4/13/2005

Jesus said “I am the truth.” And the postmodern said, “What is truth?”


I don't think that it is the desire of postmoderns to ditch objectivity. Rather, I think that postmodern philosophy has showed us a valuable lesson about our perception of reality, and I’ll repeat it here (from my loooong post on Darwinism below):

The idea that we can separate the subject (me) from the object I wish to study is a fallacy; there really is no such thing as pure objectivity. Our "objective" interpretations are always clouded by our preconceived ideas.

Postmodern Christians are not applauding subjectivity, they are simply recognizing it as fact. When our "objective" interpretations are clouded by our preconceived ideas, we naturally search for ideas that are cohesive with these preconceptions, instead of new ideas that may challenge those preconceptions.

Postmodern Christians think it is helpful to recognize this, instead of pretending that we are always capable of being "objective."

So, Jesus is the "Truth." A postmodern Christian like myself accepts that Jesus said this, and meant it. I accept that the object of truth is Jesus. But then the tricky part comes into play--how do I perceive this truth? My subjectivity in understanding the object of truth is getting in the way. I must recognize this if I am to get closer to the real meaning of the object.

My subjectivity in understanding what Jesus meant is manifested in a number of ways:
(1) My preconceptions of what the word "TRUTH" means (Does he mean a propositional fact that can be stated about reality, like what I would be able to answer on a test? Does he mean truth as in Jesus tells no lies? Does he mean that he actually existed? Does he mean truth as in true relationship? Does he mean sincerity in action? [Many of these questions I derived from Webster's many definitions of "Truth"]).

(2) My culture's understanding of what "truth" means (including all the sub-cultures in which I dwell, for instance...I am a white, middle-class male who grew up in suburban Ohio, I've been surrounded most of my adult life by conservative Christians who understand the Christian life as mainly knowing the right doctrine, thus defining "truth" in those categories. Therefore my preconceptions of the word "TRUTH" would be different than someone in a different part of the world living in different circumstances, experiences, and hanging around people who think of "truth" mainly as "sincerity in action," let's say...)

(3) The cultural/time barriers between myself in 21st Century USAmerica and Jesus in 1st Century Palestine. Jesus' intention in what HE meant by "truth," and the manner I've been taught to arrive at that intention, are not always a neat and tidy exercise.

So, what is truth? Is Jesus absolute truth? YES. He is the way, the truth and the life.

Can I perceive this truth? Yes. He has given me the ability, through His Spirit, to increasingly perceive His truth. As I increase in holiness, the better I perceive Jesus.

Can I perceive this truth absolutely? No. For now we see through a glass, darkly. My subjectivity is part of the cloudiness—now I know only in part. But one day, I will be face-to-face with truth, and I will fully know Jesus just as I also have been fully known by him.

12 comments:

Conservation Terms said...

Wow great post! I also have a religious blog. reat post. Keep it up,
-CT

lyricano said...

Good start with the objections to objectivity, but then why (or on what grounds) make the leap to "Jesus [is] absolute truth"? Why is it necessary? It seems like the same ole modern craving for a fixed point upon which to start. Why not embrace the postmodern centerlessness of shifting truths and interacting subjectivities? We can agree upon patterns and commonalities without falling into the exclusion and division that will come with claims of absolutes.

Bob Robinson said...

It does not seem to be a leap to say this, for it is Jesus' own words.

I think that postmodernism's weakness is the need to disavow any "truth" at all. While I'm willing to concede my inability to absolutely know truth, I still think that Jesus is "the truth."

But here's the key:
Jesus is not saying, "I am a true proposition."

He is saying, "I am true in my person."

That makes all the difference.

That means that he is inviting my subjectivity into the mix. It is no longer me, a subject, studying an object, the idea or the teachings of Jesus; it is a subject interacting with another subject.

This subject-to-subject interaction is the beauty of Christianity over all other world religions.

