The truth of it all becomes clearer by the day, and yet ironically and disturbingly, those that can fully grasp it diminish as creation itself seems to speak truth that most humans are no longer capable of uttering. In short, it is all binary, but not in the way we perceive the numerous dialectical divides that occupy so many. It is good versus evil, but not in a duality sort of way. We all, each of us in our own way, are on the evil team. It is about truth and untruth, not about narratives and yet, we are all susceptible to narratives. It is simple in concept and impossibly complex in practical fact. It can be explained, but it very often cannot be understood. Knowledge of it, of the thing in its totality requires presuppositional axiomatic knowledge. And yet, even knowing the foundational elements of truth is not enough, not always, to know that in our streams of thought and our perceived understanding of the world in progressively elaborating detail that we as individuals do not very often get things wrong.
As I ponder the complex nature of our reality I am often reminded of a time in early 2020 when a friend I had spent much time with through middle school and high school and I began to converse about the world. We had spent the proceeding 30 years in very different professions, he was a Methodist pastor, and I was in the military but some commonalities remained. We each continued to read history and philosophy and in different ways theology. My childhood friend taught me a valuable lesson about the limitations of man.
To paraphrase his position of all the things that we might look back at now and consider accelerants in a great transformative period the following words suffice: ‘we live in a broken world, separated from God and his intention for us; we have to seek to do justice in an effort to heal that.’ I will dissect that momentarily but he taught me more about how one goes astray in the meta-binary even if they begin from the proper metaphysical understanding. To my former friend, a product of a denomination that began at its core with an orientation toward earthly justice, the knowledge that something is tragically broken in the world set him on a flawed path long ago. If everything of man is broken, and man is individually broken, then everything is subject to an interpretation of justice that begins from the assumption that everything can be questioned in order to correct it. Ancient theological doctrines, interpreted by man might for instance be suspect. Even the Scripture, this too, maybe it was mistranslated, or parts were included by man that derived from the broken nature of man. Beginning from a metaphysical truth, our world is broken and man is separated from God, he arrived at some point upon existentialism. He might just as easily have settled on other philosophical ‘isms’ from the last several hundred years but existentialism is one that comports with him maintaining work in his profession and making false references to truth to explain it. His existentialism was a blanket used to explain the absurd in terms beyond what the Scriptures teach us that it is. My friend, and so many like him, take the concept of brokenness and observe the problems it causes and the absurdity it generates and seek ways of thinking about the problem that provided them more comfort than they are willing to accept from Scripture.
At this point, I could either say, that you know when you know or I could make a long and futile attempt to explain it in greater detail. We could discuss perhaps the concept of a stream running through history, becoming ever more polluted, some might merely assign the problem to a lack of orthodoxy. There is truth in both arguments, they have a role. But more fundamentally, and perhaps more disturbingly is this. It always seems to circle back to the garden and the serpent. And it does not matter if one is an avowed naturalist/materialist/atheist or someone solidly grounded in proper metaphysics and with the full knowledge of everything we can glean from the revealed Word – all can and do fall.
The well-meaning but tragically confused Methodist pastor above had something right in all of it; we live in a fallen world, and man is broken. He is also a fool to think that throwing out what Scripture tells us about our condition and the solution is of any benefit at all. So what does it all mean?
As I said, if you know you already know, about the problem at least. At the core, everything is a spiritual battle. Truth, in all forms, is the enemy and deception is the weapon. None of us are righteous and all of us are susceptible to deception. Tested practices that point us toward the truth have been a decent defense but these also fail, and as things accelerate the stronger the barrier the more forceful the attacks appear. Some of us believe that even solid denominational traditions will not stand for long under these circumstances. We look about and know something of the world of ideas, of the general ability of humans in this era to (mis)apply sound reasoning. We know that other protections were removed along the way, protections related to knowledge and education.
