Thursday, May 19, 2005

Lessons in Absolute Truth; from Obi-Wan Kenobi

Like most other "Gen-Xers," I have long anticipated this day as one of "closure." What began as a monumental epic in 1977, has now come full circle, as "Star Wars: Episode III" has finally been released to the public.

As much as I enjoyed this film (though dark, it is undoubtedly the best of the last three movies!), one particular scene toward the end brought this fictional tale directly to bear on the worldview issues we face in reality. And in the process, I think that my own "real-life" Christian worldview may have been compared with the "dark side" of the force!

In the much-awaited battle between Anakin Skywalker (who by this time in the film had converted to the dark side and been dubbed "Darth Vader") and Obi-Wan Kenobi, Skywalker's life-long mentor says to him "only the sith deal in absolutes."

"Pop culture" of course, goes by that name principally because it is a reflection of the cultural values of the vast majority, and no one can doubt that most in our culture today are skeptical of any notion of that which is absolute. In view of this, is it any surprise that the iconic symbol of Gen-X heroism himself associates such thinking with evil? But the rejction of absolutes didn't arrive within pop culture by accident. It began with the collapse of modernism's "Empire" of epistemological certainty, and grew stronger with postmodernism's sweeping denial of any such concept.

The modern world of the past 500 years believed that human reason could deduce away any mystery from life. But in the midst of two bloody world wars, and the threat of terrorism and nuclear annihilation, postmodernists began asking if these contentions were accurate. Is the human mind entirely trustworthy? Can science solve all of our problems? Is the advance of human knowledge and progress a foregone conclusion?

Within the "modern" church, similar questions were asked: Is it possible to know truth absolutely? Doesn't Deuteronomy 29:29 suggest that God, while knowable, will forever remain ultimately mysterious? Shouldn't theology be utilized to stand in greater awe of the One whose ways and thoughts are much higher than our own, rather than for trying to "figure everything out"? These were valid questions. But in the end, postmodernism gave even worse answers to them than the modern age that preceeded it.

Postmodern philosopher Richard Rorty claimed that "truth" is made rather than found. In other words, any statement given as "absolute" was not actually something transcendent, but rather constructed by a given culture in order to facilitate the continuation of traditional cultural norms. Likewise, Jaques Derrida, the french philosopher who is often touted as "postmodernism's 'Abraham'" stated that metanarratives in the modern world were not drawn from absolute sources, but were stories constructed by various cultures to oppress. Therefore, the primary objective of postmodernism was to "deconstruct" all "truths" and reject all contentions of things absolute. Hence, we have Kenobi associating belief in absolutes with the dark side!

The late Carl F.H. Henry lamented these ideas when he wrote almost thirty years ago that "no fact of contemporary WEstern life is more evident than its growing distrust of final truth and its implacable questioning of any sure word." How is it then, that followers of Jesus Christ can confront such skepticism?

The answer is to go back to the Scriptures, and in doing so appeal to an authority that transcends both the modern and the postmodern. From the opening line of Genesis; "In the beginning, GOD . . . ." we see clearly that Scripture has no problem with stating that there are indeed, absolutes, because God Himself is absolute! As one theologian once described Him, "he is the only REAL reality in the universe!"

Are there things we don't know about God? Without a doubt! Are there mysteries for which we have no answer? Certainly! But just because we lack posession of the answers doesn't mean that the anwers don't exist! Must we "agree to disagree" concerning the way certain Biblical passages should be interpreted? To do anything less would be to promote a hubris that dishonors God. But just because we can't agree on one interpretations doesn't mean that there isn't one "right" interpretation, and that all others are wrong!

Close to the end of my undergraduate training, Dr. Walter Johnson, one of my dearest academic mentors, reminded me that my rigorous studies were not ultimately for the purpose of disproving neo-orthodoxy, classical liberalism, liberation theology, or any number of abberrations from the truth of Scripture. Quoting one of his own early mentors, I remember him telling me "Joel, we have taught you these things so that as a pastor, when you stand in front of the people over which God has given you charge, and you open the Bible, you can have complete confidence that God has spoken!"

If the church continues to "hide out" in the modern world, pretending that it has all the answers, sooner or later (if it hasn't happened already) the culture is going to call our bluff! If we "lift our sails into the winds of postmodernity" (as has been suggested by Leonard Sweet) then our aspirations to relevancy will leave us the most irrelevant institution in culture. Cetainly, the world sees belief in the absolute exclusivity of Jesus, the absolute existence of God, the absolute holiness of God, and the absolute truth of holy Scripture as something narrow, something bigoted. . . .dare we say. . . .something "dark." But lest we lose the foundation of the Gospel, let us forever hold to these two absolute certainties: God is, and God has spoken!

Now, go and enjoy the movie! (Seriously, I think its the best one of the six!) Don't take it as seriously as I just did. But do remember the cultural values it reflects. Remember that Jesus challenged us to be "counter-cultural," and commit yourself to His Kingdom enterprise. This is a far better thing than having someone say "May the force be with you." :)

No comments: