On breaking out of the cocoon: Saying nothing.

I posted last week about my experience over the last number of years coming to terms with my faith and breaking out of the evangelical cocoon that I felt trapped in. One of the subjects I touched on was the issue of doubt and it generated a bit of good discussion. I’d like to explore this topic a little further here. The quotes here are taken from a book entitled How (Not) To Speak of God by Peter Rollins (a Belfast boy!) whom I think does a great job of putting into words what many people feel and think.

Here what I’d like to touch on is an aspect of evangelical Christianity that seeks to give answers to the spiritual questions that people have. What I find most disturbing is that this vein of Christianity is prideful in that it supposes to know God. Now to be sure, the scriptures talk about knowing God and the fact that God is revealed in the scriptures and in Jesus but this revelation is simultaneously concealment. In other words, when we seek to talk about God we must recognize that God is beyond our words and cannot be contained by them. If you have God all figured out and He fits nicely in your head then that thing which you are talking about is not God. This idea of God being beyond our language is something I think is missing in much of evangelical Christianity. We think we can put forward propositional statements about God that are true in and of themselves while failing to realize that these words cannot contain the God we seek to talk about. Anyways, let’s take a look at some quotes from Pete’s book:

“In contrast to the view that evangelism is that which gives an answer for those who are asking, we must have faith to believe that those who seek will find for themselves…If this is true, then the job of the Church is not to provide an answer – for the answer is not a phrase or doctrine – but rather to help encourage the religious question to arise.”

I don’t know about you but in my experience of Christianity I was always being trained on how to give an answer. In fact, this is what modern day apologetics is all about. Defending the faith by way of reason. But if it’s true that God is beyond all language then there really aren’t any propositional statements we can give to people to satisfy them. This is true in my experience as well. I find that the more propositional statements about God I’m given the more I cringe and seek to be embraced by a God that cannot be contained by our knowing. At any rate, I think what Pete touches on here is key. The Church is to “help encourage the religious question to arise.” In fact, didn’t Jesus say something about the Church being the “salt” of the world (Mt. 5)? Salt adds flavour to a meal and makes one thirsty. Salt gives you a taste of the meal but it is not the meal itself. Salt causes you to thirst but it cannot satisfy that thirst. Rather, it points towards something else. In my experience with evangelical Christianity we’ve always sought to give people answers. Perhaps we’d be better off asking questions that will help people realize they are thirsty.

“Christianity thus engages in a pragmatic discourse which intends towards the one who lies beyond all language. As such, the language of faith is at its best when it both remembers its profound limitations and simultaneously places us in a clearing within which we can be addressed by God.”

Here God is described as the One who “lies beyond all language”. I think this is important for Christians to remember. We don’t know God fully. You cannot reason your way to God because he is above reason and language and these things cannot contain Him.

“The silence that is part of all God-talk is not the silence of banality, indifference or ignorance but one that stands in awe of God. This does not necessitate an absolute ‘silencing’, whereby we give up speaking of God, but rather involves a recognition that our language concerning the divine remains silent in its speech.”

“Central to this approach is the idea that God stands outside our language regimes and cannot be colonized via any power discourse. This means that the Christian faith is extrapolated via a powerless discourse which, at its most evangelical, attempts to create a space in which others can seek for themselves. Consequently, one of the roles of the Church is to provide a sacred space for this exploration.”

I think this is a great picture of the Church and one that remains faithful to the scriptures. I don’t know about you but if I’m listening to someone talking and they are speaking as if they have the answer I’m immediately turned off. The Christian faith isn’t presented in the scriptures as a destination people reach when they’ve come to a right understanding of God. Rather, the Christian faith is presented as a journey that is embarked upon where the pilgrim is taken up and embraced by God. We don’t embrace God with our thoughts and our words. Rather, we are embraced by God.

“So in a sense, when it comes to God, we have nothing to say to others and we must not be ashamed of saying it. Our approach must be a powerless one which employs words as a way of saying that we have been left utterly breathless by a beauty that surpasses all words. This does not mean that we remain silent – far from it. The desire to get beyond language forces us to stretch language to its very limits. As Samuel Beckett once commented, we use words in order to tear through them and glimpse at what lies beneath. This is why the mystics would write so extensively about how nothing can be written and would preach beautiful sermons about the futility of words.”

