Friday, June 09, 2006

Truth...Proposition or Person?

Well, it's been a couple of weeks since my last post and I have been thinking about many different things, but something I would like to talk about is truth. What is truth? Or maybe better said, Who is truth? Is truth always absolute, or is truth something that adapts to the society or culture in which it finds itself?

My Christian experience has been within the confines of "fundamental" or "conservative" Christianity. In these circles, a believer is taught that truth consists of a set of absolute propositions that every "true believer" must subscribe to in order to be "in". These propositions are made up of creeds and doctrinal statements, sometimes subscribed to by a particular denomination and other times adopted by a larger group of believers. A participant is told that they must subscribe to a list of "essentials" in order to be a part in the fellowship of these believers. Questioning the "essentials" is frowned upon and considered to be a step on the "slippery slope" toward liberalism. This causes many believers to never question their faith, and leads other would-be-believers to abandon the Christian faith altogether.

Propositional truth is not altogether a bad thing. There is a clear need for propositional truth in the Body of Christ. There are definite convictions that we must embrace if we are to call ourselves by the Name of Christ. The problem occurs however, when propositions are absolutized that are either beyond the biblical revelation, or stem from one of several interpretations of a not-so-clear biblical reference. One such example is the hard-line stance of some young-earth creationists.

Many young-earth creationists are convinced that unless one believes in a literal, six, twenty-four hour day, creation week, he/she is deceived and does not believe the Bible to be the Word of God. Books have been written vehemently attacking old-earth creationists for "compromising" the integrity of God's Word. The conclusion is made that unless one believes creation as spelled out by these young-earth creationists, one does not truly believe the Word of God and therefore is in danger of misunderstanding other areas of revelation, such as salvation, etc.
Really? How can we jump to the conclusion that one's very relationship with God is in danger as a result of not acknowledging a 6000 to 10000 year age for our planet? This is just one example of how much is made of little in the world of propostional truth. In a situation such as this, should we not continue to embrace each other as members of the Body of Christ while agreeing to disagree?

This brings me back to the opening question. Is truth always absolute, or is truth sometimes pliable? What about Jesus? How did He see truth? Well, in John 8:3 we find the story of Jesus' dealings with the woman caught in adultery.

John 8:3-6
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
NIV
Here we find the #1 proponents of absolute truth...the Pharisees. They present Jesus with an "absolute" statement from the Word of God that says that this woman should be stoned for her actions. But, instead of simply conceding to the biblical revelation, Jesus supercedes it (in the midst of fulfilling it?!?) by saying:
John 8:7-11
"If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.................neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."
NIV
How did Jesus get around the clear command of Scripture to stone adulterers? The truth was that this woman should have been stoned...or was it? Was truth the command that was written in the Law, or was truth the One Who refused to condemn this woman? Is truth simply propositional, or is truth actually best described as personal?


The Exaltation of Reason
Let's go back in time a little, shall we? Martin Luther, at the Diet of Worms, when asked to recant his beliefs that led to the Protestant Reformation, retorted with the famous words:
Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen
Notice that in this speech, Luther elevates "plain reasoning" to a place of equality with Scripture. Here we have encapsulated for us a direct result of the Age of Enlightenment. We have come, through our modernistic thinking, to believe that truth can be reduced to a mental excercise in which everything can be "figured out". We have created an image of a "logical" God that, if studied intensely enough, can be contained in our doctrinal statements. Now don't get me wrong. Do I believe that God is totally illogical and past finding out? No. But, I would say that many things about God are alogical, and therefore, beyond our understanding and our ability to reason out. As in the case of Jesus' dealings with the woman caught in adultery, mercy is something that just seems to go against the grain of a "logical" Jesus. As a matter of fact, doesn't Jesus seem to break an absolute command of Scripture by dealing with this woman so gently?

