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Trade Paperback
176 pages
Nov 2005
Crossway Books

Whatever Happened to Truth?

by Andreas J. Köstenberger

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Whatever Happened to Truth is a compilation of four plenary addresses given at the 56th Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theology Society. Each essay approaches the issue of truth from a different vantage point. Andreas Kostenberger offers a biblical exposition of Pilate's question to Jesus, "What is truth?"; Albert Mohler provides a cultural commentary, warning evangelicals to avoid the postmodern mood and its effects; J. P. Moreland provides a philosophical defense of a modest foundationalism and a correspondence theory of truth; and Kevin Vanhoozer concludes with a hermeneutical-theological essay on truth. These four essays are framed by Kostenberger's clear and helpful introductory and concluding essays.

Overall, I found the book extremely satisfying, bringing together as it does four distinguished and staunch defenders of conservative evangelicalism. Kostenberger's essay "What is Truth? Pilate's Question in Its Johannine and Larger Biblical Context" is a scholarly and thoughtful exegesis of Jesus and Pilate's exchange, though his excessive footnotes were a distraction. J. P. Moreland's essay "Truth, Contemporary Philosophy, and the Postmodern Turn" is thoughtful and clear as usual, though there's certainly nothing new here. The essays by both Mohler and Vanhoozer, however, deserve further comment.

Mohler's essay "Truth and Contemporary Culture" was surprisingly nuanced and trenchantly argued. Before reading it, I had pegged him as something of an insular reactionary preaching primarily to the evangelical choir. Not so now. The first half of the essay clearly and pithily explains six challenges that the postmodern age presents for the church: (1) a deconstruction of truth; (2) the death of the meta-narrative; (3) the demise of the text; (4) the dominion of therapy; (5) the decline of authority; and (6) the displacement of morality. Mohler then charts an articulate traditional conservatism over and against post-liberals and post-conservative evangelical paths. The evangelical choir would certainly agree, but he's citing and reading thinkers that may make some in the congregation perk up. Judging from this essay, Mohler has read—and understood—the likes of Dawkins, Habermas, and Wittgenstein, as well as Hauerwas, MacIntyre, Lindbeck and Frei. For example, his case against post-conservative evangelical theology is not knee-jerk, but he instead shows their fallacious reading of evangelical history, in that evangelical theology has never been the step-child of modernity that post-conservatives say it is. While recognizing the genuine ecclesiological insights that post-conservative and emergent thinkers do bring to the table, Mohler warns that the church must be "understood to be the product of divine revelation, and not the producer of the divine revelation" is a necessary corrective (p. 70). It is a warning that I, for one, am beginning to heed.

While Mohler's essay was surprising, it was Vanhoozer's essay that was (unsurprisingly) most impressive. After reading his "Lost in Interpretation? Truth, Scripture, and Hermeneutics," one almost feels as if the essays by Mohler and Moreland are slightly misguided. While philosophical and cultural clashes fuel misunderstandings between traditionalist, post-liberal, and post-conservative evangelicals, Vanhoozer asks—and answers—the more salient questions.

Instead of defending the correspondence theory of truth, for example, Vanhoozer asks to what end does truth serve? Vanhoozer sees "truth as correspondence for the sake of enriching the ministry of doctrine and reorienting our theology toward wisdom rather than mere information and knowledge." Put another way, Vanhoozer suggests that those who are wise allow biblical texts to "train our imaginations to see how things fit together theodramatically". For Vanhoozer, "theodramatic truth is a matter of eschatological correspondence" (p. 125-126).

On the doctrine of inerrancy—long an area of dispute among evangelicals—Vanhoozer is less anxious about later interpolations into the original autographs and instead finds himself asking how God's revealed Word should shape the worshipping community, the church. Here he notes that the Latin term for errancy (errare) is related to the term itinerary. Scripture, he writes, "reliably maps the way of Jesus Christ, not as a theological Euclid—a book of abstract propositions—but as a book of theodramatic wisdom. The Bible is wholly trustworthy and true [inerrant] because its direction is wholly reliable [itinerary]." Again and again, Vanhoozer gives wise answers through the lens of a canonical-theological approach inflected through the interpretive lens of the Protestant tradition. Mohler (and Moreland, to a lesser extent) are right in their warning against the postmodern cultural mood and philosophical direction. Vanhoozer, however, suggests the proper direction ahead. Modernity and postmodernity, he suggests, are both mere cultural inflections: misguided streams that flow away from the "great Protestant tradition where Scripture is the supreme rule for life and thought" (p. 128).  Our surest foundation is to steep ourselves in the stories of Scripture—to tell and retell God's story of redemption, to let it shape our imaginations, and to let it shape our communities of faith. As he concludes, he leaves us with a sobering reminder that all pastors and elders, indeed all Christians, should always remember:

"The Christian truth claim is not a matter of the will to power but of the will to weakness, a matter of enduring all sorts of critical testing, epistemic and existential, just as Jesus endured the cross. Christian interpreters must speak the truth in love, do the truth in love, and suffer the truth in love…Our life together in the church is our most eloquent commentary on the gospel and, as such, ought itself to be exhibit number one of Christian truth" (p. 129). – Dan Olson, Christian Book


Book Jacket:

This book helps show us how a correct mind-set on truth will best enable us to understand the tenets of the Bible. It offers hope and steadfastness to the readers by reminding us of the irreplaceable value of truth. With exceptional scholarship and powerful arguments, truth is upheld throughout the pages of this clear and thoughtful work.