OST is closed for business but its spirit survives on my blog.

emerging truth?

I find myself in agreement with an “emerging” focus on highly creative approaches to worship, and a fresh holistic approach to the role of the church in society. however…

I am unclear about what the “emerging” understanding of the nature of truth might be. If truth is relative, then why should I embrace it? why take the harder road of servant hood, or why is missions of any value?

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emerging truth/theology

If by truth you mean the reality of what God has created, I don’t think we have to accept that it is relative. I certainly haven’t. As Christians, I think that we have to diligently seek out truth and be prepared to live according to this truth - according to what we believe. There is no shame in this. I agree completely - if there is no absolute truth, then why do I choose this path? Certainly there are easier ways to live.

But whatever we may happen to believe does not affect reality. Choosing to reject the existence of gravity does not allow me to levitate. Likewise, rejecting the truth of the gospel does not make Jesus any more or less real.

I think what is required, however, is that as fallen human beings, we cannot know truth absolutely. And this is the postmodern move. Nobody is an objective observer outside of truth. We are all shaped by our experiences and we have all been impacted by our contexts. Thus any conviction, as strong as it is, must be matched off with a note of humility, and with the understanding that we could be wrong. What seems black and white to us might not be so.

Likewise with Scripture, it is not that Scripture is unreliable or untruthful. Rather, our interpretation can be unreliable, and in our fallen nature we are untruthful.

But this must not stop us from studying the Scripture. This must not stop us from seeking and discovering, and even proclaiming truth. But rather than taking the stance of teacher, we must orient ourselves towards Christ as learners.

Ian MacLennan
http://www.ianmaclennan.org
Ontario, Canada

nature of truth

I would agree that a skepticism of truth as you described it is a fruitful endeavor, and this understanding of “truth” has certainly been evident in modernist thought. For example, a modernist Christian and a modernist Atheist have one thing in common, which is that truth is an objective reality regardless if it is attainable or not. The conclusions in both camps are obviously different.

The problem with bringing in postmodernism, is that there is a radical shift in the understanding of the nature of truth. So that, truth is not something you discover, but something that you construct. It is not objectively real or something possibly attainable, but completely and fully subjective. So you may believe that something is “red” and I may believe that something is “blue” and they would be equally true.

At least, this is how it pans out in postmodern circles, hence the birth of cultural and moral relativism. My curiosity in OST is a discovery of how that understanding of truth fuses with Christianity.

del dominus

postmodernism and truth

I understand your question better now… How is this truth constructed? It seems that this ‘truth’ must be constructed based on some experience - be it individual or communal. Would there not be uniformity in the experience?

Ian MacLennan
Ontario, Canada

postmodernism and truth

I suppose there would be uniformity in the experience, but ultimately, I think this would only make sense in a framework of “discovery.” In my humble opinion, I do not think that the Christian worldview would make sense in anything other than a perception of objective truth. Therefore, I am somewhat pessimistic that the postmodern agenda, particularly in the area of “truth” will actually succeed in the long term. I am more optimistic that something beyond postmodernism would take form, but that is only an abstract at the moment. In the area of philosophy, and I am not a student in this area, but from what I hear, today’s philosophers are abandoning postmodern thought – not sure to what though?

del dominus

postmodernism and truth

From where I stand now, I think I would have to agree. It seems that postmodernism must be adapted or changed to accomodate the notion of objective reality. Otherwise it seems untenable. If not on a philosophical level (which apparently it is struggling) at least on a pragmatic level. To live out a ‘postmodern worldview’ defined in the way you have described does not seem realistic. We must be able to assert some sort of truth upon which to base our actions lives.

Further, to pretend that reality is an individual construction is a valid hypothesis, but the question that must be asked is whether it comphrehensibly explains the evidence in a coherent manner.

While it is true that we have very little “objectively verifiable” information about the transendant, there seems to be a huge jump from here to the claim that whatever truth an individual constructs shapes reality.

