Re-Discovering A Pre-Modern Paradigm
As pastoral leaders in an age of upheaval, the guidance we seek from the Bible will elude us if we exclusively rely on modern or postmodern paradigms. Thankfully, it is possible to rediscover a pre-modern biblical paradigm to navigate the emerging wave of societal chaos.
For example, the Methodist movement is splintering with regard to the understanding, interpretation, and application of the scriptures. One of John Wesley’s aims in the 1700’s was to rediscover what he coined “primitive” Christianity. He wanted to lead the people called “Methodists” back to an understanding and application of Christianity through the ideas and values of the apostles and the early church.
As people and societies, we function and see the world in terms of dominant paradigms. Paradigms operate as mental and emotional maps that allow us to navigate the world. The maps are not the world but provide guidance with regard to where we are in the world.
The modern era emerged by seeking answers regarding the material world. The postmodern movement is currently deconstructing the utility of a materialistic paradigm. In general, post- modern thinkers are attempting to realign power according to narratives that may or may not align with modern conceptions of truth.
Here are five insights gleaned from author Matthieu Pageau. Pageau’s book, The Language of Creation: Cosmic Symbols in Genesis, seeks to elucidate a path toward rediscovering the pre-modern biblical paradigm.
- Re-Discover Biblical Cosmology. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1 NIV). The very first words of the Bible mean something different in our materialistic cosmological paradigm than they do in pre-modern biblical cosmology. For pre-modern thinkers, earth consists of what is material and heaven of all that is spiritual. Misunderstand this concept and you will misunderstand the entire Bible. As a pastor, you may grasp this but there are people under your care and leadership who are unfamiliar with this concept. Consider preaching a message series from Genesis that outlines the cosmology of the ancient near east and what it meant in their time and what it still means today.
- Re-Discover The Biblical Purpose of Humanity. The Biblical pre-modern paradigm affirms that humanity’s purpose is to personify the image of God acting as a mediator between heaven and earth to illustrate knowledge of God within creation (Pageau 46). Humans mediate the spiritual reality of heaven and manifest that knowledge in the material world. Modern and postmodern secular paradigms obscure the spiritual role of humanity in an effort either to make humanity the source of spiritual knowledge (as opposed to God being the source) or to diminish humanity’s role as spiritual mediator. Consider studying Psalm 8, paying attention to the way the author describes the role of humanity.
- Re-Discover Biblical Macrocosms and Microcosms. According to Pageau, “The vocabulary of the language of creation can be interpreted at the cosmic scale and a variety of human scales” (Pageau 65). Essentially, the pre-modern book of Genesis establishes a pattern in the first four chapters which serve as a hermeneutical key for understanding not only the entirety of scripture but all of human history and creation history. Suddenly, scripture comes alive in new ways, mountains are more than just mountains, a tree is more than just a tree, and food is more than just food. These concepts represent multiple levels of experience: cosmic, individual, communal, and intercommunal. Are there patterns in Scripture you are missing because you are reading through a modern/post-modern lens?
- Re-Discover Biblical Time and Space. The modern paradigm characterizes space as the final frontier and time as a generally linear method of measurement. Postmodernism agrees on the concept of space while re-introducing the pre-modern cyclical nature of time. Space, in a biblical pre-modern paradigm, represents stability and time represents discontinuity. Imagine trying to grasp the Bible with zero understanding of the paradigm from which it originated. It would be like trying to travel from New York to Los Angeles using a map of China. How does a pre-modern view of time and space shape your view of creation and new-creation as portrayed in Scripture?
- Re-Discover The Biblical/Spiritual Perspective. A biblical/spiritual perspective encompasses the material perspective of the world, but our modern/postmodern paradigms have inverted the hierarchy of meaning which God sought to establish in scripture. The material perspective begins with these two questions: “How does it work?” and “What is it made of?” Very helpful for building a machine but insufficient for understanding reality. The biblical/spiritual perspective begins with these questions: “What does it mean?” and “What truth does it embody?” (Pageau 281). These questions help us establish our purpose under God’s reality. How can you as a Pastor teach your people to re-prioritize a biblical/spiritual perspective?
To learn more about a Pre-modern Paradigm, see the following resources:
Pageau, Matthieu. The Language of Creation: Cosmic Symbols in Genesis. Self-publication, 2018.
Lesslie, N. J. (1991). Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western culture. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
Bradshaw, D. (2004). Aristotle East and West: Metaphysics and the division of Christendom. New York: Cambridge University Press.
For an overview of a pre-modern view of cosmology in the Bible, see the YouTube video, Ancient Near Eastern Cosmology by Michael Heiser.
Intellectual contributor: Dr. Eric Hallett, district superintendent of the Central Canada District of The Wesleyan Church.
Executive editor: Russ Gunsalus
Curator of content: Dave Higle