How God Hooked Us Up

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So here below is a friendly rejoinder to a response to my recent jab at hermeneutical humility. My thanks to Micah Neely for the interaction. The nuances here may seem exquisite to some and very fine, but I actually think a great deal rides on it. It is le big deal, as the French put it so wonderfully.

My rejoinder has three points, making it, I suppose, a trijoinder.

First, if we think in terms of which hermeneutical approach makes truth “possible,” I think we have already lost the game. In order to function in robust scriptural categories, we need a hermeneutical approach that understands truth as inescapable.

We are not setting out with a hermeneutical flashlight, looking for a particular pebble of truth at the bottom of Carlsbad Caverns, but rather our problem is that we are running off to the basement with our hermeneutical flashlight in a vain attempt to get away from the sun. The earth is full of His glory (Is. 6:3). Day unto day pours forth speech, and the words go to the end of the world (Ps. 19:4). The invisible things of God are clearly seen, and have been since the creation (Rom. 1:20). So we need a hermeneutic capable of supporting the weight of inescapable, omnipresent, won’t-leave-us-alone truth, and not just possible truth. The hunt for truth is not looking for a needle in a haystack. It is more like looking for hay in a haystack.

But second, lest I be thought to be inveighing against humility, which would be bad, let me say I only have a beef with misplaced humility, and not with interpretive humility proper. True epistemic humility lets God tell us true things. Faux-humility wants to complicate it.

Not surprisingly, Chesterton makes this point wonderfully.

“Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth: this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert-himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt – the Divine Reason… The old humility was a spur that prevented a man from stopping: not a nail in his boot that prevented him from going on. For the old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether.”

And last, I quite grant that if a modernist means by “objective” something raw and immediate, then he is talking through the back of his neck. But that is not what objective needs to mean.

Our knowledge is mediated to us by means of language, poems, metaphors, and (yes) propositions. But this is a design feature. It really is mediated to us — and this fact does not downgrade the quality of the knowledge gained. I gain objective knowledge when I receive objective knowledge by the means that God appointed to carry it to me.

Those means exclude me attaining to a God-like status that can know things “raw and uncooked.” But they include trusting that God hooked me up to the world the right way. He wanted me to know that my keyboard was right under my fingertips at this very moment, and He also plainly wanted me to know (objectively) that my keyboard is black. How do I know this? God told me. Look.

I give metaphor a very high place, but I also give it high praise. It actually communicates truth. It was designed to. So real humility steps out of the way and lets language do its God-appointed job. Metaphor, typology, figures, propositions, etc. do not blur. They tell. Just as copper conducts electricity, human language conducts truth.

Micah says this in his conclusion: “Giving up our ideas of objective certainty is not apostasy, it is the one thing necessary for us to return to true Trinitarian thought.” But the first thing I would want to know is whether or not I can have any objective certainty about whether I have arrived at true Trinitarian thought, or even if I have a duty to try.

If he only means to say that we have to give up our quest for autonomous certainty, then I am in the amen corner. But giving up objective certainty means that we are all still in our sins. If we give up objective certainty in order to return to the Trinity, my very first question will be what Trinity?

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