03 May 2006

Worldview point #2

Read: Started Redwall—something some of my students like to read.
Listened to: Another bizarre Twilight Zone incident: It’s listener request day on WRTI, and I was pondering whether I should request Schubert’s Arpeggione sonata or the beautiful tenor-baritone duet from Bizet’s “Pearl Fishers.” Well, lo and behold what did they play but the Arpeggione? So I enjoyed that greatly, and thought how funny it would be if they played the Bizet. I think you can guess the punch line… they did!

Link to the original Worldview List

2. Schaeffer’s great maxim: All truth is God’s truth.

The idea here is simple enough in principle, but complicated and potentially dangerous in application. What this saying means is that if there’s anything true out there, it’s because God made the world and that pieces of truth comes from Him. What it implies is that Christians should not be afraid of any ideas “out there,” but should examine every concept and practice to see if it has empirical, rational, or psychological truth, and then evaluate it in light of God’s Word. I’m going to break this down into stages.

First of all there’s the theological basis. Biblical scholars tell us that there are two major ways that God communicates to mankind—or, put a different way, that all of God’s communications with human beings fall into one of two categories. They label these categories General Revelation and Special Revelation. “General Revelation” is available to all people; everybody gets it automatically by being born human imago Dei. Some may get more than others. In this compartment we may put such things as the Created Universe (Nature speaks truths about God, such as order, beauty, pattern, variety, fertility, regeneration, power, danger, height and depth, and so on), Human Experience (People speak truths about God, such universals as birth, death, love, trust, communication…), the Human Mind (Reason and Creativity), Stories & Myth (universal tales of death & resurrection, or Creation-Fall-Redemption.).

It is obvious, however, from this little list that these revelations are vague and easily misunderstood. Nature also tells of violence, destruction, and decay; human relationships also reveal hate, betrayal, and misunderstanding; the human mind also generates idolatry, fallacies, and perjury. General revelation, therefore, is not enough for people to get to know the Judeo-Christian God specifically, and is not enough for salvation.

Enter the second means or type of God-man communication. Special revelation includes Scripture, Jesus Christ God incarnate, the personal work of the Holy Spirit, and other personal revelations such as dreams, mystical visions, voices, intuitions, etc.

Now, how does this relate to Schaeffer’s saying? Well, what Schaeffer means is that anything that’s true out there is so because of general revelation. Or, everybody has some truth, some “divine light” (c.f. Lewis’s essay “Is Theology Poetry” in The Weight of Glory), so anybody might say or do or make something true.

What does this look like in everyday experience? Well, a Christian need not be afraid to look into the teachings of other religions to find some basic moral or spiritual truths. Furthermore, one may find spiritual or moral themes or resonances in statements or works of art that were never intended to be taken as pieces of theology. For example, the “Hollywood Jesus” found the gospel in his review of “The Phantom of the Opera” (with which review I have serious differences—Raoul a Christ figure??). This is often a favorite pastime of Christian thinkers about the arts.

I have been challenged by characters in novels, whether or not the character/author was relating his strengths to Christ: the intensity and dedication of Howard Roark in The Fountainhead, the calm selflessness of Rachel West and complete unconscious work ethic of Hester Gresley in Red Pottage, the sacrifices of Dickens’s Amy Dorrit and Sidney Carton, the familial love of Lionel Verney in Mary Shelley’s The Last Man, Elizabeth Bennett’s frank independence, Sherlock Holmes’s incisive intuition, Michelangelo’s burning genius as depicted by Irving Stone in The Agony and the Ecstasy…. The list goes on—you get the idea. I can delight, spiritually delight, in a piece of music or poetry written by a non-Christian (I hear God’s Sublime transcendence in Wagner’s Overture to Tannhauser or Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey”).

Furthermore, all subject matter is open to a Christian author to use for purposes of truth. Myth is an especially fertile ground, in spite of its superficial opposition to Biblical truth. For example, I have used Semele as an instance of bravery and the fear of God, Daphne & Syrinx as stories of how God uses us in spite of ourselves, the Cumaen Sybil in a tale of God’s ravishment of His prophets with the power of His message, and so on.

Perhaps a good metaphor would be Messianic celebrations of Jewish holy days. Taking the bitter water of Passover as a symbol of Christ’s tears and our tears for His suffering, instead of the original symbol of the tears of the Israelite slaves in Egypt, is similar.

Scott Cairns talks about not forcing your poetry to tell truth in the narrow way you think you are supposed to understand truth. Don’t write sappy Sunday school poetry in trite God-talk clichés with worn-out morals tacked on. He enjoins us to simply strive for literary excellence and “let the Holy Spirit worry about truth.” Truth is not so small and fragile that I am going to break it by failing to end with a moral tag, or by stretching it into new diction and fresh metaphors and unusual settings.

All this boils down to appropriating the emblems of other religions and of the beautiful multiplicities of humanity, because the eternal realities they reference are more fully understood through Christian special revelation. Let us continue to observe, study, accept, and appropriate whatever truths are floating around out there, bringing them under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

1 comment:

Rosie Perera said...

Read: Some articles in the March print edition of Comment, a journal integrating Christian faith and culture, mostly from a neocalvinist perspective.

I love that duet from "Pearl Fishers"! And what a weird coincidence.

Once again, your comments on Schaffer's maxim are very well thought out and articulated. I guess I have one question for you, though. When looking into other religions to borrow moral or spiritual truths, what is to be our yardstick of what is true vs. what is false? Suppose it is to be our own Scriptures (which I do believe is the case). Then what truth can we find in another religion that isn't already expressed in our own? I'm playing devil's advocate a bit here, now, because I do agree that other religions have much to teach us. But if we can learn from them something that we couldn't have learned from Christianity, how come those truths didn't end up in our own religion? (Or did they, but we just couldn't see them until we heard about them through the voice of a different tradition?) And how can we, from the limited perspective of our human understanding of our belief system, judge what is true or not true about another one? I'm getting at the fundamental problem of post-modernity, that of privileging one particular meta-narrative over all the others. What gives us the right to say ours is superior to theirs and can judge what is true or not in theirs? I have grappled with this for several years, since first becoming aware that the problem existed. It shook my faith to its core when I learned about it in a class at Regent, and I'm still coming to grips with it at some level. I'd be interested to hear how you and other readers of this blog deal with that difficult conundrum. I'll come back and write more once I've stirred up a bit of dialogue.

See also my comments from March 1, 2006, on the welcome post, regarding Augustine on "plundering the Egyptians."