I’ve finished reading the “theory” part of Peter Rollins’ book that I brought up in a previous post and I have to say that it was a bit of a mixed bag for me. There are times when Rollins is really insightful, and offers a genuinely illuminative way of looking at or understanding the nature of faith. At other times, I was completely baffled at why he would introduce certain ideas into his scheme. I’ll post about the latter another time…
In the former category, I found Rollins’ argument for a redefinition of ‘truth’ to be compelling. Rather than focusing on the extent to which a proposition objectively describes a state of affairs, Rollins uses the Gospel of John to argue that truth is a “soteriological event.” At first I thought this was just an exercise in bewildering semantics, but Rollins argues that Biblical ‘truth’ is not primarily concerned with a binary description of events but the extent to which something or some act aligns itself with God’s redemptive transforming of reality.
This is very interesting to read alongside Bonhoeffer’s Ethics. Bonhoeffer would have no part of constructing elaborate ethical systems based on indubitable principles or absolutes. For him, all that mattered in a given ethical situation was the question “What is the will of Christ in this concrete situation?” Consequently, an act that would have been ethically impermissible at one point (i.e., an assasination attempt on Hitler) became an obligation at another. Bonhoeffer seems to have operated with a definition of ‘truth’ similar to the one Rollins advocates. All our decisions must be guided by what he calls “the prejudice of love.” Rollins uses the example of someone hiding Jews in their home during the second World War. If asked by the S.S. if there were Jews in the house, would the “truthful” response be to, a) avoid lying at all costs; b) say ‘no’ judging it to be the lesser of two evils – a regrettable necessity; or c) say ‘no’ and feel happy that we told the truth? Most of us (myself included) would be inclined to go with b) but Rollins disagrees:
If we take truth to mean any act which positively transforms reality, rather than describes reality, then there is no problem acknowledging that, while denying there are Jews in the house is empirically correct, it is true in a religious sense precisely because it protects the innocent (as well as protecting the soldiers from committing a horrific act).
I’m still working through this idea, but it strikes me as promising. Moving away from binary understandings of truth is not easy for me (as some of you may well know!), but if Christ simply is truth (John 14:6), then perhaps truth ought to be predicated of something only to the extent that it corresponds to his intentions for the world. More often than not, I suspect, there will be a good deal of overlap between “Christ’s truth” and “empirical” truth-telling, but it’s certainly interesting and provocative to consider situations where this may not be the case.
I think there is something more beautiful and real about this understanding of truth, but something more demanding and terrifying as well. We can’t resort to simplistic answers as easily. Every situation has to be evaluated according to “the prejudice of love.” Truth-telling becomes less about acting and speaking about the world as it is than about acting and speaking according to the way it ought to be according to Christ.