RC for Redemption Church – cap for re-cap…get it? I’m going to attempt to recap the previous week’s research and message each week here on the blog. If you want to listen to the messages I’m giving, you can go to the RC Website.
The Road to Emmaus
This week at RC we talked about the story of Jesus on the Road to Emmaus. This story is one of the most complete and well developed resurrection stories. N.T. Wright does a great job on it in The Challenge of Jesus (starting on p.151). I think he’s right – this is basically the way I rehearse the argument:
I think this story of Emmaus is a great onramp to the discussion of how to deal with epistemology in a world that is increasingly post-modern. We’ve come through 400 years of Modernity in which we were given a specific story about the way the world is. We were told that truth is a concept. Truth is about ideas, it is somehow rational – something you can write down; truth is a law, a doctrine, an equation, an algorithm. I do not deny that it is important to attempt to faithfully record our encounters with truth as we understand it in every philosophical era. But we mustn’t totalize those truth claims, after all, doctrines are the grammar of our faith; the entre into a conversation that never exhausts the God who is infinite.
It seems clear that modernist epistemologies violate this spirit. However, after Einstein and the bloody 20th century this point of view has been losing its hegemony as we understand the subjectivity of all truth statements and the entire proposition of “truth as an abstract concept” epistemologies. If there is a guy on earth looking at a phenomenon and a guy flying by in a space ship looking at the same phenomenon, their experiences of reality would not correspond to one another. So although truth isn’t relative, any attempt to codify it necessarily is. Thus, we have learned, even science is not impartial. Everybody has a point of view and that point of view shapes and distorts the ways in which they describe reality, or what is truth.
The post-modern answer was to do away with absolute truth claims altogether and to state plainly all truth is relative. Truth is experienced in community and there are as many truths as there are communities to experience and describe it. I sometimes get called a relativist, but I’m not. I’ll explain that in a minute…
Here’s the thing. Modernity was wrong – truth is not a concept – something rational you can write down. Smart folks like D.A. Carson try to make arguments that we can approximate truth and others try to stump for enlightenment epistemologies, but those guys are consistently proven to be wrong. Their arguments are not internally coherent. The ship has sailed on modernist epistemologies – it’s not the world our children will grow up in. Einstein happened, there’s no way to turn back the clock (pun intended…get it?). Truth isn’t a concept – that’s not the story of God and it steals away the reality that God is truth. In a post-modern world, if you tell the story of God that way it doesn’t work – Jesus is a failure.
But post-modernity (if there is such a thing) is wrong as well. Truth is not relative. You can’t say Jesus is Lord and then make whatever claims you want about who he is and what he is up to – it doesn’t work if you do it that way. Truth isn’t relative. If you tell the story of God that way it doesn’t work – Jesus is a failure.
Truth is personal. Jesus said I am the way and the truth. Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” Jesus could not answer, because he was the truth standing in front of Pilate and Pilate couldn’t recognize it. It seems to me the answer the Christian narrative gives is as follows – and I know I’m on tenuous ground here because I’m not a philosopher by any stretch…but this is my best go at it:
There is only one truth and that truth is God’s truth which has been revealed to us in Christ through the Holy Spirit. Truth is, in fact, God’s thing. That is the confession of the Christian church – see the creeds here. Thus, we cannot co-opt truth from God and exclusively tie it to any major philosophical epistemology. And when we talk about truth, we need to follow the example of Jesus, who did not give modernist truth claims, but told stories. On the road to Emmaus he didn’t expound on laws, doctrines, equations and algorithms, he told the story of God starting with Moses and the prophets – he re-narrated reality in light of the resurrection. BUT, they did not yet believe. It was not until he broke bread with them that their eyes were opened. It is not an accident that Jesus told the narrative and that the church preserved a narrative (Scripture). Truth, for all ages modern, post-modern, or whatever, will narrate our lives.
Here’s what I learned from studying this text this week: Maybe the Christian response to questions about truth/epistemologies should simply be to tell the story of God and to share our lives with each other – that’s what Jesus did on the road to and in Emmaus. It seems like a good approach to the question “what is truth?” We don’t spout doctrines with radical positivism. We laugh and say, “let me tell you about the man who change my life, and the life of the world, forever!” Totalizing doctrines are hubris. Jesus is the truth and when he chose to reveal truth to humanity, he told us the story of God in light of the new thing God was doing in Christ, then he shared his life with the people. If we want to follow in the ways of Jesus, we do the same thing.
Personally, I’m very interested in the conversation about truth and epistemology. But the center of my life is learning to live faithfully within the story of God, and to be able to allow God to narrate my existence according to that story, and then to share my life with others along the way.