Tuesday, June 02, 2009

More Truth Project Feedback

Usually, when I get a letter from a reader of my Truth Project articles, the writer lambastes me for how I am deceiving Christians, or how I am deceived and going to Hell, or that God is going to get me, etc...

The following letter stood out in that it was systematic, and the writer asked me questions that he genuinely seemed to want a response to. I wrote him back and asked if I could answer his questions in a post. Since it was going to require a fair amount of writing on my part, I have a natural inclination to want to post. Also, I feel his questions probably address the thoughts of a number of people who would typically be supportive of the Truth Project view point. So, I have put his questions in blue italics with my answers beneath.

Mr. Hackman,

I am reading your posting on the Truth Project, and I was wondering if you could clarify a few issues for me. I am about to start a Truth Project Study.

1) You state that Christianity cannot have a worldview, and that disagreement between different groups suggest that “Many voices must be heard.” I think that the point of the study, however, is to determine what the Bible says about what our worldview should be. That is, there should be a range of what is a “reasonable” set of beliefs, and what is not, given what Scripture teaches. To determine what the relevant range of worldviews would be, however, you don’t need to interview people. You need to look at evidence. Another way of saying this is that The Truth Project is meant to be prescriptive, not descriptive. In light of this “narrowing” view of the project, why do you need to hear multiple voices? Why do you need any voices other than Scripture?

I need those voices because I do not believe that scripture speaks without them. When my theology was of a more "hell, fire, and brimstone" bent, those were the scriptures I read and those were the ones I quoted. My eyes seemed to skim past "It is your kindness that leads us to repentance".

Everyone brings their vested interests to the table. No one reads scripture cleanly or without lenses. Everyone interprets. Anyone who denies this simply desires that their view be the default view. They want to be able to play a theological trump card. When the Truth Project puts forth that there is "A" Christian worldview (theirs) they are stepping beyond their grounds. I am a Christian. I do not agree with the Truth Project overall. So either, I am not a Christian, or there must be other Christian worldviews to be heard.

It reminds me of a scene at the beginning of Gandhi. Gandhi is about to be thrown off a South African train because he will not leave first class (for being colored). He explains that he is an English lawyer and purchased his ticket at home. He is told by the conductor that there are no colored lawyers in
South Africa. Gandhi exclaims that since he is a lawyer and is, as they say, colored, then it can be surmised that there is at least ONE colored lawyer in South Africa.

Have you ever experienced a time when a scripture took on a new nuance or meaning because of something someone said? or an experience you had? Without those voices, yours as well as others, the words sit inert on the page.

2) You state “The presenter states that there is no area where God has not given the answers.” I am pretty sure that he says that there is no area where God has not SPOKEN. This is very different.

When you go through the series, see what the wording is. I thought he said answers, but I could be wrong. In any case, I don’t think that God has spoken clearly on everything (if he had, I do not think there would be 30,000+ Christian denominations and groups). I think it is our natural desire to want a sure fire answer to everything… but I think there is always going to be plenty of mystery when it comes to the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob.

3) About your teacher perspective, you are right that you need to teach your students to think rather than to just get the right answers. However, you need to teach them the correct way of thinking about an issue. I am not necessarily saying that there is only one correct way to think about any given issue, but there are plenty of blatantly wrong ways to think about an issue. This is certainly true in the subject that I teach. By the way, what do you teach?

I teach 6th grade in an inner-city school.

I understand your overall point, but I would never state it so strongly. I would be very leery of teaching someone "the correct way of thinking about an issue." Not to say that I do not have a view, but I feel that any view that gets imparted in that way tends to get very distorted down the road. Again, it seems a short-cut; giving them an answer without the perspective, experience, and ethos that caused me to develop my answer.

4) I am pretty sure that when he says that the culture is anti-God, he does not mean that you should not have gone to the theater to see Dark Knight. Rather, he is saying that our culture is, by and large, built on a bunch of lies. An easy example of this is to look at the unreasonable expectations that society has for women and their bodies, how society says to a girl that she only has value if she will have sex (sorry, my wife watches Tyra, and I am overhear these things, so I have a bit of a bias). Don’t you think that a culture that teaches us that our worth is built on such frivolous things rather than being children of God is, well kind of evil?

I agree that when we objectify women, or teach such things to our children, we need to change our way of thinking. However, I do not think it is simply a matter of broad brush painting present culture as evil. I think this causes us to romanticize or criticize things that are not real. For example, the “old” days are often romanticized by some conservatives when wanting to contrast how sinful our present society has become – conveniently avoiding the tolerance of abuse, slavery, racism, and oppression that was allowed in the “old” days. In that light, society has become much LESS sinful over the decades. So which is it? I would say neither, because each plank of our culture must be judged on its own.

5) Why do you think it is appropriate to quote Yoda in a religious discussion? He is a guru of a form of Eastern religion or philosophy, so what he says must be investigated in that light. I should point out that anger is not necessarily wrong, because Jesus got angry in the temple before he drove the money changers from the temple. Therefore, there is a big divide between Yoda and Jesus.

I have three thoughts on that. A.Why do you think it is inappropriate to use that quote in a religious discussion? For myself, a good quote is a good quote. You yourself state in question 10 that “Truth does not depend on who says it”.

B. My point in that section was that all of the us/them rhetoric creates a fear and paranoia… and that those emotions take Christians down a path we are not supposed to go. Jesus’ anger was not generated as a result of fear, so his end result was not along the same trajectory.

