Hopefully, you enjoyed the more frivolous posts; hopefully as much as I enjoyed writing them. As I get things “sorted out” here we can talk more about the differences between the U.K and the U.S.A. – two countries, they say, divided by a common language. But I love this country and its people, and any joking about personalities, habits, or culture is purely for fun. And, I think, the Brits still love (most) Americans, like an old granny whose grandchild has run away from home.
Well, the first week of lectures, classes and discussions went by very quickly. I’m in a six-week program with ten other students (rumor is that 52 people applied). The class size makes every “lecture” just an intimate time to discuss a topic rather than just have one-way communications. We are a diverse bunch. My classmates come from Singapore, Minnesota, Hong Kong, Vancouver, Cape Town, Denver, Philippines, Toronto, Kenya, and Jakarta. Five guys, six women – ages 31 – 66 — like a big Mod Squad. While I am living at Wycliffe Hall, my course of study is through the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics (which is affiliated with Wycliffe Hall). (I’ll make sure we have a post about the unique Oxford University model and how the various “colleges’ or “halls” are an integral part of that model soon.)
A couple of “simple” subjects we addressed last week were the nature of “faith” and whether there is such a thing as “truth.” We also had an introduction to apologetics – a word that many do not know, but a field of study that is not difficult to understand. (Thus reminding me of the Wizard of Oz and Dorothy’s efforts to enter the Emerald City. Once the Doorman to Oz learned that she was wearing the ruby slippers, he responded: “Well, why didn’t you just say so in the first place?”) My next post will discuss “apologetics” and hopefully show that its study is very accessible, even if it name gathers quizzical looks, but for now I thought I’d cover quickly the truth and faith questions.
What is “Truth?”
Jack Nicholson famously suggested that Tom Cruise (and, indirectly, all of us) cannot “handle the truth.” I think Nicholson is correct in many settings, but for now, we ask the broader question – the question Pontius Pilate asked Jesus at his trial: “what is truth?”
What is truth? Does truth exist?
This is not, of course, a new question or a new topic. The Greek philosophers were very engaged in answering this question. Plato assumed that “by knowing truth you mean knowing things as they really are.” But can we? Do we? The Enlightenment thinkers viewed everything as knowable if we could just adequately apply our faculties of reason to the question. This focus dominated western thought for hundreds of years and continued beyond the Second World War, and thus, is often referred to as “modernism,” which will help us to understand a more current philosophical trend – “post-modernism” – that is skeptical of everything, posits that nothing is true or knowable, and insists that perspective and interpretation are controlling. Like the related discipline of relativism, therefore, many insist that we all just create our own reality. If there are no objective truths, then in a very real sense – truth is relative; everyone makes his or her own truth; and therefore everything is true.
No one can really live committed to relativism. There are many things we know to be true, despite some philosopher trying to suggest otherwise. People wait for the plane to land before departing because they believe gravity is real. Even if, as a lawyer, I am urged to argue sometimes that green is really red, I believe there is truth – there are objective truths. (I address this in Chapter 6 of The Race Before Us.) Truth, of course, is critical to faith. Why would we have faith in something or someone if we did not think it true. Ultimately, for something to be true it should have logical consistency, empirical adequacy, and experiential relevance. In this way, if something is true, it corresponds with and explains the world as we find it. (Sounds a lot like Plato.)
Obviously, this is not a simple topic, but its fun and challenging to engage. As the weeks go on, we will see how the job of “apologetics” is to be able to explain, in those terms of coherence and correspondence, why and how the Christian faith is true.
Considering the length of this post, perhaps we will end here and pick-up with the question of “What is Faith?” in the next post.