Knowing the Truth

In The True Story I briefly stated three features of the truth and their relationship with one another. They were semiotic truth, existential truth and narratival truth. Now there is fourth feature I would like to add and that is epistemic truth.

Epistemology is the study of knowledge. It asks questions like what is knowledge and how do we know things? Every worldview has its own theory of knowledge and the Christian worldview is no exception. There are different kinds of knowledge and knowing as it were. In Christian circles, particularly among more Charismatic groups, “revelation” is highly regarded as opposed to “human” or “head” knowledge. One is supposedly from above and the other is from below. Revelation is often positioned as somehow counterintuitive to human knowledge. If this notion is taken too far it produces sensationalism. When a person studies the scriptures he is looking for the weird “hidden meaning” and disregards the common sense interpretation because that is “human wisdom” at work. It then becomes only about the thrills and spills, from one “aha!” moment to the next. Having been among such circles I have not only witnessed this kind of epistemology but I have also been influenced by it. It took a lot of exegetical discipline on my part to break free of that mould in my study of the scriptures. The turning point for me came when I acknowledged that no matter how exciting it seems if it is not true it must be rejected. The truth had to be paramount in my thinking.

In the Christian worldview the most important kind of knowledge is the truth. When someone makes a truth claim they are implicitly giving you information about an existential reality. Continuing with my example from my previous post, if I say “Accra is the capital of Ghana,” I am making a proposition which can either turn out to be true or false. Either way I am offering information about the identity of the capital Ghana. I am telling you about something real. No matter what kind of epistemology we hold knowledge is informative. Now if the information I am proffering is accurate and reliable we say it is true. In the case of my proposition if it is true, I would have to take a trip to Accra if I want to see the nation’s seat of government. The truth is knowledge that is reliable i.e. true knowledge. The truth gives you knowledge about how things real are.

Since the truth is informative it can be shared and transmitted. Semiotic truth means truth can be communicated through meaningful signs and symbols. The truth can therefore be seen as a message, something that holds information that can be shared with another. The Gospel is seen in this light in the scriptures. It is essentially a public message and it is called the word of truth. In other words it is a truth proclamation. As a public message the truth is not limited to certain private individuals. The Christian worldview is very committed against all kinds of Gnosticism.

This understanding of truth is very important in Christian epistemology. The Gospel claims to tell you how the world really is and implores you to make a commitment to that vision of reality. So if any truth claim is not in keeping with reality you should promptly reject it. Semiotic truth and existential truth are therefore held in tension. The Christian message is called a testimony, that is, a message based on eyewitness accounts. For instance it is the New Testament that tells us Jesus was bodily raised from the dead and people actually witnessed it. If it had not really happened Christianity totally collapses on itself (1 Corinthians 15.) This epistemology naturally extends itself to assessing all belief systems. All major worldviews make truth claims but this view of knowledge is quite unique to Christianity. The Gospel asks you to make a commitment to the truth and nothing else.

The purpose of preaching however is not to merely inform the public as if you are just putting it out there. Knowledge implies there is some kind of relationship between the knower and the known. Whether it is a vague awareness or it is a place you have actually been to there is some kind of connection. Knowledge is relational. The preaching of the Gospel brings a person into contact with existential realities.

This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. – 1 Timothy 2:3-6 ESV

This passage brings together the things that have been mentioned concerning epistemic truth. “The knowledge of the truth” tells us the truth is a kind of knowledge. This true knowledge brings you into relationship with God through Christ Jesus. Through the Gospel we are made “aware” that Jesus died for our sins to reconcile us to God. In recognizing this truth we can live reconciled lives to God.

Semiotic and existential truth come together in narratival truth. Real talk about real things comes together in the stories we tell. Epistemic truth then grounds a person in the narrative. Once you become aware of the story you can participate and engage with it. The scriptural narrative is in many ways like a script. It gives us the premise of the world-story, the major themes, plots and characters involved. It tells us how things began and it also tells us how things will end. In this story we learn that we are actors who each have important roles to fulfil in the grand narrative. We are participants in the greatest story ever told, the true story.




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