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Welcome to the Crawl

Welcome to Theology Crawl! This year, we are meeting online to really try and unpack one big question…”How the heck did we get here?” 2020 has been a year of reckoning on a lot of fronts, and we want to take time to discuss how God-talk has often contributed to the many problems we are facing, and how better theology might help us navigate our way out. 

This week, we are talking about how Christian approaches to truth claims (epistemology) have fueled divisiveness and how to respond to contemporary challenges on the nature of truth.

Before you start, make sure someone gives The Spiel to your group.

HISTORY: FUNDAMENTALIST-MODERNIST CONTROVERSY

Note: Please read the first question in the section below before reading this section.

This was a major schism that originated in the 1920s and 1930s in the United States of America. At issue were foundational disputes about the role of Christianity, the authority of Scripture, the death, Resurrection, and atoning sacrifice of Jesus. Two broad factions within Protestantism emerged: Fundamentalists, who insisted upon the timeless validity of each doctrine of Christian Orthodoxy, and Modernists, who advocated a conscious adaptation of religion in response to the new scientific discoveries and the moral pressures of the age.  In 1910, a wealthy Presbyterian layman, Lyman Stewart, the founder of Union Oil, decided to use his wealth to sponsor a series of pamphlets to be entitled The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth. Sent out for free to pastors and libraries around the country, the series criticised modern approaches to biblical criticism, science, and philosophy.  // Adapted from Wikipedia

Use the rest of this section to answer questions from the section below:

On Higher Criticism: “The qualifications for the perception of BIblical truth is neither [literary & linguistic] knowledge, but spiritual insight. The primary qualification of the musician is that he be musical; of the artist, that he have the spirit of art. So the merely technical and mechanical and scientific mind is disqualified for the recognition of the spiritual and infinite. Any thoughtful man must be honest and admit that the Bible is to be treated as unique in literature, and, therefore, that the ordinary rules of critical interpretation must fail to interpret it alright.” – Dyson Hague, “A History of Historical Criticism,” The Fundamentals, VI.

On Modern Philosophy: “It follows of necessity that philosophy and divine revelation are utterly irreconcilable. The very existence of philosophy as an occupation for the human mind depends upon the rigid exclusion of every explanation of the universe which is not reached by a speculative process… The pursuit of truth, in order to be philosophical, must be conducted in directions in which truth cannot possibly be found. For the discovery of what philosophers pretend to be seeking would bring their philosophies to an end… Therefore, the moment one receives an explanation of the universe as coming from God who made it, he can have no further use for philosophy.” – Philip Mauro, “Modern Philosophy,” The Fundamentals, VII.

THE MAIN QUESTIONS

Historical Questions

  • Read Dyson Hague’s critique of higher criticism (i.e. a mode of interpreting the bible that utilizes historical and literary lenses) in the section above. Then answer the following questions:
    • What is the foundation of truth for Hague?
    • For him, is biblical truth different from other kinds of truth?
  • Read Philip Mauro’s critique of modern philosophy in the section above. Then answer the following questions:
    • What is the foundation of truth for Mauro?
    • For him, how does one arrive at the truth? Why is philosophy unable to reach truth?
  • What role does authority, if any, play in assessing truth claims? Why or why not?
  • In your opinion, why are things like philosophy and science often pitted against faith?

Theological Questions

  • Read the section below and answer the following questions:
    • Which way of knowing do you find yourself most utilizing? Why?
    • Can Christian truth claims be made in all three ways of knowing? If yes, how so? If no, why not?
    • In your opinion, what way of knowing do most people use on a daily basis when interacting with the world? Why?
  • How would you describe the relationship between the Triune God (Father/Spirit/Son) and truth?
  • How would you describe a Christian’s relationship to truth? What biblical passages come to mind?
  • Can/should Christian truth claims about things like the divinity of Jesus, the resurrection, the ascension be treated like other forms of truth claims? Why or why not?

Contemporary Questions

  • Several studies have pointed out that religious people are particularly prone to conspiracy theories. Why do you think this is? What ways of knowing are at play in this trend?
  • Politicians, like President Trump and Vladimir Putin, have been accused of “gaslighting” the public. Gaslighting is defined as a form of psychological manipulation in which a person or a group covertly sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgment. Considering this definitions, answer the following questions:
    • Do Christians have a special responsibility to combat gaslighting?
    • What ways of knowing are important for combatting this practice?

THEOLOGICAL CONCEPTS: EPISTEMOLOGY & WAYS OF KNOWING*

Epistemology is the study or a theory of the nature and grounds of knowledge especially with reference to its limits and validity. Claims of knowledge rest upon “ways of knowing.” Four widely accepted epistemological categories of “ways of knowing” are listed below, along with some of their recognized advantages and disadvantages.

Way of Knowing

Advantages

Disadvantages

Empiricism

Knowledge is grounded in observable facts; claims can be tested repeatedly; proven valuable by science

All phenomena are not always observable; senses can be misleading; interpretation of data sill biased; masks subjectivity

Rationalism

Is not dependent on sensory observation; constrained by logical consistency; a common sense way of knowing

Can be abstract and detached from experience; logica may be flawed; what is “logical” is not always agreed upon

Authority

Utilizes wisdom of traditions; recognizes the value of time-tested methods; can conserve our own effort

Authorities can be wrong; authority is often just a function of popularity not wisdom; difference to authorities can hinder critical judgement

Revelation

Allows us to know things we have no ability to know; allows direct forms of knowledge; can produces affective knowledge

Exists in personal experiences which are inaccessible to others; vulnerable to delusion; hard to translate truth claims; might be masking other ways of knowing

*Adapted from John Ehmann’s Ways of Knowing

IMPORTANT SCRIPTURE

  • We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.// 1 John 4:6
  • Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, // Ephesians 6:14
  • The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. // John 1:14
  • For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. // John 1:17
  • Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free // John 8:32
  • But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. // John 16:13
  • All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal. // Psalm 119:160

THOUGHTS FROM OTHERS 

  • There are few things more dangerous than inbred religious certainty. // Bart D. Ehrman
  • I think a fundamentalist is somebody who believes something unshakably and isn’t going to change their mind. // Richard Dawkins
  • If reality differs from person to person, can we speak of reality singular, or shouldn’t we really be talking about plural realities? And if there are plural realities, are some more true (more real) than others? What about the world of a schizophrenic? Maybe it’s as real as our world. Maybe we cannot say that we are in touch with reality and he is not, but should instead say, His reality is so different from ours that he can’t explain his to us, and we can’t explain ours to him. The problem, then, is that if subjective worlds are experienced too differently, there occurs a breakdown in communication … and there is the real illness. // Philip K. Dick
  • A fundamentalist can’t bring himself or herself to negotiate with people who disagree with them because the negotiating process itself is an indication of implied equality. // Jimmy Carter
  • How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, “This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant?” Instead they say, “No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.” A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths. // Carl Sagan
  • Every fundamentalist movement I’ve studied in Judaism, Christianity and Islam is convinced at some gut, visceral level that secular liberal society wants to wipe out religion. // Karen Armstrong
  • They won’t listen. Do you know why? Because they have certain fixed notions about the past. Any change would be blasphemy in their eyes, even if it were the truth. They don’t want the truth; they want their traditions. // Isaac Asimov

RESOURCES

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