Our discussion today was so wonderful! For those of you who had to miss out on it, here is an extremely distilled version of it. Please feel free to continue the conversation on the blog. Oh, and if I missed anything that was said that someone else feels was important, feel free to add. I admit that eventually so many amazing comments were being made in a row that I stopped taking notes.
We discussed the question, "What are the areas of agreement and areas of difference between typical emergent thinkers and evangelical thinkers on the nature and role of truth?" This question comes to us from the Xenos Summer Institute, where Jesse and Noel will be taking part in a forum in July.
There seemed to be a strong consensus that:
1. We learn truth directly from God, and that our relationship with Jesus is the key to this communication working effectively. Several gospel verses were brought up to support this idea, including Jesus attack on the Pharisees in John 5 (that they search the scriptures for truth, but that the truth is found in him), reply to the trap set by the Pharisees in Mark 12:24, and Jesus' famous declaration that he is "the way, the truth, and the life."
2. Along with the above, that knowledge of truth can be found outside of the Bible, and that there are truths that many Christians acknowledge today that could not have been gleaned from the Bible alone. A good example is what we currently think about slavery. The Bible does not present the whole picture on slavery, but instead addresses the institution as it existed at the time the texts concerning it were written. Perhaps Christians are often behind in the area of social justice because when we believe that all truth is found in the Bible and issues come up in the world that the Bible has little or nothing to say about, our answer is inaction (or even to assume that no answer from the Bible means the issue is not important).
3. That truth and love are intricately bound. When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment, which we might think of as a question about which truths are the most absolute and best guide a human's life, he responded that it was all about love of God and others. He stressed that we are to be concerned with the action of love, and not with being right. We should live in a way that causes us to love others. Being too concerned with what is true could very well adversely affect these others, as we cannot stop the angry voice in our head, screaming that every other person we meet doesn't understand The Truth as well as we do, for long enough to love.
4. That what we believe to be true about our reality is dependent on the situation that we find ourselves in, and on the life experiences that have preceeded it. What we thought was true at 16 we might consider untrue now. This doesn't mean that we were formerly categorically incorrect, but that the information we knew of at the two different points was different. We are to observe carefully the world around us and extract "truths" about how to life most effectively (lovingly) in that place. It is as though every person's life is a box of a unique shape, and that our job is to fill it completely with the love of God.
5. That to truly seek after God's truth will result in a constant feeling of tension in our lives. For some reason humans love lists of rules that they can follow, perhaps because this allows us to escape relationship with God. We want a neat and clear way to live our lives. But if we instead rely heavily on the Holy Spirit to show us exactly what he wants us to do in a given situation, this really takes the power out of our hands. There will be a lot of waiting, uncertainty, and probably failure as our impatience gets the best of us. We must continually seek intimate moments of communication with God, where he reveals to us what he wants us to do in a time of crisis.
6. That there is no consensus among Emergents about an answer to the question posed to us. While we don't want to circumvent the question, based on our experiences with each other we all have very different ideas about any and everything. Think about any Christian doctrine, and then ask yourself how much agreement there is among a diverse group of Christians about it. Even among just Evangelicals, there is hardly agreement as to things like the Trinity, speaking in tongues, and how Christ accomplished his work on the cross. I suppose one of the truths Emergents tend to believe is that truth is very complicated, multi-faceted, unstable, and highly dependent on experience and cultural conditioning.
7. That the best way to communicate truth to children and teenagers is through modelling rather than teaching. Young people need to see how the older people they know live life, not a list of things to do and to not do.
Finally, I wanted to further challenge and stretch our personal understandings of truth with an article that I heard about recently on a small Amazon tribe called the Piraha. A link to it can be found here. Learning about the Piraha blew my mind, because their worldview is so different from my own that it raised questions about how God reveals truth to humans in general. I found the descriptions of the efforts of the missionaries that have worked with the tribe to be heartbreaking, because the organization they are with believes that all missionaries need to do is translate the Bible into a culture's native language, and then God will do the rest of the work. This approach has made little impression on this particular culture. Might there be another way that the missionaries could share what they believe is true about God?