THE NEW SEARCH FOR TRUTH
How have the great minds of the church so totally
missed this turn in the road? Today, "truth" is up for
grabs—"certainty" has been shattered—and this crisis threatens the
very existence of the church.
No theological tradition leads society. While
church leaders still fight old battles, their thinking has been
discredited. Theologians may hold the tools to "prove" the "truths"
of the modern era, but they have yet to discover the tools to verify
the Truth of a postmodern era.
Here is a summary of where we’ve been and where
Modern theologians trace their traditions to the
ancient Greeks where the highest element of man is the mind or the
intellect. Unfortunately, the Greek system has nothing resembling a
As a result, the faith of early ecstatic
visionaries has become known for the doctrinal controls of its
formal theology—the dogma of its ideas—the cold, hard facts of its
cerebral "truth"—and the "proper" thought of its "reason-mongers."
God has been reduced to an academic discipline, a
systematic theology, a predetermined proposition, resulting in an
out-of-control elitism—more culture than Truth, more flesh than
A new test for Truth struggles to emerge. We are
rethinking "thinking"—a different "seeing," a different "sensing," a
This is a difficult time, a transforming moment.
In the language of outer space, we are crawling through a "wormhole"
that will soon open on the far side of our "Universe."
Unlike our recent past, a future theology will
never be frozen in time, for revelation is always larger than our
understanding of it. As a result, our understanding will become a
cycle of grace, an ongoing dialogue.
For more, read on:
"What is truth?"
This question—plus a little sarcasm—gives stature
to the educated elite. After all, being "educated" also requires
As a result, "truth"—any version you want—is "up
for grabs." "Certainty" has been shattered. We face a crisis, in
other words, in how we know that we know. No longer do we choose
between beliefs. Many now choose whether to believe anything at all!
"Universal Truth" belongs to a virtual world
where postmoderns rename it "useful fiction." And "timeless truth"
belongs to Cyberspace where digital devotees measure it in mere
Even God grows "virtual." With wireless, mobile
computers, we can know the answers to anything, anywhere, anytime.
Of course, God has always been "wireless" and certainly "mobile,"
but we will soon know His virtual version in an all-knowing,
A "real-time" reality!
A Post-Christian World?
Among these menacing trends, most religious
leaders still fight old battles and still brandish old weapons. They
still count on old science and rigid rationality for the certainty
so terribly missing today. And, like the ancient Greeks, their
reasoning minds still remain the "immortal" element in man.
But, their thinking has been discredited—their
reasoning has been refused. When they removed their rational
theology from its spiritual Source, nobody really wanted it anymore.
The option of remaining in a powerless status quo became
Less cerebral Christians, of course, have simply
ignored the modern world. In their hide and seek games, the Age of
Reason "never really happened." As a result, they live in a
make-believe world that reflects another time, another place.
So the church, in most forms, lags far behind. No
theological tradition leads society. No dogma holds the "final"
truth. No hierarchy enjoys a privileged position. A Christian
"futurist" has become an oxymoron.
Indeed, our world appears almost post-Christian.
Yet, a new test for Truth struggles to emerge. A
new evidence for faith fights to surface. And—though rarely
admitted—even postmoderns seek this certainty. They simply haven’t
found the language for it yet.
The answer lies both before and beyond the modern
period. What we seek is an ancient/future knowing that resurrects
premodern insights and reveals postmodern intuitions. It’s a
different "seeing" where epiphany replaces proposition. It’s a
different "sensing" where participation replaces empiricism. It’s a
different discernment where knowledge "of" Truth replaces knowledge
"about" Truth—where "how" we know replaces "what" we know.
We are rethinking "thinking," in other words.
And, with daring new tests of Truth, we are discovering the total
convictions of a radically new orthodoxy.
This new "seeing" is conspicuously spiritual. "It
seems as though our entire culture has a thirst for transcendence."1
Three million people a day, for example, use the Internet for
spiritual purposes.2 Indeed, the spiritual awareness of
the "unchurched" sounds more in tune with the future than any modern
Further, this new "sensing" is wildly "multiple."
