Every generation has had to struggle with the concept of truth. “What is truth?” is a question thinking people have asked since the days of Pontius Pilate, and before. In the twentieth century, truth was generally defined as ‘secure and certain knowledge’. The implication for theologians was that truth has its foundation in some absolute and unchanging source. Modernist secular thinkers find truth in the evidence implicit in the natural order. Modernist liberal theologians find it in religious experience, while modernist evangelical Christians find truth imbedded in the scriptures of the Old and New Testament. Now, a new generation of thinkers is emerging: a generation of postmoderns
for whom truth is essentially the product of community negotiation. In other words, truth is whatever a particular group determines it to be. It is relative to culture and language, interactive and relational rather than propositional. Some even say that truth is an outdated concept. These are indeed interesting times. They are also among the most spiritually dangerous.
Some of my contemporaries are concerned with restoring the balance between the Spirit and the Word. While I support this endeavour, I am also concerned with being faithful to the injunction to maintain the dynamic tension between truth and love (2 Timothy 2:10; Ephesians 4:15). It seems to me that the pendulum is rapidly swinging away from a focus on truth towards an overemphasis on love. Current debate concerning homosexuality, for instance, hinges more on an appeal to love than to truth. Yet there appears to be a biblically established dependence between these two concepts. 1 Peter 1:22 has, “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.” Truth prescribes our understanding and application of love. Obedience to it results in love for each other.
This book is my first contribution to the postmodern conversation on truth. I make it because I love the church of the Lord Jesus Christ and I am passionately committed to the truth. I share the emergent church’s
desire that we find ways of presenting truth to a new generation living in a rapidly changing world. I also support them, to a limited extent, in their efforts to reformulate aspects of orthodox evangelical doctrine. I am, however, deeply concerned with the relativistic spirit that seems to be growing on the ‘bleeding edge’ of their theological thinking. If you are a postmodern ‘emergent’ concerned with answering the question, “What is truth?” then I think that this book will be helpful to you.
Where I resonate with the emergent church theologians most is in their backlash against the modernist concept that truth is mainly propositional. By this, I mean the idea that truth is conveyed primarily in statements and declarations. For instance, a typically modernist conception of the Bible is that its truth-value consists mainly in its teachings, types, and prophetic statements. For the postmodern Christian, truth is more relational than it is propositional. They see truth residing in the biblical stories of the relationships between God and people. Even beyond this, they see truth emerging from interactions between communities and the narratives of the scriptures. I understand that the Bible contains much propositional truth, but I believe that truth itself resides in the person of God the Son rather than in statements and stories. One of the seminal thinkers in this movement has said it well: “God sent a person, not a proposition.” My concern, however, is that by focusing on the relational aspect of truth we can so easily lose its propositional content. A legacy of the modern era is the obsession with either/or logic. My plea in this book is that we learn to think in both-and terms and see truth as both relational and propositional.
We are on the point of a major paradigm shift of worldview and human consciousness. Quantum physics is turning our view of science and the natural world on its head. Nanotechnology and computer science are radically changing the way we live with each other and how we relate to machines. The human race is just a decade or so away from creating sentient artificial life. A good analogy of what is happening to humanity is the imminent flip-flop of the earth’s magnetic poles. It seems that magnetic north is about to make a 180o inversion. What will happen when magnetic north suddenly positions over the Antarctic? Nobody knows. Most agree that it will cause a whole lot of problems. To use the analogy of the imminent flip-flop of the earth’s magnetic poles, theologically, we too face our own inversion of the ‘true north’ of truth, and I am deeply concerned that we retain our proper bearings. Magnetic north is not the same as true north and our current spiritual pole is not necessarily true ‘north’. We need to keep our bearings pointing to the unchanging theological true north – the Lord Jesus Christ.
An underlying reason for writing this book is my passionate belief that Jesus is the only person in all history who can provide us with the ultimate and unchanging answer to “What is truth?” Napoleon Bonaparte said this about Jesus: “Everything in Christ astonishes me. His spirit overawes me, and His will confounds me … I search in vain in history to find the similar to Jesus Christ, or anything that can approach the gospel.” These are unexpected words from the pen of one such as the despotic emperor of early nineteenth-century France. My heart leaps when I read his declaration. This book is part of my attempt to centre the modern and postmodern conversation on Jesus.