“God is not revealed via our words but rather via the life of the transformed individual.”

To my fellow brothers and sisters, let us cease striving to have all the answers because this just makes us seem arrogant and proud. May we realize that our faith does not need defending and God cannot be contained by our words. Instead, let us be salt. May we be the aroma rather than the food, the question rather than the answer. May we be a hint rather than a propositional statement.

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14 comments
  1. Nat said:

    This is good, thanks Turtle.

  2. jt* said:

    Thanks Nat. Hope you’re keeping well these days!

  3. teadeum said:

    It’s one thing to say that one has fully figured God out, or fully knows God.

    It’s another to talk of knowing God in the sense of experiencing a kind of intimacy, fellowship, communion with Him through experiences of prayer, meditation, reflection on the Divine.

    Kierkegaard for example always made the distinction between “knowing the teacher” verses “knowing what the teacher teaches”. My inkling is that for many Christians they know alot about the Bible, doctrine,church life, etc…, but share little to none intimacy with Christ.

  4. Tim Barnett said:

    Hey JT,

    Sorry about the late reply. I can’t seem to keep up with you. To start, I feel somewhat like a mosquito at a nudest beach. I don’t know where to begin 😉

    It might be best if I just interject within JT’s original blog post which will be in italics. I hope that this is a fruit discussion.

    I posted last week about my experience over the last number of years coming to terms with my faith and breaking out of the evangelical cocoon that I felt trapped in. One of the subjects I touched on was the issue of doubt and it generated a bit of good discussion. I’d like to explore this topic a little further here. The quotes here are taken from a book entitled How (Not) To Speak of God by Peter Rollins (a Belfast boy!) whom I think does a great job of putting into words what many people feel and think.

    Here what I’d like to touch on is an aspect of evangelical Christianity that seeks to give answers to the spiritual questions that people have. What I find most disturbing is that this vein of Christianity is prideful in that it supposes to know God.

    First, I think you need to be clear on what you mean by “know”. Is this propositional knowledge about God attributes? For example, I know that God loves the world enough to send his Son (John 3:16). We can also know we have eternal life. John writes, 13I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life (1 John 5:13). I actually just finished doing a serious study on 1 John and couldn’t help but notice that the author was making it clear that we can confidently know with full assurance that we have eternal life in Christ.

    Second, any position that expresses itself to know anything could be misidentified as prideful or arrogant. Here I think a distinction needs to be made between knowing something to be true and arrogantly boasting to know something to be true. For example, take the proposition that the derivative of x^2 is 2x. This is basic high school calculus. Now, there is a distinction between knowing that this is a true proposition and boasting to know it’s a true proposition. If I tell you that I know that the derivative of x2 is 2x, does that make me arrogant? Of course not. I am simply telling you what I know to be true. Similarly, just because someone claims to know something about God does not make him necessarily arrogant or proud. And, more importantly, this says nothing about the truth or falsity of the claim.

    Now to be sure, the scriptures talk about knowing God and the fact that God is revealed in the scriptures and in Jesus but this revelation is simultaneously concealment.

    I would certainly agree that the Scriptures affirm that we can know God. Here’s where I’m confused though. If Scriptural authority affirms that we can know God, then why is it prideful to affirm what Scripture teaches.

    “In other words, when we seek to talk about God we must recognize that God is beyond our words and cannot be contained by them.” If you have God all figured out and He fits nicely in your head then that thing which you are talking about is not God.

    To me a statement like this demonstrates the complete bankruptcy of this kind of thinking (which I would characterize as post-modernism). Allow me to show the self-refuting nature of this claim. To claim that we can’t use words to communicate about God or to claim that propositional statements about God is meaningless are self-referentially incoherent. That is, in referring to itself the proposition denies itself. (i.e. No propositions have five words 😛 )

    This idea of God being beyond our language is something I think is missing in much of evangelical Christianity. We think we can put forward propositional statements about God that are true in and of themselves while failing to realize that these words cannot contain the God we seek to talk about.

    Again, this is self-refuting. But let’s look at it from another angle.

