Stanley Fish on Defending a Sacred Text

Earlier this week, I wrote about Chuck Colson. Colson, in his 2006 attack on the emergent church movement, wrote negatively about literary critic and commentator Stanley Fish, saying,

The arguments of some emerging church leaders, I fear, draw us perilously close to the trap set by postmodern deconstructionist Stanley Fish. Defending himself after his sympathetic statements about the 9/11 terrorists boomeranged, Fish claimed that postmodernists don’t really deny the existence of truth. He said there is simply no “independent standard of objectivity.” So truth can’t be proved to others; therefore, it can’t be known—a verbal sleight of hand.

Fish is a favorite of mine. He is so, in large part, because he often does not say and write what you expect him to say and write. He is unpredictable (not an attribute of Colson’s). Last week, his post at NY Times, for instance, takes liberals to the woodshed for poo-pooing those of us who put stock in a sacred text. Money quote:

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What Religion Is

I’ve had several conversations recently with friends and acquaintances about what religion is, and I’ve read a couple book manuscripts about it.

Those who are pro-religion tend to refer to religion as a root system. It’s like the bulb of a plant, and from that bulb grows our spirituality. Without roots, our faith is unhinged from anything. We become spiritual-but-not-religious, New Age syncretists.

Religion is not this.

But this isn’t religion. I think, instead, that God is the bulb, the roots. It is from God that our experiences of God grow.

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Exactly Which Church Are These Letters To?

This post is part of the Patheos Book Club. Check out the Book Club for more posts on this book, an interview with the editor, and for responses from other bloggers and columnists.

As I am wont to do, I’ll begin with my quibbles. These aren’t letters to a future church, as the book’s title promises. They are letters to the church today. Actually, I’d be very intrigued by a book of letters to the church 100 or 1,000 years from now. But that’s not this book.

This book is a group of letters by Christian leaders to the church today, telling the church what it’s doing wrong and how to fix it. As with many multi-author books, it’s hit and miss. For my part, the spoken word poetry doesn’t work in print. But other letters are great.

Among the latter is David Fitch’s “The Ideologizing of the Church”:

We get distracted from the fact that things haven’t really changed at all, that our lives are caught up in gamesmanship, not the work of God’s salvation in our own lives and his work (missio dei) to save the world.

But, I think the very best of this book is three letters that lie at its center:

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For Chuck Colson, Truth Was Truth

Chuck Colson (1931-2012)

The recently deceased Chuck Colson was among the first heavyweight evangelicals to speak out against the emerging church movement, in this 2006 column in Christianity Today, “Emerging Confusion“:

For evangelicalism (let alone emerging churches) to buy into that would undermine the very foundation of our faith. Theologian Donald A. Carson puts his finger precisely on the epistemological problem: Of course, truth is relational, Carson writes. But before it can be relational, it has to be understood as objective. Truth is truth. It is, in short, ultimate reality. Fortunately, Jim came to see this.

The emerging church can offer a healthy corrective if it encourages us to more winsomely draw postmodern seekers to Christ wherever we find them—including coffee houses and pubs. And yes, worship styles need to be more inviting, and the strength of relationship and community experienced. But these must not deter us from making a solid apologetic defense of the knowability of truth.

Ah, yes, “truth is truth.” The world will miss that airtight logic.

I responded to Colson’s column at Out of Ur:

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