Sunday, July 23, 2006

Tony Jones on Absolute Truth

The following is taken from this interview from Relevant Magazine. Does it make anyone else a little dizzy?

RM: So let’s go through some of the main criticisms of Emergent. The first is
absolute truth, which many people claim that you don’t believe in. Is there any truth to that claim—no pun intended?

TJ: Emergent surely has people in it who strongly believe that there is absolute truth. I’m on the record as laying out a pretty complex understanding of why I think putting the qualifier absolute in front of truth is a modernistic fallacy. Truth is not qualified by adjectives like absolute. So for me personally, talking about absolute truth is a nonsensical way to talk, and surely Christian theologians shouldn’t talk in that way. It isn’t helpful, because it doesn’t make sense. But that’s a book, not a paragraph in a magazine article. The short answer is, “No, Emergent has no statement on absolute truth, and there are people in Emergent who strongly hold to absolute truth.” But, personally, I think it’s a mistake.

The problem is, do you know how that last statement is going to look in an article in RELEVANT? “Oh, I told you. They don’t believe in absolute truth. There’s the national coordinator saying he doesn’t believe in absolute truth.” I’ve read two dozen books on the topic, and I’m trying to get a Ph.D. on this very topic. It’s such a complex philosophical, epistemological question, which is exactly why a guy like Brian [McLaren] would try to deal with it in a pseudo-fictional narrative in the New Kind of Christian trilogy. These questions don’t lend themselves to being answered in articles in magazines. Magazines cannot do justice to that kind of philosophical conversation. That leaves you in a very precarious situation. Certain media lend themselves to certain forms of conversation. I learned pretty quickly that blogs are not the medium to lay out my theological framework.

It’s so complex. I’d direct you to Jeffrey Stout at Princeton, who’s a brilliant pragmatic philosopher. He makes a compelling case that moral principles can be transcendent while at the same time culturally routed. If you really digest his argument, you can see that it makes moral principles stronger than trying to argue that they’re somehow absolute and timeless.

It’s so easy to caricaturize people if they don’t take the time to really digest it, talk about it and think about it. They can disagree with me, but I’d rather have them disagree with me because they’ve taken time to understand the argument than that they’re looking at a caricature of me.


At 7:53 AM, Blogger Ben J said...

I would agree that Truth is not qualified by adjectives such as "absolute". The truth is the truth, not part-truth or absolute truth. It's either the truth or a lie.

Though I agree with him on that point I still think he makes up words and refuses to stand strong on the Truth.

At 10:47 AM, Blogger terryd said...

"Absolute" gets added in front of "truth" precisely because of equivocators like Tony Jones!

Equivocation is the fallacious argument technique that compromises the definition of a term mid-stream in order to avoid the implications of the original definition and to elicit a desired emotional response. Emergents work in this medium like other artists work in oils or clay.

Because Truth has come to mean "anything we would like to be true", unfortunately our use of the term has to be clarified. Francis Schaeffer was driven to use the term "true truth"—a seeming redundancy, but we can understand his frustration and we know what he means.

At 12:50 PM, Blogger terryd said...

When the Emergents have hijacked the term "Absolute Truth", drained it of its meaning and added it to their foggy lexicon, we'll have to start calling it "Concrete Absolute Truth", or "Absolute Truth, Really!" and so on...


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