Original Research - Special Collection: Ignatius van Wyk Dedication

Four different views of scientific knowledge and the birth of modern relativism: The very important challenge facing reformed churches in a Western world

Nicolaas J. Gronum
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 74, No 4 | a4822 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v74i4.4822 | © 2018 Nicolaas J. Gronum | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 21 September 2017 | Published: 25 June 2018

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Nicolaas J. Gronum, Department of Science of Religion and Missiology, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Pretoria, South Africa

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Theologians are used to pointing the finger at European continental postmodernism when dealing with modern relativism. This article addresses a problem that is seldom highlighted within theology: modern relativism is the result of a series of epistemological discussions that took place during the early Enlightenment between scholars such as Rene Descartes, John Locke and Immanuel Kant. They were reacting, in part, to Aristotle’s metaphysics and logic. When the whole picture unravels, one immediately sees that modern relativism is deeply ingrained in Western thought. In other words, modern relativism will not gather dust after the demise of postmodernism. To the contrary, this article would argue that modern relativism will continue to pose serious challenges to reformed churches in future. Pastors who want to engage with Western audiences will benefit from being made aware of this. Hopefully this will encourage theologians to re-evaluate the relevancy of reformed theological constructs in societies that are deeply steeped in relativist thought.


Immanuel Kant; Enlightenment; Rationalism; Empiricism; Transcendental Idealism; Copernican Revolution


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