As you probably know, a lot of the criticism (mostly handed out by evangelicals) of the emergent/emerging movement/conversation/community centers around the subjects of “inerrancy of scripture’ and “truth”. It wasn’t too long ago that Chuck Colson commented about “the emergent community that rejects the bible” – which, I believe, was his way of saying that if you don’t interpret the bible the way he does, then you are rejecting it. I find it hard to believe he has actually been in contact with an emergent community that rejects the bible – at least not one that calls itself “Christian”. See the complete comment here.
The problem is that many, if not most, Christians from my generation believe they (or their pastor or their favorite theologian) have completely and rightly interpreted all scripture and pretty much figured everything out about God to boot. If we have questions or doubts about their interpretation then we are making up our own religion, or distorting the truth or as Chuck puts it: “rejecting the bible”.
I can’t say that I don’t understand someone being in that place – what I don’t understand is that someone could continue to stay in that place when so many from the movement have spoken out to explain that they are not trying to make up some sort of feel good theology but that they are truly grappling with the search for truth and find it hard to believe that anyone has completely figured it all out.
I say all of that because I want to share something that I read recently over at Up/Rooted. It was actually a comment to a comment. You can read the whole thread here. This is what I found so thought provoking:
I’m a scientist by training so I’m very, very comfortable with the Modern, scientific way of thinking about “truth” as being related to facts, information, verifiability and so on. So it’s completely jarring to hear Jesus say that he is truth, because “truth” is not something you can be. You can know truth, discover truth, share, record, express, discuss, debate and even be mistaken about truth. You can also be true but you can’t be truth.
So, in making that claim, Jesus shatters the category of “truth” in applying it to himself. It’s not just that it’s hard to understand what he means (we all agree there’s plenty of that), it’s that the statement is formally nonsensical – if – you are using the Modern/scientific categories for understanding the word “truth.”
That, to me, is where Jesus himself forces me to go outside the arena of factuality and accuracy (and inerrancy) in how I am going to deal with him and relate to him and, I pray, trust in him and obey him. These are, I believe, the things that matter most. When Jesus says “I am the truth” it compels me to move out of the Modern/scientific (and Greek/philosophical) arena and back into the Hebraic realm, where it has never been about facts and Ideas but love, life, and above all relationship as the “category of ultimate concern” if you will.
But when he says that, it also opens the door for me intellectually to all of the discussion I am finding so lively among the Emergents on issues of language, culture and so on. Truthfully, I’d have to say it actually compels me to go through that door so that I will be more cautious about interpreting scripture, since so much hinges on the categories and definitions I bring to the table, knowingly or unknowingly.
Let me go one step further. When the word “truth” is used in the Modern/scientific sense, then the word “know” also has a particular sense which corresponds to a cognitive condition. Scientific “knowing” is about having access to actual facts in your mind. But in the Hebraic sense, “to know” is also often used in a relational way. So we get the classic “Adam knew Eve his wife…” in Genesis 4:1. This means that there is at least an interpretive option in how we understand what it means to “know.”
This profoundly shifts the sense for interpreting a foundational verse such as John 8:31 “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” In a Modern/scientific frame, that translates into something like “You shall actually have access in your mind to the correct information, and that correct information will set you free.” But in a more Hebraic frame of meaning, and following what I think is the sense in John 14, it comes out more like this: “You shall be united in a relationship with me, and I will set you free.”
For me then, these explorations into the discussion of Truth and so on have resulted in an even more powerful shove towards focusing on my relationship with Jesus. And rather than make me less interested in investing time into reading and studying scripture, it has made that more important as I want to hear what my forbears have to tell me about living a life with God in the way of Jesus.
Well, that’s what’s been on my mind. If it’s of any use to others, then thank God for that!
Wow! That is very useful to me! Does this resonate with anyone else out there?