What is the nature of truth? Truth if it is by God must of necessity be absolute and eternal. In my personal experiences, there seems to be a view of the nature of truth in certain segments of the New Evangelical Calvinism, especially in circles associated with Tim Keller, that has more in line with post-Wittgensteinian modernity/ post-modernity than biblical Christianity. Briefly, the difference seems to be that certain segments at least hold to the idea of nature (ontology) of truth as being anthropocentric (man-centered) although they do hold to a theocentric (God-centered) teleology of truth. In line with that is the denial or at least neglect of the archetypal/ ectypal distinction in theology. Secondly, truth becomes seen in a pragmatic and utilitarian manner. Thirdly, truth seems to be seen as primarily intellectual not spiritual. Fourthly, there is a denial that truth can sometimes be intended by God to kill and to judge not to bring life. Fifthly, there is a functional denial of the sovereignty of God in conveying the truth. We will look at all these points in turn.
Antropocentric ontology of truth
God's truth is absolute and eternal. What this means is that God's truth has equal validity for all cultures everywhere. What God says is true, and there are no degrees of truth whatsoever. The truth is trans-cultural, trans-ethnic and trans-national.
In some parts of the New Evangelical Calvinism however, there is a post-Wittgensteinian modern/ post-modern focus on truth as being conditioned in some sense upon culture. Truth is split platonically into the substance of truth (the idea) and the form of its expression. It is then emphasized that the substance of the truth must not change, but its form and expression should. The idea of contextualization is birthed from this idea of the relation of truth and culture, something expounded by Tim Keller in his appropriation of it from liberal circles [Tim Keller, Contextualization: Wisdom or Compromise (Unpublished paper presented at Covenant Seminary, n.d.)]
As I have shown here, Keller's concept of contextualization is based upon a false view of the relation between truth and culture. Biblical truths cannot be known apart from its redemptive historical context. There is no such thing to be known as some non-inculturated Gospel. Therefore, the Gospel cannot be abstracted as some substance apart from its form. Rather, the Gospel in its entirety (form and all) must be brought in all its strangeness to bear upon every culture.
Further reflection upon this problem of contextualization has shown me that the problem lies with a fundamental denial or neglect of the archetypal/ ectypal distinction. This distinction states that there are basically two types of theology. Theology that pertains to God alone is archetypal theology (theologia archetypa) and theology that pertains to us is ectypal theology (theologia ectypa) [Willem J. van Asselt, “The Fundamental Meaning of Theology: Archetypal and Ectypal Theology in Seventeenth-Century Reformed Thought”, WTJ 64 (2002): 319-35]. Ectypal theology is a reflection of archetypal theology, but they are not the same. God alone knows archetypal theology, while ectypal theology is communicated to us from God, thus functioning as the univocal point of contact between God and Man. As it pertains to the debate over contextualization, the supposed "kernel" of the Gospel that Keller believes can be abstracted from its cultural context and then contextualized into another culture can be said to be archetypal theology. The problem becomes clear since archetypal theology is not something anybody but God alone knows. We only know archetypal theology in its reflection in ectypal theology. The entire practice of contextualization thus is a practical denial of the archetypal/ ectypal distinction, which is a step towards the denial of the Creator/ creature distinction.
Back to the nature of truth, if truth that we can know is archetypal, but truth in expression is culturally-conditioned, truth is its totality in its nature must be anthropocentric, since in its totality it is dependent upon culture. Reformed theology has two types of truth, and thus we can say that ectypal truth is culturally conditioned, yet because it is a reflection of archetypal theology which is not culturally conditioned, truth transcends culture altogether. The denial of the archetypal/ ectypal distinction makes truth therefore anthropocentic in its nature. Now, saying it is anthopocentric in nature does not mean that it is necessarily anthropocentric in its authority, focus and goal. Rather, truth can be seen as theocentric in its authority, focus and its goal as it strives to be in New Evangelical Calvinist circles. So truth is from God as its source, but in its conduit is from Man who expresses it. The anthropocentricity therefore comes out in discussion of truth in its conveyance, whereby truth is discussed very much in terms of its expression by the proponent, and in terms of reception and perception by the receiver of said truth, something which underlie all the other points of critique which we will be looking at.
[to be continued]