Thursday, December 8, 2011

Knowledge and Hope

In light of the entrenched skepticism about knowledge claims, how can we effectively converse about Christ's call to life in His Kingdom?  Such conversations often deteriorate into long-winded debate on epistemology, and the opportunity to actually talk about Jesus slips by.

In comes "Hope".  If someone asks me, which sometimes happens when they find out I am an "evangelical", if I know that I am going to heaven, I will usually answer, "No, but I hope I am".  I am willing to let go of the language of knowledge in order to talk about the content of Christian hope (content which is much more weighty than "going to heaven").  I've never been to heaven nor seen it.  But I hope for it.  I have never been without enmity toward me and from me toward others, but I hope for it.  As Romans 8:24 says, "Who hopes for what they already have?"  (see also Heb. 11)

If I talk about hope, then I also have to define hope and how it works with Christian truth.  It is not an unlikely hope, like "I hope Duke has a winning football season", nor is it a whimsical hope, like "I hope it snows today".  Rather it hope that lies at the core of my being.  It is hope that, if proven futile, will be my undoing.  And it is a hope that I fully expect to one day know with certainty.  I will see and touch and feel it.  But not today.  Today I get a taste, a promise of what is not yet.  And I hope for more - I live my life in anticipation of that day when Hope becomes Realized and we  (never just "I") meet the Lord face to face.

This kind of hope merits explanation to our curious, even our disinterested friends.  And it sets the stage for us to ask, "What about you?  What do you hope for?  And why?"  The content of our hope is then center stage and the questions of certainty can be set aside, at least for a time.  We need still to be "ready to give an answer to anyone who asks you the reason for the hope that you have".  This of course begs the question of whether anyone would see us as a people of hope?  And, if so, would they be able to identify the object/content of our hope?  If our expressed hope if merely for a good job and an easy life then I am not so sure much good will come of all this.

We'll leave for another post the question of what this means for the idea of Truth.  Suffice it to say that it is entirely possible to hope for something that is Truly True.

So what about you?  What do you hope for?  And why?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

True Truth - Part 2

In the last posting I described a student encounter during which he objected not to the content of my gospel presentation.  Rather he objected me making any truth claims about religion at all.

It struck me then, and has proven true since, that what was missing in this student and in many others was any personal experience of true religious conviction. If one only experiences religious ideas as opinion arrived at by the shallow exercise of personal preference, then one lacks the ability to imagine that someone else's religious ideas are constituted in a different way. The starting assumption is that all religious ideas are merely expressions of opinion and everyone who makes truth claims about their religion are knowingly foisting "opinion" upon others in a coercive way.

So in conversation about religion I have since found it necessary to first introduce the concept of true religious belief.  It often goes like this.  "If you were standing in the middle of the road and a truck was barreling down on you from behind I would yell 'get out of the road, there's a truck!'  I would not then be trying to impose my view on you.  I would be trying to save your life.  I hold my religious ideas in much the same way.  I am convinced that they are in fact true and that, being true, they are of absolute importance in my relationship to others.  We can discuss the reasons why they might be true or not true, but understand that I am only talking about this because I believe it is truly true."

We'll explore later how we might relate "true truth" to "hope" for much that we hold to be true we hold as a hope and not as a realized reality.

Friday, November 18, 2011

True Truth - Part 1

While I was in seminary everything changed.  After serving for 5 years at the University of NC in Wilmington, I went off to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School to "get some skills and learning".  After all, my engineering degree had been a bit short of courses on Western Civilization, Greek, and the Bible.  Then it was off to Duke U. to serve among  undergrads through InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.

The "change" came to light most clearly on the night of a dorm talk early in my first semester.  I gave a clear, clever and Christ-centered explanation of the gospel and, just as before, someone began to argue with me.  Except this time the disagreement was not about the content of what I had said.  There were no counterpoints, no presentation of arguments as to why the claims of Christ were untrue. Instead there was an accusation that it was improper to make any such truth claims about religious ideas.  I had gone counter to what everyone else apparently already knew.  You can't really know anything about religion - all religious ideas were mere opinions and, corollary to that, all claims to know anything about religious truth was merely an attempt to impose one's view upon another. I was, by this student's assessment, being a religious bully.

Something essential was missing from this student's imagination and I had to pursue a steep learning curve.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Welcome to "Hoping to Know"

Christians live with an acute sense of the "no longer but not yet".  Much of what we talk about and pray about is not part of our present experience, at least not fully.  We are a people characterized by HOPE, but it not a trivial hope.  We live by a hope that is at the core of our very being, a hope that, at least ideally, changes everything about life.

Hebrews asks the cogent question, "Who hopes for what he already has?"  We don't have reconciliation with one another.  We don't have freedom from sin and brokenness.  And we don't have "a new heaven and a new earth".  These all lay on the horizon of our hope.  We are striving toward them, practicing them in our present life as if they were actually coming.  "As if" because we fully expect that what we now hope for we will one day know with certainty.  We will see, touch, hear and feel all that comes with the breaking in of God's kingdom.

This blog will be an exploration of what it means to live by that hope, to practice living toward what God has promised.  Setting aside the demands of "certainty" in its most rigorous sense (which we all do every day) gives room to explore the content of and reason for our hope.  And along the way we can ponder what the consequences of our hope might be.

I hope you'll find this interesting (else I would not publish it) and I hope that writing helps me live faithfully in anticipation of the "eternal glory" of worshiping God.