This series is reflecting on Matthew Gallatin’s book, Thirsting for God in a Land of Shallow Wells.
It seemed to me that truth, for a Protestant Christian, is whatever you interpret it to be.
The turning point in Matthew’s journey hinged on this realization. That was obvious to me. My formation (whether you call it postmodern or something else) left me acutely aware that we perceive everything around us through layers of interpretation. Whenever somebody has proclaimed, “The Bible says,” I’ve always heard, “I interpret the Bible to say.” That’s been as obvious and as natural to me as breathing. I’m reminded of one of the second century Fathers who wrote that the Scriptures (primarily speaking about what we call the Old Testament at that point, of course) are like a mosaic. Interpreted correctly they form a picture of Christ. But the heretics takes the tiles and rearrange them to form the picture of a wolf or a fox instead.
The question then becomes a different one. Is God simply whatever we interpret him to be? Or does God have a reality that is independent of our interpretation? You might think the answer is obvious, but be careful here. If you equate truth with your own interpretations and belief, then in essence you are saying you get to define God. I’ve done that sort of thing before I began to be drawn into Christianity. I know its taste. And when you dig down deeply, the foundations of what we label “New Age” these days are a whole lot different from what lies beneath Protestant Christianity. Both ultimately depend on me.
And here we get to the realization in Matthew Gallatin’s life that forms the basis for the title of the book.
To me, Protestant faith had shown itself to be a great dream that cannot find its fulfillment, a deep question that cannot answer itself, an eternal thirst dwelling in a land of shallow wells.
And that led him to the question, “Who is the Jesus I trust?”
No, the question What is the Truth? is unavoidable. For unless I’m sure I know the truth about Christ, how do know that my Christian faith isn’t just an illusion? The human mind and emotions are powerful things. It’s absolutely possible to create a mental picture of someone and have an intense relationship with him or her, even though he or she isn’t real. Think about the imaginary friends many of us have as children. If I’m not absolutely certain that I know the truth about who Christ is, my Christian life could simply be a love affair with an imaginary Friend. … So I could not sidestep issues of truth merely be saying, “I just trust in Jesus.”
Matthew then began to wonder if the problem was not in the distinctive teachings of different Protestant strands, but in what they all held in common. He came up with three common traits.
- They are all willing to invent the church.
- They all believe that the Holy Scriptures are the foundation of truth. While it is shaded in different ways, they all embrace some aspect of the idea of sola scriptura.
- Truth is a rational thing.
Those all ties together. Scriptures are the only reliable foundation. We can use our rational abilities to analyze scripture and by doing so we can uncover the truth. That truth will then show us the correct way to worship and live as Christians. To one extent or another, every Protestant strand of Christianity depends on those three ideas.