the non-propositional nature of truth.
By now you’re probably thinking—
“Okay, are you suggesting that the way Christians have thought about their faith for hundreds of years no longer fits this postmodern culture? And what about this non-propositional Truth stuff? This is getting more than a little weird.”
Actually, Christians throughout history have articulated their faith differently, depending upon individual cultural setting. Some are more experiential than theological; some are more communally based than hierarchical; some have a minimal understanding of the theology of their faithbut hold a deep commitment to Christ in what they do know. So as we rethink the thinking about our faith in North American culture, we must to be careful to not create an historical assumption that things “have always been the same.” We must to be willing to reexamine our present-day view of the Christian faith and how it is expressed and understood. Over time I have learned to not be so attached to my words. I even joke about it— “Hey I could be wrong; I haven’t made my mistake for this year yet!” Nonetheless, to challenge the process of thinking does seem, even to me, a tad arrogant. I do so with a great sense of personal fear and large regret that a great era has gone and could be lost forever. The Modern Era has given the world so much—from consolidated nations [mostly], to incredible scientific discoveries and never imagined medical breakthroughs, to established theological constructs for our faith, to world trade, and to space exploration. During the Modern era the battle between religion and science won and lost, lost and won, on both sides.
Think about it— If you updated this thinking and applied it to any religion, what you might find is a religion not entirely devoid of rational thought, but one where rational explanations of reality, took their proper place in back of actual experiences. It then interpreted them in light of religious thought, revelation, or tradition.[i] For the past 350-500 years Western Christianity has been a reflection of modern, logical thought patterns. These thought patterns focused on “defending the faith,” debating the opposition, and developing a cohesive world-and-life view which overshadowed the vibrant work of God in our midst. We have raised the Bible to such a divine level as to virtually eclipse the God of the Bible with the words that tell us about him! The wine glass has replaced the glory of the Wine.
Please hear me out on this point. Evangelicals are “people of the Book,” we proudly proclaim. Not, mind you, that I am not a student of the Bible myself. It is the grass-roots of my faith sticking through my toes. It is the one, solely reliable source for Christians to learn about their faith, its foundations in Judaism, its founding, its history, and its implications for living before the God Who made us in this world He created. It is Truth revealed in writing. The Bible is no less, I repeat, than God telling us things He knew we would not be able to figure out from merely looking around. It sets forth the precepts, principles, and practice of what it means to truly be a follower of Jesus Christ. It is 66 individual books, letters, historical documents, collections of poetry, and future prophesies woven together over 4,000 years by 40 ± writers with one central theme— the redemption and fulfillment of the human race by the God who created us. That’s no small feat. The Bible’s internal consistencies, cohesiveness and congruency alone attest to its veracity. It is a book like no other ever written.
But as much as the Bible portrays the mighty works of God throughout history it is not the end-all of end-alls. When I was in college I majored in philosophy (duh). My specialization was language philosophy. I learned that, in any language, words have referents. That is, the word points to the object, the idea, the subject. It is NOT the object itself, it is the sign, the symbol, or the pictogram which represents the object. For example, when I say cow, your mind forms an image of the real thing. I do not know whether your mind’s cow is black, brown, Guernsey or what. That would require you to ask “What kind of cow?” But you would have the basic cow image-idea down pat. Applying this simple linguistic principle to the Bible, it can be stated that the Bible, with its historical sections, poetry, prophesies, and letters, is the tag that points us to God. It describes God for us; it clarifies His conditions for us to live on this planet, it sets forth His rules of protection for human relationships; it informs us of the consequences of our actions, here and later; it sets forth Truth as God defines it.
So, in one sense, the Bible, the Word of God, is the Truth; but in another sense it is only the Truth-Tag, the reference, the word, that points us all to the object of the Word— Jesus Christ, God Himself. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”[ii] In the modern era, with a common acceptance of logical-sequential thought, this simple observation was not particularly important; but in a postmodern era, where the logical process has moved from its basis in sequential word-tag-reference explanations of stuff to a basis in life-experience and our responses to them, this distinction becomes eminently critical. To the point, the nature of Truth itself is shifting from a rational/logical-sequential propositional-base to an individual-experience one. Truth is moving from an exclusively propositional position to one that is far more personal, far more individualistic. NOT, as some would have us believe, a personal, individualistic rendition of reality; but, rather, a position reflective of one’s personality and preferences. Lost yet? This is important to grasp so hang on.
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[i] Applying postmodern thought to religion is not entirely precise. It is actually postmodern thought applied ONLY to Christianity. No other traditional religion (Islam, Hinduism, Budhism, Judism) would allow postmodern thought to be applied to it. They are not concerned with the effects postmodernism has on them as yet. They stand outside the circle of influence of the shift. Some retain their traditions fiercely; others simply hang in a sort of limbo, culturally. But their children will have some concern. There will be little difference between a postmodern Jew, Muslim, Budhist, or Hindu. Will there be that much distinction for the postmodern Christian? Hummmm.
[ii] John 1:14. NIV Bible.