Leonard Sweet and other likeminded individuals speak about the phenomenon of the ‘collapsing middle’. In the twentieth century, growth and dominance was in the centre; the weak and dangerous areas were to left and right of the centre. The bell curve graphically depicted this phenomenon. For instance, regarding church size, in the 1900s most churches in America were small to medium-sized congregations. Now, in the early twenty-first century, the focus has shifted to small home churches on the one extreme and megachurches on the other. These two ends of the normal-distribution bell curve dominate attention and constitute the powerhouses of American evangelical Christianity. Now, as we go further into the twenty-first century, the world is polarizing; the centre is collapsing and growth and dominance are clustering even more to the left and right of centre. Extremism impacts every area of our political, social, and economic thought. In the twentieth century, evangelicalism held the dominant theological centre, with fundamentalism and liberalism occupying the vulnerable right and left ends respectively. Now the centre is collapsing. Evangelicalism is moving out to the right and the various expressions of postmodern emergent theology are clustering on the left. I believe that only Jesus Christ can span this divide and hold these two ends of the ‘well curve’, this collapsed bell curve, in dynamic unity. This book contains my first tentative thoughts on how this both-and theological unity might be attained.
I have tried to write this book in a way that appeals to a broad Christian readership. The style is not particularly populist because the subject matter by its nature is serious, demanding a sober and more erudite approach. Many of the concepts covered are philosophical and theological and demand a use of language that fully expresses their subtleties and imbedded meanings.
As you work through this book, you will notice I seldom use direct quotations, other than from scripture, and that therefore there are no citation references. This is not because of sloppy or lazy scholarship. I have done this for a purpose. A good deal of this book is devoted to how we acquire knowledge. The entire book is about truth, and how we establish and comprehend it. In essence, we all come to the writing task and the reading experience with a mixture of givens. We construct these base assumptions from personal knowledge accumulated through our senses. We also incorporate the knowledge passed on to us by many authors, speakers, and other influencers. To this ‘heady’ mixture of acquired knowledge, we sometimes add our own dash of creativity. This applies to me and it applies to the dozens of authors whose books, articles, and websites I have consulted in producing this book. We tend to quote the work of others, not so much to interact with them, but to validate our own concepts. However, we need to remember that their work is itself a blend of the contribution of others. Therefore, the reason I do not directly quote or reference my sources is to encourage you to rely on something other than the implied authority of others. This ‘something other’ will be, in part at least, your own logic and intuition. I hope it will also be the Holy Spirit’s influence as he guides your thinking processes.
I do not claim that all you read in this book is the product of original thinking. While some of it undoubtedly is, it is also a conscious or subconscious assimilation and selective editing of many and varied inputs. However, in addition to all the human inputs there is the overall guiding and illuminating influence of the Holy Spirit. He has worked in and through many of my sources and I am convinced he has also worked in and through me as I have researched and written this book.
In writing the book, I too do not come to the task with a clean mental page. I come to it with some major presuppositions. Firstly, I believe that we find ultimate meaning only in relation to God. My contentions are therefore primarily theological. A second presupposition is that God has an overall purpose for humankind and that this overarching scheme of things prescribes the meaning of individual human existence
This book constitutes my attempt to sketch out in rough how I see the landscape over which we journey in seeking ultimate meaning for our lives and our quest for truth. I draw with the pencil of words. My application lacks colour and dimensionality and I sketch what I see but dimly, as if from a reflection (1 Corinthians 13:12). This is all I can do at this time. Perhaps later I will see more clearly and then be able to describe more adequately what I see. We are all developing and changing as we learn more of the one who in himself is truth: the Lord Jesus.
We are living in interesting times. Technological development is running rampant. Violence, crime, political corruption, disease, and poverty stalk the planet like demonic predators. Yet, in the face of so much turmoil, the church of the Lord Jesus Christ is alive with possibility. Revival is in the air once again: revival, reformation, and restoration. In an age of relativity and personal preference, the Holy Spirit is inexorably prompting and urging us back to the truth. I feel a deep personal call to participate in this restoration of truth. This book is part of my spiritual journey and I invite you to walk with me through its pages.