Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Semantics part “too”

Two posts ago I was rambling on about truth, absolutism, and some obscure ways of perceiving gossip. My good friend Gregg gave an interesting comment:

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...

Thanks Gregg. Now, being the editor of this little publication, I get to respond in kind.

I had a conversation similar to this a couple years ago in Regina, Saskatchewan. I was in a class of about six people called “Christianity and Contemporary Spiritualities.” It was the pilot of the course and so often quite open-ended in discussion (as such a class should be, anyway). Somewhere between trying to figure out the fulfilment people seek in New Age, Celtic, or Aboriginal spiritually we were discussing the force of culture.

Culture can be understood in different ways. Some see it as a hotbed of change, others as a vehicle of corruption. However, what we were talking about in that class was the idea of culture as a paradigm or local perspective. As is often the case in such discussions, my mind was freewheeling down all sorts of different ideas and questions. The one that made it out my mouth was both simplistic as well as complex: Does the Gospel exist--or can we even understand it--outside of culture?

How's that for disillusioned post-imperialism Incarnation theology? Well, for me, anyway, it was (and is) important and continually interesting. I greatly appreciate the sagacious and patient people who have not only intersected my own journey but helped direct it and are willing to entertain the ordered chaos of my thoughts. Bill McAlpine (PhD candidate) was the professor for that class and though he didn't really tell me anything mind-shattering in response to my question, he did clarify and affirm where that query was taking me.

First off, the Gospel was never meant to be culture-free. The Incarnation deals with that up front. There was no mistake, lack of foresight, or coincidence in the fact that Jesus Christ came as a first century Jew in the midst of philosophical and political unrest. The Apostle Paul understood this. In bringing the Gospel to Asia Minor he had to comprehend both the cultural ties Christ-following had to 2nd Temple Judaism as well as the different paradigm in which his contemporary Grecians would understand it.
*Please note, I'm embellishing detail upon how Bill responded as this question has been an ongoing discovery even now*

Now, I'm in the camp that thinks Constantine was as bad an experience for Christianity as the Crusades. I wont dwell on that. However, I will mention that from about 300CE on the spread of Gospel has moved in phases of the Church. That is, as Christianity takes root in a culture (being the dominant religion or a precept of the local politics) it naturally takes on aspects of that culture. I would even dare to say it “adapts.” The problem comes when the Gospel begins to spread into another culture after some time has passed. This is where we get into missiology and if you haven't heard of the movement of church planting by nationals then you need to read up.

The stereotypical imperialist missionary who brought Christianity to Africa brought it in the trappings of European culture. Unfortunately, the track record often shows that the European-ness was more important than the Gospel itself. What you end up with is a culturally bound Gospel that is no longer allowed to adapt and becomes a tool of assimilation. Just look at the residential schools debacle in Canada. “Christianity” became a shell for the warhead of “civilized-white-culture.”

Anyway, seeing as this post is way to long for anyone to actually care to read, I'll just finish off for you diligent skimmers. The Gospel: brought to us in cultural clothing; naturally adapts and spreads in the cultural vehicle; abused when restricted to any one culture. We need to remember that our understanding of truth (here I'm inferring the Gospel) is not absolute. However, its foundation is even though we do not have the capacity to understand or delineate it.
And so, Gregg, in more than a word, does that answer your question? Probably not. It doesn't even fully answer mine.


Gregg said...

No that was a great answer. I agree totally, my question was kind of rhetorical in that sense. It was a statement as to the fact that due to the path that our Christianity has been led over the centuries, there exists many truths that have been altered in many ways. Some near the original, some very far away. And I agree, there is a foundation which is absolute... for me that's the one of the more exciting aspects of a walk with God, trying to uncover the many foundations behind who He is, what He's done, and what He's doing.

Good Answer, sounds like that was a good course to be in.

Stafford said...

I thought that you won't read Dan Brown. Have things changed, or are you going on hear-say? ;)

Jon said...

Hey, I was just quoting Gregg. It was his example so he takes responsibility. However, after DaVinci is out of DVD new releases and the hype calms down, maybe then... maybe then.

Gregg said...

The Dan Brown remark was just an example of how easy it is to distort truth, it's not a necessary read unless you plan on discussing the Christian Anit-Dan Brown movement. It's one my personal pet peeves when Christian collectively descriminate stuff without individually examining the core of the issue. That's mainly why I read Dan Brown, turns out I really enjoyed his novels, but at the same time he definitely is a master of mixing truths with pure imagination... which is actually the key ingredients to a great fiction writer.

Jon said...

You see, I heard about the DaVinci code back in early 2004 when it was just a rising star and thought, "I should probably be familiar with that, doing what I do for a living." However, I'm an obsessive-non-conformist. So, when it became popular (both as a best-seller and a 'debunking' best-seller) I treated it like a bubonic-boy-band. I'm was familiar with the Magdalene conspiracy theory before, and I'll probably read it after the hype dies down. I love good fiction!

Kristine said...

As to the question about whether the Gospel can be understood apart from culture, I agree that it wasn't supposed to be culture free. Culture happens when people interact, and you can't have transmission of the Gospel (or anything) without interaction. It's intimately tied to language. Actually, I took a lot from my hermeneutics class, and especially one particular theory, that in the divine command to "subdue the earth" it was implied that people would spread out and form different cultures, but when the tower of Babel incident came, they weren't doing that, they were all just clumping. So when God gave everyone different languages it wasn't necessarily a curse, but a waay to push them towards spreading out like they were supposed to. I'm not saying I'm totally sold on that, but being an amateur linguist, I think it's an idea to toy with. That's why I don't like the teachings of the Ba'hai. I see the nobility in wanting one religion because religion causes so much war, but one universal language just doesn't work. Regional dialect will ALWAYS occur, and dialects differ to form different languages. It's inevitable, and I don't think God designed us to all think the same.