C. I do not find anything inherently wrong with Eastern views. Christianity is Eastern in its origins, we have simply Westernized it.

6) What do you mean by hate? Some in our culture want to define certain beliefs as inherently hateful, and I wanted to check what you mean. Also, you should evaluate a religion on a reasonable outcome of its beliefs, not by the abuse of its beliefs.

I consider hate to be anytime we despise someone else. That is why I have always felt that the line “Love the sinner, but hate the sin” (aside from the fact that it is not scriptural) to be so unhelpful. 99 times out of 100 when I hear someone use that line, the disdain and contempt is right on its heels. I think Christianity and the cause of Christ would be better served with “Love” and leave the but out of it. Since I have yet to adequately master the first part, I see no reason why I should touch the second.

7) Your argument that he is proof-texting is irrelevant, because John 14:6. Jesus did not say that you can look to him for truth, but something far more fundamental. He said “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father, but by me.” This is a very bold statement. It says that Christ is the very definition of truth, and that all other forms of truth must be judged in light of him. This is what us math types call an axiom.

Also, when you list the other reasons that Christ came into the world, none of them contradict his interpretation. By testifying to the truth, Jesus has saved sinners. You seem to have some beef with the line in the sand. However, Del did not draw this line, Jesus did. One quick example is Matthew 25. There are clearly sheep and goats. The question is where the line is, not the existence of one.

We will just have to disagree on this one. I still contend that it is a twisting of the intent of scripture to imply that the purpose of Jesus coming was to set a truth line in the sand and shove everyone to one side or the other. In fact, I think that goes against his very nature.

As to the sheep and the goats, I think Jesus was speaking to ways of living that bring either life or death… and in the words of the OT, he wants us to choose life. If you take that story as literal, than the evangelical way of interpreting salvation goes right out the window (which I am fine with btw).

8) You are taking Romans 2 horridly out of context. Romans 1 just told the history of the world, that we all reject God. Romans 2 and 3 gets into why following the law alone is not good enough, because we are not perfect.

Actually, I agree with you in some respects. I think Romans 1 lists how we all fail (can we all not place ourselves somewhere on Paul’s list?). I just think Romans 2 is Paul’s follow up, saying how absurd it is for any of us to get too “us/them”, in light of everything he just said.

9) “Our battle is not against flesh and blood…” The Bible uses the war metaphor repeatedly. Of course, it also uses the runner, the boxer, the farmer, and others. I just thought I would point out to you that regardless of how much he uses war metaphors, any reasonable Christian would never take up arms.

That is my point… that our battles are not with flesh and blood. However, much of Christianity is, and is being encouraged, to view their fellow human beings as the enemy. I think the “us/them” rhetoric encourages this view. I believe we turn people away from Christ when they feel they are viewed in this manner.

10) Your ad hominem attack on their interviews are unjustified. I could just as easily argue that you would better understand the Bible if you were disabled, because that one kid seemed to always have the right answer. I know you are trying to strike a race tone here, but that is irrelevant. Truth does not depend on who says it.

I think if that was my only contention, you are probably right. However, it just stood out so boldly to me on top of everything else. That is why I said it “devolved into a bad caricature of itself” at that point. It just struck me humorously.

11) Us/Them thinking. Again, back to the Judgment Scene – Jesus divided the world, the project didn’t. Again, you are quoting Paul in I Tim 1:15 so as to suggest universalism. This seems really silly, given Paul’s rant against false religion earlier in the chapter.

You caught me… I am a universalist. However, I don’t think that necessarily invalidates Paul’s “rant”. Universalism does not say that everything is ok… just that everything is/will be redeemed. But in any case, I still believe strongly that us/them thinking damages the cause of Christ.

Anyway, I was just wondering how you would respond to these questions. Thanks for your time. I am sorry if some people are not nice to you in their emails. I know that there is a behavioral bias that people are harsher in email than in person. Also, some things get lost by being put into text. I hope nothing I said sounded too harsh. I sometimes write aggressive words, but that is just because I am getting excited about the discussion.



PS Looking at your profile, why do you need to “abandon your certainties?” There are some things you can take to the bank.

I abandoned my certainties because I found that so many of the things I thought were iron-clad, turned out not to be. Certainty is something our churches emphasize, and in doing so, I think we perpetuate a disservice. Certainty, very often, causes people to live in denial. They have to live in contradiction in order to keep the certainty safe. I have seen too many people jettison their faith because they were taught that Christianity operates in this or that way. When they found that not to be true, they either had to abandon the Faith, or become more fundamental and rigid than ever. I have found fidelity to be a necessary third option. Fidelity applies to relationships. It can withstand the ups and downs, the silence and the paradox, in ways that certainty simply can’t.

David – I appreciate your approach and I hope this clarifies some things. I do not seek to convert you to my way of thinking on these issues, I just hope to more clearly explain why I think the way I do.

1 comment:

Darin London said...

Thank you for bringing the Grace of Jesus Christ back into this discussion. It is very refreshing and helpful for me to see other honest Christians forming good critiques of The Truth Project.

Its funny how people seem to keep harping on your willingness to believe that Focus on the Family would willingly use psychologically manipulative framing and juxtapositions of text and images in their message. The 'Dr' in James Dobson's title is a Ph.D in psychology, and I think he uses his understanding as well as any other marketer living today. My favorite was the quick succession of the image of the scary tattooed, pierced person followed by the angelic, clean daughter. Thanks for responding to this with scripture and love.

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