    If you truly believe that “words cannot contain the God we seek to talk about”, then why are you talking? I’m not being facetious or mean-spirited here. It’s a legitimate question. If you truly believe what you are saying, then why do you have a blog that communicates through words and propositions on the subject of God’s knowability (or unknowability). The fact that people like Peter Rollin’s and other write books like this flies in the face of the very thing they preach.

    Anyways, let’s take a look at some quotes from Pete’s book:

    “In contrast to the view that evangelism is that which gives an answer for those who are asking, we must have faith to believe that those who seek will find for themselves…If this is true, then the job of the Church is not to provide an answer – for the answer is not a phrase or doctrine – but rather to help encourage the religious question to arise.”

    I don’t know about you but in my experience of Christianity I was always being trained on how to give an answer. In fact, this is what modern day apologetics is all about. Defending the faith by way of reason.

    Scripture teaches that we should defend the faith and that we can use reason to do so. Read the following:

    For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4,5)

    3Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. (Jude 3)

    15but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, (1 Peter 3:15)

    I would add that this isn’t just a modern day enterprise. This is what Paul did when he was in Athens. Read Act 17:17. It says the Paul reasoned with people who had questions. He didn’t just let them “have faith to believe that those who seek will find for themselves” as Peter Rollins states above.

    16Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. 17So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. (Acts 17:16-18)

    In fact, when Paul sees that they worship the unknown god, he doesn’t just say “yes, you guys get it. We can’t know God.” Not even close! He actually says, “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.” (Acts 17:23)

    In a sense, Paul says “I know the God you claim to be the unknown god, let me tell you about him.”

    Even the God advocates reasoning, “Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. (Isaiah 1:18)

    But if it’s true that God is beyond all language then there really aren’t any propositional statements we can give to people to satisfy them. This is true in my experience as well.

    But if it isn’t true that God is beyond all language, then there are some propositional statements we can give to people to satisfy them. God isn’t beyond all language as you espouse. This confuses God immensity with his knowability. Just because God is unfathomable is size and scope says nothing about his knowability. I’m not saying we can know everything about him. Far from it. But there are many things we can know about Him and it would only take one to show that your if-then statement above is false.

    I find that the more propositional statements about God I’m given the more I cringe and seek to be embraced by a God that cannot be contained by our knowing. At any rate, I think what Pete touches on here is key. The Church is to “help encourage the religious question to arise.”

    In fact, didn’t Jesus say something about the Church being the “salt” of the world (Mt. 5)? Salt adds flavour to a meal and makes one thirsty. Salt gives you a taste of the meal but it is not the meal itself. Salt causes you to thirst but it cannot satisfy that thirst. Rather, it points towards something else. In my experience with evangelical Christianity we’ve always sought to give people answers. Perhaps we’d be better off asking questions that will help people realize they are thirsty.

    I agree with your interpretation of being “salt”, however this says nothing to support your conclusion. Just because salt does quench the ultimate thirst people feel, says nothing to undermine apologetics.

    “Christianity thus engages in a pragmatic discourse which intends towards the one who lies beyond all language. As such, the language of faith is at its best when it both remembers its profound limitations and simultaneously places us in a clearing within which we can be addressed by God.”

    Here God is described as the One who “lies beyond all language”. I think this is important for Christians to remember. We don’t know God fully. You cannot reason your way to God because he is above reason and language and these things cannot contain Him.

    You seem to conflate two different ideas; the first being that God is “beyond all language” and the second that “we don’t know God fully”. I would completely agree with the latter, but that in no way means I accept the God is beyond all language. But to say that God is either “don’t know God fully” or we know God exhaustively is the fallacy of bifurcation.

    You state that “You cannot reason your way to God because he is above reason and language and these things cannot contain Him.” First, language and reason are very different things. God is the author of reason. In fact, reasoning at a foundational level would be impossible apart from God. But that doesn’t mean God is above rationality; He is rational. He can’t be irrational. Do I know this? Yes. Am I being prideful or arrogant? No.

    Some great questions to you are: How do you know God is above reason and language? How do you know you can’t reason your way to God? These stated propositions seem like a claim to knowledge about God. But wait, I thought we couldn’t use propositional statements to talk about God. JT, you have to help me understand this because to me it seems like special pleading on your part. That is to say, you are “moving the goal line” when it suits your view.

