Saturday, October 07, 2006

How to Leave Rationalism

Significant chunks of Protestantism and especially Reformedom are awash in rationalistic pietism. Here are four fairly basic things (in no particular order) that one can do to help stab the beast of rationalism when it comes to one’s general epistemology. This doesn’t go beyond a brief introduction, but with a subject this big and foundational, the first step is a big one.

1) Read Doug Jones’s epistemological series in Credenda/Agenda. Study it. This is a good intro to some problems with the way we tend to view basic concepts such as knowledge, logic, etc. Over against the abstract, impersonal, mechanization of epistemology found in modernism, Jones sketches a more personal, incarnational view of the subject.

Knowing is Doing:
Knowing is Haiku:
Knowing is Presence:
Knowing is Imaging:
Knowing isn’t Syllogistic:
Knowing is Tracing:
Knowing is Loving:
Knowing is Story:
Knowing is Community:
Knowing is Timing:
Knowing is Falling:

2) See what it would be like to formulate your theory of truth by beginning with John 14:6 instead of the standard secular debate on the subject. Is truth about correspondence or coherence? What about the pragmatists and those “social construction of reality” guys? Or perhaps we should just begin with the Alpha and Omega and His statement that He is the truth. Truth, though it can certainly be a quality of propositions, is not fundamentally and foundationally that. Truth is fundamentally a person, or the tri-personal Creator of the universe to be more precise. Therefore, truth is fundamentally personal and relational (among other things). What does this mean? See the Jones series. How do we know this description is true? See below. But we should think it quite bizarre when Christians let secular philosophers define such an important concept for them, and we should be amazed at the attempt to reduce truth to an abstract quality of how “propositions” relate to the “external world” when Yahweh, the Truth, created our minds, our speech, and the external world. If we start with truth as fundamentally a faithful Person, we get correspondence and coherence aspects thrown in. But if we start our discussion of truth by formulating an abstract theory independent of God, we have already traveled quite far down the road of modern rationalism.

3) Perform some biblical word searches of basic epistemological terms like ‘truth,’ ‘know,’ knowledge,’ and ‘wisdom.’ The results should shock and awe because they will provide us with qualities and situations that we don’t usually associate with epistemology. The following is far from comprehensive.

A. Some personal and action-oriented aspects of truth. Truth is first and foremost the tri-personal God and thus, it is first and foremost personal and ethical. It is about faithfulness.
God is true (this has strong connotations of ‘faithful’): John 3:33; 7:28; 8:26; I John 5:20
Jesus is “full of truth” (John 1:14) and “the truth” (John 14:6). His name is “True” (Rev. 19:11)
The Holy Spirit is the “Spirit of truth” (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13) and “the truth” (I John 5:6)
Jesus is the Wisdom of God incarnate: I Cor. 1:24, 30
Truth as faithfulness: Gen. 24:49; Deut. 7:9; Josh. 2:14; II Kings 12:15; Neh. 7:2; Prov. 14:5; 29:14; Lam. 3:23
God’s people are to “walk” in truth: I Kin. 2:4; II Kin. 20:2; Gal. 2:14; II John 4; III John 3, 4
They are to “walk” in wisdom: Col. 4:5
Walking in truth is equivalent to walking according to God’s commandments: II John 4-6
They are to “walk” in the way of understanding: Prov. 9:6
Wisdom is associated with personal traits and actions: Jas. 3:17
Christians are to love “in truth”: I John 3:18 (cf. II Jn. 1; III Jn. 1)
The truth is righteousness: Prov. 12:17
Seeking truth is synonymous with doing justly: Jer. 5:1
Truth and knowledge of God are synonymous with goodness: Hos. 4:1
Wisdom and understanding are identified with upright behavior: Prov. 15:21
Believers have a moral obligation to speak the truth (Ps. 15:1, 2; Zech. 8:16; Eph. 4:25)
Sin gives rise to error, while truth is linked to goodness: Prov. 14:22
Evil naturally brings forth falsehood and is antithetical to truth: John 8:39-47
Truth is antithetical to evil: John 3:20, 21; I Cor. 13:5
Wickedness is antithetical to truth; it is an abomination to wisdom: Prov. 8:7 (cf. 8:1)
Wisdom speaks no perversity: Prov. 8:8
Truth is antithetical to unrighteousness: Rom. 2:8
Any kind of idolatry, as a sin, is a lie: Is. 44:20; Jer. 10:14; Rom. 1:18-23