Patterns of truth—webs of significance—mosaics of beliefs—are
replacing the warped narrowness of past truth. Scientific truth,
historical truth, logical truth, felt truth, subconscious truth, and
spiritual truth increasingly interact in an exquisite dance. Of
course, all this seems meaningless to our single-minded minds, for
there are far more patterns than we ever presumed.
And, finally, this new discernment is magically
metaphorical. Artists and storytellers are discerning and
discovering a new postmodern theology. And without surprise, for we
have long known the Inexpressible and Incomprehensible Other in
meanings which are felt or intuited aesthetically rather than
strictly thought out. Metaphor, in other words, explores what formal
theology never could present or contain.
Yet, even these trends are not enough. What, in
fact, makes them authentic? What, with certainty, represents
religious experience? What, in truth, certifies truth? We still hold
the tools that "prove" the "truths" of the modern era, but we have
yet to discover the tools that verify the Truth of a postmodern era.
As a result, the rush of history creates a virtual vacuum of any
And that vacuum threatens the very existence of
Once again, we must "test and prove all things."3
The church needs new assurances of authenticity, new guarantees of
credibility, new tests of reality. And, if we are headed toward a
new experience of truth, we had better develop a new veracity for
So how did we get here? How did the great minds
of the church totally miss this turn in the road? In short, modern
theologians simply followed modern thinkers. Their blind trust
simply selected their own blindness. And similar sightlessness has
proven normal for the denizens of every culture in every century.
But it proves fatal to the faithful.
Even with history’s earlier warnings, modern
theology still chose to go with culture. So, it claimed credibility
through logical ideas. It provided the certainty of our faith
through intelligible reasons. It established "truth" through
dispassionate thought. In short, "truth"—in modern theology—became a
construct of the "educated" mind. Reason, alone, became the source
of all knowledge . . .
. . . including the knowledge of God. And in this
narrow analysis, we divided dogma and subdivided dogma. And then, we
divided dogma again.
Of course, modern science (not new science)
partnered the plan. Science affirmed theology by the "facts." It
certified "truth" by tangible senses. And, it verified God by
Obviously, such narrow conspiracies would leave
something out. So modern theology played down the metaphorical, the
nonliteral, and the incarnational. It shut down meditative dialogue,
reflective revelation, and affective vision. It "dumbed down" the
intuition of beauty, the inspiration of creativity, and the
imagination of imagery.
In brief, it denied the "pre-semantic surface"4
of our experience—a place where we see beyond both subjectivity and
Today, it’s hard to believe that a movement born
of ecstatic visionaries would become known for the doctrinal
controls of its formal theology—the dogma of its ideas—the cold,
hard facts of its cerebral "truth"—or the "proper" thought of its
Overly Ripe Fruit
These comments do not belittle the triumph of the
mind. Rational objectivity, after all, birthed modern science and
scholarship. And, the ability to read the Bible brought authority to
the individual and priesthood to the believer.
But the fruit of excess finally falls. And in
that fall, theology became mostly a speculative indulgence—a
theoretical conjecture—an abstract reasoning—creating confidence
through objective "distance." Indeed, rational objectivity cut
itself off from life itself. As a result, theology mimics philosophy
in the critical study of truth. It privileges philosophy in the
arbitration of knowledge. And it flaunts philosophy in its claims of
In other words, the "Word" became many "words."
Sequential alphabets created strings of words—strings of words
created sequences of thought—sequences of thought created logic—and
logic created theology, breeding books about books, basing ideas on
ideas, building doctrines upon doctrines. In the end, a "fortunate"
God received the expansion—the extrapolation—of human reason. He
"needed our help," after all, so we added, appended, and adorned
wherever, whenever, and whatever we could.
With "well-deserved" pride, we developed an
irrational belief in the rational.
Soon, our ideas about God flooded the spiritual
marketplace. Each group eagerly defended its own label and its own
brand. Each ideology became "The Doctrine"TM Each
religiosity became the medium, and "the medium became the message."
In truth, worship became a thinly disguised
assertion of ourselves.
As a result, God was reduced to an academic
discipline, a systematic theology, a predetermined proposition—a
servant rather than a master! We learned to color only within the
lines of ordained theology. We poured all revelation into a proper
funnel, and—like sausages—it came out ready mixed, uniquely
seasoned, and appropriately packaged.
Objectified truth lost Truth.
