade modify the particular teaching, but that which remains constant and differentiates modernism from Bible-believing Christianity is its methodology. Whether they be known as modernists, liberals, neo-liberals, or neo-orthodox, they do not depart from that methodology which places them opposite fundamentalism.

Modernism is not in any sense a systematic development of truth; contrasting ideas can be and often are held side by side within the framework of modernism. Self-contraction does not bother those who are not concerned about final truth or in their methodology are not even seeking after absolute information. Modernism has no doctrinal statement, in fact no doctrinal agreement. The only real agreement among modernists is in the area of methodology. The modernistic movement of the past half century in America can be understood only be recognizing that it is a general tendency to move in a certain direction rather than a positionalized body of beliefs.

Modernistic Methodology

Identifying that methodology which unites them, however, is not easy. In fact, as Berkhof remarks on page 15, “The only point on which they are all agreed is negative rather than positive: they cannot follow the antiquated method of authorities, cannot accept the teachings of the Bible at their face value.” They have full trust in the natural and the human; they cannot accept the supernatural and divine. Modernists have implicit trust in their methodology; they correspondingly have little use for any who do not follow their methods.

At its heart, modernism consists of accepting a human philosophical viewpoint rather than Biblical convictions. Because there have been so many varying human philosophies employed by different modernists, there have been radically different modernistic elements. Obviously these various elements oppose each other; naturally they all can unite in opposing the fundamentalist; and the fundamentalist responds, as he must, by opposing all the various shades of modernism.

The end result of the modernistic method...

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