Sunday, July 23, 2017

Some Thoughts on Truth and Certainty

A few weeks ago I made some posts about certainty and control. I have continued to think about these subjects over the last few weeks and wanted to follow up with a post on my own philosophy of truth. This is called "epistemology" and basically discusses how we know what we know or how we apprehend truth. I don't want to get into a heavy theological or philosophical discussion, but I do want to discuss the practical implications of how one can approach truth in a way that avoids the false certainty of a modernist, "scientific" view of truth, or the total chaos of a post-modern view of relative truth that is whatever one wants it to be. This is not meant to be a thorough discussion of the subject. This is the wrong media for that. I just want to focus on some practical implications of this basic idea for how we form our personal worldviews, philosophies and theologies and, maybe start a discussion.

I have somewhat adapted NT Wright's version of critical realism:

I propose a form of critical realism. This is a way of describing the process of ‘knowing’ that acknowledges the reality of the thing known, as something other than the knower (hence ‘realism’), while also fully acknowledging that the only access we have to this reality lies along the spiralling path of appropriate dialogue or conversation between the knower and the thing known (hence ‘critical’). This path leads to critical reflection on the products of our enquiry into ‘reality’, so that our assertions about ‘reality’ acknowledge their own provisionality. Knowledge, in other words, although in principle concerning realities independent of the knower, is never itself independent of the knower. N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God, 35

In other words, there is a reality outside of ourselves that we can know by investigation with our 5 senses and logical thinking. The problem is that we are also part of that reality and cannot get outside of it to gain totally objective or complete data. In theological terms, we are only part of creation and cannot see things as God sees them. As God's image we can form a reasonably accurate view of reality, but never a complete or inerrant one. We come at reality with preconceived, untested ideas that will often distort our investigation. As a Christian I believe in revelation and especially the authoritative revelation of God contained in the Bible that is completed in the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. I believe this is mediated supernaturally to us by the Holy Spirit. The problem is that we still apprehend this truth through our 5 senses and our brains. Thus, through study, investigation and revelation we can learn real objective truth by which we can live our lives, guide others and understand the world around us. However, it will never be complete and, in our own heads no matter how you view God's revelation in scripture, it will never be without error.

So, some practical thoughts

1) We can be confident of the faith once for all delivered to the Saints. Where scripture is clear and the church historically has been in agreement we can and should take our stand.

2) We need to be humble about our personal theologies and philosophies. We can always learn from others. We should read outside of our own theological tradition. We should avoid living in an echo chamber in which our own ideas are all we listen to. We really need to listen to what others are saying. If the biblical authors could draw truth from many different sources we can too.

3) There are tensions in Scripture. We should not try to explain scripture in a way that removes these tensions.

4) Scripture is inerrant in delivering to us what God intended it to reveal to us. It reveals God and the parameters of relationship with Him and His creation and thus is the “beginning of wisdom,” but does not tell us everything we need to know about how to live life. God expects us to use the capacity for wisdom that he has given us to investigate his creation and learn.

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