Saturday, December 8, 2007

Accountability Without Objective Truth?

I lurk a lot and participate occasionally in an online forum hosted by Easum, Bandy & Assoc. In a recent post, someone brought up an article from The Ooze that was wondering how accountability will be affected now that people move so freely (and frequently) among different denominations and teachers.

I was caught by an underlying issue that relates to Postmodernity and posted this reply:

Interesting material.

Just as an observation, and not directly to the question of post-denominational accountability (or the lack thereof) let me point out one thing:

The author refers to "...thinking and behaving in ways that are consistent with various authors, and not simply the Biblical truths."

That's way too facile and frankly a false dichotomy, because there is no absolute consensus on what are "The Biblical Truths." Even there, you still have to wade into the opinions of "various authors," denominations, traditions and so on.

There has always been a plurality of ideas in the Church, even about "the basics," but I think we've insulated ourselves from that by staying siloed in our own denominational cohorts. Now that the denominational lines are being crossed and fading out, we're encountering the diversity that was already there.

I'm left musing, though, that maybe lurking below the question of accountability to whom is the issue of accountability to what. What I mean is, there seems to be an assumption that accountability to this teacher or that needs to be resolved by appeal to revealed, propositional "Truths" found in the Bible. Now, setting aside my point above (that you still need to choose your teacher who can tell you what the BTs are), one can also question weather BT is the only possible ground for accountability.

There is at least one alternative ground, which is accountability to a person, namely Jesus, who doesn't just reveal true facts but somehow is Truth.

Of course, it's still messy in practice. Especially since the Biblical witness is intricately involved in mediating our relationship with Jesus. But I think this is one of the main things that the Postmodern critique of the Modern mindset is raising: Objective Truth is not the only way to conceive of the ground of reality and faith.

Anyone have thoughts to share on that? I'd love to hear them.


Feral Pastor said...

Here's a reply from the forum:


Thank you for a very thoughtful response. I had a similar reaction to the article. The plight of denominational life is really part of a larger crisis around the "institutionalization of Christianity". Establishment churches (and I include independents and any faith community that has "institutionalized" through property, constitution, doctrine, etc.) tend to be caught up in propositional truths. I run into this all the time when coaching "bedrock beliefs", because churchy people can't seem to express faith in anything but dogmas and abstractions. Propositional truths are always extrapolations of scripture ... filtered through the minds of others.

In my view, postmodern seekers are turning away from "propositions" in general (whether Bible quotations or theological pronouncements) looking for the experience of incarnation. They want to touch the Holy and feel the Holy touch them. This, of course, makes Jesus Christ incredibly relevant ... but only as we introduce people to the experience of Christ. As you say, this is messy, but then the first four centuries of the Christian movement were also "messy".

I think the article we read suggests that "human theories" and being replace by an "old orthodoxy" based on a canon of scripture that did not solidify until perhaps the 5th century. I think postmodern Christian experience is more akin to the first 4 centuries when the "canon of scripture" was still fluid, and people still looked for the inbreaking of the Holy Spirit and the imminent experience of Jesus. After all, the largest Christian movement to day is not among "Bible-believing evangelicals". It is among Pentecostals and Charismatics.

Thank you for engaging my mind this Saturday morning ... fruitful reflections in preparation for Christmas.

Feral Pastor said...

And a follow-up post from me:


I find I have an enigmatic attraction to the whole "messiness" thing.

On the one hand, I have a very modern, propositional side to my mind; highly trained through grad school in Biology and nurtured as best as I can in ongoing reading in physics. I feel the beauty of facts that fit together neatly, ideas that cohere and interconnect, the elegance of equations that can sometimes be as simple as the iconic E=Mc2. In this arena, the ability to tie up loose ends and make the whole thing work is one of the fundamental signs that the theories are in fact true.

On the other hand, the more I've just read the Bible in toto and in chunks (as opposed to dissecting verses, phrases and words) the more I've felt that the very messiness of the story is itself a sign of it's veracity. In science, that's absurd, but in relationships and human experience, that's commonplace. The best example I think is the way that witnesses in court actually lose credibility if their stories are too neat, too perfectly in agreement. That's a sign that they are invented or at least edited to achieve perfect harmony. Real eye-witness accounts are never identical, real human experience and real relationships are inherently messy.

So, the fact that I can't seem to resolve some of the most vexing thoughts and beliefs I have about God ironically becomes a strange kind of assurance that I am experiencing a real relationship and not just swimming mentally in a beautiful pool of highly edited, elegantly cohering ideas.

Feral Pastor said...

Another reply from the forum:


That said, then the most important thing is to repeatedly tell three basic "story lines" about God's purposeful messiness:

1) The story of Jesus;

2) The stories of people who have been changed by Jesus;

3) Your personal story of how continuous association with Jesus keeps changing (and improving) your life.

After that, seekers will take more interest in the "Back Story" ... that is, the background story of how the world got into the situation of needing Jesus in the first place.

Since about the 6th century, I think Christendom has become increasingly preoccupied with the "Back Story", and forgotten to tell the three primary stories. Hence, denominations often seem irrelevant or abstract. Growing churches tell the first three stories over and over again ... and of course, they are both the same and ever changing because Jesus is still alive, still touching people, and still changing us.

More interesting reflections in preparation for Christmas. A pleasure to talk to you.

AnneMarie said...

Great post! I think we as followers of Jesus Christ need to be vary careful on this. Some tend to lean towards mankind whether it be books, quotes, or teachings more than the inspired Word of God. I believe that route is dangerous! The Inspired Word of God is still living and active. It is culturally relevant! The Word should be our first and sometimes only resource!

I love the third person's comments! That is so true! It all starts with Jesus!

Dean said...

really nice read. i wish i knew some places to read more stuff like this. all i know of is your blog.

i have been trying to communicate that thought for a while, the "messiness" of chrisitanity makes it more human more meaningful at least to me.

i am at a new school and involved with a ministry on campus that is affiliated with the Great Commission Assoc. I absolutely love the people but a lot of times when having discussions, my friends quote their pastors or other figure heads in the GCA and their "teachings". this troubles me a bit, to quote so much from a teacher who is not Christ.

Thank you for these thoughts.

Feral Pastor said...

Hi AnnMarie - always a pleasure to hear from you!

For what it's worth, I find myself more and more reluctant to use the phrase "Word of God" becasue it's so open to confusion: sometimes it means the scriptures and sometimes it means Jesus himself. I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of the passages that are often cited as lifting up the importance of the Bible are actually talking about Jesus instead! One of these days I'm going to do a little study on that and, if I have the nerve, post it on my blog.

AnneMarie said...

Now, that is interesting Tim. Here in Detroit....the Word of God is known to be the whole Bible front to back. I have never heard someone say that the Word of God refers to the words that came right out of Jesus' mouth.

Feral Pastor said...

Thanks, Dean - I'm honored and humbled to be a helpful voice for you. I hope you do find others you can also get good input from and I should tell you right off that the people who have been most helpful to me have been Brian McLaren, and Bill Easum and Tom Bandy. Bill and Tom have a cheap membership program for coaching that I'd be happy to tell you more about if you're interested. Just send me a note at my Gmail address.