As Len Sweet put it in his recent book, Out of the Question...Into the Mystery, there is a big difference between WHAT one follows and WHO one follows:

“Want to learn how to live?” asks Quan Yin. “Follow the feminine.”

“Want to learn how to live?” asks Krishna. “Follow the Lotus and chant the Gita.”

“Want to learn how to live?” ask New Agers. “Follow your bliss.”

“Want to learn how to live?” asks Buddha. “Follow mindfulness.”

“Want to learn how to live?” asks Prophet Muhammad. “Pray five times a day and follow the Qur’an.”

“Want to learn how to live?” asks Moses. “Follow the Torah.”

“Want to learn how to live?” asks Chief Seattle. “Follow nature.”

“Want to learn how to live?” asks Aristotle. “Follow my teachings.”

“Want to learn how to live?” asks Confucius. “Follow my koans.”

“Want to learn how to live?” asks Jesus. “Follow me.”

Scot McKnight said...

Ah, Bob the personal question comes up too.

But first this: let us posit that that Object truly is an Object (out there; separable) and the Subject truly is a Subject (in here; separable).

And let's posit that the Object and the Subject can interact in the realm of knowing.

The issue now is can the Subject know the Object? And the answer of the Modernist is "Yes" and with a fair degree of certitude. And the Postmodernist says "Well, yes, but with no degree of certitude."

The Christian, however, wants to sort out the issue differently: Genuine Object and Genuine Subject. But the Subject is Sinful -- affected in heart, soul, mind and strength. The Christian claim is that in God's grace the Subject can be made alive to know the Object, who is God, but because the Subject is Sinner, that Subject ought to "know" in humility.

Scot McKnight said...

The personal question, which I forgot to blog about (my mind is spinning down).

When it comes to Object and Subject being human (God or Other Human and the "I") the sort of knowledge is interpersonal and not empirical (which cuts into the grain of Modernist thought). Interpersonal knowledge gets all bundled into relationship, and the game gets messier. But that is what life is all about. Love.

lyricano said...

Bob--Accepting that Jesus "said" those things does not resolve the dilemma of intrepretation. Even if there is some "absolute" Truth, as far as we can know, Jesus is a text (in the Derrida sense) and we are incapable of knowing what an absolute truth would look like if there was one. That you hear him say he is absolute truth, does make it so. The act of claiming to identify absolute Truth is dangerous because it lacks intellectual humility.

lyricano said...

Scot,
I am not convinced that your approach is different. The term "Genuine" does not resolve the subject-object issue--the approach is still modern. For instance, the modern scientific mind believes that there is a knowable world that exists out there and that through reason, observation, logic, etc., it becomes knowable (in part). Seems like the same thing you are proposing except that you substitute Jesus as a epistomological tool. The humility aspect is laudable, but in the end it stills looks modern to me.

Larry Horsley said...

really enjoyed it. Thanks!

gary said...

What startles me about the observations here, is that we are dealing with postmodernism and epistemological issue at this point, and though that is not all that pomo is about it is certainly foundational – though pomo would recoil at that term  Now, how then can people like Scott McKnight object to Don Carson focusing so much on epistemological issues?

Bob Robinson said...

gary,

Welcome to the vanguard.

The problem with Carson's assessment of the emerging church is that it focused so much on epistemology that Carson missed the essence of it: that it is a missional movement.

gne said...

the claim that there are no absoultes in and of itself, becomes the first absolute.

Bob Robinson said...

gne,

I agree.

But this is not what this post is about. It is about perceiving truth.

Re-read that last few lines of what I wrote above:

Is Jesus absolute truth? YES. He is the way, the truth and the life.

Can I perceive this truth? Yes. He has given me the ability, through His Spirit, to increasingly perceive His truth. As I increase in holiness, the better I perceive Jesus.

Can I perceive this truth absolutely? No. For now we see through a glass, darkly. My subjectivity is part of the cloudiness—now I know only in part. But one day, I will be face-to-face with truth, and I will fully know Jesus just as I also have been fully known by him.