Saturday, April 27, 2013

Putting truth into words, but not into statements

(Now reading: Jean Grondin, The Philosophy of Gadamer)
Making a statement is always a dangerous thing to do. Statements can be taken out of context, distorting or obscuring the message one means to communicate in a statement. We cannot say anything without putting it into words, but it would be a mistake to confuse the words we say (that is, the words we have said already, in the past) with what we are saying. In other words, ongoing conversation is a much better way of expressing and uncovering truth and meaning than a fixed doctrinal statement. Which is one of the reasons I object to creeds and confessions of faith in the Church, when we take them to be authoritative statements that capture and contain the truth. Truth is bigger than any finite box we can make to put it in.

Truth can be put into words, but it cannot be put into any finished set of words, only into an unfinished, ongoing conversation.
This also explains why people who want to rule by authoritative words always feel an impetus to expand on the authoritative words they've already spoken and endorsed. Once you write a statement of faith or a position statement, that can be interpreted in various ways. When "those other people" understand the statement in a way the powers-that-be don't like, they feel a need to explain what they really meant by making further statements.

For example: Cedarville took issue with Dr. Michael Pahl's understanding of the school's doctrinal commitment to a historical Adam. Pahl said he believes in a historical Adam, but not based on a conservative reading of Genesis 1-3. That wasn't good enough for the powers-that-be at Cedarville, and they issued white papers explaining what the doctrinal statement really meant. Just wait, at some point someone will think they agree with the doctrinal statement AND the commentary, but they'll still get in trouble for believing the wrong thing the wrong way, and then there will have to be further commentary explaining why they were interpreting it wrong.

In MCUSA, most official statements in recent years about homosexuality limit themselves to affirming that yes, we still affirm that the denominational statements from the 1980s, and "A Confession of Faith in Mennonite Perspective" (note the indefinite article, by the way--it isn't *the* Mennonite perspective) as the church's "teaching position". But that doesn't keep us from disagreeing about the implications of these statements. Some people on both sides of the homosexuality debate in the church would probably like there to be an official, authoritative elaboration of these statements, hoping that such elaborations would prove (by vote?) that "we" are right and "they" are wrong in the way they interpret the statements themselves.

We should absolutely keep making statements, but we should absolutely not regard the statements we make as absolute and final. We need to regard them as contributions to an ongoing hermeneutical conversation.

No comments:

Post a Comment