Sunday, 5 December 2010

Searching for Certainty

I guess this is a kind of addendum to all those posts on biblical inerrancy.  It's also the 100th post on Painting Fakes which is more than any of the Australians managed in the first innings in Adelaide (cricket joke, for the Americans among you).  The more I do it, the more I love it.

Among the incredibly wide variety of types of people in the world, there are two that I'd like to mention in this post.  The first are "black and white people".  They like things to be clear.  It's right or it's wrong, it's true or it's false.  The second are "shades of grey" people.  They rarely see the world in absolute terms.  Something may be true in a certain sense and false in another sense.  It depends what you mean by "true".

This distinction is a matter of psychology, not belief.  For instance, both Ken Ham and Richard Dawkins are black and white people.  The content of their beliefs differs, but they have a similar approach to belief.  This may be why Ham serves as Dawkins' model for religion - it's the type of religion he can relate to, whereas he sees more subtle and nuanced versions as wishy washy cop-outs.

The authors of the Chicago Statement are also black and white people.  The Bible is either true, or it's not true.  When they felt the need to defend its truth, the only alternative they saw was to defend it in black and white terms. 

Which brings me back to the recollection from the post at the begining of the series, of Francis Schaeffer drawing circles on the beach, and his fear and anxiety that in our age we have replaced successive coherent world views with incoherence.  This is a view I often hear from the pulpit and read in various places - that post-modernism means loss of meaning.  Modernism - the idea that the universe is a predictable and, in principle, comprehensible place in which meaning is fixed and actions are governed by immutable laws - is paradise for black and white people.  It provides them with certainty.  Religious modernists, like Schaeffer or Ham, search for the same in the Bible, and see its absence as the absence of meaning and the loss of faith.  This is why they resist so fiercely.

Shades of grey people like me, on the other hand, tend to be baffled by this.  We see faith and uncertainty as natural partners.  A little uncertainty makes life more interesting, and makes faith necessary.  A variety of views means we can all learn and grow.  Post-modernism is liberating, opening up more possibilities, bringing more ideas into the tent, allowing us to ask new questions and to think new thoughts.  It also enables us to more fully appreciate difference, to see things from other people's points of view.  Differences of opinion are not aberrations to be corrected, they are a consequence of the way the world really is and opportunities to learn.  I don't need to convince or vanquish my opponents, but I enjoy robust discussions with them.

One of the fears black and white people have about this - and not without justification - is that it leads to an "anything goes" mentality.  "Is it wrong to carry out genocide in Sudan?"  "Well, maybe, it depends on your point of view...."  This is why we need black and white people.  We need people with the clarity of vision to stand up and say "this is wrong" loudly and clearly.  We need shades of grey people to say "there's a few different ways to solve this, have you thought about...?"  If shades of grey people had things all our way, nothing would ever get done.  If black and white people had things all their way, the world would be a rigid, unimaginative place.  We need each other to survive.

Then I'm a shades of grey person so I would say that, wouldn't I?


Sherry Peyton said...

I agree with you whole heartedly. We need both kinds, just as we need both liberals and conservatives. The problem is in this country, we have become utterly distrustful of each other and assume everything said by the other side is a determined lie meant to mislead. It's very hard to work under such circumstances, and frankly, I don't know how it's going to end. We seem to entrench more and more.

fCh said...

Hm, there are only 5 of us on Blogger whose profession is "Brain for Hire."

Cheers, fCh

Jon said...

@fCh - ha ha, we must both be clever guys!

Luke said...

I agree Jon, that it's both funny and true how our personality shapes our theology, and probably a bit of vice versa!

I feel what you've expressed about certainty about ministry. People in some ministry circles talk about this or that being successful or the right way of behaving. I'd like people to concede, that personality shapes the way we define success and define the correct or incorrect way to interact.

(Although I often end up in the certainty camp it's because I like the clash of ideas, I want the best idea to win, not the flabbiest or trendiest or easiest!)

((Keep blogging!))

Andrew said...

Excellent post. I think it is the reason b/w and grey folks often talk past each other. If a view presented by a grey is presented, a b/w must apply that view to one end of the spectrum or the other. Therefore when b/w and greys talk, they are often talking about different things.