Recently, I’ve been following an interesting conversation started by a post by Alan Hartung at A Different Perspective Last week he wrote a post entitled The Idolatry of Truth . In it he contends that it is possible to, and many evangelicals have, “turned intellectual truth into an idol”. He means by this that sometimes those who seem to want to know the most and study the hardest in order to rightly order the truth, do not exhibit the same amount of effort in living as a follower of Jesus. It seems like a lot of confusion has come up around this post. I think some of the confusion stems from the somewhat misleading title. The post was entitled “The Idolatry of Truth”, but through his clarifications it seems like Alan isn’t really against the concept of truth but against people holding to their version of it too tightly and seeming to care about it more than seeking to live missionally.
While I would acknowledge that there are ways in which certain wordings of truth can become more important than actually understanding them or seeking to live them out, I think that Alan’s post makes these seem more at odds than they really are. Is a focus on living missionally really in opposition to studying theology and seeking to order God’s truth? Are not these things more intimately related than Alan’s post would lead you to believe? The other day, JollyBlogger wrote a post entitled How is the emerging church post-liberal? In it he describes the battles between “conservatives” and “liberals” around the beginning of the twentieth century. One quote from that post seems to fit the controversy surrounding Alan’s post pretty well. He writes:
The core rallying cry of liberalism was that Christianity was a life not a doctrine. [J. Gresham] Machen opposed this, saying that Christianity is a life founded on a doctrine. Doctrine was the foundation of Christianity – we are saved by what we believe, and there are historical realities which must be affirmed when we say what we believe.
I think Machen is exactly right. Why must we pit living the Christian life against doctrine? Are not these things more friends than enemies? More fuel to enflame the other than water to snuff it out?
I have found Kevin J. Vanhoozer’s book The Drama of Doctrine a wonderful work which seeks to move past what he calls this “ugly ditch” I see represented in Alan’s post. Permit me to quote a somewhat lengthy section from the book which I think is relevant to the discussion:
Theology is connected to the life of the church. Doctrines arise not from speculative theories but from core practices – baptism, the Eucharist, prayer, worship – that constitute the ongoing life and identity of the church. The theory/practice distinction, together with the contrast between doctrine and life to which it gives rise, is toxic to Christian faith and to the project of faith seeking understanding. The present work seeks to move theology away from theoretical knowledge in order to reorient it toward wisdom. It is this picture of theology as wisdom that, more than anything else, enables us to traverse the ugly ditch between theory and practice. . . . Theology involves both theory (knowledge) and practice (life) for the sake of its pastoral function: assisting people to enjoy and glorify God.
Perhaps the best way to overcome the theory/practice dichotomy is to let the subject matter of Christian theology determine theology’s task. Jesus Christ is the word and wisdom of God, the revealer and the redeemer: the way, the truth, and the life. Several points follow for theology from this astounding identification. First, theology must be concerned with what each of these terms represents; it must deal with truth, with ways of living, and with the meaning of life. Second, it must keep all three in mind at once. Focusing on truth to the exclusion of way and life leads to a preoccupation with theory; conversely, a preoccupation with way and life can lead to pragmatism. Christian doctrine, similarly, should serve the purpose of fostering truthful ways of living.
I could go on, but I think the above section is well suited to address both those in the emerging church who come across as trying to pit doctrine against life, as well as those who, often too quickly and sometimes rudely, dismiss some of the more positive points the movement makes while rightly rejecting that which is false. The Christian life is a hard one to live and we all need to be challenged in different areas at different times, let us try to do that Biblically and in love.