Why Truth is a Static Concept; or Why I’m Not Emergent

I’m having trouble with something, something I read. I hope some of you can help me with this. I was reading an old 9marks Journal on the emerging church, which if you haven’t read I highly recommend to you, as it is one of the clearest, most readable document on the movement I have come across.

Anyhow, one portion of the journal was devoted to looking at the Scholars and ideas the emerging church folks are reading and taking cues from. One of the guys the EC seem to like, Hans Georg Gadamer, argues, “truth is not a static concept, but a dynamic one; it is existential, not epistemological. Truth arises in the context of language, which must be properly interpreted according to the community or tradition from where the language originates.”

Here is my problem; if this is the case how can Gagamer even say or write this statement with any real certainty? Am I the only one seeing this stuff?!? I mean, am I on crazy pills or something?!? How can people live thinking this kind of stuff? Any thoughts on this way of thinking or how ethics would work or play out in this worldview would be helpful, I’m really at a lost here. There is real danger in holding ideas such as these. f there is not an objective external, static truth that is discernible by reason, “truth” becomes a means for oppression and mistreatment of others for personal gain. Because we are sinners and evil by nature this is the only place this kind of thinking will wind up. The end game for this line of thinking on truth is offense against, first and foremost, God and secondly against our fellow man.

Additionally troubling, is that Gagamer finds, “truth is what the conversants agree it to be as a result of dialogue. Thus, meaning, truth, and understanding stem from conversation. Here is Gadamer’s dichotomy between truth and method, where praxis is more highly valued than is objective truth.”

What this means is that as long as I can argue well enough to get you to agree with me, it is truth. There have been many great evils and acts of violence committed by man in the last hundred years that happened, in part because someone was able to convince those around them that what he was doing was promoting “truth.” This is nothing more than that yucky, rough utilitarianism that will not die (you think you’ve killed it and, no it’s back from the dead, zombie style, coming at you with its stiff arms out in front trying to take away your rights for the ‘good’ of the collective.).

If you are interested in learning more about the emerging church, I would recommend the following resources to you:

Audio:

Three part message series by D.A. Carson
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Books:
Why we aren’t Emergent From two Guys who Should be by Kevin DeYoung

Becoming Conversant with emerging Church by D.A. Carson

The Truth War By John MacArthur

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    • severalfourmany
    • May 19th, 2009

    “Truth arises in the context of language, which must be properly interpreted according to the community or tradition from where the language originates.”

    This is not as dangerous and strange as it may sound at first. We have very little choice but to use language in the communication of any truth. The context of language is based on the traditions of the community that is using it. You cannot understand the truth of the five books of Moses directly because, at the most basic level you must have it translated out of ancient Hebrew into the language and idiom of 21st century English. There are other ideas that make sense in the cultural tradition of Moses that would need some explanation, to have them make sense in our context. For example what is the significance of the Ephod in Exodus 39? It is not obviously apparent to us. It benefits from an understanding of the cultural context and might be explained with a metaphor. But the metaphor that best explains the Ephod to us may be different from the one that best explains the Ephod to a tribesman of New Guinea. There is no one static concepts that makes this idea clear to everyone. It is in that sense that Gadamer claims that truth needs to be dynamic.

  1. I will preface this by saying the previous commenter raises some really good points and for that I am thankful. Secondly I would like to note that I have not dealt with Gadamer’s primary text, but only what was in the article. As a result I can only comment on what I have interacted with. In light of that here is my response:

    I agree with you that we must understand the cultural context in which the documents are written and yes language and cultural definitions of things are important in that regard. This statement in and of its self is not so troubling, my problem is that it appears that this working in tandem with this later quotation, “truth is what the conversants agree it to be as a result of dialogue. Thus, meaning, truth, and understanding stem from conversation. Here is Gadamer’s dichotomy between truth and method, where praxis is more highly valued than is objective truth.”
    My hang up is that God created language to communicate Truth, which is part of his character. As a result Truth is not left up to those in the conversation; it is left up to God.

    I think we are agreed that interactive study is needed and helpful. I think my hesitation is to not look at he bible as self authenticating as the source of Truth from God.

    Laslty, I would like to ask you if there are some ideas and concepts in which truth is not dynamic? I mean at the end of your comment you say, “For example what is the significance of the Ephod in Exodus 39? It is not obviously apparent to us. It benefits from an understanding of the cultural context and might be explained with a metaphor. But the metaphor that best explains the Ephod to us may be different from the one that best explains the Ephod to a tribesman of New Guinea. There is no one static concepts that makes this idea clear to everyone. It is in that sense that Gadamer claims that truth needs to be dynamic.” Could you help me by letting me know if there is anything that is not left up to cultural analysis to judge its truthfulness?
    Looking forward to your reply

    • severalfourmany
    • May 23rd, 2009

    In order to have a good conversation each side needs to take into consideration the knowledge and background of the other. One does not speak at a lecture to the general public the same way one would to a seminar of academic professionals. An article for the newspaper would need to be different than one for a scientific journal, even if they are on the same subject. You do not speak the same way to a judge that you would to a child. The dynamics of each of these “conversations” is different.

    This is similar to the kind of conversation Gadamer is talking about in Truth and Method, except that the conversation is not between individuals but between the past and the present. The present must always negotiate its relationship with the past—how to translate it, understand it, apply it, make use of it. The present is always changing (albeit slowly) otherwise it would be the same as the past. We know that is not the case as there would be no remembering, nostalgia or history. As the present changes, so must its relationship with the past. It must comprehend, describe, and communicates the past in terms that make sense to the present.

    For a truth to be universal it must be a living truth. It must be a vital and important part of a living, hence growing and changing, tradition. Are there any truths that do not change? Yes, truths that are no longer connected to a living culture no longer need to change; they no longer can change. They are static because they are irrelevant and forgotten. They have become lifeless, dead, unchanging.

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