Truth and Systems

I believe in truth.

I don’t believe that I know all of the truth, but I do believe that God knows all of the truth. And since God can’t lie, according to Scriptures, none of that truth can contradict itself. All truth is God’s truth, and so if God says that He never changes, then if He changes, then God’s a liar. We’ll just focus on the truth about God here for a while, since that’s the most important truth there is. But these principles really apply to truth about everything- to the truth about the picture on my wall, the CD in my stereo, the guy down the street at the liquor store. But let’s just talk about God.

If truth exists, and God cannot lie, then for every question you can ask about God there is one correct answer. This is true if the question is phrased properly, and is not ambiguous of itself. But if you ask, Is there a God? There is only one correct answer to that question. If you ask, is God good? Again, there is only one correct answer. If you say that God is good, and that God is not good, then you’ve contradicted yourself, and you’ve accused God of lying. Therefore, there must be a whole collection of interrelated truths about God. All of these truths together are a system of truth.

I haven’t received an answer yet to this. Steve’s a busy guy, so maybe he hasn’t gotten around to it. But he did post something else referring to my article, and referring to the ongoing debate between us. So I’m going to continue the discussion.

In Steve’s most recent post, and in Nate’s comments to my previous article, both express disdain or reluctance to use a systematic approach to truth. This seems to be a common thread among postmodernists. Steve says,

When moderns encounter postmoderns they sniff for a watering down of truth. What they fail to smell is the decaying odor, the rotting carcase, of their modern, all-encompassing, systematic cultural approach to truth. (Note what I said, the cultural approach is rotting, not the truth.)

Now, this is assuming a lot of things. In fact, I can accuse Steve of doing exactly what he criticizes me for. He’s labeled me something (a modern) which I am not. He’s assumed that moderns do something (wrap truth in cultural clothes) which I do not. I get my views on this subject from hundreds of years ago; my denomination has been in existence virtually since the Reformation began. And the Reformers self-consciously attempted to build their theology on the theology of Scripture, not their culture. They thought their culture was wicked and apostate, and in need of transformation.

What Postmodern Christians do is to assume that their system is superior to ours, or anyone else’s. They do this by denying that they have a system, and criticizing us for having one. But everyone has a system, a way that they read Scripture and interpret everything that they see and hear. Everyone does; it’s impossible to function without one. I see an animal that has four legs and barks; I call it a dog. I do this because of my system of truth, which has taken a set of attributes and given it the label “dog”. It is impossible for a dog to not be a dog. So Postmodernist Christians have categories of thought which they identify as “modern”, and others that are “postmodern”, and the one is assumed to be better than the other. Further, they have ways of reading Scripture that supports their views. The parts which most obviously appear to promote their views, they talk about a lot. Nate, for example (read the comments under this post), views the Scriptures through the lens of the Sermon on the Mount. Steve talks about Jesus being revealed to the disciples through talking and breaking bread with them. This proves that God is revealed in community, Steve says. This passage becomes normative for Steve, foundational to Steve’s theology, despite this being one brief event in a pretty long book. Why this passage, and not, say, Romans 5? Matthew 23? Amos 4? This is a system, an interpretive framework. Some might say that God creating community on earth, community very separate from the community of the world that the people lived in, and Steve’s idea of God being revealed in community, are two very different interpretations of the text he chooses. Why one and not the other?

The parts which might be read to teach something unacceptable are interpreted through a certain framework so that they don’t challenge the system (see this exegesis of 1 Peter 3, for example). In this case, a “sacramental” or “communal” interpretive framework is to be preferred, because it gives results that are in conformity with the views of the interpreter. You see, 1 Peter 3 cannot be accepted to be teaching what it appears to be teaching on the face of it, which is that wives are to live under the rule of their husbands. This is because this teaching violates the system from which the Postmoderns are operating.

I’m not criticizing them for having a system. We all have systems. I am criticizing them for claiming that they don’t have a system, and that they are superior to us (that is, anyone with a system, a “modern” in their vocabulary) because we are bound to a system and they are not. The fact is, I recognize that I have a system, and because of that I am able to critically evaluate the system, to see if it is truly in accord with God’s word, and if not, to adjust the system. When you deny that you have a system, you are unable to critically evaluate that system, and are thus far more bound to it than you might be otherwise. I don’t have the option of just believing the stuff that fits my cultural bias. Because I make a self-conscious decision to accept all of Scripture as best I can, I have to conform my system to fit Scripture. By denying that he has a system, the Postmodernist Christian becomes free to just believe the stuff that’s easy for them to believe.

The Postmodernist has a system for everything. Look at this, for example, and read the comments. Here, a postmodern gets skewered by his fellow postmoderns for using the word “girls”, even though he was referring to teenagers and saying very positive things about them. It was viewed as oppressive and condescending. He groveled for it later on his blog. See, the postmoderns viewed the word through the eyes of a particular system. Andrew violated that system, and was made to pay dearly for it. Whether the system comes from experience or conscious reasoning is entirely beside the point- we all get our systems from a combination of the two.

What about the passages that says “Friendship with the world is enmity with God”? Does that impact your choice to use U2 in your worship service? Why or why not? What about the passage that says “But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils.

Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils.” Does this impact your decision to make use of pagan symbology (the four elements or Maori rituals or Celtic stone circles)? Why or why not? Your answer to those questions reveal some things about your system. When you take these passages, and say, “No, they don’t apply to those kinds of situations” or “it’s OK because Paul or Jesus did something similar” or “those things aren’t really pagan”, you use your system to make that judgment. For that matter, what was it that led you to choose those particular elements for use in worship, rather than, say, Amorite blood rituals or the temple prostitution of Baal? What makes one unacceptable and the other acceptable? What makes one suitable for postmodernist ‘sampling’ and the other not? The answer, of course, is your system.

So again, I believe in truth. I believe that there’s truth about everything, and that it all hangs together, in a system. I believe that all human systems are faulty, but that they can be more or less true to the degree that they correspond to the truth which exists in God’s mind, much of which He has revealed to us in His Word. Postmodernist Christianity, for example, is truer than Postmodernist Atheism. I believe that we therefore have a duty to work very hard at our systems of theology, to make sure that they conform as closely as we can manage to the truth of Scripture. This is not a culturally determined perspective unless I, Charles Hodge, Frances Turretin, Charles Finney, John Calvin, Martin Luther, Augustine, Athanasius and Tertullian all share the same culture, which I doubt.

How worried should I be about the fact that the last time I had almost this exact conversation about truth, it was with an atheist?

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