And, with all the emphasis on scholarship,
scholars lurked close-by. They were the ones that "got it" for God,
so they were the ones that "got it all together" for God. They were
the ones who figured it out, so they were ones who informed the
"poor, uneducated fools in the pews."6
Elitism hurled "truth" from pulpits and lecterns.
"People in the know" blended debate and legalism in their books and
lectures. Closed systems presented open invitations for arrogant,
self-righteous spirits. And "turf" control hid behind it all:
Theology . . . is a kind of contest to
define truth or an endless debate about meaning, the goal of
which is to manipulate public policy or comfort essentially
self-centered people . . . a kind of endless, vacuous,
intellectual discussion . . . (and) a means to claim power
or justify control.7
Losing More Than We Gain
It justified, instead, an out-of-control elitism.
And that’s not the whole story. . . .
To begin, "cultural" theology simply mirrors a
mutual agreement about the facts and rules of a particular people in
a particular time and place. It reflects culture more than
Truth—flesh more than spirit. Not only is it limited by human
finitude, it is also plagued by a sin which distorts reason and
serves its own demonic ethos.
As a result, doctrines are often colored by
culture. So Christianity morphs with many citizen-shades through the
centuries. Luther and Constantine, for example, spoke similar, but
far different messages. In truth, we never could call forth the
Divine through the long progress of mankind or the fleshly prowess
of many minds.
Further, today’s cultural theology comes at a
moment when culture is drastically changing. So as we look to the
future, our thinking is forever out of place. In fact, we can’t even
get there from here!
Let’s assume, though, we can separate theology
from culture. Let’s assume we can achieve an entirely objective
theology—logical and learned. Yet, in these assumptions, even the
integrity of scholarship cannot explain all things. Abstract
knowledge cannot reveal absolute truth. Pure reason cannot reveal
what reason alone cannot grasp.
The weight of doctrine, for example, is not the
same as Paul’s "treasures of wisdom."8 A system of ideas
is not the same as Paul’s "secrets of God."9 And, the
proof of intellect is not the same as Paul’s "demonstration of the
[Holy] Spirit and power."10
In other words, knowledge about God is not the
same as knowledge of God. Thinking about it is not the same as
encountering it. For the report of truth is at least one step
removed from the revelation of truth. A moving Spirit, for example,
has already moved beyond static dogma. And, an intuitive vision has
long left legal reasoning.
So modern theology—at best—reduces the Mystery to
our "ideas" about the mystery. It limits Truth to our "proposals" of
truth. It binds the Spirit to our "categories" of spirit.
And, in the process, we lose more than we gain.
Still, modern minds have "put all of their eggs
in one basket." And, in the "higher" goal of guarding those "eggs,"
we have stopped seeking Truth. After all, we have found things "more
Even if we could avoid the downhill slide of
modern theology, one fact still remains. The world has little
interest in our doctrines. "Reason," for example, "in and of itself
cannot validate or substantiate the claims of faith."11
Further, "The ability to analyze something is no longer its
barometer of veracity."12 And, "Five steps to knowing
God" or "Nineteen terms we must define when talking about Jesus"
simply won’t work anymore.
"Those who know don’t have the words to tell;
Those with the words don’t know too well."13
No Place to Go
Why? Because modern theology omits the
ineffable—the transcendent—the richer, more awesome mysteries. It
refuses the pre-mind visions of an envisioned Word. It ignores the
unimpeded intuitions of an inspired Word.
For cold abstraction cuts off the vital moments
of personal encounter. Detachment disregards the vivid intensities
of life experience. And dispassion rejects the vibrant passions of
Modern theology, for example, has no category for
felt knowing—ecstatic participation—embodied spirituality—or the
qualitative "feel" of revelation. Yesterday’s "How we know what we
know" cannot logically include emotions, affections, and feelings.
Old propositions and judgments cannot verify proof with mere
And no wonder:
Modern theologians trace their traditions to the
ancient Greeks where the highest element of man is the mind or the
intellect. This may not seem so bad, but the Greek system has
nothing resembling the Hebrew "spirit."14 And, "It is the
spirit in a mortal, the breath of the Almighty, that makes for
understanding."15 Further, "Reason without the Holy
Spirit . . . is death."16
Or, we can put it another way: When Jesus said,
"I am the truth," it was not the truth of Greek philosophers.