    “The silence that is part of all God-talk is not the silence of banality, indifference or ignorance but one that stands in awe of God. This does not necessitate an absolute ’silencing’, whereby we give up speaking of God, but rather involves a recognition that our language concerning the divine remains silent in its speech.”

    What does this even mean? Practically speaking how does one live this out?

    “Central to this approach is the idea that God stands outside our language regimes and cannot be colonized via any power discourse. This means that the Christian faith is extrapolated via a powerless discourse which, at its most evangelical, attempts to create a space in which others can seek for themselves. Consequently, one of the roles of the Church is to provide a sacred space for this exploration.”

    I think this is a great picture of the Church and one that remains faithful to the scriptures. I don’t know about you but if I’m listening to someone talking and they are speaking as if they have the answer I’m immediately turned off.

    Yet again, this is self-refuting. As I read this I can’t help but feel like I’m “listening” to someone talk (you) as if they have the “answer”. You’re entire post contains the reiterated thesis that “God stands outside our language regimes and cannot be colonized via any power discourse”. Should I, as you say, be immediately turned off? You’re doing the exact thing you are railing against.

    The Christian faith isn’t presented in the scriptures as a destination people reach when they’ve come to a right understanding of God. Rather, the Christian faith is presented as a journey that is embarked upon where the pilgrim is taken up and embraced by God. We don’t embrace God with our thoughts and our words. Rather, we are embraced by God.

    “So in a sense, when it comes to God, we have nothing to say to others and we must not be ashamed of saying it. Our approach must be a powerless one which employs words as a way of saying that we have been left utterly breathless by a beauty that surpasses all words. This does not mean that we remain silent – far from it. The desire to get beyond language forces us to stretch language to its very limits. As Samuel Beckett once commented, we use words in order to tear through them and glimpse at what lies beneath. This is why the mystics would write so extensively about how nothing can be written and would preach beautiful sermons about the futility of words.”

    As far as I can tell this is complete nonsense (at best). Let me try to paraphrase what Peter is saying. We should remain silent, because God surpasses all words. However, we should not remain silent. In fact, we should use words to explain how words are meaningless. If anyone else is thoroughly confused, you are not alone. This is a blatant contradiction. Peter should have taken his own advice and remained silent.

    “God is not revealed via our words but rather via the life of the transformed individual.”

    To my fellow brothers and sisters, let us cease striving to have all the answers because this just makes us seem arrogant and proud. May we realize that our faith does not need defending and God cannot be contained by our words. Instead, let us be salt.

    A couple things. First, this is a false dichotomy. We don’t have to choose between being salt or defending the faith. Why not both? These emergent guys don’t know how to use “and”, unless their talking about creation and evolution. But I digress. Let’s be salt AND ‘contend earnestly for the faith’ (Jude 3) because Scripture command us to do both.

    Second, I agree that our faith does not need defending. However, God commanded us to defend our faith and be ready to give an answer and to reason with people and to cast down arguments raised against the knowledge of God. Here’s a question: How do we cast down arguments against the knowledge of God if we have no knowledge of God? Sounds like a pretty silly request on the Emergent view. So despite what Peter Rollin says, I have it on good authority to strive to have and give an answer 😉

    May we be the aroma rather than the food, the question rather than the answer. May we hint people towards the Creator rather than a propositional statement in defense of the Creator.

    I’ll end with this. Why can’t we hint people toward the Creator using propositional statements? The entire Bible is a record of propositional statements that our Creator wanted his children to read, and hide in their hearts. Why? Well, I believe it’s because these words in the Word contain precious truths about our Saviour. God created written and oral language as the medium to communicate with His children. Through the Bible and the spoken words of Jesus, God communicates about moral truth, history, knowledge of Himself, and most importantly how to have a saving relationship with Himself. Praise God for His Word.

    I love you JT and I’m praying for you.

    Reverence and Love,

    Tim

  5. Orlagh Turtle said:

    Amen Tim

  6. jt* said:

    Timbo Slice,

    Glad you could weigh in! I appreciate what you have to say and, really, I don’t think we’re that far apart. Perhaps I just didn’t communicate myself as well as I would have liked to but let’s see if I can address some of the issues you raise.

    “First, I think you need to be clear on what you mean by “know”.”

