DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

JTB

Written by: on November 1, 2018

Here’s a fun one. JTB is an acronym affectionately known among philosophers as Justified True Belief. It is a theory of knowledge that claims for anyone to know anything one must believe something as true and have good justification for it. For example, I have a belief that I am writing in English. Evaluating that belief through the JTB model I conclude that I do posses knowledge of this belief: (1) I believe I am writing in English; (2) it is true, the fact that I am writing in English; and (3) I am justified since you are reading this and therefore have demonstrated the fact that I have written in English. This appears obvious and uncontroversial.

This method of knowing had a rich philosophical pedigree and appeared unassailable until Edmund Gettier, an American philosopher, challenged it in 1963. In philosophy, if one can present a valid counterexample against a proposition, then that proposition must be reevaluated for soundness. He rocked the philosophical world by demonstrating that a person could have justified true belief and yet have no knowledge. His famous counterexample was that of Jones and Smith vying for the same job. 

This is not the place or time to summarize his particular rejoinder here but consider a similar example. Sally glances at the hands on the clock indicating that it is 5:00PM; it’s been a long day and it’s time to go home. Does she have justified true belief that counts as knowledge? Our first thought might be yes. It was truly 5:00PM and the clock indicated the right time. But unbeknownst to Sally the clock broke down 12 hours prior so basically she got lucky. This may seem silly and petty but philosophers spend a lot of time and resources contemplating and writing about these kinds of thought experiments. 

I confess, a part of me enjoys getting together with friends who are way smarter than me to have conversations around challenging subjects. I do it not only to delight in fellowship but also to learn. Books do the same for me. God created us to be curious beings. He created everything and gave us responsible dominion over it. Knowledge is indispensable to proper governance of the things God has entrusted to us. But how do we acquire knowledge? 

For most of my life the method of acquiring knowledge seemed to follow the method of JTB. I was not aware of the term then but throughout my schooling rationalism1 (the epistemological view that regards reason as the chief source and test of knowledge) seemed to be the unquestioned foundation and warrant for teaching and learning. I suspect this experience is true for many of us. Being rational is good. Being a rationalist is not good. Those are two different things. 

I owe James K.A. Smith a debt of gratitude for helping me understand that we are not “primarily theorizers.”2 We are more than our brain. We are not “brains on a stick” as Smith is fond of saying. He is right on this. There is another legitimate way of knowing without using the rigid matrix of JTB.

Sarah Pink is another pioneer in helping us understand another method of knowing. In her book Doing Visual Ethnography she introduces us to the world of field research and how one can legitimately collect data using photography, videos and other similar technologies. This data collection process however, does not locate its primary purpose on the artifacts being studied per se. Instead, the researcher is careful to step into the world of the people (ethno) being studied (graphe). The images an ethnographer collects is not analyzed in a rational, traditional way. Rather, with camera on hand, he or she steps in, and is invited to be part of a conversation to learn a people’s norms and behaviors. Pink rejects the idea “that the written word is essentially a superior medium of ethnographic representation.”3

Ironically, as I write this, we remember and celebrate the time when Martin Luther challenged the church about the excesses in some of her practices. While we cannot overstate the significance and importance of that momentous event as it has given rise to rich cultures and human flourishing, it improperly put a wedge between art and word. Whereas before the Reformation, images had its inherent way of communicating truth. Since then, word has been placed as master, a mediator, the only way to appreciate art. This idea of art appreciation has continued to govern our way of looking at art, especially among Christians. 

A Hollywood writer shared a story with me about the time Mel Gibson was to release The Passion to the public. He decided to preview The Passion to Evangelical leaders before releasing it to movie goers to garner feedback. After the showing ended they all praised him for his excellent work. However, that did not stop them from suggesting that he add the words of John 3:16 just before the credits rolled, as if the message was not clear enough. Gibson was wise to ignore that advice. The film went on to be a huge success, taking the title as the highest grossing rated-R movie of all time. The love of God was communicated in moving pictures and the visceral reactions of movie watchers were enough to assure us knowledge was gained.


1Brand Blanshard, “Rationalism,” Encyclopædia Britannica, July 22, 2016, , accessed November 01, 2018, https://www.britannica.com/topic/rationalism.
2James K. A. Smith, Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 75.
3Sarah Pink, Doing Visual Ethnography (Los Angeles: Sage, 2013), 10.

