A Brief Note on the Nature of truth

A friend of mine on Facebook shared this post from Mark Driscoll yesterday:

“In a society where there is no truth, the greatest ‘sin’ is saying someone is wrong.”

Pastor Mark has seen his fair share of beatdown over the last month, so I’m not looking to contribute to that. The post itself, which expresses a sentiment that could belong to any conservative Christian, is what I’m interested in. Normally, I don’t think that such a weak, late 20th century banality would have caught my attention. I’m sure Mark Driscoll is posting this kind of superficial garbage parading as insight multiple times a day, but it appeared just below a post by Bo Sanders of Homebrewed Christianity responding to Roger Olson’s recent blog that has caused a bit of controversy where he describes what he sees as the problem with liberal and progressive theology (two terms that he conflates.)

There are similar sentiments at work in both the Driscoll post and the Olson blog: There is such a thing as Truth, and they have it. Olson makes the following two points (which Bo objects to very nicely in his post) that I find to be completely incoherent:

“I look at their approach to “doing theology.” How do they approach knowing God? Do they begin with and recognize the authority of special revelation? Or do they begin with and give norming authority to human experience, culture, science, philosophy, “the best of contemporary thought?” That is, do they “do” theology “from above” or “from below?” Insofar as they do theology “from below” I tend to think they are liberal theologically.”

and

“If I ever wake up and find that I think like a true theological liberal, I hope I will be honest enough to stop calling myself ‘Christian.’ ”

I’ve written many, many posts that deal with the sort of complaint that Olson is raising. In the first point, he’s assuming that there’s no mediation between special revelation and an articulate knowledge or theology–no interpretive work. That is, if one is doing “correct” theology, one is simply the mouthpiece of God. Whereas the theology of the liberal “Christian” is based upon the contingent, immanent, imperfect disciplines he lists, Olson’s theology is somehow not based on anything except the authority of special revelation. His own contingency, personal experiences, education, etc. don’t play into his theology. In the second point, he’s stating explicitly what Driscoll does implicitly: “There is such a thing as Truth, and I have it, so don’t be mad when I tell you you’re wrong (and not a Christian.)” Frankly, I’m just so tired of hearing this sort of arrogance come out of the mouths of people who profess the love of Jesus Christ.

Listen:

Put aside what you think about postmodern notions of truth, whether or not you think any relativity in truth is absolute relativity, etc. for a moment. Christians simply cannot continue to hold the positions that Driscoll and Olson espouse anymore. The history of the church from the very outset is marked with accepting radically different beliefs and practices (or lack of practices) into the church community. That doesn’t mean there should be no attempt to talk about normative practice or belief. But that normative activity is fluid, not solid. It has to be able to flex, to grow in order to account for human history, for new cultural contexts. When Roger Olson or Mark Driscoll place a boundary around what it is to be Christian, around what truth is, they are actually placing limits around what the gospel can do more than what it should be. You, me, Driscoll, and Olson are human beings. We are thrown into a particular time and place from which we must think and write. We may believe that the gospel message transcends that, can speak across history and culture, and that’s great, but don’t for one second believe that you do.

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