There was perhaps no greater shift in human epistemology than that engendered in the Englightenment. The revolution in thinking was so profound that if Socrates is the father of philosophy, Descartes is his violent and victorious progeny. All aspects of human epistemology–from history to science to religion–have undergone palpable changes, philosophy being forever marked by the revolution of the modern philosophical programme.

While volumes and volumes can and have been devoted to outlining the changes and effects actualized through the implementation of Enlightenment thinking to all areas of human epistemology, one of the most profound can be seen in Christian thinking. While doctorates could be written and institutes established concerning this more refined topic, I simply wish to outline some very brief reflections concerning what I perceive to be devastating shifts within Christian thinking concerning the inheritance of the Enlightenment and the nature of faith. In doing so, I simply wish to call attention to the all-too-subtle ways in which inherent philosophical assumptions of culture (racial, social and religious) create definitions of religious categories which may or may not cohere with the ancient beliefs of the earliest believers, concluding, alternatively, with suggestions of the how the same can be avoided and a more helpful way of thinking about faith can be pursued.

Indisputably, the greatest shift in philosophical thinking borne out of the Enlightenment was the inclusion of the category of objectivity as a possible stance of the observer in the pursuit of knowledge, be it natural, social, religious, etc. By asserting a series of supposedly self-evident criteria for the determination of objective truth, the proponents of the "new" philosophy pushed forward a epistemological methodology that, by its very assumptions of the full-natured reality of the truth being accessible and capable of manipulation by the atomized thinker, categorically excluded not only the necessity, but moreover the possibility of doubt. That something was not epistemologically capable of propositional assertion was not based upon an inherent unknowableness of the object; rather, to the Enlightenment thinkers, the existence of doubt merely revealed an inability in the observer or an imprecise application of the methodological assumptions of the new philosophy. In such a philosophical milieu, doubt existed only as a tool for eliminating untenable propositional positions; it was not an end unto itself, nor was it an acceptable conclusion to the pursuit of knowledge.

Not immune to the revolutions in culture and philosophy of the Enlightenment period, much Christian thinking followed in tow, adopting many–if not all–of the epistemological assumptions of the modernist movement without much criticism. That Christian thinking should buy into such a methodology is not surprising. After all, the implementation of scientific methodology exploded human knowledge, reaping amazing results with seemingly flawless and incontrovertible accuracy. Surely many Christian thinkers longed for the same "results" in religion and apologetics as their scientific counterparts enjoyed from the ever increasingly popular application of the Cartesian dream.
For quite a while, the wholesale application of Enlightenment methodology to religious thought and experience seemed not only promising, but incredibly successful. Religious leaders like Wesley and Whitefield sought a phenomenological correspondence between their message and its effects in the lives of their hearers. As is evidenced in their journals and the explosion of interest surrounding their preaching and evagelistic efforts, it is clear that these (and others like them) concluded the link to be causal and demonstrable, and the methods of Enlightenment thinking were plied further and further to the cause of religion.

In other areas such as archeology, cosmology and biology, the findings of the scientific method seemed to cohere with the religious presuppositions of its applicators. As the universe was opened up by telescopes; as the microscope uncovered the complexity of biological life; and as archaeology was able to peer farther and farther into the past, many were convinced that this new-found and seemingly successful methodology would, once and for all, provide the proof of divine existence based upon the application of human epistemological principles; the mind of humanity would finally grasp the ineffability of the divine.

Part of the reason for the initial harmony between religious thought and objective-orientation of Enlightenment thinking was that many of the proponents of the new philosophical method were either themselves committed to the cause of religion or, at the very least, were sympathetic to its existence. However, as the commitment to religion waned and the following generations of thinkers became more committed to sola ratione, the initial coherence of Enlightenment thinking and the religious agenda sharply diverged, leading to the extremely tenuous and absurd relationship that exists today.

Enough of this history lesson; what is the point? As seen, the initial and rapid success and advancement of Enlightenment thinking was very attractive to religious belief; after all, if propositional truth in science and philosophy could be [supposedly] reached through scientific methodology, could not the same be achieved for religion? Unfortunately, in this wholesale shift from faith to objectivity, religious thinking was–by and large–relagated to the successful deployment of the scientific methodlogy in relation to religious truth. As many soon linked the propositions of religion with the successful establishment of particular interpretations of Scripture (to which were applied the carteisian infusion of objectivity) in relation to other fields of study (biology, cosmology, philosophy), the incongruence of the findings in other areas of epistemological inquiry had the effect of categorically relegating the assertions of religious belief to absurdity and a priori falsification. Not to be outdone, the proponents of these same religious beliefs struck back within the framework of the very methodology that had categorically falsified their claims. However, as their original capitulation to the categories and legitimacy of Enlightenment thought had created the very problem which they were attempting to overcome, the only recourse these same had was to try to assert different conclusions which were clearly askance of the necessary determinations of Enlightenment thinking. Therefore, by refusing to operate outside of the very categories that had created the categorical denial of their conclusions, these thinkers were relegated to obscurity and curiousity, as they attempted to assert the procedural assumptions of modernistic thinking while concomitantly denying its obvious and necessary conclusions.