    This may be where some of the confusion stemmed from. I’m planning on writing a separate post about Truth, truth, and religious truth so I won’t say too much here. Suffice it to say that I think religious truth is different than “real” truth (observations about the material world etc.). Truths about reality are descriptive. For example, it was cold today, Jimi Hendrix is the greatest guitar player ever etc. Religious truth on the other hand is different. For while we might be able to describe particular aspects of religious truth (i.e. God is love) religious truth by nature is something that transforms. Anyways, like I said, I’ll write more on this later on. Back to the point, here, I wasn’t suggesting that we can’t say anything about God (i.e. God is love) I was merely saying that God is bigger than our descriptions. What bothers me about much of western Christianity is that we’re slow to admit that for all of our “knowledge” about God there is much more that we don’t know because God is Wholly Other than us. To put it simply, perhaps it might be helpful to draw a distinction between “God” and “our images of God”. We all have images and ideas of what God is like (perhaps from religious texts or the church we attend etc.) but all of our images of God fall short of the One True God. In other words, the western Christian image of God is *not* God. For all of our knowing there is at least an equal amount of unknowing.

    “I would certainly agree that the Scriptures affirm that we can know God. Here’s where I’m confused though. If Scriptural authority affirms that we can know God, then why is it prideful to affirm what Scripture teaches.”

    Here I would suggest that knowing God is not like knowing the alphabet. These are different sorts of truths and I’ll talk more about that at another time. For the moment though I’ll just say that I think we have to admit that there is much mystery in God. God is not like creation. He is Holy. We can certainly know things about God but our knowing is limited. Surely you’d agree to that? Also, I think that while the scriptures reveal God to us they do so in a manner as to simultaneously conceal God. So if we are to affirm the scriptures we must affirm that God is both known and unknown and our images of God fall short of God.

    “To claim that we can’t use words to communicate about God or to claim that propositional statements about God is meaningless are self-referentially incoherent.”

    What you say is true. Unfortunately for your argument though, this is not what I said. I did not say that we can’t use words to communicate about God. In fact, if you read where you quoted me you’ll see that what I said was, “when we seek to talk about God we must recognize that God is beyond our words and cannot be contained by them.” The idea here is that we *can* talk about God but God is bigger than our God-talk and we should be humble enough to recognize this. So, I refute your inaccurate refutation!

    “If you truly believe that “words cannot contain the God we seek to talk about”, then why are you talking?”

    See above.

    “I’m not saying we can know everything about him. Far from it”

    Good. This is pretty much what I’m trying to say here. Tim, you may have a certain image of God (I’m sure parts of that image are pretty close while other parts may not be so close) but your image of God is *not* God. God is by nature bigger than whatever picture of Him you may have. This is what I mean when I say that God is beyond all language. NOT that we can’t use language to talk about God, we must! However, our language of God falls short of God and cannot contain God. You don’t really have a problem admitting that do you? Or would you rather suppose that God is exactly as you might describe Him?

    “But to say that God is either “don’t know God fully” or we know God exhaustively is the fallacy of bifurcation.”

    Right, but again, this is not what I’m saying. I’m not trying to set-up some sort of dichotomy here. All I’m saying is that in my experience western Christians seem *much* surer that they do, in fact, fully know God. I’m not suggesting that God is totally unknown. I’m just suggesting that perhaps God is more unknown than we think (after all, we know God via the scriptures but *no one* merely reads the scriptures, we all interpret the scriptures and not all interpretations are equal! i.e. not so long ago on this very continent Christians used scripture from both the OT and NT to support slavery. This was not a good interpretation of scripture. Also, Christians today use scripture to condemn homosexuals and I would argue this is again perhaps not the best interpretation of scripture). To me, western evangelical Christianity seems to be saying that they have God “all figured out”. This simply cannot be true.

    “How do you know God is above reason and language?”

    Because He is God and Wholly Other than us.

    “How do you know you can’t reason your way to God?”

    See above.

    I won’t address the rest of your response because I’ll just be repeating what I’ve already said. I’ve tried to clear things up a bit. I’m not suggesting we cannot use language to talk about God. Like I’ve said, this is necessary. What I’m saying is that God cannot be contained by our language.

