Friday, January 26, 2007

The End of Knowledge

I came across this yesterday at Ben Witherington's blog:
...herein lies one of the big problems in conservative Christianity. Evangelicals are not encouraged to think for themselves, not encouraged to do critical thinking, not encouraged to be open minded in the good sense of that phrase. They have too often been taught to blindly accept what they are told. This of course becomes dangerous when it is applied to watching the news and we are dealing with vital life and death matters and some aspects of politics. Of course it is true as my granny used to say that "we should not be so open minded that our brains fall out". Christians should be leading the search for the truth. Christians should be committed to finding out the truth, however uncomfortable and however much it makes us adjust our political or even religious views. The question is can we handle the truth? Nuff said.
Witherington has pointed out one of my big issues lately and honestly, because of my Christian tribe (Church of Christ), I see it heightened there especially, and it's the arrogance of knowledge. Particularly within the Churches of Christ, there is an emphasis on knowledge and that everything that God wants us to know has been revealed. As a result, all one has to do is read the Bible (no interpretation needed, because God's will is plainly obvious and if you disagree, then you're either an imbecile or deliberately obtuse). Basically, it's the end of knowledge. Everything has been given, nothing more is needed. And it strikes me as the height of arrogance.

I suppose one argument could be made that God made the knowledge of Himself finite so that humans could understand Him, but that seems ludicrous. What seems much more likely is that through Jesus, we get a glimpse of who God is. But what the knowledge of Jesus should not, should NEVER do is let us think that we've got it all figured out. To imagine that the human mind can understand God, let alone fully comprehend is something that robs God of one of His most enduring characteristics: His unknowability.

Once we realize that we can't understand Him completely and accept that, it makes other aspects of the Christian life more palatable and makes it much easier to get along with others. It should make us more loving, more tolerant, more sympathetic, because if we don't have God completely figured out, why would we be judgmental of someone else who doesn't either?

There is no such thing as the end of Knowledge of God, because everytime we try to put Him into a box, He explodes it. He's not a tame lion.


Darin said...

Good thoughts. As one who grew up in the CoC for me it ended up not even just being about knowledge but knowledge about what. In an attempt to say we could know we ended up saying we knew a lot of stuff about stuff that didn’t seem to matter.

It ended up sounding very juvenile to me. I can know how much belly button lint I have in a week and that would qualify as knowledge but that doesn’t really help connect me with a transcendent being that spoke the world into existence. In an attempt to say we can know we had to dumb down what we were suppose to know since there is so much we don’t know.

For some reason this really intimidates some Christians. I constantly remind people that science is often changing what they know, their knowledge, and they claim to know it all. Why if they really don’t know everything should we be embarrassed to say we don’t know everything?

Why is saying I don’t know tantamount to denying the virgin birth in some peoples minds?

The other thing that always got me is you have a book written to be orally read that suddenly could only be understood by a literate world that had the ability to dig into the text. Doesn’t make much sense to me. So not only are you chasing knowledge that seems very juvenile you are chasing it in a book that was written before scientific thought for people who couldn’t read and you expect it to tell you everything you have ever needed to know. To type it sounds absurd.

Then because you won’t follow this idea of knowledge you end up branded an unbeliever who doesn’t believe in truth. All because you think there is more to knowledge than the Bible was ever intended to impart. All because you think people have made God rather small.

Joe said...

“It is arrogant to believe one knows everything” or that one “has it all figured out.” With this I can certainly agree. This awareness should lead to a posture of humility when discussing God with others.

My understanding of word meanings appears to differ from your own (I realize I’m entering this conversation mid-stream). When you conclude it is the "height of arrogance" if one says "that everything that God wants us to know has been revealed" what is meant by the statement?

For me the words seem to imply God wants us to know more than he has revealed. How are we to know what he is unwilling to reveal? (I don’t think this is what you were saying.)

Are you saying "it is arrogant to say you know everything God has revealed?"

I believe Christians are constantly growing in their understanding of what God's word means for the world and for their own lives (attitudes, actions, etc.). But is the growth the result of new revelation or of new awareness, more developed understanding, and/or spiritual maturity?

Darin, I've been around CofC folks whose arrogance sickened and embarrassed me also. I must conclude I've been more fortunate than you in that those who have been my mentors, those sisters and brothers in Christ who have significantly impacted my life, have rarely been embarrassed to admit they didn't know everything.

I don't expect the Bible to tell me everything there is to know. Frankly, I don't know if I've heard the claim (though I'll admit I can imagine some making such claims during a moment of polemic bliss and ecstasy).

I do expect "his divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his glory and goodness" (2 Peter 1:3). I trust you would not suggest there are other sources (other than the Bible) one must consult for this knowledge?

I’m new to this conversation. I’ll have to learn many word meanings in this context (such as Witherington’s “Evangelicals” which are the antithesis of the Evangelicals I know, but then we must be speaking of a different group). A lot to learn. Hopefully, the patience to learn. Thanks.

Phil said...

Joe, I definitely see where you're coming from. And I didn't intend to imply that God wants us to know more than He's revealed.

What does frustrate me is people who think that they have reached full and complete knowledge about the intentions and desires of God, which is the ultimate implication of extremely conservative Church of Christ theology.

AS for this quote from you: "I believe Christians are constantly growing in their understanding of what God's word means for the world and for their own lives (attitudes, actions, etc.). But is the growth the result of new revelation or of new awareness, more developed understanding, and/or spiritual maturity?" I think this is a matter of perspective; I think it's both.

If I have a thought about what it means to be a Christian, that is a new thought to me, or a revelation. Now, I'm generally not so arrogant to believe that I am the first person ever to have that thought, so I begin to realize that while it may be revelatory to me, it's really just a deeper understanding and awareness. Does that make any sense at all?

Thanks for commenting and joining the discussion.

C D said...

"The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it." ~ Terry Pratchett

I'm too tired and too empty of knowledge to really enter this discussion, but I thought you might appreciate the quote I read today and immediately thought of when I read today's post. :D

jeffrey said...

i seem to be entering this convo kind of late, so pardon my intrusion please. I have but one question in this thread: Is there a difference between knowing about God and knowing God?

Brent said...

"I have but one question in this thread: Is there a difference between knowing about God and knowing God?"

Jeffrey, please expand on your question. We already know the answer to that one.


jeffrey said...

brent, at first glance it does seem like the collective "we" already know the answer to that question, but I wonder if we do. Since we're talking about being open minded ;-), I guess I will elaborate, as you've asked.

Western "christians" in the 21st century, for the most part, have a relationship with a knowledge of God, not necessarily God himself. I realize that this is a hasty generalization, so please, hold the stones ;-). Many of us glue ourselves to the biblical text searching for God, which is actually information pertaining to God, i.e. the knowledge of God. Is that really a relationship? Could I correctly say that I have a wonderful marriage to my wife if I solely related to her via other people's written accounts of their interactions with her? Do you think that, in fact, is the same question as the former?

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