Re: [asa] Truth

From: David Opderbeck <>
Date: Wed May 30 2007 - 09:45:38 EDT

At first blush, this seems to me like one of those things that is really
difficult to digest in a "critical"-in-the-sense-of-being-"thoughtful" but
not "critical"-in-the-sense-of-being-negative" way. (I think you did a good
job with this, Merv).

This is my 1000-foot perspective, without having seen the whole curriculum:
the popularity of the "emerging church" in recent years has prompted some
evangelicals, in response, to renew a focus on the concept of "truth" and
"worldview." "Emerging church" folks tend to question the comprehensiveness
of human ability to know and systematize absolute truth (though most,
contrary to some criticisms, accept the concept of absolute truth). They
also tend to question American evangelicalism's political inclinations, and
some question american evangelicalism's attitudes towards science (I
recently blurbed a TE-oriented book that also was blurbed by Brian McLaren
-- -- which shouldn't be taken to
mean that I'm either "emergent" or "TE," though I have some affinities with
both, I guess) .

I see Focus' "Truth Project," along with this year's IICS Conference "Truth
Under Deconstruction" ( and similar
efforts, in many ways as an effort to respond to the emerging church with a
"traditional" understanding of truth, including a very systematic Christian
worldview. I would note that some of the folks associated with what I'd
call the "Biola School" are writing and lecturing on these themes (folks
like Groothuis, Moreland, Geisler, Phil Johnson).

At first blush, I have to applaud many aspects of the Truth Project. Surely
the popular culture at large needs to hear that there is a reality outside
of nature and self -- that God exists, that we don't make our own reality or
merely respond blindly to environmental pressures, that ethics and morality
are rooted in something that transcends "nature red in tooth and claw."

And yet, Merv, I share your ambivalence. It seems that a "Johnsonian"
critique of evolution and a strong ID program comprise a fair share of the
"science" curriculum. It also seems that the "law" part of the curriculum
is heavy on a particular version of the history of America's founding and of
the source of American jurisprudence. I'm guessing that I'm going to have
problems with many of the details of both of these areas of emphasis.

