A Life of Critical Challenge

Dr Rob Knowles writes on the critical imperative of making ourselves open to challenge and thus prepared to live our lives in the central room, a centre that governs and shapes all thought, motives and views under the authority of God’s Word.

Communion and Criticism: Openness to Challenge by the Real

In a postmodern world, we encounter a conflict of interpretations.  Which of life’s many spheres, worlds, discourses, texts, thought-forms, practices, or paradigms, should be the most “central” for “right human living”?

Well, Christianity and the Bible, if they are true, should compare favourably with other paradigms for human existence and with other claims made by other religious texts and by other traditions of thinking.  If Christianity and the Bible are true, then they will stand the tests of critical debate and of practical viability for living.6

Since the Bible itself espouses the roles of rationality and experience, then [we] should not exalt “reason” or “experience” over the biblical texts. Jesus himself says: ‘If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own’ (John 7:17).  One can only become convinced that biblical and prayerful communion with God constitutes life’s central room by trying it and by allowing critical challenges. Conversely, those making peripheral worlds “central” must also allow criticism according to biblical criteria.

Such openness to challenge aligns with the scientific testing of hypotheses.  Suspicion rightly arises when any truth-claims immunise themselves from external questioning.  It is weak belief systems, authoritarian regimes and personality cults that cannot stand against scrutiny, that refuse to be challenged.

Some, though, including dogmatic scientists, refuse external challenge because they habitually evade self-criticism.  They inhabit carefully-constructed discourse-worlds, and train others—under threat of an “ugly scene”—to avoid conversational “no-go” areas, topics, or even single words that reflect life-issues crying out to be addressed.  Even science can be an avoidance strategy. A refusal to be challenged is a refusal to live in the room of a genuinely true world.

Admittedly, the psychoanalytical tradition says that patterns of self-deceit and delusion shelter us all from uncomfortable realities.  Nobody’s world or discourse is wholly true, but is at best distorted.  Nevertheless, God calls us into an increasingly real world in which our practices, discourse, and thinking are increasingly shaped towards a truthful ‘authentic’ humanity in which reality, actions, and ‘words’ “correspond” in inner consistency and ‘integrity’.7


6 So Thiselton, 2H, 292; cf. 83; cf. Knowles, R., Anthony C. Thiselton and The Grammar of Hermeneutics: The Search for a Unified Theory (Milton Keanes: Paternoster, 2012), 444-564.

7 Thiselton, A.C., New Horizons in Hermeneutics: The Theory and Practice of Transforming Biblical Reading (London: HarperCollins, 1992), 111-112; cf.: Thiselton, A.C., ‘Truth’, in The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Volume 3 (ed. C. Brown; Exeter: Paternoster, 1978), 879; 883-886; 892.

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