In the end, modern theology cannot liberate or
transform lives. It cannot pull us back from the edge of the pit.
Its "revisions of opinion" are not the same as "changed hearts." Its
"new beliefs about God" are not the same as "new relationships to
Modern theology, after all, is not empowered to
replace divine grace. It’s not endowed to disclose God’s
Self-disclosure. Indeed, it can neither "validate nor substantiate
the claims of faith."17
Finally, the pride of mere ideas and the comfort
of narrow ideology parades a pseudo faith. After all, we can learn
the facts of faith without having to live a life of faith. We can
devote ourselves to the "idea" of faith without having to struggle
with the devotion of faith. In short, we can love doctrines without
We easily dismiss a "theological" opinion and
never feel the risk of dismissing His Opinion. We love arguing "our"
truth and never notice the twinge of His Truth. We studiously
correct the "grammar" in God’s love letters and never have to worry
about falling in love with His Love.
Without care—without considerable care—modern
theology becomes a cop-out. We too easily evade the more difficult
and the more important choices. Yes, we "get our ticket punched,"
but then we have no place to go.
The Cycle of Truth
Yet, who can blame those who hold onto the past?
Who can criticize those who fear leaving modernity?
It’s frightening when beliefs get torn apart—when
absolute truth turns into an "illusion"—and when the chaos of
history threatens our world. It’s dreadful when easy answers
disappear—when comfortable definitions of faith don’t work
anymore—and when faith feels like a vacuum. It’s unsettling to
confront a God more mysterious than we ever imagined—when we find no
words to describe the "unseen" or the "not yet"—and when we’re asked
to follow something as nebulous as "the Spirit."
Let’s be honest. This is a difficult time, a
transforming moment. Obviously, God is doing a new thing, and we are
on a byway we’ve never been before. Or, in the language of outer
space, we are crawling through a "wormhole" that will soon open on
the far side of our "Universe."
In the midst of these fears—and admitting the
problems of modern theology—one fact remains: We still need a
grounded knowing. One way or another, we have to understand where we
are and what we believe. Sooner or later, our mind and heart must
bridge their separation. Somehow or somewhere, our ecstasies and
mysteries must find their cognitive content.
"There is no truth for us," after all, "without
understanding . . . If it’s not a truth for us, how can we make
sense of its being a truth at all?"18 So truth must be
grounded in what we know. It must be anchored in our understanding.
We were never intended to chase ephemeral fairy tales. We were never
asked to spread irrational fanaticism. We were never told to let the
"spirits" run wild.
So if we still need a brain, where has modern
theology missed it? Where is the critical difference between the
thinking of our spiritual fathers and the thinking of our
Our grounded knowing (our chosen "truth") must
never be frozen in time—forever refusing the thaw of a spring
rebirth. Yes, knowledge liberates, but it also creates rigidity. It
gives us the freedom to learn from others and blend this knowledge
in novel ways, but it also comes with hidden snares. It accesses our
experience, but it easily imprisons us within our own realities.
So we are both beneficiaries and victims of our
And the problem behind this problem . . . ?
Revelation is far larger than our understanding of it. We do not
stand above revelation. Rather, we stand below it. Indeed, we are
always in need of further understanding—and, often, correction.
Indeed, "The possibility of error is a necessary element of any
So we must return to our Source, over and over.
"We continually need to make sense of our outer and inner worlds."21
This means the revelation of "truth" becomes an oft repeated
cycle—an ongoing interpretive rhythm. And the return, or the
"winter" of this cycle, comes when the thin crust of our frozen
reality is too weak to support the status quo. It also comes when we
are afflicted with a good dose of humility.
It’s then we are "reintroduced" to God.
Gold From Gold
And that "reintroduction" begins here:
Trespassing our reasoned world, a personal
disclosure of something "not-us" stirs a remembrance or requests our
attention. An intuitive movement quietly announces, "Something is
going on." Or a felt impression suggests the "warmth" of a distant
We could call these moments pure intuitive
But these intimations are only the beginning.
Here, for example, indistinct visions come before articulate
visions. Simple beauties predate full-fledged glories. And,
metaphoric feelings anticipate clarified meanings.
