INTRODUCTION: PRELUDE TO THE MODERN WORLD
The dawn of the modern world is typically located in the so-called “Age of Reason” (seventeenth–eighteenth centuries), and more particularly in what has been termed the eighteenth-century “Enlightenment project” (Jürgen Habermas). The novel intellectual mood and cultural ethos of modernity brought many new and unprecedented challenges to Christianity – most acutely, challenges to the credibility of its basic beliefs and doctrines. Protestant theology in particular would take on a variety of new forms as it sought to make its way in a “world come of age.”
The history of the modern world is in large part a story of secularization. Secularization (Lat. saeculum = “world” or “age”) is, most simply, “the world coming of age,” the world discovering itself in its own autonomy, freedom, and relative independence. Secularization more particularly is the process of understanding the world increasingly in its own natural terms without direct recourse to supernatural explanation – that is, understanding the world and its activities (e.g., science, politics, economics) in terms of their own structural integrity. The historical factors contributing to this growing secular outlook are, of course, many and varied, and include economic (e.g., the rise of the middle class), technological (e.g., the invention of the printing press), and geo-political (e.g., the European discovery of the “new” world) developments. But there are two intellectual and two religious developments that especially facilitated the rise of the modern world.