About the Author

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Harry Edwards

Harry is married to Minerva and has the privilege of raising two young men. He is the founder and director of Apologetics.com, Inc., an organization dedicated to defending the truth claims of Christianity on the internet, radio and other related activities. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Christian Education and a Masters of Arts degree in Christian Apologetics from Biola University where he currently works full time as the Associate Director of the graduate programs in Christian Apologetics and Science & Religion. Harry is currently pursuing a DMin (Leadership & Global Perspectives) from George Fox University. He is an active member at Ocean View Baptist Church where he leads an adult Bible study and plays the drums for the praise and worship band. In his spare time, Harry enjoys doing things with his family, i.e., tennis, camping/backpacking, flying RC planes and mentoring others to realize their full potential in the service of our Lord.

9 responses to “JTB”

  1. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Harry,
    As always thanks for your lucid thoughts and words. I have found this book and topic a challenge (as you can tell from my post.) Thanks so much for bringing insight in your own unique way! Blessings, H

    • I agree with you. Elsewhere I mentioned that reading Pink was worse than the dense book Modern History of Hong Kong. I didn’t care to critique it in my original post, but if I were, I’d say she didn’t come out right away to define ethnography, much less visual ethnography. I thought the book assumed too much, which meant that it wasn’t for us who are new to this subject.

      It’s funny that I was talking to a popular apologist who I invited to speak at our church today. I asked him if he knew anything about visual ethnography. He did not know, but was curious. After I explained it to him I told him that I asked the question because I consider him to be an excellent visual ethnography — and he didn’t even know it.

      At any rate, I think the subject of visual ethnography appears new but with all the attention it’s getting through social media, i.e., Instagram, etc., I’m guessing we’ll encounter more of it in our studies and in our various leadership experiences.

  2. mm Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    Disclaimer – I did not like Passion of the Christ. I prefer Gibson’s romantic embrace of the Scottish Highlands cinematic epic Braveheart, no matter how historically inaccurate it may be.

    That said, Gibson did choose the right way to end The Passion. Throwing John 3:16 on the screen would have actually taken away from the ending, in my opinion.

  3. mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

    I really enjoyed your post, Harry. Smith’s quote regarding not being “brains on a stick” is so important in our academic efforts. I love the term “scholar practitioner” as it is the practice that can often prove or disprove our scholastic acquisition. In other words, for me it must be a both/and approach to knowledge. Words on a page, lyrics and sounds in my ear, photos or videos for my eyes, taste and other sensory experiences, all combined to give the best opportunity to truly understand.

    • I agree with you Tammy. It’s funny how we think that pictures in a book somehow make it less authoritative and academic. I never understood that. In the classroom we’re told that students retain more if they are exposed not only to lecture, but with other aids, i.e., handouts, multi-media, etc. So having a proper understanding of the visual arts should always be a part of our teaching and learning.

  4. Digby Wilkinson says:

    Hi there friend. Great post and reflection, as usual. You bought to mind Gilbert Harman’s ‘Brain in a Vat” theory as a contemporary modification of Descartes evil demon. How do we determine whether an event or experience is real or contrived. It was of course the fodder that bought the movie The Matrix in to being. Though Pink rejects the notion that the written word is superior, currently I think she is wrong. The semiotic coding of language, written and spoken, can be, and is, learned in a uniform way in most cultures. Consequently, interpreting words intelligibly can be universally tested. As yet, I haven’t seen any common encoding of VE that provides an agreed framework for useful, repeatable interpretation and subsequent classification that can be reliably utilised by other researchers. However, it may be, in time, that a universal encoding for VE is agreed upon. It’s certainly got me thinking – too much – I think…..

  5. Digby Wilkinson says:

    I guess the simplest response comes in two ways. First, agrarian community could afford the simple stories of tradition. The mechanism for community shaping life was based on what was passed down through picture, experience and later oral history. Second, as communities grew, moved and negotiated, issues of fairness and justice were necessarily faced leading to the long process of forming political and legal mechanisms to alleviate violence. John Rawls Theory of Justice examines the necessity of finding truth in the midst of human experience in order for justice to prevail. Story records perceptions of reality but they are not enough for justice to thrive where conflicting stories exists. I guess we could also ask whether the fearful religious perceptions of American seventeenth century witch burning might also steer us away from pictures and images as arbiters in a legal framework. Story is complex, and becomes even more complex when indigenous peoples take unbridgeable at foreigners or colonialists telling their story. However, from a research perspective the stories only show how people perceived reality as opposed to the actual occurrence of the events themselves. That was a ramble on my iPhone. Interesting discussion Harry.

  6. Andrea Lathrop says:

    Harry – this is great. I heard you and Jason Clark mention Smith in our last call and spent some time that week listening to him. I appreciate where he comes from and what he is adding to academic circles – thanks for the introduction. Wish we could talk over waffles about rationalism – how it is a part of the fabric of our society and where Christians should embrace it and where we should be wary. Appreciate you making me think!

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