When Paul began preaching to the Greeks he approached a people that in his words “were without excuse” as nature itself spoke to the essential truth of God. Through general revelation, the Greeks had access to the highest form of human reasoning and logic and a systemic approach to framing questions that took them to the edge of what the human mind alone can know of God. Their metaphysics told them there had to be a god or gods, not because they believed out of fear, but because their mind and philosophy told them it had to be so. Paul preached to a culture that had no excuse but to know his words were true. He merely had to tell them that their marble statues were not gods and show them the way; that so many Greeks accepted is a witness to the miracle of general revelation preparing the way.
The only ancient Greeks among us are the Cretins (liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons). Western philosophy long ago dismissed questions of metaphysics. After all, the Greeks could not answer those questions and they framed them better than anyone. Metaphysics raises ugly questions with uncomfortable implications. Instead of learned men, sitting at the Areopagus questing for knowledge and asking profound questions we have lotus-eaters in our modern age. Lotus-eaters care little for questions about the nature of things, about their essence, they prefer easily digestible milk and soothing words for their ears.
Many have argued that Paul in Acts 17 was presenting an example of preaching to people where they are in understanding. This seemed to me to always be a flawed idea in general terms. Those influenced by Greek philosophy were the first Gentiles to accept the Gospel not because Paul went to their level, but perhaps precisely because they among all people in history understood how to systematically think, and many among them had come to the limitations of that ability and the unanswerable questions their ideas raised.
Our acceleration into a post-truth world will not slow down. Soon we will not be able to rely upon well-established institutions to provide the trappings of authority to truth. Likewise, saying to someone that a thing is true or false because it is written in the Bible will increasingly have little effect, some of those words will likely soon be forbidden.
It seems to me, going into the brave new world that the currently accelerating transformation will lead us that philosophy might again serve us; not as a replacement for revealed truth but as a helper in first presenting it. Rather than merely telling our children that something is true because of X, what if a parent spent their formative years of a child’s life helping them frame questions about the nature of things and then about metaphysics itself? What if an apologist did not begin with “it is written” but rather, “how could this be and what might explain it”? What if a believer, a person that knows the revealed Word is truth adds simple techniques of addressing the “nature of the thing” when using discernment?
We do not have to be prophets with a crystal ball to see that if trends continue at some point in the future there will be no physical churches teaching truth, there will be no seminaries training pastors and no videos or books produced by authentic Christian teachers available. Absent some miracle, and assuming that nothing changes that is the reality in some future version of our history. Christians that understand how to think and argue as well as ask critical questions will be much better equipped to use the Word.
There is also the plain, natural and unavoidable fact of absurdity. When an ideology, such as that currently present in the West, ultimately fails to answer fundamental questions humans begin to have real questions, cognitive dissonance for some, and rejection of the ideas by others. Just as no small number of Greeks in Paul’s time had reached the logical nexus of a philosophical “fish or cut bait moment”, knowing their philosophy had only served to raise more questions than it could answer – so too it will be for the current prevailing worldviews and ideologies. Some number will someday seek something else. Being ready with arguments that help frame the questions they have and then point them toward truth will be powerful at that moment.
I advocate adding Thomas Aquinas and Thomas Reid (and others) to our list of tools and laying those resources aside for future generations not just as books but as a practical means of thinking and speaking. We perhaps will not for long have the luxury of ignorantly hiding behind institutions that can easily fall, never believing that we might have to speak and act in the stead of those in the defense of truth and the preservation of hope in our own families and circles.
I realize that it is still too soon for some to know what they ought to know. "Philosophy" they will say, and from this Catholic Thomas, they will say....(I think that Thomas' fruit screams Christian but yeah, he was declared a Saint by the Catholics). And what of the Five Solas....those worked exclusively well in an environment where the universal language of understanding was a particular one. The Five Solas I still believe in, I am not positive in the future they will work as well when people think even more absurd thoughts. Philosophy is dangerous in the hands of man, we see that. it was also the basis of a pagan system, but those men were image-bearers of God and what the ancients set out to do, to find and know something about the universe, that quest was answered when Paul came to them. Their philosophy prepared them.
What we have been doing did not work, and there is no indication that it will begin working without God willing it. Those that know already know. A proper metaphysics and philosophy may help.