Humility and Epistemology

This post is a result of several things, including a conversation with a friend and a post on John Stackhouse’s blog (found here).

The main reason for this post, though is not quite Stackhouse’s point (which I believe to be true), but an implication that I believe makes it far easier to remain truly Christian in the standard debates that surround being a Christian among thinking non-believers (by far my favorite kind of non-believers).

It is easy to get wrapped up in the certainty of our own faith (and don’t get me wrong, I am quite convinced that Jesus Christ really is the truth) so much that we come to believe that it is not Christ who saves people, but our own ideas of Christ that do. This is, to be frank, idolatry, and a fairly subtle form of it, made far more dangerous by its subtlety.

It is this idolatry that leaves Christians unable to actually hear the critiques brought against our faith, and in so doing be able to respond as Christ would have us respond, humbly and in the grace the Spirit provides. It is also dangerous because it has at its centre a resounding lie. One that can slowly eat away at the over-certain believer and leave their faith either rank hypocrisy, or non-existent (and provide a similarly overconfident disbelief). I mean, seriously, how does anyone with any experience of being incorrect ever assume that they cannot still be incorrect? I seem to remember the Magnificat having something to say about God scattering the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

It is my contention that the faith a Christian is to have is less arrogant, but every bit as strong (perhaps stronger as it is not based on my own epistemic ability). We are called to point to the God that is truth, to seek that truth with all we are, with the full recognition that we are fallible, but trusting that God will lead us into truth if we are willing to see it. Indeed, God may be gracious to open our eyes where we have been blind to something till now.

Could I be wrong? Sure. Am I? Well, if I thought I was, I’d change my beliefs to something I think more closely accords to reality. The fact that we “could be wrong” does not prove that we in fact are, but leads us to remain on the path in seeking truth (as long as we don’t raise the “could be wrong” to “probably are”, the latter being as silly as unwarranted certainty in what we believe).
Most importantly, this allows us to see those who disagree with us as no more “foolish” than we see ourselves. It puts our knowledge as as much a function of grace as is our salvation, and it idiotic to pretend that what we are given by grace is a reason to deride another. Similarly, it allows us to speak, act, and preach what we have become convinced of.

Of course, as with everything, I stand ready to be corrected. :-)