But even more disastrous, this shift in religious thinking to the categorical assumptions of modernistic objectivity signaled an undermining of the historic faith of Christian belief. Consider the primal example of faith: the story of Abraham. Abraham's response to the call of Yahweh was not based upon the criterion of objective investigation; to the contrary, the call of Yahweh was entirely absurd. To Abraham, growing up in the milieu of polytheism, the promises–and demands–of a foreign, singular and exclusive deity would have sounded more like the resonance of an internal neurosis. Nonetheless, Abraham acted upon Yahweh's call out of sheer faith without any appeal to reasoned, methodologically established criterion. Picking up upon the existential crisis engendered in Abraham's example of faith, the apostle Paul pushes the conversation even farther. Over and against the Jews who reduced faith and justification with God to the Jewish cultural identity and the worship cult, Paul denies any such basis for control and manipulation of faith on the basis of human episte
gical methodologies, appealing time and again to the absurdity of Abraham's decision, and the ultimate justification that alone came because of it.

Can an examination of religious thinking concerning "faith" in the modern context be related in any meaningful way to the biblical examples of faith described above? I would argue that the relationship is becoming increasingly tenuous and will soon be impossible to maintain. What is ironic, however, is that the more modernistic epistemological methodologies deconstruct the formerly successful applications of the same within the religious programme, the more seemingly those committed to the religious effort attempt to exert these very methodologies to attempt to preserve and defend long-held assumptions concerning propositionally-pronounced religious truth.

Consider, for example, the natural sciences. There is an overwhelming consensus among scientists, both atheist and religious, concerning the applicability of naturalistic theories concerning the origins of the universe and the evolution of life on Earth. While none would say that these theories are absolutely perfect, their methodological principles are sound, demonstrable, and predictable–all necessary criteria for the solvency of a scientific theory. Despite overwhelming evidence, however, many Christians (particularly in the evangelical community) reject these scientific conclusions because of their incongruence with particular interpretations of the Scriptures. if this were to occur on a purely philosophical level, it probably would not be a big deal; the detractors would simply be mocked for their refusal to accept the phenomenological evidence that is plainly available to all. However, in keeping with the modernistic assumptions concerning the objectively demonstrable basis of religious belief which was inherited from the Enlightenment, these go beyond philosophical disagreement and attempt to offer an entirely different set of data and "evidence" to establish the objective basis necessary to preserve the hegemony of their belief system.

My fear, in light of these reflections, is that the basis of faith in Christian belief is being eroded by attempts of many within Christianity to assert an objective basis for faith, an approach which ultimately is self-destructive. This is self-evident, for the fall-out of the Enlightenment in post-modernism has taught us that all supposedly objective bases for belief will ultimately be dismantled, for the potential objectivity of any assertion is ultimately negated by the subjectivity of the assertor. So if Christianity continues to seek to establish the basis of "faith" on its abilities to define and defend supposed positions of objectivity, what will be left when the allegedly objective basis is shown to be fraudulent? When science has finally and definitively proven the methodological soundness of various naturalistic theories of origins, what will happen to those millions who have been led to believe that creationism is a point of dogma?

I believe we must return to a Abrahamic understanding of faith. Our agenda as humans has never been to epistemologically grasp the divine in propositional and objective ways. Rather, like Abraham, we are called simply to respond to the call of Yahweh. Herein one will find no objective basis for obedience–only a road that seems to have no definite end and a future of which one cannot be certain. This kind of faith cannot be demonstrated by phenomenological investigation, nor asserted over and against the methodological assumptions of the particular "fad" philosophy of the era.

Ultimately, the incarnation of God is Christ is the ultimate denier of the ability of human epistemology to establish objective bases for truth. I would suggest that it is no accident that the incarnation occurred; rather than calling us to objectivity, God comes to humanity in its very subjectivity. It is messy, scary, and a bit crazy. Yet this is nature of faith, the existential crisis of being that cannot be ultimately terminated in epistemologically propositional criterion for objectivity, but only in the absolute surrender to the call of God. As St. Paul once said, this kind of faith and belief is truly a stumbling block to all, for in the face of the human desire for objectivity [control], the faith to which we are called in Christ demands exactly the opposite. It is a call to death, a call to live beyond oneself, trusting only in the grace and gratuitous beneficence of a God who cannot be seen, but who must ultimately be believed to be there.