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 –



Anonymous said...

Hey Tim,

That idea of "the truth will set you free" has always bothered me, with connotations of "right thinking." Your explanation has been helpful.

Also - welcome back! We've missed you!


Feral Pastor said...

Thanks! It's good to be back. And I should credit my dad with puting me on the track of this line of thinking about Truth. He was a Lutheran pastor and laid most of the foundations for my thinking.


Dean Alley said...

hey there my name is Dean,

i am new to the whole emergent movement, post-modern thought and such, also new to blogging(only have a blog here about my summer at a bible camp) this experience with children and their christ-like innocence challenged me to re-learn what sciptures mean to me(read my blog if you want to see the transformation)

anyways, i just wanted to let you know that i really enjoy what i read in this post. thanks for the insight and such. good luck with your endeavors in your new field of ministry; you will be in my prayers.

Feral Pastor said...

Hi Dean - thanks for stopping by my blog! I'm really glad to hear that my post about the Truth discussion was helpful. How did you happen to come across it?

I did head over to your blog and enjoyed reading about your summer at Luther Crest. Sounds like you had some challenging and fruitful discussions about theology. Good for you for sticking it out! I gather that my ELCA brothers and sisters who were so eager to emphasize the theology of grace also did a decent job of treating you with grace. I certainly hope so!

Blessings on your journey with Jesus!


Dean Alley said...

i happened on your blog from TCEmergent's comments on their last post. I wish to make it to one of the cohort meetings eventually but i am now in school at UW: Eau Claire.

WOW! Thank you for reading my blog, it was certainly an interesting summer that challenged me in a lot of ways. I still think I am far from the degree in which the ELCA talks emphasizes graces(sometimes to the point of universalism) but still, it is good to think about. They certainly lived the Grace in which they talked about which made for an authentic experience.

I certainly wish to read your blog more and the blogs of other people in the emergent movement.(any reccomendations?) Eventually I will put a blog up here on blogspot (i use LJ right now).

Thanks for your time!

Feral Pastor said...

Dean -

I get to the Twin Cities Emergent Cohort meetings pretty regularly so hopefully we'll run into each other there sometime. It would be great to meet.

Here are some recommendations for you - I've put links to them on the main page of the blog.

For Emergent stuff in general, the people I value hearing from the most these days are Brian McLaren and Emergent Village. The folks at Off the Map are good too and they have a really fun spirit about them. I also recommend Tom and Christine Sine who lead the Mustard Seed Associates. Tom has a great 3-page article that gives an introduction to the emergence of Emergent as well as good links, including one to Tall Skinny Kiwi who's a prominent blogger. You can find the article here:


It'd be great to have you keep up with my blog too. The best way to do that is to sign up for e-mail subscriptions, which gives you a notice whenever there's a new post or comment. Look for the subscribe field on the main page, floating above my head on the right. If you hurry, I think you can be subscriber #14. ;)

Seriously, I's a real enouragement for me to know that there are people out there "listening" when I write. Thanks for being part of my conversation!


Anonymous said...

Hi Tim,

Insightful, humble and honest commentary by you and fellow posts. I have always felt a strong connection in my heart between spending more time in the "Living Word" and joy or oxymoronic, non-scientific challenge of "living the truth..." particularly when it is difficult, or my own profound ways of falling short, as revealed by scripture, must be repeatedly nailed to the cross of grace.

Regarding the relationship you SEEK with Jesus, in the context you present it, I genuinely believe others AND YOU WILL FIND.


Liz said...

Tim - thanks for stopping by my blog, Grace Rules, and for your kind words in response to my post regarding the inerrancy of scripture. You mentioned this post and so I came right over to read it. I remember reading it when you first wrote it and appreciated that you pointed out that Jesus had taken the idea of truth and put a whole new spin on it. I have enjoyed reading the post again and I consider your thoughts about "the truth" to be a great third way that goes beyond the typical arguments, claims and questions in regards to truth within Christianity.

Unknown said...

It's interesting to ponder the concept of Truth. I mean, which lens do you apply? From a Scientific approach, you use a methodology of testing theories until the results "prove" the hypothesis based on observable evidence.

When it comes to religion, you can't observe the stories that have been passed down. However, you can look for archaeological evidence that might support those stories (e.g. multiple cultures having stories of a great flood). You also cannot observe the promises of the afterlife--typically. Of course, there are stories of people with what we call "near-death" experiences.

Can those be qualified as scientific evidence? Evidence? Sure. But can someone else's testimony prove God's existence? Hardly.

Yet, in your post, you put a spin on Truth as being knowable. Through my studies, I have come across what I'll call "themes". Whether in the Bible or the Tao Te Ching or even Humanist philosophies, the is a tendency to see much that point to altruism.

What good are these themes? Well, if Truth is about gathering and "knowing" information, then Truth can't exist because there are too many contradicting philosophies (e.g. Ayn Rand's "Virtue of Selfishness).

However, if Truth exists, as you suggest in relationship to God, well then we have a "Control" factor. God can be tested--not "once and for all humanity"--but tested to be Trustworthy in relationship: Your personal relationship.

All of the other texts, scriptures, and testimonies then stand as theories that can be tested. Tested in relationship.

And I guess that's what I'm doing with the idea of "Faith". I am trusting God. I am walking in faith based on the scriptures, texts, testimonies, and personal experiences. I keep relating to God. Relating to Truth.

Thanks for the mental walk!