B. Some personal and action-oriented aspects of knowledge.
Knowing as loving: Gen. 18:19; II Sam. 7:20; Amos 3:1, 2 (cf. Deut. 7:6-8; 9:10:15); Matt. 7:23; John 10:14, 15; Rom. 8:29; 11:2; II Tim. 2:19
Knowing as covenant choosing: Ex. 33:12, 17; Deut. 9:24
Knowing as the intimate physical outgrowth of love (though it can be perverted): Gen. 4:1, 17, 25; 19:5, 8; 24:16; 38:24-26; Num. 31:17, 18, 35; Judg. 11:39; I Sam. 1:19; I Kin. 1:4
Knowing as knowing a person (which is clearly more than just knowing things about that person): Gen. 29:5; Ex. 1:8; 33:13
Knowing as recognizing a person: Gen. 42:7, 8; I Sam. 26:17; I Kin. 18:7
Knowing as showing concern or care for: Ex. 2:25; 3:7; Deut. 2:7; Ps. 144:3; Prov. 29:7
Knowing as personally experiencing: Ex. 23:9, Num. 14:31, 34; Deut. 7:15; 11:2; Josh. 24:31; Eccl. 8:5; Is. 47:8
Knowledge as a physical skill: Ex. 36:1; I Kin. 5:6
Knowledge as practice: Ps. 101:4; Is. 59:8
Knowledge as personal relationship: Deut. 11:28; 13:2, 6, 13; 34:10; I Sam. 2:12; 10:11

4) Study the book of Proverbs in light of the subject of epistemology. Proverbs may well be the single most important book of the Bible when it comes to the basics of epistemology, and it has much to say on the subject. Compare the emphasis and “feel” of Proverbs to the way epistemology works in Reformedom. The differences are striking.

a) Knowledge and epistemology in Proverbs are very personal; our reduction of the subject to propositions, correspondence, and the like is very impersonal.

b) Epistemology in Proverbs is very down-to-earth, practical, and incarnational. We tend to be very abstract and locate nearly the whole subject in the mind.

c) Proverbs focuses heavily on wisdom which is itself a very personal and “earthy” concept. We focus on abstract facts, “propositional knowledge,” and the like.

d) Epistemology in Proverbs is action-oriented. What one does is every bit as relevant to the subject as how one thinks. But we think that epistemology is all about thinking and rarely if ever talk about the “doing” aspect of knowledge.

e) Epistemology in Proverbs in inextricably linked with ethics. We rarely if ever make the connection.

f) In sum, epistemology in Proverbs is very Hebraic. We tend very much to be children of the Enlightenment (which should really be called the Endarkenment) with our mechanized, impersonal, non-relational abstractions. If you begin by thinking Hebraically, you get things like propositions, sets, and validity thrown in. But by truncating epistemology down to the shallowness of modernism, we go a long way towards a variety of problematic practical implications (e.g., rationalistic and systematizing hermeneutic, failure to see the importance and widespread use of narrative and typology in Scripture, reducing the Eucharist to a memory aid, acting as if one is justified by believing certain doctrines, pitting faith against the Sacraments, corporate worship is long on information exchange and short on most everything else).

If we will do these things, take them to heart, and internalize them, we will have taken a major step away from our rationalistic pietism and towards a full-orbed, incarnational, covenantal worldview.


Blogger Bobber said...

Your Credenda links are wrong. But this is good stuff. I need to understand this better.

10/09/2006 1:55 PM  
Blogger Derrick Olliff said...

Fixed them, thanks.

10/09/2006 6:34 PM  
Blogger Bobber said...

The first two Credenda articles I understood. I read 3 or 4 more but they don't make much sense to me. I don't quite see why the two forms of knowledge need to be at odds with each other. The Haiku knowledge (HK) relies upon the Aristotle knowledge (AK). Without AK, HK cannot exist it seems.

When does AK become peitistic?

10/09/2006 9:55 PM  
Blogger Derrick Olliff said...

I think Jones would say that “traditional logic,” far from being the ground of HK, is actually a shallow truncation of HK. He does say in one place,

“Does this mean we shouldn't study traditional logic or teach it in our schools? Not at all. We have to wear it well before we can produce something better, but when we teach it, we should teach it the way we teach the Iliad —- held a little away from our chests —- not the way we teach the Gospels.”

It’s not that it has no value. But it is true that logic, as typically taught, is a modernistic reduction. It can’t help but be this because it begins and ends without reference to the One to whom all thoughts (even thinking itself) should be captive. Without this, it necessarily looks like most everything else that has come out of modernism: impersonal, mechanical, shallow, gnostic, amoral, etc.

On its own terms, it is inherently pietistic. But it does have plenty worth salvaging if we put it in the right context. I suspect Jones would say that if we begin our epistemology with what he sees as a full and biblical perspective, we’ll get all of the good things that traditional logic tries to accomplish. Plunder the Egyptians and all that. But if we begin with traditional logic in its modern, secular form and we consistently think and view the world according to its perspective, we’ll miss out on much that is “true, good, and beautiful.”

But then, Jones did say, “That’s also a reason why haiku probably shouldn’t be written by anyone under forty years old, preferably fifty.” So maybe you should get back to me in a few years. :)

10/10/2006 7:16 PM  
Blogger Bobber said...

You got that wrong dude. I turned 50 this year!!

Maybe I should just start writing haiku and not talk about it. I might learn more that way.

10/11/2006 9:26 AM  

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