    Also, I think perhaps we are coming at this from fundamentally different positions. I don’t view the scriptures as “a record of propositional statements that our Creator wanted his children to read.” I don’t think God is like a math equation. I don’t think that we can grasp God via reason and language.In fact, I don’t think God is to be grasped! Perhaps our differences stem from the fact that you were educated in the sciences and I was not. But God is not like the sciences, He can’t be pinned down and studied because then He wouldn’t be God. Religious truth is fundamentally different than “real” truth and it is not something to be grasped, but rather, something by which we are grasped and transformed. I’d invited you to read the next post I’ll be writing about these differences as I’d love to hear your opinion.

    Love you bro.

    Peace.

  7. Tim Barnett said:

    Hey JT,

    Thanks for your reply. I look forward to your post on truth. I think I’ll have more to say then.

    😉

    Timbo Slice

  8. jt* said:

    Hey Tim,

    I’ve been thinking about this little caveat over the past few days: “To me a statement like this demonstrates the complete bankruptcy of this kind of thinking (which I would characterize as post-modernism).”

    What’s your understanding of postmodernity?

  9. Tim Barnett said:

    Hey JT,

    Allow me to plagiarize words from a far more intellectual astute mind then yours truly. Dr. J. P. Moreland says:

    “Postmodernism is a loose coalition of diverse thinkers from several different academic disciplines, so it is difficult to characterize postmodernism in a way that would be fair to this diversity. Still, it is possible to provide a fairly accurate characterization of postmodernism in general, since it friends and foes understand it well enough to debate its strengths and weaknesses.

    As a philosophical standpoint, postmodernism is primarily a reinterpretation of what knowledge is and what counts as knowledge. More broadly, it represents a form of cultural relativism about such things as reality, truth, reason, value, linguistic meaning, the self and other notions. On a postmodernist view, there is no such thing as objective reality, truth, value, reason and so forth. All these are social constructions, creations of linguistic practices and, as such, are relative not to individuals, but to social groups that share a narrative.

    Postmodernism denies the correspondence theory, claiming that truth is simply a contingent creation of language which expresses customs, emotions, and values embedded in a community’s linguistic practices. For the postmodernist, if one claims to have the truth in the correspondence sense, this assertion is a power move that victimizes those judged not to have the truth.”

    Maybe a more specific characterization is the “emergent” philosophy. However, since trying to define the emergent movement is like trying to nail jell-o to a wall, I would much more broadly refer to the ideas that you (and Peter Rollins) express as postmodern.

    Ok, my turn. This is a question that might be more appropriately referring to your comments on Doubt in a previous post, but I would like your response.

    In light of the fact that God clearly teaches, through His written word and “the Word” (John 1), that we are to contend earnestly for the faith (Jude 1), always be ready to give an answer (1 Peter 3:15), reason together (Roman 17:17, Isaiah 1:18), and destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:5), where is the place for apologetics on your view?

    I also have been thinking a lot about your ideas on doubt. I wonder what you think of the passage in John when Jesus appears to Thomas.

    24Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” 26A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” [Emphasis Mine]

    Jesus doesn’t say “just sit in your doubts and be engulfed by My indescribable bigness”. It seems possible that Jesus is teaching that there are inappropriate doubts. Actually, the more I think about it, I think he teaching that there are inappropriate times of doubt. I simply mean that we shouldn’t remain in our doubts, like a soak in a hot tub.

    This statement really is quite profound. Jesus tells Thomas to “stop doubting” and just believe. I wonder if Thomas thought (as you confessed to experience), “I’m stuck in this fundamentalist evangelical cocoon where doubt has no place and I need to break out of this cocoon”. This sounds a little like the experience you described as having with the church. Do you think there are times when the response, “stop doubting and believe” is appropriate?

    This has been a very stimulating discussion JT. We should really hangout more? Who needs to rent a movie when you can have convo’s like these? 🙂

    Love and Shalom,

    Tim

  10. jt* said:

    Hey there Tim,

    I’m not primarily interested with postmodern philosophy in particular, I am however intrigued in the apparent cultural shift that is taking place. In this sense, I’m interested in the cultural phenomena that is being called postmodernity.

    I find this all rather fascinating. By the way, while you may label me “post-modern” in some aspects, surely you’re not naive enough to think that you are speaking and thinking from some totally neutral ground. Much of what you emphasize is based upon modern presuppositions which weren’t always around by the way (see: pre-modern, middle ages, ancient etc.)!

