Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Knowledge and Salvation

Well, Russ has fully entered the postmodern world and is seeking to find his way through the quagmire into some sort of Christian cultural critique. Reading books like The Truth About the Truth by Walter Truett Anderson and Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be by Walsh and Middleton isn't helping at all, either. It is just causing me to rethink my whole epistemology.

Tonight in class, we shortly (oh, too shortly) discussed the concept of 'absolute truth' and basically it came out that the students who had studied philosophy disagreed with the Prof. No surprises there (beware, lest ye fall Keith!). Regardless, it did raise some interesting points. If we discuss anything 'absolutely' we are begging the question, can we know anything absolutely, or to use ol' Francis Schaeffer language, can we know anything exhaustively? Schaeffer (and Walsh and Middleton, et al) would say no, of course not. We are not God (or even 'god') and cannot stand outside of the Creation to view it. Does this mean that there is no 'objective' knowledge? Depends on what you mean as objective, etc.

One of the most interesting parts of the discussion is whether we should connote the two different (but ultimately undefinable) 'truths' by using capital and lowercase letters: Truth v. truth. It ended up being that one student said that Truth existed, but you can't know it, but 'truth' is what we live out. Maybe someone could help me, but isn't that Kant's phenomenicological (it must have that many letters, I'm sure of it!) and noumenal categories?

Well, that got me to thinking, what about the historic Creeds of the Church (however you define 'historic', 'creed', and 'church', isn't postmodernism fun?)? If, as finite human creatures, we cannot know something totally or exhaustively (or even at all), how can we be dogmatic about our intra-faith problems? Within the faith, it would seem that a more open discussion should be taking place, "to see whether these things are so" (which I've noticed is a wonderful thing to say in a sermon to lull the congregation into a state of happy acceptance of whatever is about to be said). Can we say, with the Athanasian Creed that whoever doesn't ascribe to the obtuse philosophical discourse contained within it that they are 'anathema'?

Or, to get at it another way, since all knowledge is culturally conditioned, can we even live the creeds out since they are very conditioned to an early synthesis of neo-Platonism and Christianity? Or, to press it further, can we live out the New Testament (not to mention the Old) since they are even more remotely conditioned?

I think that all my questions come down to this: if we are to have a knowledge of God for salvation and all our knowledge is culturally and individually conditioned, how can we ever be sure that we are believing the right things? In other words, how can we know that we have salvation, without collapsing into either a Gnostic mysticism or a Platonic autonomy?

Will the Bible survive this epistemological catastrophe?

1 comment:

~greg said...

Having been mentioned in your post, I think I can bring some clarity, at least to what I said, although it seems that I may have been misunderstood.

What I was trying to bring to the discussion of Truth vs. truth, is how the postmodern theorist came to the conclusion that in fact there is no such thing as Truth(human known objective Truth) There is only culture(see the Idea of Culture in The Truth and lived experience, and that is our only basis for claiming any knowledge. They have therefore stated that all truth is subjective, thus truth with a small t. They are claiming, as would I, that Truth with a big T, is a reified concept, we made it and now we think it exists as a thing outside of our own construction.

In reference to whether this is Kant, I hadn't thought of that but I'm willing to say yes. The praxis of lived experience in Kant is based on the idea that every human being has a faith or belief even a proiri idea of freedom. In other word it is impossible to do anyting with out a construction of the idea of freedom. Using this understanding I think it is valuble to Postmodern thought. We should look at the praixis and lived expereince to see how people beleive things, rather than the modernist idea of building complex ideas and then see how people conform to this.

I think that postmodernism gives Christians a new insight into epistemology. That evangelism and a witness is not about having some complex idea like the authority of scripture, but rather that people see lived lives that are a praxis of a transformed experience of being faithful and struggling to live out the Bible. I have never heard of someone converting to Christianity because of creeds, abstract ideas and to find Truth, it is rather an expereince of the Hospitality of God, the invitation into transendence.

Finally, you call this an epistemological catastophe. This is only the case if one has been enculturated into a modernist epistemology. I spent the last four years never hearing the words absolute truth, so in class it seemed odd to be even hearing any of this stuff. If you talk to anybody about how they live, aboslute truth seems trivial and dumb. Does that mean that it doesn't exist, no, but if we can only know that which is within our lived experience then the idea of absolutes has no bearing on our lives, the same way that creeds on paper have no meaning, when they are lived the are a witness to truth.