Much is being said recently about the Emergent movement and the concept of truth, and I am not quite sure what to make of all of it. What I am gaining a better appreciation for, though, is that their needs to be more clear philosophical thinking brought into the discussion. Many emergent bloggers note that people seem to be speaking past each other on this topic and therefore not understanding each other, and that is certainly true. And while there are plenty of Emergent leaders affirming the importance of truth, there are also several “iffy” things being asserted about truth by plenty of other emergents. By no means would it be proper to claim guilt by association, but it would behoove us all to engage in some directed discussion.
There are, for example, a lot of broad and sweeping statements out there about capital “T” Truth as opposed to our articulation of truth. What that may mean, if we are to be precise, is that many emergents are affirming an absolute, or objective sense of truth, but denying a significant epistemological grasp of Truth. It is common for emergent writers to emphasize our “cultural captivity” and point out that we cannot assert anything without it being a result of our cultural influences. Is this a form of relativism, specifically epistemological relativism? It certainly borders on it, and if it is not (as many emergents state), then there needs to be some clarification on the usefulness and role of Truth if we cannot have an adequate epistemological grasp of it. In other words, if emergents want to hold to a deep role for our cultural captivity and the reality of metaphysical truth all at the same time, a significant relationship between the two needs to be clarified. Otherwise, metaphysical truth becomes irrelevant. I do not believe one can claim we are bound by our cultures in this kind of way and then simply assert the reality of metaphysical truth without clarifying what they mean by both assertions.
And this is exactly what I have worried about in the past. I am concerned that emergent thought is too comfortable with pomo philosophy without fully comprehending its consequences. As an example of its consequences, Richard Rorty, a pomo philosopher, has clearly seen and wholeheartedly adhered to epistemological and cultural relativism and the consequential irrelevance of metaphysical truth. He in fact labels his view “antirepresentationalism”: the point is not that metaphysical truth does not exist, the point is that we cannot and do not reflect it, and therefore it is utterly unpragmatic and thus irrelevant. So what naturally follows is that we cannot judge between right and wrong, and in a Christian context, we cannot judge between orthodoxy and heterodoxy. “Christ died for your sins” is then neither true nor false in an objective sense. In fact, “Christ died” suffers the same fate. Not a position a Christian should be in.
In my next couple of posts I will be responding to some of what I am seeing out there on the blogosphere when it comes to the Emergent movement, truth, and epistemological relativism. I think a good place to begin will be to address the issue of certainty and being “bound” by our cultures (a connection between objective truth and our grasp of it). Hopefully we can all bring a little clarification and direction to the discussion.