What did Jesus say about truth. In speaking of truth Jesus said:
John 14:6
Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. NIV
I believe that Jesus was here saying that truth is something that cannot be known simply through human logic or reasoning, but instead must be experienced and fleshed out through a relationship with a living person. (See also 1 Corinthians 1:7-21) As such, truth would seem to be very adaptable and somewhat "taylor-made" to the person who is pursuing reality. Does this mean that absolutes change (and therefore are not absolutes at all)? No, but it might mean that our list of absolutes needs to be more abridged. It also might mean that you would not see Jesus give out a copy of the "Four Spiritual Laws". After all, when looking at His life, it seems that Jesus dealt with each person as an individual with unique needs and desires. Jesus only told one man that he must be "born-again", and He only offered "living water" to one woman. Yet, we take some of these same terminologies and absolutize them for mass consumption, with the understanding that unless one prays in a certain way, or uses very specific words, he/she is not an authentic believer. I would say that many of us are guilty of having a more in-depth relationship with our systematic theology book than with Jesus. Many times, I believe that we have exchanged a heart relationship with the One Who is the truth, for an intellectual relationship with "pure doctrine". After all, what good is a proposition that says that "God is love", if you never feel loved by God? What good is it to believe in the doctrine of imputed righteousness, if you never feel acceptable to the Father?

Am I here advocating the abandonment of absolute truth, or of propositions of any kind? Absolutely not:) What I am calling for is a balance between propositional statements of truth and an understanding of the adaptibility of those propositions in a given situation. After all, what are we worshipping, a doctrinal statement, or a Person? What do you think?

15 comments:

Steve Sensenig said...

Just for me personally, I try not to make too strong a point from the story of the woman in adultery, only because it is a generally accepted conclusion that the passage in question was not in the "original". It is consistent with what we know to be the character of Jesus, but I hesitate to build anything on that particular passage.

However, your point is still able to be demonstrated by lots of what Jesus said and did, and is by no means invalid! I think I mentioned to you when we discussed this topic over breakfast that Jesus touched lepers, which was contrary to the Law.

This is a great topic, Raborn, and I appreciate you bringing it into discussion. Your point about taking one possible interpretation and then absolutizing it (and usually, then, using it as the foundation for other "reasoning") was especially excellent.

steve :)

christy said...

Raborn,
Great topic! There are several different areas of discussion within your post, but these are my thoughts at the moment.

I especially liked what you said here:

"After all, when looking at His life, it seems that Jesus dealt with each person as an individual with unique needs and desires."

I believe that in all our interactions, we must remember this. We must continually seek God's leading in each unique situation. Not to toss out the revelation we have in scripture and not to dismiss absolute truth, but realizing that the point is to have a relational attitude--toward others and toward God.

Christy :)

Raborn Johnson said...

Steve, I like what you said

Your point about taking one possible interpretation and then absolutizing it (and usually, then, using it as the foundation for other "reasoning") was especially excellent.

Well said. We tend to take valid absolutes to their "logical" conclusion, which actually ends up leading to very illogical ideas. Instead of examining and discussing things we are unsure of while at the same time holding to what we know to be essential truths, our individual conclusions based on absolutes become absolute themselves! It seems to me that there are only a few "essentials", leaving us freedom to examine differing view points on the "non-essentials".

Christy, thanks for your input! I totally agree with you that much of the time, we are missing the point! Did Jesus come just to give us "pure doctrine", or did He come to set us free and bring us into a relationship with the Father? I think that sometimes the Church has become more concerned about propositions than people. Did Jesus die for us and rise again simply to give us a correct theology? I think not. While it is important to have our minds renewed, and to continually move towards more correct beliefs, Jesus is more concerned about our hearts than our heads:)

Vynette said...

Ray,

I agree with 4 of your 5 essentials. Where I disagree is with part of your Point No.1.

"Jesus Christ is the perfect union of God and Man. He is the God-Man and the only way to the Father."

If you are a 'truth-seeker' and willing to entertain ideas that are as old as the New Testament, then my responsibility to 'prove all things' means that I must give you the opportunity to comment on the following:

Christian theology is incorrect in its interpretation of the nature of the Supreme Being and in its characterisation of Jesus of Nazareth.

