I mentioned a few days ago that we have to avoid all forms of unbelief, whether in modernist or postmodernist guise. This requires a distinctive Trinitarian epistemology. Consider this some preliminary doodling.
One of the problems with this kind of discussion is that it tends to be limited to academics, and epistemic certainty becomes something you can demonstrate (or not) in a classroom. Reduced to this, certainty becomes a function of personality, logical acumen, bombast, and so on. But what about epistemology in the Bible? While it is lawful to discuss such things in a classroom, and (with direct permission from the Holy Spirit) it might be okay to write a book on it, things look very different in Scripture.
In the Bible, when the Word comes, the faithful are described as receiving it, or as believing it, or as bearing witness to it. And certainty is measured in these life terms, measured in blood, and most emphatically not measured in terms of haunting self-doubts. When we begin with the problems of interpretation, we often never get to what the Bible presents so breezily, which is faith. When we begin with faith, we come to understanding. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, not the end of it.
How certain am I that in the observance of the Lord’s Supper, the bread and wine do not turn into the literal flesh and blood of Jesus? In a classroom discussion, how can I answer this question? I could hold my hands apart six inches and say, “This much,” or perhaps, in a rhetorical flourish, I could stretch my arms all the way out and say, “This much.” But the martyrs who suffered under Bloody Mary had a different calculus entirely (and a far more biblical one). They sealed their testimony with their blood.
Related to this (the flip side of it, really) concerns what you are willing to kill for. A number of years ago, I served on a jury in a murder trial. We convicted the accused man, and the biblical standard we were operating with was that we had to be convinced “beyond a reasonable doubt.” But note how loaded with epistemological concerns that phrase is. Beyond a reasonable doubt — what is that? But since this was a jury room, and not a classroom, we were dealing, in principle, with a man’s life. How certain must we be then? The same principles are involved in going to war, drafting certain kinds of legislation, and so on.
We are called to believe, receive, bear witness, and act. When we act, there will be costs (at least in the real world). The issues of certainty are always issues that always revolve around cost. The problem with modernism is that it was willing to act on false principles and a false foundation, not bearing witness to Christ, and therefore it has been convicted of epistemic arrogance. But the problem with postmodernism is an identical one — it is also not willing to believe the story of Christ’s actual resurrection from the dead, a story that therefore defines and subordinates all other stories. To use the jargon, if Christ’s resurrection is not a metanarrative, a reigning metanarrative, then we are all still in our sins. And since the postmodern “incredulity to all metanarratives” includes this, it is also convicted of the arrogance of unbelief.
The problem is not that some Christians are now telling us that the Bible is more than a bundle of propositions. We know that, and have been saying it for years. I myself have been pummeling the epistemology of the Enlightenment (with shouts of exuberant joy) for some time now. But then along come some evangelical poseurs, using the obvious faults of modernism as a pretext for adopting something just as bad and twice as silly. So I says to myself, I says, let us rise up and smite that thing, hip and thigh. Let us hew it to pieces before the Lord.
The Bible presents a grand story, a narrative. But here is the rub. We believe the story, we receive it. We bear witness to it. It is the story. It is the ultimately true story.
This is a Trinitarian epistemology because Jesus is the full revelation of God, the exact image of His being. God revealed Himself in Christ. If you have seen Me, Jesus said to Phillip, you have seen the Father. And Jesus, among many other things, was the First Witness, the Faithful Witness, the Preeminent Martyr. How certain was He of His identity? How firm was His grasp of those tricky passages in Isaiah about the suffering servant? And when the voice came from heaven, and others heard only thunder, how can we measure His response? In short, how do we evaluate Christ’s epistemology? His blood not only saved His people, but His blood also showed us a way of knowing. We are to imitate Him.