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Monday, June 28, 2010

Theology and Greek thinking

The problem in theology with Greek thinking is not that it is philosophical or that it is Greek. No human being can make sense of anything without relying upon a combination of an individually developed sense of "how reality works" influenced by the inescapable bias of the cultures and sub cultures that have contributed to their personal development.

Nonetheless, just because it is impossible to avoid bringing your personal philosophy into your theology, we need to appreciate several problems caused by doing so. Today there are two problems that stand out to me:

(1) Too many theological thinkers feel that just because they have developed a concept that "fits together well" and that stands the test of remaining coherent, that they must therefore be on to the truth. Systematic Theology was born this way. They have not considered the possibility that reality might be an "optical" illusion. One might be able to make complete coherent sense of reality in more than one mutually exclusive way. If that is so, then there is no way to differentiate which philosophy is the "correct" one. The best you can do is find a view that is useful for now. Maybe being absolutely correct is not our need. Trying to get there only puts us into an unworkable double bind of needing to know a truth we cannot ever validate. Thinking we have succeeded runs the risk of an arrogance that will be most obvious to those who have a different but equally marvelous coherent view of reality.

(2) But the biggest problem is that most theological thinkers are unaware of how philosophy has colored their sub-cultural view of scripture. Ignorance of this influence keeps us blind to the fact that reality IS an optical illusion. Every culture is satisfied with its unique perceptions. Classic Christian theology was developed centuries ago under the influence of those cultural biases. Western bias has evolved considerably since then. Christians are often ignorant that our typical Christian view is based on an earlier western view. The tensions that exist between the Christian thinker and the secular thinker is not always the worldly mind opposing the spiritual renewed mind. It is more often the contemporary culture in opposition to an older stale version of its paradigm. We hold loyal to our grandfather's reality because we falsely believe it more properly reflects our Christian values.

Knowing the themes and structures of how your reality fits together and where it came from is better than not knowing that you have a perspective on reality that came from somewhere. On the other hand, it is not helpful to have an incoherent impossible view that you can't change because you refuse to investigate or develop your sense of reality.

The capacity of the human mind to perceive reality is limited. People who study such cognitive processes see it as highly reductive. There is simply no way anyone can ever perceive reality correctly. We see reality in a model that is sufficiently representative (or not). Coherent views are better than incoherent views and best when they seem to work. That is the best you can do.

My own theology is a theology of conundrums and possibilities. I am very comfortable with certain conclusions but I try to be aware of other views that I do not personally embrace lest I forget that I am blind to what I have learned to ignore and super sensitive to what I think makes sense.

Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God. Of this I feel certain. But when I explain what that means I can never see how much of my explanation is stuff I make up simply because it fits so well with my view of reality. I am not planning on abandoning my pursuit of philosophical awareness. I just do not want to kid myself that it accomplishes anything more than adding more coherence to a view that could still be of limited use value. If I want to know truth, really know truth, my quest will fail if truth is merely propositional.

As has been said "God only knows." So in my quest to know the truth, I am satisfied to be known by God. If I cannot nail down the absolute truth for myself, at least I can have a relationship with the only one who does.

1 comment:

  1. In very brief form, that is what Job had in common with Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar as well as Elihu. They each were approaching life with a philosophical/theological paradigm that was colored by their cultural heritage. And the problem wasn't that they had a paradigm...we all need a way to look at the world. Each of their viewpoints did contain truth. However, each of their paradigms was relatively closed. It wasn't until God begins to question Job that he realizes that how limited his theology really is. Kind of like the part of the iceberg that can be seen, yet 90% of the reality is unseen and unknown...real, yes...but unknown. Like so many of us who think our "brand" of interpretation of Jesus the Messiah is the final truth.
    Thanks Bob.