Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Talking about Truth with "Evangelicals" and "Emergents"

Well! I've had quite the hiatus in my blogging and it certainly wasn't my intention to start up again with a thick theological piece, but.... oh well!

I came across a discussion of Truth on the up/rooted Weblog that gave me just the occasion I needed to make myself write down what I've been thinking about Truth. Truth, it turns out, is a very challenging topic of discussion these days, particularly between Evangelicals and Emergents. I won't attempt to describe what each is saying, or what they think the other has said. For a peek at that, you can read the weblog by following the link above.

I ended up writing a fair bit about the topic myself, but from a perspective that I haven't heard others articulate. So, if you're interested in that - read on!

Here's a copy of my post to the Emergent discussion, addressed to three others who had been contributing.:

Postmortem, Gordon and Jon –

Thank you for your willingness to personally give voice to a discussion that is important, emotional, and simmering hard within and among a whole lot of people these days, myself included. I admire and appreciate your courage.

I am not prepared to or interested in critiquing anyone else’s thought today, but I did want to share a bit of how the issue has been rumbling in my head.

Postmortem, you put your finger right on the pulse of my current musings when you made this comment:

"Instead you've grounded yourselves in weak suggestions like "Perhaps the truth of the Bible are not directly tied to factual accuracy. If that's the case, or if you'd care to show how that may be the case...please show me from God's word where you get that."

The scripture that I keep returning to in thinking about all this is John 14, where Jesus says; “I am… the truth.” Let me put up the verse and the two around it:

5Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" 6Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him." John 14:5-7 NIV

I’m a scientist by training so I’m very, very comfortable with the Modern, scientific way of thinking about “Truth” as being related to facts, information, verifiability and so on. So it’s completely jarring to hear Jesus say that he is truth, because “truth” is not something you can be. You can know truth, discover truth, share, record, express, discuss, debate and even be mistaken about truth. You can also be true but you can’t be truth.

So, in making that claim, Jesus shatters the category of “truth” in applying it to himself. It’s not just that it’s hard to understand what he means (we all agree there’s plenty of that), it’s that the statement is formally nonsensical - if - you are using the Modern/scientific categories for understanding the word “truth.”

That, to me, is where Jesus himself forces me to go outside the arena of factuality and accuracy (and inerrancy) in how I am going to deal with him and relate to him and, I pray, trust in him and obey him. These are, I believe, the things that matter most. When Jesus says “I am the truth” it compels me to move out of the Modern/scientific (and Greek/philosophical) arena and back into the Hebraic realm, where it has never been about facts and Ideas but love, life, and above all relationship as the “category of ultimate concern” if you will.

But when he says that, it also opens the door for me intellectually to all of the discussion I am finding so lively among the Emergents on issues of language, culture and so on. Truthfully, I’d have to say it actually compels me to go through that door so that I will be more cautious about interpreting scripture since so much hinges on the categories and definitions I bring to the table, knowingly or unknowingly.

Let me go one step further. When the word “truth” is used in the Modern/scientific sense, then the word “know” also has a particular sense which corresponds to a cognitive condition. Scientific “knowing” is about having access to actual facts in your mind. But in the Hebraic sense, “to know” is also often used in a relational way. So we get the classic “Adam knew Eve his wife…” in Genesis 4:1. This means that there is at least an interpretive option in how we understand what it means to “know”

This profoundly shifts the sense for interpreting a foundational verse such as John 8:31 “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” In a Modern/scientific frame, that translates into something like “You shall actually have access in your mind to the correct information, and that correct information will set you free.” But in a more Hebraic frame of meaning, and following what I think is the sense in John 14, it comes out more like this: “You shall be united in a relationship with me, and I will set you free.”

For me then, these explorations into the discussion of Truth and so on have resulted in an even more powerful shove towards focusing on my relationship with Jesus. And rather than make me less interested in investing time into reading and studying scripture, it has made that more important as I want to hear what my forbears have to tell me about living a life with God in the way of Jesus.

Well, that’s what’s been on my mind. If it’s of any use to others, then thank God for that!

Blessings –