I feel like I often write about my fundamentalist past with regards to my assigned reading from George Fox, and unfortunately this week isn’t an exception. InA Brief Guide to Ideas: Turning Points in the History of Human Thought, Raepar and Smithtrace the history of epistemology throughout much of Western thought. He grapples with questions like, Does God exist? or, What’s the purpose of life? Basically, these are the existential questions of life to which answers shouldn’t come easy.
Growing up, the answer to all of these questions came very easy. That answer was, ‘the Bible tells me so,’ (especially a very fundamental literal view of it!). The Bible was used to overrule science, history and any other discipline that didn’t give the exact answer that my fundamentalist church said it should. Creation is six days, not billions of years. Or, God has a soul mate picked out of you. Or, capital punishment is okay per some obscure text in the Old Testament. In their chapter on fundamentalism Raeper and Smith call this complete way of knowing through the Bible idolatry, and I think they are right. I remember how easy it was to forget all about Jesus and just focus on the Bible. I was tricked into thinking that there was an objective way of knowing and that everyone who didn’t believe like me was suspect. Even though I thought I had all the answers, looking back I realize that I didn’t. I just wanted the certainty and security, and the feeling that I was in the elect or insider group (sounds like gnosticism huh?).
As I left my fundamentalist background in college I swung too far too the left, but it was just as easy.How do we know? questions were answered with just as much fervor but from the opposite side. You can’t really know!Or, The Bible is a patchwork of Christian writings and doesn’t really answer any of todays’ pressing questions.
Fortunately, my left leaning days didn’t last long. The professors at Truett cared about these questions and forced us to think about epistemology and… it wasn’t easy. But maybe more importantly than knowing, they cared more about how we answered the questions and who we were becoming as persons. One of my professors echoed Raeper and Smith saying “The questions are your guide, not the answers.” At that time his saying bothered me. What did it mean? How could answers be your guide? I was utterly confused. But as I’m getting older I think I understand that statement a little more. In 1 Corinthians 13:12, the Apostle Paul writes, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” The questions are a pointer into our soul. They are an indication of what we’re thinking and struggling about, and who we are becoming. I think it’s also a statement of humility. It’s the recognition that questions are a natural part of how God created us, but coming to complete and final answers is not because we would then replace God with ourselves. How we hold what we know, may be even more important than what we know. No matter what we believe, we should remember that the truth without love is only a clanging symbol.