Monday, July 24, 2006

Semantics & my own "ancient/future" ramblings

If you are familiar with the community movement known as Emergent then you will have an easier time figuring out what I'm talking about today (here is an interview done with some Emergent people by Relevant Magazine). As an article I was reading brings to light, some members of Emergent Village are criticized as being "too postmodern" in that they seem to reject absolute truth. However, (if you read the interview this is clear) it is actually more an issue of semantics than pure relativism. As Tony Jones says in the interview:

Emergent surely has people in it who strongly believe that there is absolute truth. I'm on the record as laying out a pretty complex understanding of why I think putting the qualifier absolute in front of truth is a modernistic fallacy. Truth is not qualified by adjectives like absolute. So for me personally, talking about absolute truth is a nonsensical way to talk, and surely Christian theologians shouldn't talk in that way. It isn't helpful, because it doesn't make sense.

Now, where he is going with that is deeper and in a slightly different direction from my current thoughts.

I am currently living in a small town working at a church that is 3 parts old-fashioned Nova Scotian conservative. Most of the church-goers have never even heard of Emergent, Relevant Magazine, Tony Jones, or even Brian McLaren. In fact, most probably don't have a good grasp on postmodernism or relativism. So, with such a crowd, obviously denouncing the adjective "absolute" when in conjunction with "truth" wouldn't fly, right?

In conscious practice, that's correct. Culturally, however, these small-towners (especially the church-goers) are far more postmodern than they realize. You see, though the local 'credo' may tote precepts like "foundational" and "fundamental" the daily interactions and communication are constant re-creations and re-interpretations of things that may or may not be true in some sense (sounds pretty relativistic to me).

The only reason, however, that this sounds odd for a small town is, again, because of semantics. In small-town culture, it's not called "relativism," it's called "the rumor-mill" (but it adds up to the same thing). A warning I received just after we got here was that sometimes people will tell you things that seem to be true (and, indeed, they will project it as such) but may be so corrupt in details or layered in opinion that either it isn't true or I need to sift through the "messenger's" paradigm to get a sense of what is "probable" truth. Of course, I performed such a "sifting" experiment on the very warning-givers and, hence, came to blog about it.

Further down this rabbit-hole I would like to discuss the idea plagiarism as well as my thoughts on 'purpose-driving' youth ministry. However, since the sun rises in the East it sets there earlier. It's late. Maybe I'll do a part two.


Stafford said...

I am really mixed on the whole emergant thing. I really like a lot of what they do, but disagree with how they do a lot of it. They often seem a little too angry against the modern church - which can definately lead to tensions between both sides. Maybe I'll post about this later. We'll see

Fran said...

Jon, you are so much deeper than me... have you read my blog lately? I wrote about Bentley's poo.

Gregg said...

I'm not sure I understand your stance on all that... do you feel that there is no such thing as an absolute truth? or that absolute simply isn't the right descriptive term to be using in conjunction with Truth? Just curious.

Jon said...

Well, Gregg, it's mostly just observation. Infact, when I first read what Tony said I wasn't sure what I made of it. I think he is going somewhere interesting with the "inaccurate" description idea, though I'm not exactly sure where. As for me, within the modernist paradigm, I embrace the 'absolute truth' concept. Problem is, I'm not in the modernist paradigm anymore. I believe in foundational truth while I feel wary of absolutism. In the same token, I hate to be pigeon-holed so take all of this with a grain of salt.

Gregg said...

Truth is an interesting topic of discussion I think. It differs in first glance understanding from that of 'Good' and 'Evil'. In my opinion, it's easier to qualify an absolute in good and evil than it is in truth. However, I think it's pretty reasonable to say that there is absolute truth. I feel it's easier to LOSE absolute truth within a myriad of truths mixed with half-truths, mixed with lies. Kinda like reading Dan Brown's novels. Yet I think there has to be an absolute truth in the sense that truth can in fact be metered from complete to false. Now the real question should be what in our world views, and in Christianity can we actually hold up to the light and see straight through as absolutely true, without blemish...

Then again, I don't even really know if I'm talking about the same issue, I've never read Tony James.