Is there a place for propositional truth?

A discussion over at NeoBaptist on crafting belief statements has led to an interesting discussion the place of propositional truth in Christian witnessing and discipleship. More recently I commented:

Joe, as is hopefully becoming clearer, I tend to see ANY imbalance as problematic, so I don’t disagree with the counter examples you raise. I see hypercalvinism and hyperliberalism as equally dangerous. If I emphasize here the errors that may be attributable to hypercalvinism, its because I want to highlight the necessity of being “in the world”. But let me assure you that amongst Emergent deconstructionists I have been at equal pains to highlight the necessity of not being “of the world”. Close to my heart is the instruction, “So be careful to do what the LORD your God has commanded you; do not turn aside to the right or to the left.” (Deuteronomy 5:32) I tend to see both sectarianism and syncretism as falling away. In advocating contextualization I am rejecting both. I have drawn a diagram here that I think fleshes it out more.

My basic argument is that propositional statments have their place in training situations, but that place is not necessarily a leading one. See what you think.

3 thoughts on “Is there a place for propositional truth?”

  1. I like propositional statements. Here are a few I’m rather enamored of:
    1. Helping others is important.
    2. Money can be nice, but you can’t take it with you.
    3. Nothing is better than a moment of shared beauty.
    4. Not everything is about me.
    It seems to me that the discussion wasn’t so much about propositional statements, but about very specific propositional statements: stuff like the virgin birth, the resurrection of Christ, and the triune nature of God.
    What is ultimately the purpose of Christianity? And how are the particular propositional statements in question vital to that purpose?
    My own personal impression has been that the purpose of Christianity is to reconcile people to one another and to God. Assuming my impression is correct (and by all means, feel free to challenge it), then how and why is believing in the virgin birth (to pick just one example) essential to that reconciliation process? Does failing to believe in the virgin birth prevent someone from showing compassion, mercy, and justice towards his neighbor? Does believing int he virgin birth somehow improve his ability to do the same? Or does believing in the virgin birth serve some other purpose?

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  2. Not a bad summary Jarred!
    And a good question… certainly many Christians differentiate between essential Christian beliefs (eg Jesus as Son of God) and non-essential beliefs (eg mode of baptism). Depending on where people sit on the fundamentalist/liberal spectrum, people just draw the lines in different places. There’d be many Christians that don’t worry about the virgin birth… others that it’s vital.
    Historically the virgin birth found a place into the early creeds (which were intented as a summary of the MOST important parts of the Christian story) to emphasise Jesus as the unique son of God. Other religions emphasise we are all children of God, and Christianity affirms this too. So the fact Jesus had a unique birth emphasises his status as not any other person, but as the Son of God in a particular way.

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  3. Very insightful Jarred.
    If I may share some of my own understanding, I don’t see the virgin birth as having primary significance. I can’t recall any New Testament letters mentioning it, Revelation only alludes to it, and only two out of the four gospels mention it. Hardly a rousing endorsement for primary significance.
    But neither would I say the virgin birth is insignificant. What would I say? More of secondary significance. Why? Because it has significant implications for how we understand God, humanity, sin and salvation as we delve deeper. When we talk of incarnation and incarnational mission, the virgin birth is not too far in the background. And this is where we begin to see how it can make a difference. If even God made himself vulnerable – socially, politically, economically, culturally – what’s our excuse for lording it over others?
    But this is a second order reflection, not a first order one. For me the resurrection of Christ and the call to sacrificial community is far more primary in the reconciliation process, so that is what I would emphasize.

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