Sunday, July 24, 2005

Epistemological epigrams

Rebecca Merrill Groothuis: "Never have so many been so certain of so much about which they know so little."

Doug Groothuis follow-up: "When knowledge is cheap (postmodernist style--we construct our own), certainty is simple, belief is unaccountable, and truth goes down for the count" (see Isaiah 59:14).


Tom Gilson said...

Priceless! And is it coincidence how similar this cheap certainty is to adolescents' easy assurance of things they know not?

Ted M. Gossard said...

I love what you're saying here as well. Good words.

I will ask: Isn't there some value in the emphasis coming from the "post-modern", emergents- that truth should be seen as primarily relational, without discounting (throwing out) the rational aspect. Many of them would say, "Jesus is the Truth; Scripture is the truth." (see 1 Corinthians 8:1-3)

Ted M. Gossard said...

Emergents or the like don't like the word "certainty" but prefer something like confidence.

And they don't seem much concerned about epistemology- how we know anything. They are more concerned about relationships and are very open to learning in the context of relationships: vertically and horizontally in a sense separately and simultaneously.

Isn't that like Jesus with his disciples? Learning there took place within relationship, not in some classroom setting.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

Jesus had a well-developed epistemology that included gaining knowledge through relationships. See my chapter, "Jesus' Epistemology" in "On Jesus" (Wadsworth, 2003). He held to the correspondence view of truth, took noncontradiction to be a necessary test of truth, taught that his views were liveable, had a logically coherent worldview, and gave evidence for his claims. He was no "emergent." Moreover, he engaged in rational debate with his interlocutors.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Thanks. I sometimes see myself as kind of "caught in the middle." The Vineyard church we're part of is going "emergent". I see some truth said (not really unique, of course, to them) but often think I see it taken too far.

As to correspondence view of truth and what else you say, I think I am with you completely insofar as I understand all of that. Much of that I think ought to be taken for granted rather than rung up as dead modernism. Certainly within that "metanarrative" are various genres such as didactic, apocalyptic, narrative, poetic, etc.

I do believe in what I would call a modest foundationalism but believe that is congruent with and indeed from the metanarrative of God in Scripture. The Word of God gives us truths to build our lives on as we live in the ongoing story of God.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

On the emerging church, I highly recommend, D.A. Carson, "Becoming Conversant With the Emerging Church." I reviewed Brian McLaren's "A New Kind of Christian" in "The Christian Research Journal" a few years ago. It is online at I find a lot of glib sloganeering and not much substance it it, frankly. They often uncritically adopt postmodernist ideas. On that, see my "Truth Decay."

Ted M. Gossard said...

Yes, I have concerns with emergent thinking.

Recently Dr. Michael Wittmer (Grand Rapids Theological Seminary) was speaking to and interacting with some West Michigan emergents.

Afterwards a seminary student friend was telling me that Christian knowledge is solely relational and love oriented as opposed to just head knowledge. I agreed that he had a point there (1 Cor 8:1-3) and he spoke it with well selected words. And he was very intent and stirred in sharing it- having wanted to during the exchange with Dr. Wittmer, but not being able to- in the conversation- after Mike's talk (I am one of Dr. Wittmer's many friends).

So I wanted him to be able to share his thoughts with Dr. Wittmer before he left.

Dr. Wittmer pointed out to him that the kind of knowledge he was talking about does not preclude knowledge ABOUT someone. For example, before one "falls in love" they study the other person. They certainly learn their name and begin to learn all about them. Then the relationship grows. ( I would add "love at first sight" would not preclude that knowledge either, since one would be learning all that subsequently, sometimes to the undermining of such "love"). Also in Acts we see the apostles proclaiming truths about God and God's call to repentance and faith- to which people must respond before entering into the relational knowledge (which I still see as involving alot of truth about this and that). In saying this I don't want to put words into Dr. Wittmer's mouth. He spoke it succinctly and very well. I'm not sure how far he influenced my friend with his thought.

I'm guessing one might say that such knowledge is still in the sphere of love since it comes from God. But how it operates has correspondence and logic within it. Truth and love do seem to be wedded together in John for believers.

I appreciate the work of professors like Dr. Wittmer and Dr. McKnight, who are conversing with emergents and helping them, I believe, to see a Scriptural, coherent, exegetically based view of truth- and that not all things postmodern are without problems. Postmodernism in its entirety is just another idol in the land as is modernism. Both have good and bad points, I believe- though often good points in such- are carried to the breaking point and beyond- thus becoming invalid. (Again in saying this- I want to put a disclaimer on Dr. Wittmer and Dr. McKnight. My take on what they're saying is my take; I certainly can't speak for them).

Ted M. Gossard said...

Dr. Groothius, Thanks for your references. Ted

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

One can only believe-in something rationally if one has reason to believe-that it is true. Devotion without rational reflection is vane; rational reflection without devotion is empty. The dichotomy between heart and head is unbiblical. Bibically, the heart is the center of the person's faculties, whether cognitive, volitional, or affective. Jesus calls us to love God with all our being (Matthew 22:37-39).

nancy said...

Ted - I'm just finishing DA Carson's book, the one that Doug mentioned, and based on your posts, I think you find this book critical to understanding the emergent "conversation." This text is a must read for everyone in Evangelicalism or in churches flirting with the fringes of the emergent.

Carson carefully categorizes various aspects of this movement and addresses each. For instance, I do not attend an emerging church, but there are troubling characteristics that I see that are not core to the emerging church, but "correlatives". Additionally he distinguishes between the soft and hard trends in this group

Carson is fair and highlights positive elements within the postmodern, but he exposes the heretical (dare I use this word?) philosophy that undergirds much of the writing. I have found that reading leading PM thinkers to be quite painful. At a first glance, the paragraph may sound good and indeed it may provide insight (though not particularly unique) but the ideas presented are littered with false dichotomies and poor exegesis of scripture. Carson meticulously unravels the mystery of how those who read without donning their critical thinking caps may be taken in by the writing.

You will also be blown away by the last chapter which powerfully provides immense, though not exhaustive, scriptural support for the fact (and indeed a true one!) that we non-omniscient humans can know some things to be true even if we can no know all things exhaustively. And that includes being certain of what we know.