Thursday, January 24, 2013

On the nature of truth: Contra New Calvinism (Part 2)

[Part 1 here]

Truth as pragmatic and utilitarian

The New Evangelical Calvinist anthropocentric ontology of truth, while maintaining its theocentric epistemic focus, has ramifications for how one deals with discussion about truth and doctrine. If truth is seen as necessarily conditioned by culture in its form, then the form of truth caters to the needs of Man. Truth therefore is pragmatically shaped and utilitarian in its form. While the substance of truth is from God, the form must be adjusted to meet the needs of Man.

It must be said here however that such a view of truth is not exactly seeker sensitivity in the mold of Bill Hybels and Willow Creek. Rather, the needs of Man are those seen as real needs coming from the yearnings of the heart, not controlled by pop culture and the entertainment industry. The substance of God's truth must be changed in its form to meet these real needs of Man. That said, it is very similar to seeker-sensitivity in that there is a pragmatic and utilitarian slant to truth. But it is objected, there is no compromise of the Gospel message, it is said. After all, the Gospel message in its full substance is brought to bear upon the real needs (as opposed to felt needs) of Man.

The problem with such an approach to truth is that it is not biblical. If indeed God is God, He is the determiner of meaning. His archetypal truth is the ground for all (ectypal) truth. We do not therefore see what our "real needs" are, and then see the Scriptures as relevant to meet those real needs. No, Scripture defines what we need. There are felt needs, there are real needs, and there are ordained/ prescribed needs. Just because something may not seem to be a "real need" does not make it any less important! The Scriptures are to govern our experience, our tastes, every aspect of our being. Do we think we know better than God what we truly need? Does the creature in his sinful state knows more than God what he actually needs? It is true that since we are created by God, some of God's prescribed needs for Man will coincide with what we think we really need. For example, Man need significance, belonging, something to salve the conscience. All of these we do need. But we need more than that! Scripture tells us we need to know God and His Word. Our prescribed need to know God's Word in depth and detail, and thus to know God as He has revealed Himself, may not seem like a real need to many people, but it is our need as ordained by God.

New Evangelical Calvinism, because of its pragmatic and utilitarian view of truth, slants the truth of Scripture towards the end of salvation. As Evangelicals, the Gospel is seen as important, which is good. But the Gospel is placed on such a pedestal that all other biblical truths and doctrines are placed in secondary or even tertiary positions of relative non-importance. Therefore, the real needs New Evangelical Calvinists see are those pertaining to the subject of "the Gospel." Everything must be "Gospel-centered," by which they mean everything is to be oriented towards conversion from sin to faith in Christ. Whereas Reformed Christianity holds to the idea of the pattern of sounds words and Tota Scriptura, the elevation of the Gospel, as defined by the goal of the conversion experience, skews their idea of what Man actually needs. That is the goal, and therefore all truth must be oriented towards that goal, instead of the truth determining what the goal should be.

In such a scheme, truth is no more treasured primarily because it reveals God and His purposes. Rather, it is treasured primarily for its value in describing God, in saving souls, and in making people mature in Christ. The penultimate has become the ultimate, the benefits has become the goal, and in so doing God's truth is devalued. Ironically, by focusing on the practical benefits and effects of God's truth, they get less of its benefits, and in so doing impoverished themselves.

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