Letter to Christianity Today from Dr. Gordon Lewis
Letter to the Editor of Christianity Today
From: Gordon R. Lewis, Sr. Professor of Theology and Philosophy,
Re: “Five Streams of the Emerging Church” (CT February 2007, pp 35-39).
Commendably, Scot McKnight seeks to “practice the way of Jesus;” sadly, he fails to follow Jesus’ way with words. Does not McKnight’s assertion that “no language is capable of capturing absolute truth.” contradict what Jesus said to his heavenly Father? “I gave them the words you gave me” (John 17:8). “I have given them your word” (v.14) and “your word is truth” (v.17).
Apparently McKnight’s wordless god is not the God who has spoken in human languages. “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb 1:1-2).
Like the mystics of the world’s religions, as well as Kierkegaard and Barth, McKnight presupposes that God’s thoughts are infinitely different in every quality from any concepts expressed in human language. So what God reveals is himself, not information about himself. Apparently McKnight overlooks the fact that God created men and women in his image and that the image includes a mental capacity for receiving revealed information. A believer’s new nature is “renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Col 3:10).
So McKnight alleges that, “God didn’t reveal a systematic theology but a storied narrative, and no language is capable of capturing the Absolute Truth.” However, in the midst of the Bible’s true stories are indicative sentences asserting what is the case. In the narrative of Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, he asserted, “God is spirit.” When walking on the road to Emmaus, Jesus explained, “A spirit does not have flesh and bones.” Such affirmations are the building blocks of a consistent view of God. The parables illustrated the true information Jesus taught about his kingdom.
Logic haters to the contrary, Jesus used indicative sentences conveying propositions to teach about God, angels, human souls or spirits, his own deity and mission, signs of the end of the age and a spirituality that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. Paul’s letters, furthermore, began with doctrinal assertions before moving to their applications in life. If McKnight’s postmodern theory of language were true, Jesus and Paul would be guilty of “linguistic idolatry!” In contrast, Jesus said, “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life: (John 6:63). His assertions were not limiting but liberating. “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).
Although systematic theologians claim that divinely revealed assertions are necessary to evangelical spiritual experience, they do not regard them sufficient for every aspect of life. Yes, anyone who comes to God must believe the revealed information that he exists (Heb 11:6). Assent to the truth of that proposition should guide one’s holistic commitment to its personal referent, the living Lord of whom it speaks. “God is spirit” does not completely encompass infinity; God’s awesome being has many other characteristics.
One who practices the way of the articulate Jesus teaches the truth of his assertions. As he said, “These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me” (John 14:23-24). “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away (Mat 24:35).