You have probably seen the attention-grabbing cover of this week’s Time magazine. It is a very real issue in our culture and it has serious implications for how we approach faith and church.
Truth has been an urgent topic this semester in the seminary classroom as some students have been asking what it means to think about religion and faith in a “post-truth” society.
I know that some status quo cynics and kind conservatives will smirk and try to dismiss these developments as just the latest assault on ‘what the church has always believed’. They will point to Herod asking “what is truth” in John 18:38 or quote Jude 1:3 and attempt to hide behind “the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints”.
Both of those attempts at dismissive evasion miss the point that something has shifted in our culture.
My hope is to seize this moment and to have an honest-to-God reality check that engages in an open-eyed assessment of the actual situation that we find ourselves in.
Here is the approach that I am taking with my students:
We are exiting a time when truth has been purported to be both universal and timeless. IF that were ever true, and that is debatable, then it is certainly less true today than it ever has been.
First, nothing is timeless. Even if one wants to assert that something is not time-bound, it at least has to be time-ly. 2nd Temple Judaism, Pentecost, the Council of Constantinople, the Nicene Creed, Augustine’s confessions, Thomism, the Protestant Reformation, the birth of Methodism, the 2nd Great Awakening, and the Azusa Street revival were not timeless. They were all timely.
Second, things are not universal – they a situated, located, and particular. Things can not be presumed to be the same everywhere and simply applied anywhere. When and where (not to mention how and why) matter deeply.
Having said that, we have an opportunity (here and now) to evaluate our approach to truth and assess how we want to address this crisis in our culture.
Side-note: perhaps the worst thing that we could do at this kairos moment is to double-down on our truth claims of past centuries and continue to ignore the fact that things may not work as well, as smoothly, as predictably, or as justly as we had been told.
A great start begins with this realization:
Any claim to truth is:
It is partial because I never have all of the information – if there is a ‘god’s eye view’ I do not have access to it. Reality check: if there is a God, you are not God. This doesn’t mean that you have no access to truth – only that you have limited access to truth.
It is provisional because it will need to be amended as new data becomes available. I am free to say ‘at this point, here is what I understand’. If you are under the impression that something is ‘set in stone’, you need to come to terms with the fluid nature of our understanding and the perpetual/liquid nature of our access to all that is going on both in what we can see and the stuff behind the scenes.
It is perspectival because you can only see things from where you stand. Get rid of any notion of being ‘objective’ – you are subjective (thank God) and any access we have to truth is subject to review.
Is truth dead? Not exactly.
Is our understanding of truth in need of adjustment for our liquid era of perpetual motion and exponential change? Yes.
Do we still get to believe that things are true? Yes!
Does that require a little bit of humility and even repentance from our addiction to certainty? Absolutely.