A Project of Faithful Thinking IV

Christian Foundations for Faithful Thinking: Truth is Personal

If knowing is communion, then the other side of that is Truth is Personal. But this is not such a leap, after all, Jesus calls himself the Truth. St. Paul says of Christ, that “in Him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Truth is absolute, because Truth is a Person: namely, Christ; or more broadly, the Holy Trinity.

But we are not used to this understanding. Ours is an inheritance from the Enlightenment, and for us, truth is exclusively propositional, intellectual. But this conception has led to the Cartesian problem of the split between mind and body. This semi-Gnosticism has made its way into modern Christianity as well. On the one hand there are the mainline liberal churches which boil Christianity down to a few main propositions–keeping them as vague and general as possible for the sake of ecumenism–which have no real connection to morals and ethics, aside from some nice slogans. For example, the Episcopal Church officially has no doctrine on sexuality. The concept of love for one another gets bandied about, but when it comes to what one does with one’s body, it doesn’t matter. On the other hand, in the more conservative evangelical world, there are, indeed, moral truths, but once again, these things are relegated to intellectual propositions and moral codes, for the most part.

But if Truth is Personal, then it is also Incarnational. If Jesus is the Truth in his Person, this has to mean that Truth is embodied. So in faithful Christian thinking there is no mind-body dualism. There are intellectual truths, to be sure, just as there are truths about one’s person and body. But these are not split, but are joined together in perfect union. So when Paul exhorts us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, he calls this our “reasonable worship.”

Precisely because of this embodied nature of Truth, as Christians understand it, the Truth is freedom. And we shall know the Truth and the Truth shall set us free; for freedom Christ has set us free. This is not always the case when insistence is made the Truth is essentially propositional. The difficulties here is that reason’s rules often bind in logical necessity that do not allow for embodiment. Indeed, this is the trap of the Law from which we have been sprung. One can reason oneself into extreme ethical dilemmas, which a fuller Christian perspective on Truth would resolve.

Take for example, the arguments for pacificism. They are extremely persuasive on rational grounds, because they subscribe to principle which necessitate certain conclusions. But they also fail to embody themselves in concrete situations. From a few simple premises, for example (one should not kill or resist violence; God is completely sovereign; one cannot know the future), it is possible to argue that one should not kill or attack a murdering rapist who has a knife to the throat of your infant daughter and is about to rape your wife. The answer that one’s bonds of love to family demands protecting their physical, emotional and spiritual welfare is often dismissed as viewing the situation emotionally and not from rational principles. But the fact of the matter is, viewing it with reason and emotion, with the concomitant considerations for potential bodily harm, is a more embodied way of understanding the situation, and is closer to the Truth that came down and was born of a Virgin.

This principle of embodied Truth, is, of course, founded on the primary demonstration of God’s love for us in the Incarnation. God did not communicate to his human creations by mere propositions, as he is pictured having done in Islam. Rather, God communicated in a Person, revealing his Truth not just with intellectual knowledge, but with the knowledge of touch, taste, smell, hearing and sight, with the knowledge of personal communion.

Thus if a Christian is going to think faithfully about matters of Gospel and matters of knowledge and insight, he is going to do so not from mere rational propositions, but from the whole of his being. Because it is only from the whole of his being that he can love. And it is only through love that we can know anything at all.

[Next:Christian Foundations for Faithful Thinking: Knowledge is Love]

4 thoughts on “A Project of Faithful Thinking IV

  1. Christian pacifism is not just a principle. It is embodied in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. When people argue with pacifists, they always throw out the “wife about to be raped, daughter murdered” scenario. John Howard Yoder wrote an entire book about this: “What Would You Do?” When you give that scenario, you are automatically necessitating certain conclusions – i.e. that unless you kill the attacker tragedy will occur. Christian pacfists do not downplay emotion in favor of rational principles, and we believe that non-violence is closer to the Truth who was born of a Virgin and died on the cross.

    I’m not sure why you’re using this example, because it doesn’t follow for me. I understand that not every Christian is a pacifist. But for those of us who are, it is inextricably linked to our christology, soteriology, and eschatology. It’s not just a rational principle. Can you give another example?

  2. Nonviolence is related to the thought that we do not avenge ourselves: and Romans 12:17-21 lays that out with aching clarity. We do not, insofar as we can.

    But insofar as we are in a position, either personally or corporately, to uphold justice, we must exercise the authority of that position, (Rom. 13:4b) even if that requires a corporally violent demonstration: as Jesus, upholding the holiness of God in his Temple, overturned the tables of the moneychangers and throwing them out. (Mk. 11:15-17)

    Now we come to our position in world affairs, where as a government, we must act under that mandate, just as we must do so as a state.

    might give an extended perspective on judgement.

  3. Jennifer:

    You point out some important criticisms. I could have clarified my example a little better. I tend to write these in rough draft, go over them once and then publish.

    I do believe and acknowledge that pacificists such as yourself (I presume) and Yoder have deep commitments to important Christian doctrines, and to the extent that I did not more carefully state my example and gave you the impression I was dismissing such deep commitments out of hand, I apologize.

    But I did choose my example primarily with Yoder in mind. Nor do I think it diminishes my point. It’s one thing to argue from principles. And it is an inescapabel fact of Christian ethic. But it is quite another to turn those principles into inflexible law.

    I suppose when it comes to the ethical embodiment of truth I am more Aristotelian than I am Kantian.

    Clusmily stated though it was, I do stand by my example.

  4. Thank you so much for your reply. I certainly hope I am more Aristotelian than Kantian! I did not mean for you to take back for your example, only to supply an additional one because I am still confused. I find your appeal to emotion surprising. Surely you don’t mean we should judge Christian principles based on our emotions? I look forward to reading your next installment.

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