Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Epistemological Side of Faith in the Crucified

"He who answers before listening---that is his folly and his shame." Proverbs 18:13

"The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him." Proverbs 18:17

Yesterday morning in my Proverbs reading group we were noticing the tension between these and other proverbs which remind us of the value of listening and also the value of questioning. It was a timely discussion considering some of the stuff I've been learning and writing about lately, as follows:

"Chesterton rejected the false dilemma between tolerance and truth and sought to bring them together by debating honestly and humbly. Thus, he paradoxically tried to practice irenics and polemics at the same time. His commitment to common ground and his conviction about the existence of truth led him to make every effort to reconcile opposing views, not by feigning full agreement but by holding them together—discerning what aspects of each to deconstruct and what in the preceding view to reconstruct in order to bear fuller witness to all the partial truths represented.

Though a certain perspective (or faith) could still take the lead in one’s life and lay claim to one’s allegiance, it was never the case that one could say they had arrived at a complete understanding of it that would not benefit from dialogue and even debate. The goal of debate was to win, but winning ideally meant not the creation of a loser but a win-win scenario where both parties were better off. The more truthful view should prevail and bring those opposed over to its side. Thus the paradox of the "irenic polemic," and those who practice it are likely displaying more faith in truth to have its day than those who are more forceful and violent with their rhetoric.

Miroslav Volf has expounded the merits of such an approach as "the epistemological side of faith in the Crucified," an example of God’s self-giving love at work in those who dialogue with others about matters of truth. Such a thing does not amount to the forsaking of one’s convictions, but the openness to the ever-present possibility of having one’s perceptions enhanced by others, especially those with which one essentially disagrees.

This has been called "enlarged thinking," which is described by Volf in the words of Seyla Benhabib as "the processional generation of reasonable agreement about moral principles via an open-ended moral conversation." Volf explains that this is not a rhetorical strategy, but is simply what true followers of Christ do."

(See Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 214, 212. )

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