in Christian Perspective
Letter to the Editor
The Limits of Human Wisdom: How Do We "Know"?
Fuller Theological Seminary
Two recent submissions to JASA by a fellow student here at Fuller Seminary are deserving, I feel, of some comment. I refer to Robert Weathers contributions to both the March and June editions, in which there appeared respectively a "Communication" and a book review. In the first, Mr. Weathers utilizes biblical wisdom literature in order to espouse his personalistic epistemological predilections. In this enterprise, he draws support from some of Neidhardt's work. Now, I must confess that in pondering Neidhardt's diagrams with all of their boxes, and arrows pointing here and there, the scientific aura is indeed profound. However, it did not take long to realize that these postulated epistemological maps could be used to defend the truth of conflicting truth claims simultaneously. Professors here at Fuller who are steeped in Torrancian "rationality" are oblivious to this point. The "ontic (alias the OTHER)" is to precede the ontological; objectivity is to be allowed to disclose itself prior to any rational comment. Weathers seems content to caboose himself to the Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Buber, Barth, Torrance epistemological train: "Essential to all such epistemologies are the priority of relationship and commitment to God and creation over scientific conceptualization and/or rational comment (JASA, March 1984, p.46)." Those of us with familiarity of Mormon philosophical theology recognize that nothing could better describe the process by which Joseph Smith ushered in the "restored gospel." With his priority of relationship and commitment to God, he allowed the OTHER to disclose itself, or, the ontic to precede the ontological. God was certainly the chief reality and center of things for him.
What did this encounter with the Thou disclose to Joseph Smith?
Simply, that God is not Wholly Other at all. He is an exalted man, a
resurrected flesh and bone being-among-beings, very much like
ourselves--only bigger. Mormons individually have a burning "inner
witness" experience to confirm the truth of Smith's definitive
prophetic Encounter. The same "ontic" method has produced contradictory results. Note the comment of Mormon scholar Sterling
McMurrin: "If St. Augustine were to return and be introduced to
modern Christianity through Mormonism, he would be shocked and
not a little disappointed to discover that he had not destroyed forever
the heresies against which he directed his most vigorous and brilliant
intellectual blows. For here he would encounter not only the Pelagianism that he fought so confidently, but also strong indications of
the finitism which he identified with the Manichaeism that elicited
much of his most intense assault. Here he would find little of the
absolutism which in his later years he wrote so securely into the life
and structure of Christianity (The Theological Foundations of the
Mormon Religion, University of Utah Press, 1965, p.104)." I imagine on viewing such a situation upon his return, Augustine
might be the first to reevaluate epistemological methodologies.
Finally, this leads to brief comment on Weather's review of Robert Roberts' Spirituality and Human Emotion. He rinds fault with Roberts' "sideswiping sarcasm" in regard to process theologians. Now one wonders at this point if it might not be the case that in his appreciation of wisdom literature, Weathers has entirely missed the rich "literature of sarcasm" to be found in Scripture. It would not have been necessary to stray very far in the O.T. to appreciate Elijah's sarcasm in I Kings 18:27. Of course, Paul provides the most pointed example of N.T. sarcasm in Galatians 5:12. There are times, it seems, when the demands of truth and love take precedence over the "niceness" demanded by a benign pluralism. Our commission and command as believers is not to engage in "nice" dialogue with other religious traditions, but to reach them with the gospel which was once for all delivered. While dialogue is necessary to this end, it is a means. As with roads, not all epistemologies nor all religions lead to Rome. To think so is surely to fall prey to the obscurantism of which Weathers has such a healthy fear.