My conviction is this:
that Jesus of Nazareth exemplified and enacted the values and principles required of creatures by their Creator;
that he was 'anointed' with plenipotentiary powers to speak and act in the name of God;
and that because he affirmed "scripture cannot be broken", the Word of God is expressed in the Old Testament as well as the New.

My contention is that a fundamental misunderstanding of the appellations 'god' and 'Son of God', when used in reference to Jesus of Nazareth, have given rise to the entire doctrinal apparatus of the Christian churches.

My 'credo' might be summed up in these fundamental teachings by the Apostles about Jesus of Nazareth:
That he was 'anointed' by God with the Holy Spirit (Acts 10 37:38);
That he was the 'son' of God by human parentage (John 1:34, 45, 49) though not the son of Joseph as commonly supposed at the time (Matt. 1:25);
That he was a 'god' in the sense in which he used it himself, that is, a man "unto whom the word of God came." (John 10:34).On his reasoning, Moses and the prophets were also 'gods';
That he was the 'only-begotten' of God because he was the only-resurrected, not because he was born to a virgin.

My motivating principle:

"God is a spirit and they that worship him MUST worship him in spirit and in TRUTH" (John 4:21-24)

And, finally, my hope for the future:
Because Almighty God has appointed a day "... in which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead." (Acts 17:31).

I am pressing for a new 'reformation' based on the above.

Just to let you know where I am coming from - yours in spirit and in truth.
Vynette

Raborn Johnson said...

Vynette, thanks for stopping by. I appreciate your inquiry and the research that it seems you have done. Unfortunately, I have to go to work this morning, but I will post a comment to you this evening, after I get home from work. I will not be getting home until around 8:30pm EST, so it will be sometime after 9pm before I can get one back to you. Thanks for your patience:)

Raborn Johnson said...

Vynette, sorry that I have not posted a response thus far. Please know that I will do so in the next day or two. After getting home from work, I worked on responding to some other blog issues at hand, at which point I was to drained to do anymore. Sorry for the delay. Thanks in advance for your patience:)

contratimes said...

Dear Vynette,

You have raised questions and objections that are not easy to answer; but they are also not unique to you. The issues raised are as old as the Church; there have been many protestors of Christ's divinity for nearly 2000 years.

I imagine you already have an answer for this, but what do you think of Colossians 2:9, which states "For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form"? One translation chooses to describe Christ as the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form. It would be interesting to hear your thoughts on this.

I think latent in a lot of criticisms of Christ's fully divine nature is this rather mistaken idea that God cannot ever be incarnate. There are no doubt some who believe God to be at war with the material world; that matter is corrupt, grotesgue, evil or, like the Christian Scientists believe, illusory and therefore detrimental. But the question must be whether it is at all possible for God to be incarnate; surely an omniscient being knows how to become a human and still be God, no? And if we grant that God can be a man, then surely we can grant that that man might have been Jesus. I mean, if the God of the universe can allow me and you and everyone else to be "incarnate", how is it impossible, or even unlikely, that He would do the same of Himself? I am not suggesting that you are denying this potentiality of God, only that it is perplexing that so many others do.

As for worshiping "in spirit and in truth," it strikes me as overly enthusiastic to build a theology, or a "re-Reformation," on this idea. For surely Jesus is not saying that worship must only be "in spirit"; he added truth to the formula. One could easily interpret Jesus as saying that people will worship God with the totality of their beings: not just by following Pharisaical rules (which are external, physical actions), and not just by traveling to certain holy sites (remember, when He says "spirit and truth", He's speaking to a Samaritan woman who could not travel to the "best" or "most spiritual" holy places). God will be worshiped by all who respond to His call, and they will be able to worship anytime, anywhere (and this because Jesus is the incarnate sacrificial Lamb to which the whole Jewish cult pointed, and He is the Lamb slain, not on some altar over here or exclusive to this group over there: He is slain on the Altar of the Universe).