    Perhaps some of the ideas I express could be characterized as postmodern. I don’t know? At any rate, I don’t see this as problematic (at least not any more problematic than expressing religious ideas based on modern presuppositions!).

    “we are to contend earnestly for the faith (Jude 1), always be ready to give an answer (1 Peter 3:15), reason together (Roman 17:17, Isaiah 1:18), and destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:5),”

    I haven’t given too much thought to this but I wonder if those verses you’ve listed are at all influenced by the context in which they were written. For example, the Roman empire at the time of Paul’s (and other NT authors) writing would have been highly Hellenized, relying heavily on Greek thought. Leonard Cohen has a great lyric in his song “The Future”:

    “There’ll be the breaking
    of the ancient western code (I mean)
    Your private life will suddenly explode.”

    Much modern presuppositions are based upon Roman and Greek thought and perhaps when Paul wrote about “reasoning” and “arguing” it was because that was the language of the culture at the time. Like I said, I haven’t looked into this too deeply, just a hunch.

    “where is the place for apologetics on your view?”

    I still think that “apologetics” is important, however, I would be in favour of an apologetic that might be different from how the term has generally been understood. Generally, Christian apologetics has relied heavily on Reason (modern presupposition) with the view that one can argue for the faith and defend the faith on purely rational grounds (again, modern. In fact, this sounds a lot like Deism to me). Perhaps a better apologetic for our time (at least it is proving to be more helpful in my experience) is being a witness. Notice here there is a distinction between ‘witnessing’ (sharing one’s faith) and being a witness (embodying one’s faith in community with others in order to be a witness in the midst of a watching and thirsty world). In this sense, the emphasis is placed on incarnational living and it is the transformed lives of people that do the talking (instead of, but not necessarily in place of, one’s “reasonable” arguments). Transformation over Reason.

    In terms of the account of the interaction between Jesus and Thomas I think perhaps you’re attempting to make the text say something that it isn’t. Jesus’ statement to Thomas, “Stop doubting and believe,” is in relation to what Thomas believed about Jesus. The disciples had a hard enough time believing Jesus was the Messiah. Now, suppose Thomas got to a point where he was able to see Jesus as Messiah, even then the disciples still failed to see that Jesus was not only Messiah, but the suffering Messiah. Perhaps Jesus’ statement is addressing this issue specifically. As such, I don’t think we can use this verse to say that doubt of any sort has no constructive place in the lives of Christians.

    “there are inappropriate times of doubt. I simply mean that we shouldn’t remain in our doubts,”

    I don’t see doubt as all that separate from faith. In fact, I think the two are closely related. Perhaps it is even difficult to have faith without doubt.

    Also, to be sure, while I sometimes wrestle with doubt in terms of “the existence of God” and things like that most of my doubt is in relation to images of God that I’ve grown up with in particular Christian circles.

    Peace out Timmy!

    ps – Agreed, hangouts are needed!

  11. Tim Barnett said:

    Hey JT,

    I’m just between classes and read your response. I just wanted to quickly say that I appreciate your comments.

    I fully recognize the presuppositions of my worldview and I’m glad recognize yours. In fact, I lean toward a presuppositional (or transcendental) approach to apologetics. But there isn’t time now to debate the merits of these two competing worldviews (post- and modernism).

    Thanks again buddy,

    Talk to ya later,

    Tim

  12. Orlagh Turtle said:

    its wonderful for an aging Ma to read and enjoy, and gain wisdom and information for you blogs Jonathan and Tim..way to go!What about Transformation AND reason Jonathan?

  13. jt* said:

    “What about Transformation AND reason?”

    Reason, like the rest of creation is fallen and under the powers of sin and death.

    In addition, in our culture I think you’ll find that trying to “win” people over to your side by way of “reasonable argument” is becoming increasingly less “effective” (for lack of a better term). Plus, the notion that we can reason our way to God is just another form of Deism (that religion can be reduced to reason) and is counter to the scriptures.

    I’m not saying we throw reason out the window. We use it every day. However, I think that in reference to Jesus and religious truth that reason has less and less to say.

    Now, not everyone will agree and that’s to be expected. This is just how I’ve come to see things.

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