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The Origins of Modernity: An Alternate Interpretation of Western Cultural History

Owen C. Thomas

The mission of the church requires an understanding of the contemporary cultural context of the church. This essay contrasts two interpretations of the origin and history of this context. The first finds the foundation of all the achievements of Western culture in the Athens of the sixth to the fourth centuries BCE. This foundation is lost during the Hellenistic and medieval periods due to the influence of Christianity. It is rediscovered in the Renaissance and fulfilled in the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century that has produced the modern world. The alternate view sees the foundation of Western culture in the prophets of Israel and their interpretation by Jesus and his follower. During the Hellenistic and medieval periods this biblical Christianity is distorted by its amalgamation with later Platonist philosophy. At the Renaissance biblical Christianity wins out over later Platonism in a Christian humanism. Since the latter is understood to be a classical humanism, it becomes “a second fall of man” leading to a steady loss of Christian substance and the horrors of the twentieth century, interpreted as the wrath of God.

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