But there is something undoubtedly physical in all of Jesus's acts and teachings. In every parable, in every prescription, He uses earthly images: Sheep, brides, oil, lilies, laborers, wine, water, stones, bread, birds, wood, fish, nets, wolves, scriptures. You can't find a single reference to something "spiritual" in anything teaches: He is not a gnostic, He is an incarnationalist: everything around us bespeaks the nature of God. This, however, is not pantheism in Christian clothes, for Christ points to a Father outside of Creation, like an earthly father is outside of procreation: Christ informs us that we can worship, through the physicality of our bodies, the God of the Universe who is not made of wood and stone, with Jesus His fleshly manifestation leading us. That is why Jesus is raised from the dead as a physical being; He is not resurrected as merely "spirit". But perhaps the most telling thing about Jesus the Christ is that He never speaks about God without referring to creation, the very stuff of creation. Even His mandate, his mandatum of Maundy Thursday, is rooted in physicality: "Love each other as I have loved you." Even in the New Commandment we are given an earthly reference point, Jesus Himself. All this to show that we cannot have access to God without our bodies -- that is why God created us this way in the first place. There is absolutely no sense in Jesus' teaching that there is a separation between a person's spirit and body; and that is why, in everything we say and learn and do about God, we do so in physical terms. And that is why we need a physical mediator--the God of the Universe in the flesh--to save us.

This is just a start in perhaps answering your questions. There is much more to say, and, as I read the answer I've left here, I note a potential contradiction. But I will leave that for some other time.

Peace and mirth,

Bill Gnade

contratimes said...

Vynette and Raborn,

You know, as I think about it, I realize I should apologize. I should have at least said that I hope that neither of you minds that I insert myself into the conversation. Forgive me for my presumption. It's not only bad form, it's bad manners. So, I ask you to forgive me.

Peace.

Vynette said...

Dear Bill and Ray

Thank you for your comments.

Bill, I'm not ignoring the points you raised but neither of us will understand the other unless I first give you a general idea of what I hope to achieve.

My personal conviction is that Almighty God has not left his creation in ignorance but has made his will known to us through the Old and New Testaments. The 'truth' I seek is based on this written record of God's interaction with humanity.

My sole purpose is to demonstrate that most Christian church doctrines are not based on this written record - it is not my purpose to tear down faith in the power of Almighty God or in his 'anointed'. On the contrary, it is to build up a faith that can never be challenged because it rests on the solid foundation of truth.

I realise that this sounds like an impossible and idealistic task. Nevertheless, I'm committed to it.

After that long introduction...
The New Testament records the making of a New Covenant between God and humanity.Whereas before there was a Covenant between God and the Hebrews, the covenant of Jesus of Nazareth removed the limitations of the Abrahamic - extending and enlarging it to encompass the entire human race.

We are told that Jesus learned obedience through his sufferings(Hebrews 5:8) and through this obedience the many were made righteous. What, exactly, does this mean?

Jesus, through his character in action, proved to God that humans were capable of obedience and self-sacrifice, even unto death.

Because of this, we are told that Jesus re-established our value in the eyes of God - a value we held before the 'fall'.

Therefore, God will give or 'grace' all of us with eternal life if we strive to emulate this examplar of human behaviour.

Thus, Jesus is described as the 'way, the truth and the life'. All humanity would be judged according to this new universal median...hence, the 'one mediator'.

We are also told that by putting the old or 'earthly' man to death and raising up a new 'spiritual' man, we also could enter into the New Covenant with God.(The meaning of 'spiritual' in this context is to be imbued by the 'spirit' of God to serve others rather than self, to hold fast to truth and not be deceived by lies, etc. It has nothing to do with mysticism.)

So, we can see that this simple message of the New Testament is made utterly meaningless by doctrines that teach he was other than a normal man.

These doctrines actually render his sacrifice null and void: if he were not one of us, how could he serve as an example? Or as a warning to beware of the self-righteous arrogance and ignorance exemplified by the priestly establishment in Jerusalem?

"The leaders of this people cause them to err..."

