A Chastened Epistemology

This post is part of a Synchroblog coordinated by Julie Clawson to address the question “What is Emerging In The Church?”

I grew up with phrases like “Absolute Truth”  “Christian Worldview” and “if God said it, I believe it, and that settles it”. What wasn’t considered in my circle was that any understanding of truth outside of our own might have some value or that there really was no such thing as a “Christian Worldview” or that our interpretation of scripture might be flawed. The refusal to consider any of these things became like a thick slab of concrete between “us” and “them” (i.e. anyone who believed differently than we did and put a voice to those beliefs).

A few years ago some real life stuff happened and I began to reexamine my beliefs.  Around the same time, I was introduced to the emerging conversation.  It was such a relief to interact with people that didn’t write me off as spiritually immature if I didn’t believe exactly as they did.  It was so refreshing to hear people say they realized they might be wrong about what they believed.  And contrary to what I had been taught, I discovered that the lack of certainty did not diminish their devotion to being followers of Jesus Christ.  They didn’t have all the answers, in fact; they had more questions than answers, but they were more like Christ than many of the “Absolute Truth” Christians that I had hung out with for so many years.  Don’t get me wrong – these uncertain people had beliefs and convictions, but they didn’t hold on to them as tightly; and they had knowledge but it was a less than certain knowledge.  They called it having a “chastened epistemology.”

It made sense to me.  How could we believe that we had it all figured out? That would be like putting ourselves on the same level as God, himself.  And in recent years Christians had gotten it wrong about other stuff … such as slavery and interracial marriage.  Just because there “is” truth doesn’t mean that we fully grasp it or understand it.

As I began to embrace this new kind of thinking – this new way of being a follower of Jesus Christ – some much needed humility was born in me and out of that a space was created that has allowed me to connect and interact with God and others in a deeper more meaningful way.  I’ve been told that I seem more kind, gentle and compassionate.  I am more at peace and at last my faith is more like a bridge than a barrier.

I admit, it is a struggle living within the tension of believing something and holding that belief loose enough so that God can take it away from you without you feeling like you just got pushed off the edge of a cliff.  I have to consciously strive on a daily basis to remain humble about what I know and believe – and sometimes I fail.  But, it is possible and I believe that it is worth it.

After all …

How can God speak into our lives if we aren’t humble enough to listen and hear?  How will we know if we are mistaken about something if we hold on to our beliefs with unswerving certainty.  Can we be transformed without being humble?

IMHO a chastened epistemology is one of the most valuable characteristics that is emerging in the church today.  I believe humility = teachability.  More than anything else a “chastened epistemology” draws me to the emerging church/conversation.

Check out some of the other synchroblog posts:

Pam Hogeweide compares the emerging church movement to a game of ping pong.

Sarah-Ji comments that the emerging questions people are asking are far bigger than any defined movement.

Sharon Brown writes about using labels as an excuse.

Peter Walker reflects on how the emerging church conversation helped him recognize his power and privlege as a white male.

Dave Huth posts a on new ways to talk about religion.

Kathy Escobar finds hope in seeing a spirit of love in action emerging in the church.

Nadia Bolz-Weber reflects on the the beautiful things she sees emerging in her church community.

Chad Holtz writes on our Our Emerging Jewishness.

MojoJules describes her organic entry into the emerging church and reflects on moving forward with a new public face.

Dave Brown comments on the emerging church and swarm theory.

Danielle Shoyer reflects on the big tent of the emerging church.

Brian Merrit offers his pros and cons of the emerging church.

Julie Clawson is grateful for emerging globalized Christianity.

Liz Dyer believes a chastened epistemology is a valuable characteristic emerging out of the church today.

Sa Say adds her voice to the conversation in The Prick of Doubt.

11 thoughts on “A Chastened Epistemology

  1. Pingback: What is Emerging in the Church? – April 2010 | synchroblog

  2. Trace James

    Good Stuff! I remember a few years ago when I read New Testament and the People of God, by Tom Wright, I was impressed with his concept of a “hermeneutics of love.” His whole idea is, rather than coming to Scripture in a doctrinaire fashion, trying to force the text into our pre-conceived mold, (now, where did I leave my hammer!) how about dancing with the text a while to see whether something changes.
    I would never lovingly force my child into my frame for his or her life, however much I might want to. We know, at least in our heads, that is not love. So, how do we deal with choices our children make which drive us crazy? We hope and pray and love them, looking to God for wholesome and fruitful conclusions to what seem vexing messes.
    So, with Scripture, can I trust God with my “problem passages,” the texts which, if I understand them, then I disagree!? The hermeneutics of love says, let’s play together a bit longer. Let’s see what develops. Let’s leave ground between thee and me (sort of like Esau and Jacob had to do). My experience with this is that some of my problem passages have become my closest friends in the book because I waited until I could see what in my hurry was lost on me. What I am describing here may be like what you mean when you say, “seek the Spirit.” Verses out of context clearly only tell me what I think, not what God was saying.
    The Word remains a powerful sword and the Spirit uses the Word to transform us. Our part in the dance is loving patience, I think, something I am usually short of. 😉 Thanks for your affirming thoughts.

  3. Trace James

    For me, Liz’s chastened epistemology came slowly over many years. I remember reading Richard Wurmbrand’s book, “Tortured for Christ” back in the ’70s, in which he points out that all theology is a comment on the Word of God, never to be confused with the Word of God. Later, Calvin Seerveld made the point in Philosophy class (at Trinity Christian College), that all our theorizings are limited, fallible, to-be-replaced, attempts to hear the Word of God for our time. Then I read a book by Brian Walsh called, “Truth is Stranger than It Used to Be.”
    At some point along that way, I stopped talking and writing about “applying Scripture to my life” (as though God’s Word was wallpaper paste that I could apply!) and I began thinking of the Word of God in its own terms as a sword which cuts through to the heart, as a voice which must be heard and, in modern terms, as a blast from a fire hose, which sometimes pins us to the wall of our lives. It is more than enough to hear the Word, to do he Word, to apprehensively embrace in love what we can never comprehend, what we should not pretend to have nailed down. God’s name, as I understand it, is Yahveh, which means, “I am who I will be.” The name itself should serve as a warning not to try to define God in any final, limiting way. What is the difference between listing the attributes of God and fashioning an idol to represent God?
    Good stuff, Liz!

    1. gracerules Post author

      Trace – thanks for sharing your journey and the writings that assisted you. I love that you talked about embracing the word so passionately even though we can’t fully grasp it …. those thoughts remind me that when I admit that I can’t nail everything down with scripture I am more likely to seek the spirit than go looking for some verse that I’ve pulled out of context.

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