The "wisdom of the heart," in other words,
precedes the intelligence of the mind. Inspiration begins its long
journey toward insight. And, we encounter the things that we will
And—wonderful as they are—they are not enough.
Soon we feel impelled to make sense of our
senses. We feel required to give form to our intuitive visions. We
feel thrust to make the numinous known—to put our skills at the
service of His Otherness.
Having panned for gold, in other words, we give
form to the gold.
This is a meditative work, a reflective labor. We
select the medium through which we give inspired form to our vision
and through which we share that vision. In the words of Scripture,
we give "substance," "evidence," and "proof" to things unknown.22
It is the "Word made flesh."
Yet, we still haven’t arrived. We still don’t
really understand what’s happened. At this moment our newly found
"truth" remains an aesthetic experience—an alluring beauty. Indeed,
truth must first be aesthetic if it is to be conceptual. So we move
with artistic volition, constructive imagination, and poetic
Sooner or later, though, we need to see what
we’ve done—to understand what we’ve created. Till now, we’ve been as
visitors in a foreign country. And, like typical tourists, we were
So, we bring back our souvenirs. We pass judgment
on the merits of our journey. We appraise the authenticity of what
we’ve brought home. We evaluate the quality of its "truth," and we
critically interpret its meaning.
These are the roles for ordinary honesty and
great scholarship. And, what a relief it is to return to the secure
comfort of our grounded knowing!
But, we can’t stay here long. Our "critical
judgment" is always partial, incomplete, and subject to revision.
Our "informed interpretation" is always colored by our individual
belief, judgment, and circumstance.
So, again, we begin our journey, remembering that
the understanding of truth is a cycle, an ongoing dialogue. Or, in
the wisdom of Saint Augustine, truth is our "faith seeking
understanding."23 And others echo, "You must understand
in order to believe, but you must believe in order to understand."24
Knowledge and love-in-action go hand in hand.
Will we ever get it right? No. But, we can count
on grace as a reliable witness. We may take many journeys, but the
Spirit who speaks with one voice will always keep us in the presence
of His illumined Truth.
"What is knowledge without love? It puffs up.
What is love without knowledge? It goes astray."25
© 2010 Thomas Hohstadt
1. Steve Beard, "The Spiritual Side of Rock,"
2. Andrew Careaga, "The Church-Internet (dis)connection"
3. I Thessalonians 5:21, AMP.
4. Lewis Edwin Hahn, Editor, The Philosophy of
Paul Ricoeur (Chicago: Open Court, 1995) p. 216.
5. Carl Jung, quoted in Brewster Ghiselin, The
Creative Process (New York: Mentor Books, 1955) p. 215.
6. Chad Hall, "All this Postmodernism Stuff: What’s it Mean,
What’s it Matter?"
7. Tom Bandy, in an email. Formerly with Easum,
Bandy, and Associates
8. Colossians 2:3, AMP.
9. I Corinthians 2:1, AMP
10. I Corinthians 2:4, AMP.
11. Donald Bloesch, quoted in Elmer M. Colyer, "A
Theology of Word and Spirit: Donald Bloesch’s Theological Method"
12. Len Wilson and Jason Moore, in an online
seminar with Easum, Bandy, and Associates.
13. Bruce Cockburn, from "Cry of a Tiny Babe"
14. Leanne Payne, Real Presence (Grand
Rapids: Baker Books, 2000) p. 47.
15. Job 32:8, NRSV.
16. Romans 8:6, AMP.
18. George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Philosophy
in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought
(New York, NY: Basic Books, 1999) p. 106.
19. Guy Claxton, Hare Brain Tortoise Mind
(London, Fourth Estate, 1997) p. 46; also:
20. Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge:
Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (Chicago: The University of
Chicago Press, 1958) p 315.
21. Fritjof Capra, The Hidden Connections:
Integrating the Biological, Cognitive, and Social Dimensions of Life
into a Science of Sustainability (New York: Doubleday, 2002) p.
22. Hebrews 11:1.
23. St. Augustine, quoted in Elmer M. Colyer, "A
Theology of Word and Spirit: Donald Bloesch’s Theological Method"
24. Hahn, p. 426.
25. Bernard of Clairvaux, In Cantica, Sm.