On 5/30/07, Merv <> wrote:
> James Dobson has kicked off an outreach called the "Truth Project"
> It has polished multimedia flash & bang, and is apparently exciting small
> group audiences around the nation. While I gravitated to the "science"
> lesson first to note the celebrated correlation between evolution & evil in
> the world, I did find their first lesson (veritology) to be truly thought
> provoking. Truth, Dr. Tackett tells us, is that which accurately mirrors
> reality. I found myself in full agreement with that statement (who
> wouldn't be?), but with some inexplicable troubling of spirit. I am
> re-reading "Being Reasonable About Religion" (2006) by William Charlton (the
> book I am supposed to be submitting a review on one of these days.) and it
> provided an interesting counter-point to this "mirror" truth assertion that
> made me wonder where I stood. Partly inspired by the "Truth Project" above,
> and mostly drawing on influence from having read "Being Reasonable...", I
> composed an essay to organize my thoughts. (This is NOT the book review,
> but only draws on Charlton for inspiration.)
> For any who care to read several pages worth pasted in below and give
> feedback -- thank you.
> Truth & our approaches to it
> Truth has been defined by some scientific thinkers and Christians alike,
> as "that which mirrors reality". It is an empirical approach that places
> high value on actual observable reality, and measures the truth of any
> statement by how well it matches that reality. And very few, outside
> perhaps a few modern sophists, would bother to question this. And even
> among self-styled post-modern cynics, we could argue that, despite their
> attempts at universal skepticism, they don't really question this when it
> comes to practical choices of life.
> Some, of the "softer" sciences and humanities have attempted a revenge on
> "harder" sciences by demoting them to "just another" category of thought
> that could have no more claim on truth than any other. And to this, a
> physicist may respond with all the vehemence of any religious apologist
> defending absolutes: "but these effects are directly and repeatedly
> observable! –airplanes fly, electricity shocks you... here, let's measure it
> together!" And, of course, on the Christian side of things, we are just as
> eager to see that same defense of Christian doctrines, and we take up arms
> along side the physicist, albeit while fighting for an expanded set of
> truths. But on the question: "should truth be (at least in principle)
> empirically observable to everybody?" we seem to be in full agreement.
> I don't wish to challenge the above assertion, but I want to expand on
> it. Such empiricism, began to be embraced at beginnings of modern science
> in Galileo's time. (And even then, academia fought it tooth and nail.) As
> this conflict found its way into religious/scientific controversies of the
> nineteenth & twentieth centuries, something of empiricism was "smuggled"
> into Christian thought (particularly those who would describe themselves as
> Biblical inerrantists) that failed to register on their radars and might
> have merited their critical objection if they had noticed it. And that
> loaded assumption is this: All truth claims must be subject to empirical
> testability (at least in principle) or such empirical evidence as what a
> historian or archaeologist can muster. I.e. truth (if it is to earn that
> label) must match empirical reality in every way we can possibly observe.
> This is not to say such Christians believe empirical methods can reveal all
> truth. But, they accepted the empiricists' claim to absolute veto power.
> E.g. if a Scriptural claim or promise is given, and our direct
> observations contradict that claim, then our observations trump our
> understanding of Scripture, and it is our understanding of Scripture which
> must change. Hence, the importance of the "science" label to creation
> science promoters. This granted "veto power" given to empiricism is not
> a bad thing, except that it has significantly changed the answer to "what is
> truth". We have swallowed empiricism with a vengeance, and it has become
> our measure (and more importantly – our limiter) of truth. I am using the
> term 'empirical' in a slightly wider sense than the physical scientist
> would, by including such things as historical scholarship.
> So on a question of, say, the account of Job, or of Jonah, while it may be
> noted that the accounts seem mostly beyond our historical-empirical
> investigation, nevertheless, inerrantists have allowed empirical thought to
> frame how they think of those events. The over-riding question is the
> literal truth of those accounts. If it was the case that one of these
> accounts did not happen in the way described (i.e. it is either wholly or
> in part "merely a story"), and some overwhelming evidence compelled the
> inerrantist to accept this, then it would be a severe (maybe even fatal)
> blow, in his estimate, to Scriptural integrity. The literal historical
> truth of the story is the only truth that counts, because this is the only
> kind of truth that (again – in principle) is empirical. Any other "truth"
> or theological teaching to be found in the story is a lesser truth because
> of its subjectivity and its immunity to empirical verification. But an
> inerrantist believes all accounts (which are not explicitly labeled as
> parables) must be historically accurate as well as true in every subjective
> sense, so any empirical challenge to any of it is a challenge to the whole
> enterprise. Either it is true, or it is not. –that could be the
> empiricists' battle cry.
> The literal inerrantists' hostility towards non-empirical interpretations
> of Scripture is very understandable, since such subjectivity invites the
> believer to "spiritualize" away any account that is deemed miraculous or
> incredible – right up to the resurrection of Christ himself. This is a very
> real danger that will often be referred to as a "slippery slope" by those
> who maintain their position solidly on literal inerrancy. And anyone else
> who does not maintain such a stand should acknowledge the intellectually
> attractive & progressive nature of these doubts. It is much simpler, though
> not necessarily easier, to maintain one's stand on one extreme or the
> other. Those on the "it's just a story" extreme probably have lost any
> faith except in a pragmatic sense of "what works for me" as they attempt to
> retain the benefits of a social club that occasionally recites extraneous
> ritualistic words.
> But on the other side, the literalist must be careful in their readings
> (and even in their study of Scripture itself) that any apparent
> discrepancies in even the minutest details must be resolved so as to
> preserve the literal truth of the whole. The reader is then, forever the
> detective on the lookout for any difficulties at the literal level & how to
> resolve them, which often distracts from the intended message.
> It is also hard to maintain any position between these extremes, as one is
> always pulling against the tempting slippage towards more and more
> marginalization of God's work in this world until He is not seen, by our
> estimate, to have ever done anything spectacular in any observable sense.
> That cannot be a faithful reading of what Scripture tells us. There is no
> easy answer to this for a mature Christian who wishes to delve into
> Scripture and ask all the hard questions of it. But we aren't called to be
> intellectually lazy.
> I agree that truth is a mirror of reality provided that the said "reality"
> is not limited to the empiricist domain. Christians accept that there is a
> God who is not (like the Greek gods) a mere part of the universe, but who
> caused it to be. So there is at least one truth a Christian must hold
> beyond empirical reach (let alone angels, demons, spirits, our own souls...)
> that require us to consider that the Bible speaks of more than just this
> world. In 1 John 4 we are asked, if we cannot love our brother whom we can
> see, how can we love God who is unseen? Faith alone reaches some places
> where empiricism must drop by the wayside. Scriptures speak of this world,
> to be sure, and what empirical truth we can know does rightly influence how
> we understand Scripture. But our understanding of many passages should not
> be limited to mere empirical truth which, by itself, is the wisdom of this
> world. It isn't that some deeper Truth may contradict empirical truth.
> Logically, that is impossible. Rather, Scriptural Truth may sometimes go in
> directions where empirical truth cannot follow. And that may be where we
> have the most to learn about a world that makes this world look like the
> grass of the field which is here today and gone tomorrow.
> Have I, as some would accuse, simply smuggled in a "let's be
> intellectually respectable" card that will allow me to pick and choose what
> I want to consider physically true so as not to have to believe anything too
> embarrassing? Well – I believe God raised Jesus from the dead (both in the
> physical sense and more). And I believe God created the universe and
> everything in it, and did (literally) many other miraculous things described
> in the Bible. If He can do that, then obviously it isn't a question for me
> of what He can do. It is a question of knowing, through accurate
> understanding of Scripture, what He *has done*.
> We also are much in need of correction in our false assumption that God
> only acts in special cases we call miracles. Actually, God causes the sun
> to rise and the rain to fall... He does it all whether we can give a
> natural explanation for it or not. Providence within God-given natural laws
> is not to be disdained. If, for example, it was strong wind that brought &
> removed the locusts on Egypt, it is still no less an act of God (Exo 10:13,
> 19). If he mediates his actions by working through natural laws, He is
> still just as sovereign in that event. But that is all a departure from the
> main subject of this essay, though it does show precedence for God choosing
> to operate within natural laws – giving at least some Biblical endorsement
> to the speculation that He may prefer to work that way most of the time.
> For understanding we have much direct & indirect empirical knowledge on
> which to lean. And just as importantly, we have the Word, the Holy Spirit,
> & the body of Christ (i.e. ALL Christians whatever their views on these
> issues) all working in combination to teach and admonish us regarding not
> only this world, but also in a domain that empirical knowledge can't reach
> that must remain in the eyes of faith until such time as it can become
> knowledge. That requires a certain humility of readers to realize they may
> not yet have the last word on how a passage is significant. But it also
> requires us not to hide behind that humility as an excuse not to witness
> confidently of God's work in this world. That is the excuse I am too prone
> to raise.
> --Merv Bitikofer

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Received on Wed May 30 09:46:23 2007

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