Another hallmark of postmodernity is the critique of the Enlightenment reliance on “Reason” or “Rationality” as the objective and neutral arbitrator of the truth.
As Christians, I feel that we must affirm that any attempt to “know reality” is futile through the use of Reason or Rationality. Reason and Rationality are constructions of a Western mindset—and it is presumptuous for us to believe that our ideas can be accurate descriptions of Reality if we strictly adhere to some arbitrary “rules of logic” in order for our ideas to directly correspond with reality.
“But,” some Christians counter, “Jesus said, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life.’ You can’t get around that. He is telling us that there is absolute truth—He says, ‘the truth!’”
But (with a hat tip to Doug Paggit), here are some other things Jesus said he is in the Gospel of John:
- “I am the bread of life”
- “I am the light of the world.”
- “I am the gate.”
- “I am the good shepherd.”
- “I am the resurrection and the life.”
- “I am the way and the truth and the life.”
- “I am the vine.”
When Jesus says that he is the “truth,” it’s a metaphor for something more complex and more relational—like the metaphors of bread, light, gate, shepherd, resurrection, way, life, and vine. He is “the way, the truth, and the life”—in other words, Jesus is the revealer of how to get to God, the author of life.
Now with that said, what about "objective truth?" Isn’t our modernist desire to believe in “Truth” (as in an objective, rationally arrived at “truth” that is “out there” to be discovered), really idolatry? Where in Jesus’ words do we hear that in order to “know truth,” we must objectively use the rules of reason?
Jesus simply says that he is the truth. And elsewhere Jesus also says that if you are one of his disciples, you “will know the truth, and the truth will set you free?” What kind of "knowledge" was Jesus talking about? Was he saying that the knowledge that comes through Reason will set you free, or something else?
The point is this: Jesus is calling us not into knowledge through a modern epistemology (that seeks a scientific understanding in which we objectively learn "truth" verifiable through the rules of reason and science).
He is calling us into a knowledge that has a postmodern (and premodern) epistemology (that seeks to humbly understand not propositions but a person, and also embraces the problem of really knowing a person because we are limited by our humanity, our language and our perspective). It is premodern in that it is a “knowledge” that resembles the Hebrew word yada—the intimate kind of knowledge between persons. It is postmodern in that it is a knowledge not of propositions legitimated by Reason but a knowledge of a person that speaks and we are to listen. And it is Christian in that we place our faith in the truth of the person of Christ, not in the truth of a philosophy of Reason (one is called “faith;” the other is called “idolatry.”)
Jesus knows our limitations to really know—so he pours on the layers of metaphors as to who he is—different perspectives that give clues to his reality (“bread,” "light," “gate,” "shepherd," "resurrection," “way,” “truth,” “life,” “vine,” etc.)
Index of this series: Toward a Proper Christian Response to Postmodernity
technorati: emerging church, postmodernity