Confronted by multiple religious possibilities, the rise of atheistic naturalism, and moral relativism, one can easily become perplexed about what matters most—or be tempted to conclude that nothing could matter most. As the first volume of A Post-Christendom Faith, a set of three interrelated theological works, The Long Battle for the Human Soul examines major historical developments that have led to our contemporary confusion—so that we might chart a way forward.
Philip Rolnick begins with a theological assessment of the Reformation, Enlightenment, and French Revolution, three movements that attempted, and to some degree accomplished, basic reformulations of humanity. After the shock of the Reformation, with its faith-based criticism, the Enlightenment's reason-based criticism more or less set faith aside. The radical nature of Enlightenment criticism in turn led to the radical anthropological reformulations of the French Revolution—and then devolved into the Terror. Separated from Christian faith, and oftentimes fiercely opposing it, early forms of secular humanism poured their energies into reshaping social and political structures, while the crescendo of critique profoundly altered the spiritual landscape of the West. With foundational certainties shattered, new movements arose that pulled in different directions, some of them dangerous and deadly. Rolnick maps this fracturing through Feuerbach's atheism, the excesses of Romantic literature, the rise of nihilism, the "moral inversion" of Marxism, Comte's positivism, and Nietzsche's all-out war against Christianity.
In this story of broken foundations, Rolnick is careful to show that the church and the gospel have never ceased to offer a very different foundation—trustworthy and eternally enduring. This first volume ends on a hopeful note, turning from the problematic humanism of recent centuries to a humanism grounded in incarnational faith. Its christological reflection looks beyond brokenness and toward the one who has never ceased restoring human wholeness.
Introduction: A House-to-House Battle 1 Critical Turns: Reformation, Enlightenment, and Revolution 2 Descent into Darkness: Romanticism, Atheism, Nihilism, Marxism 3 Endeavors in Darkness I: Auguste Comte and Positivism 4 Endeavors in Darkness II: Nietzsche’s War on Christian Faith Conclusion: The Broken and the Whole
Philip A. Rolnick is Professor of Theology and Chair of the Science and Theology Network at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. He is also the author of Origins: God, Evolution, and the Question of the Cosmos; Person, Grace, and God; and Analogical Possibilities: How Words Refer to God.
In this thought-provoking first volume, the author takes a long, hard, and critical look at the dark side of post-Enlightenment Western culture. He offers an in-depth philosophical and cultural analysis of the last five hundred years and then turns to positivism, Nietzsche’s attack on faith, and the rise of humanism. The concluding chapter teases the reader by pointing to promising examples of alternative perspectives even in the midst of these negative cultural currents, including unfatigued musical creativity, ecclesial reform, and a greater stress on the importance of community over rampant individualism.
~Celia Deane-Drummond, Director, Laudato Si' Research Institute, Campion Hall, University of Oxford
Why would atheism—a belief system that teaches that human life is a cosmic blip and that death means eternal annihilation—be attractive to young people? In this concise and richly insightful work of diagnostics, Rolnick pinpoints a notable reason: the rise of ideas promoted by Europe’s elite, promising freedom and happiness, but ending in violence and despair. Is there a way out? In his conclusion, preparing for his two further volumes in this trilogy, Rolnick identifies a solution: relearning our status as creatures made by God for union with God, and thus rediscovering the proper balance between eternity and history, transcendence and immanence, and person and community.
~Matthew Levering, James N. and Mary D. Perry Jr. Chair of Theology, Mundelein Seminary
If you think you know the story of modernity, think again. Philip Rolnick’s theological recounting of the story is a clearer, deeper, and more illuminating telling of the story than any other. Although much of this journey is marked by darkness, Rolnick illuminates the path and brings us safely to a way station. In the end, you will understand where we are and how we got here. You will be eager to join on this journey into the light and into life well-lived through the volumes of A Post-Christendom Faith.
~Jonathan R. Wilson, Senior Consultant for Theological Integration, Canadian Baptist Ministries
...a useful resource for those taking undergraduate theology courses because it provides substantial material for discussion.