Ian MacLennan
Ontario, Canada

perception of truth vs. real truth

Ian and Del Dominus,

Hope you don’t mind the interjection…if you do - just ignore me :). I just stumbled upon this site and I already like what I am reading. I am not an expert on postmodernity…but as I read the following section of one of the posts, a few things stood out to me. Don’t know if my views will add anything - but here goes:

Quote:
“The problem with bringing in postmodernism, is that there is a radical shift in the understanding of the nature of truth. So that, truth is not something you discover, but something that you construct. It is not objectively real or something possibly attainable, but completely and fully subjective. So you may believe that something is “red” and I may believe that something is “blue” and they would be equally true.”

I am not sure that this is an accurate description of postmodernity - or perhaps a more accurate statement is that this paragraph doesn’t describe my understanding of postmodernity. My understanding of postmodern thought is not that it offers a shift in the understanding of truth - but that rather it offers a shift in the way we view our ability to understand, interact with, and communicate truth. Some radical postmodernists might say that there is no absolute truth - but most people reject that idea for a variety of reasons. My understanding is that truth exists - but we are so flawed in our interpretation of truth - that something is lost in translation.

What I think postmoderns reject is any one person’s ability to hold objective truth. From this some derive a relativistic outlook - but I don’t think it’s necessarily with regard to the existence of real truth - but that our interpretations are all equal value. If you believe a color is “red” and I believe it’s “blue” - they may be equally valid opinions - but these opinions have no real bearing on the real (true) nature of the color.

Viewed from this perspective then, truth is something that we have to discover - and discover continuosly - sometimes rediscovering things we have forgotten. Through the process we become closer to knowing big “T” truth - although never fully obtaining full knowledge of truth. While it can be viewed that postmoderns create their own individual constructs of truth - isn’t that what moderns do too whether or not they acknowledge their constructs?

It’s my understanding that much of postmodern philosophy arises from the violence that occurs when people who “hold” knowledge of the truth impose their beliefs on others. Sometimes this violence is physical - but more often it is emotional or spiritual. One of the positive aspects of postmodern thought is that it levels the playing field to a degree - so that we are all exploring the depths of truth - while never completely attaining full knowledge or control.

Thoughts?

Andy

The object behind the wall

Welcome Andy,
I think we are all in agreement for the most part, although my experience with secular postmodernist writings and personal interactions has been in the vein of a complete denial of any form of objective truth, not just an unattainable truth that transcends opinions.

I’m also wondering about your use of ‘valid’ opinions. Let’s take the color example again:
Suppose we are both sitting in a room and there is an object on the other side of the wall. Your claim is that the color of the object is ‘red’ and my claim is that it is ‘blue.’ The object does indeed posses a true color but we are not fully certain of what that is. If by ‘valid’ you mean that we should be tolerant of our different views, then I would agree. If by ‘valid’ you mean that both of our views should be treated as equally ‘true’ then I think we would be swimming too close to the “relativistic” wave.

Now I know you don’t hold to this option, but the classic PoMo position on this would be that there is no object on the other side of the wall, and the only thing that matters is our opinion, which by the way would be equally true.

del dominus

postmodern truth.

Andrew experience of postmodern thought seems to be much closer to my own than yours is. Although I have to admit, that my breadth of reading in postmodern thought is not incredibly vast, and my knowledge of secular writing is even less broad. I would be interested in checking out some of the sources that you have read and seeing what they have to say exactly. It seems this would be beneficial to me for expanding my knowledge on the subject.

You closing comment is reminiscent of something I did hear in a lecture once about postmodern thought. I’m not sure of it could be called ‘classic PoMo’ but it is definitely ‘early PoMo’. This move seems intensly pragmatic - breaking the world down into what is immediately experiencable - but at the same time fundamentally unpractical - it does not allow for memory or knowledge outside of the present.

Anyway, I question sometimes whether people actually hold the ‘classical postmodern’ view. It seems to be a tad to philosophical for all but the most abstract minds.

Just my thoughts

Ian MacLennan
http://www.ianmaclennan.org

Postmodernism not the same as relativism

I don’t think “postmodernism” should be confused with “relativism” (the idea that something can be true for you but not for me).

