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.
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."
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?