A man cannot conceive himself capable of a greater certainty than to know that any idea in his mind is such as he perceives it to be…He that demands a greater certainty than this, demands he knows not what, and shows only that he has a mind to be a sceptic-John Locke
In my last post I ended with the question “Is uncertainty virtuous?”
It seems to me that in the present age of skepticism that has resulted in a culture of doubt, the idea that one ought to be uncertain about everything has permeated even Christian thought. The layperson in the pew may not realize it, but they are probably as susceptible to this idea as the atheist or agnostic.
As I taught young people a few years ago it became apparent to me that I couldn’t necessarily count on my students to believe any particular doctrine or idea that I put before them. If you are a teacher or preacher in church you have probably realized it too. In fact, even now that I am not involved in a teaching ministry, while I enjoy listening to my pastor preach I can’t help but be keenly aware of the skepticism that hangs over the congregation like some epistemological interference, white noise in the minds of the people of God.
In fact, some time ago I listened as two people behind me audibly questioned a pastor as he preached. It was disrespectful and to be honest I considered confronting them, during and after the service. They questioned the pastor to the extent of saying it aloud during a sermon and as far as I was concerned should’ve been disciplined for it. Ultimately, it was not my place.
A friend of mine who attends another church told me the other day that there is one person in particular who actually comments and deliberately interrupts the sermon on a regular basis. He has no respect for the office of pastor, the preaching of the Word, or God’s elect. My comment to my friend agreed with his sentiments…where are the deacons?
Other than the apparent lack of ecclesiological understanding and/or respect, these examples demonstrate an era of mistrust that exists between the pew and the pulpit.
Part of the blame belongs to church leadership. I have written extensively on that. In an age when wolves (John 10:12) roam about like roaring lions (1 Peter 5:8) devouring congregations that have given their complete loyalty to a man rather than Christ, the lack of proper discipline and theological understanding has left the sheep without qualified shepherds to protect them (Titus 1:9).
All of this cannot be blamed on elders and deacons though. People are lazy and have been all too satisfied to leave the heavy Biblical lifting to their pastor. Very few Christians have a vibrant prayer life. Very few of them regularly read must less study the Bible. Even fewer seek any theological training.
Most people have given Sunday morning to the pastor as only a piece of their theological puzzle. The problem with that is they haven’t given the rest of the puzzle to study and prayer but to Google and Oprah. Luther and Calvin have been replaced with Osteen and Dr. Phil. Ask most people in the pew and they will tell you that the Christian life is to be epitomized by love for everyone, working hard at being a good person, and avoiding the temptation to judge others.
If you asked them to give practical definitions of those three tenants of the Faith their response might be something like this: love is to accept people as they are; being good is treating every one and their ideas as equally valid; and judging people is a sign of bigotry and hatred.
For those of you who are a little more engaged with theology or apologetics these unbiblical ideas have become frustrating road blocks to having substantive, faith driven conversations with many of your friends. If you must accept all people and all ideas as equally valid then doctrine doesn’t matter, theology is a human construct, and what else is there to discuss?
Why do people think this way? Well, there are many reasons. Some of them include Biblical ignorance. Much of it is a result of post-modern influence. One piece of the post-modern puzzle is the cultures insistence on uncertainty. People are conditioned by post-modern philosophy to question everything; especially anything that claims exclusivity, and truth is essentially exclusive.
“There is no truth”, some say. “Truth is relative”, others claim.
Philosophically, the idea that truth cannot be known can be dealt with in just a few logical steps though. I think in about thirty minutes most folks can be taught a very basic epistemology. But that’s not exactly the question that I’ve asked, is it?
The question I have asked involves a different approach and has different consequences.
The question “Is uncertainty virtuous” is a moral question rather than one that is merely epistemological. It’s not a question of is as much as it is a question of ought. We could reword the question into a statement that might look like this: we ought to be uncertain.
Do you see how that is different than understanding that we can be certain?
To teach someone that certainty about an idea or truth claim exists is different than telling them that they should or ought to be uncertain about truth claims or ideas.
To teach people that truth exists is different than claiming to know it or to have certainty of your knowledge of it.
To claim to have certainty puts a period at the end of a truth claim. To make uncertainty virtuous puts a question mark at the end of everything. The former is considered post-modern heresy. The latter is cultural orthodoxy.
In my opinion, churches need to help their congregants develop a healthy epistemology. To teach people the truth about God, churches often need to teach people about truth itself, and the two questions that need to be answered are as follows…
What is truth? And can we know truth?
But now we have a new task. Not only must we develop a proper epistemology in our ranks, we must first convince people that we are advancing a moral pursuit, one that our culture is quickly denouncing as anathema. Pastors and teachers must take serious the words in Titus 1:9. To be able to instruct in sound doctrine is only half the battle. The other half is to rebuke those who contradict it.
Uncertainty is cultural orthodoxy. Christians are called to faith. Apologists stand between the pew and the propaganda.
 Locke, J. (1894). An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. (A. C. Fraser, Ed.) (Vol. 2, pp. 177–178). Oxford: The Clarendon Press.
 Locke, J. (1894). An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. (A. C. Fraser, Ed.) (Vol. 2, p. 178). Oxford: The Clarendon Press.