Taking the red/blue example, my understanding of postmodernism understanding truth as constructed goes like this: “red” and “blue” are social constructs—they are words from a particular culture and language. In daily conversation, two Americans would probably agree that an object was red; but if one was color-blind, he might see it as green, or if one was a designer, he might see it as crimson, or one might say it was orange. “Red” is not even well-defined; one could mean a certain quality of light (defined in terms of wavelength?), or a range of qualities. I have some knowledge of some other cultures, and often they have different sets of colors than we do. So, for example, they might have words that correspond to our white, black, blue, etc. but would translate our “red” and “yellow” into a single word in their own language.

If one were to get technical and attempt a technical definition of “red,” one would end up with a “stipulative” definition, based on a theory (not law) of color and light. One would then still have to come up with a description for colors that still “look red” to the naked eye, but which have different wavelengths or whatever. Even the wavelengths are measured according to human convention—probably based on a base 10 number system.

The postmodernist would say that even the idea of “color” is a human construct, in that in our attempts to understand reality we create category systems (one of which is “color”) and then filter out much sensory information that does not address one of our categories. Science is full of revisions of these category systems and basic models of understanding (e.g. Newtonian —> Relativistic —> Quantum —> ?).

A postmodernist Christian would say that truth exists, but that only God could know it objectively. N. T. Wright says that as human subjects, all our knowledge is subjective; but that’s ok, he points out, since even our subjective knowledge is frequently “good enough.” In other words, we humans do tend to agree on conventions for classifying what we experience, and most of us know a red light when we see one.

I like to apply this to my faith by realizing that being a Christian is not about knowing truth in some objective, scientific fashion, but rather about knowing God in the context of a relationship. I’ve been married for over 20 years, and I “know” my wife pretty well, better than most anybody else. Yet she still constantly surprises me, still does things that puzzle me, still has to re-state some things she says, still has to communicate. The fact that I don’t have objective (Godlike) knowledge of her does not mean I can’t “know” her; I know her well enough for many purposes. My relationship with her depends on knowing certain facts about her; and again, while I don’t have objective knowledge of those facts (and indeed she herself is constantly changing), I typically know them well enough.

In the same way our relationship with God does depend on knowing true things about him. This knowledge, like all our other knowledge, is subjective, though he is objectively real. Sometimes our knowledge about God can be right or wrong; when it is just our attempts to classify and understand God, maybe useful or not useful are better ways to describe qualities of knowledge. However, our knowledge about God is not the end—it serves the purpose of actually knowing God himself, as a person in relationship with us.

Chris

postmodernism and relativism

Sure… makes sense. I particularly like the relationship aspect that you mention, and how it pertains to the object/subject dynamic.

I wouldn’t actually say that postmodernism = relativism either, because there is a diversity of opinions, even in the academic disciplines. Nevertheless, relativistic thinking is alive and well in postmodernism. At the very least, postmodernism allows an open door for relativism to live and breathe.

Ian… not sure if this is specific to a classic PoMo position. I will have to do some more research on my end as well. One author that comes to mind who is often cited as a prominent philosophical defender of postmodernism is a Richard Rorty? I believe the title of his book is “Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth.”

del dominus

postmodernity and relativism

Chris,

Thanks for reminding us that postmodern thought and relativism are not necessarily the same. Len Sweet and Brian McLaren discuss this idea in “A is for Abductive”. I wonder if our conclusions regarding the relationship between postmodernity and relativism are heavily dependent on our perspectives. Many moderns see postmodernity to be relativistic…anytime you move from foundational to non-foundational thought you will experience a disquieting uneasiness. Perhaps this is often interpreted to be relativism, pluralism, etc.

While I do believe that many post moderns are relativistic - relativism can also be found in modernity as an outgrowth of hyper-individualism among other factors. I think postmodern minded people run the risk of relativism when we seek tolerance by valuing relationship over convictions.

I agree with your line of thinking regarding the postmodern Christians’ approach to faith. Your thinking seems to be in line with Polyani… I recently read a great book by Esther Meeks entitled “Longing to Know: A Philosophy of Knowledge for Ordinary People” or something like that. In this book, she builds on the philosophy of Polyani discussing how we “know” and how we can have faith in a postmodern world. Good stuff.

Andy

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