Emerging Knowledge of the Truth

Recently, on the Young Emerging SBC Leader’s blog, Steve McCoy raised the issue of “Truth: Knowing and Teaching.” He asked:

There’s a lot of fuss in the EC as it reacts against modernism on the topic of truth. A part of the problem, says the EC, is that traditional churches see truth as essentially propositional where we see it as primarily relational (or something like that). That changes the way truth is known, believed, and taught.

How do we know and teach truth? How should we? Is something wrong with propositional truth? Is propositional truth good? What are the ramifications of how we view truth?

I believe we can find steps toward this answer in Paul’s letter to young Timothy. He mentions all three of Steve’s keywords in 2 Timothy 2:24-25. “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.”

Breaking this admonition down, Paul instructs Timothy that “the Lord’s servant,” that would be us, must:

  1. not be quarrelsome
  2. but kind to everyone,
  3. able to teach,
  4. patiently enduring evil,
  5. correcting his opponents
  6. with gentleness.

Instead of buying into a supposed relational/propositional dichotomy, Paul gives us a both/and picture of how we ought to live if our journey intends to lead to a “knowledge of the truth.” Notice that four of the six characteristics seem to focus on the relational and two on the propositional. Promoting one without the other falls short of the Biblical ideal.

On the relational side of things, Paul warns against being quarrelsome. Instead, our life conversation should be characterized by kindness, patience, and gentleness. God never instructs us to argue people into the kingdom with mean spirited methods of manipulation and bruit force. Even when we do encounter adversarial hostility we should endure the evil opposition with patience and gentleness.

On the other hand, we must not avoid the propositional aspect of our journey. If we only avoid quarrelsomeness and exhibit kindness, patience, and gentleness, we build a bridge that only spans two thirds of the river. Paul also insists that the Lord’s servant must be able to teach and correct his opponents. If we focus on the relational to the detriment of the propositional, we simply win people to ourselves, but not to Christ.

Whether or not a person comes to a knowledge of the truth ultimately anchors in God. After setting forth the six fold description of how we ought to share propositional truth through relationships, Paul assures Timothy that God grants repentance. In other words, God turns the heart and mind of people. Our relationships can’t do it. Our setting forth propositional truth can’t do it. Only God can cause blind eyes to see” the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:4-6) Some will turn and some will not. The difference rests in God, not our cunning ability to strike a right balance between the relational and propositional.

As God’s agents, we patiently build meaningful relationships, gently share the truth of Christ’s surpassing goodness without compromise, refrain from quarrelsomeness, show kindness to everyone, take our lumps, and trust in the sovereign grace of God to turn hearts to a knowledge of the truth – a truth firmly planted in the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

3 Comments

I’m not really sure why evangelicals have to insist on propositional truth so much. Is the statement “God is love” relational or propositional?
What about 1 John 2:2 (know that one given Calvinists fits)? Is that relational or propositional?

If these “propositional truths” are not experienced by the hearers, can they really be understood?
I know that if one doesn’t experience them, they’re still true. However, How might they be verified other than through experience?

Hi Mark,

Its good to hear from you. I pray you are doing well these days. I see you teach at Xaveir now. cool. I’m going to pull your comment out and respond to it as a main blog entry so it doesn’t get buried here. Look for an entry entitled “Relational vs Propositional – A False Dichotomy” soon.