Ray and Bill, this comment is already too long, and I realise that most of what I've said goes against the grain of everything you believe in and hold dear so I don't take this lightly. Nevertheless, I see it as my duty to make this knowledge available to all. That is why I've written extensively and in great detail on my own blog. Don't feel obliged to answer this comment. If you wish to take anything further, read what I have to say and invite me back to your blog or comment on mine.

Sincerely
Vynette

Vynette said...

Ray and Bill,

Please feel free to take any of my posts from the Race is Run and copy them to your own blogs. That way, you can use anything I've said to make your own observations, comments, rebuttals, or whatever you see fit.

Vynette

Vynette said...

Ray and Bill,

Hello again. I just realised I should clarify what I meant by the written record being our guide.

I am not advocating a slavish and rigid adherence to the 'letter', as do those of Pharasaic mentality, but rather being guided by the underlying 'spirit' animating the written word.

For example, the disciples and the writers of the New Testament FIRST discerned that Jesus' character in action, and the values and principles he embodied, were 'from God'. It was only after this recognition, that they adduced words from 'scripture' to support their claims that Jesus was the 'anointed' - the 'messiah'.
As Peter said "Where shall we go Lord, for thou hast the words of eternal life."
Vynette

Raborn Johnson said...

Contratimes Thank you for your interaction. You are welcome to add your voice anytime you would like. I hope that you will stop by more often. I enjoyed your comments on Pyromaniacs as well. Very thought-provoking.

Vynette, sorry it has taken me so long to post a response. I have been getting so involved in the Pryo-blog and Steve's blog that I have not focused much on this one. Thanks for your patience.

When it comes to the nature of Jesus, it becomes hard for us to completely comprehend how one person could simutaneously maintain both a divine and a human nature. I think that our limited understanding can quickly turn into incorrect assumptions, such as a false dichotomy between Jesus being a "normal man" and at the same time God.

The Book of Hebrews makes it clear that Jesus was a man who was "made like his brothers in every way". The letter of 1 John makes it clear that it is only under the inspiration of a false spirit that someone denies that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. I would go as far as to say that some camps within Christianity have overplayed the role of Jesus' divine nature to the exclusion of His humanity.

However, such "ditches" should never lead us to swing the pendulum completely the other way. In my reading of both the Old Testament prophecies, and the New Testament revelation, I do not see a way around concluding that Jesus has to be the cohesion of both God and man. Isaiah, when prophesying of Him calls Him the "everlasting Father (Hebrew='Father of eternity')", the "Mighty God", and also "Immanuel" or "God with us". (See Isaiah 7:14 & 9:6) Matthew 1:20-23 is one place that shows that these prophecies (of Immanuel and the virgin birth) were both fulfilled in Jesus. John's first statement about Jesus in the opening chapter of his gospel is that "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Later in the same chapter, he goes on to tell us that "the Word became flesh". Of course, this is none other than Jesus.

Jesus, when confronted by the Jews, Himself says that "before Abraham existed, I AM" (John 8:58), thus claiming the name God revealed Himself by in Exodus 3:14. It is undeniable that the Jews present understood that this is what Jesus was saying, for the result is "At this, they picked up stones to stone Him".(John 8:59) After His bodily resurrection, Jesus revealed Himself to Thomas, who then bowed down and worshiped Jesus saying "my Lord and my God." If Jesus was not all that Thomas declared, we would expect at least a gentle rebuke, but no such rebuke is given. Instead, Jesus seems to then say that people in the future will be blessed for coming to this same conclusion.(John 20:28-29)

Many passages in Isaiah reveal to us God's declaration that He shares His glory with no one. Yet, we find Jesus making such statements as "And now, Father, glorify me in Your presence with the glory I had with You before the world began."(John 17:5)

I could go on and on, but I think that this is enough for now. Vynette, I appreciate your desire to go beyond a blind belief that embraces anything/everything it has been told. I too, am at the same point in my spiritual walk. In the recent past, I have let go of long-held beliefs when confronted with biblical revelation. But, I cannot let go of what I see as the plain teaching of Scripture.

Because of this, we are told that Jesus re-established our value in the eyes of God - a value we held before the 'fall'.

I do not think that Jesus re-established our value. Instead, it seems it was because of the high value that God placed upon us that He sent Jesus in the first place. (Romans 5:8; John 3:16)

Therefore, God will give or 'grace' all of us with eternal life if we strive to emulate this examplar of human behaviour.

Vynette, I believe that the death and resurrection of Jesus, while helping us to understand self-sacrifice, goes far beyond an example that we are to follow. 2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us that it was a substitution, or an exchange, that occured whereby Jesus was made to be sin with our sin, so that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. To me, it is rather oxymoronic to say that God will "give or 'grace' all of us with eternal life" as the result of our having earned it by following the example of Jesus. A gift cannot be earned. This I believe is plainly stated in the Scriptures. (Romans 4:4; 5:15; 6:23)

Vynette, thank you for your willingness to dialogue on these matters,and thanks for your patience with my lengthy comments.

To you all: I really appreciate the interaction and the willingness to dialogue with passion and respect. You guys are great!:)

Raborn

Steve Sensenig said...

Raborn, you actually helped me understand even more why I believe that Jesus is God! Thanks for that great comment. You've given me a lot to chew on with that one.

steve :)

Vynette said...

Hello all,

I'm horrified to find I posted this completely false statement:

"Therefore, God will give or 'grace' all of us with eternal life if we strive to emulate this examplar of human behaviour."

Most of what I wanted to say is missing and what remains is jumbled. I can only blame myself - online editing and my failure to preview before posting.

I apologise for the confusion. I hope you won't mind me expanding on the original theme and stating my position on those three hotly-contested topics of 'grace', 'faith', and 'justification.'

'Grace' is the honour of being chosen as an instrument in fulfilling God's covenant promise to Abraham - "in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed". (Gen.22:18) Grace is delivered by the Holy Spirit in the form of a 'call' to work towards the fulfillment of the promise - the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth.

The Holy Spirit at work within inspires the conviction that Jesus of Nazareth is the man 'anointed' by God to rule over this kingdom, and that the 'narrow' path towards a successful conclusion is by following the example set for us by God's 'anointed'.

To answer the 'call' involves dedicating one's life to the service of God, as did Jesus, and having faith sufficient to withstand whatever spiritual anguish and 'body and blood' trials arise from this 'call', as did Jesus. (Hence, "many are called but few are chosen".)

For those who persevere to the end comes 'justification', not of self but rather 'justification' that the individual has been a successful instrument in fulfilling God's covenant promise to Abraham.

God's instrument of salvation for both Jew and Gentile demonstrated by his character in action what must be done to obtain a passport to enter the New Covenant Kingdom.

His 'calling' to be God's instrument of salvation was confirmed as a success and vindicated by his resurrection. A similar fate awaits other successful workers for the Kingdom.

The circle is completed by the 'gracing' of eternal life because God's 'Word of Eternal Life' existed from the beginning.

I'll just add that, throughout the ages, the recipients of 'grace' - those to whom the word of God came - have been reviled, humiliated and murdered in the service of God. One has only to consider the manifold sufferings of the Israelite people to understand that the 'chosen' of God are chosen for greater responsibility not greater favour.

Cheers all
Vynette

Raborn Johnson said...

the 'narrow' path towards a successful conclusion is by following the example set for us by God's 'anointed'.

God's instrument of salvation for both Jew and Gentile demonstrated by his character in action what must be done to obtain a passport to enter the New Covenant Kingdom.

Vynette, thank you for your response. After reading your correction of your previous comment, I must say that I see little difference in the above quotes and the quote you made by which you stated you were "horrified". It seems that you are still speaking of justification as something to be achieved by following Jesus' example, rather than as something to be received by embracing Jesus' sufferings as substitutionary on our behalf. Am I misunderstanding you on this? Thanks for your patience with me:)