Letter 2

One week into my research on the Christian understanding of truth and evangelism (see letter 1 for a more detailed account), and I have the beginnings of an answer to the first half of my question: that is, what is truth to the Christian believer? But before going into my preliminary findings, I would like to outline the social and intellectual environment of my research thus far.

King's Park Church

I am currently attending the Cornerstone Program at King’s Park International Church, my local church, in Durham. Over four weeks, the program seeks “to help college students be Centered on the Gospel, integrating the Gospel into every aspect of their daily lives.” Through identifying and studying the overarching Gospel narrative in the contexts and histories of the Old and New Testaments, Cornerstone looks to define, understand, and apply the core of the Christian faith in the lives of college students. The program also hopes “that the Gospel would be so ingrained in every student’s lifestyle and worldview that students would be able to articulate the Gospel in diverse evangelism contexts” – an attractive mission statement to any believer, especially one tasked with a research project on investigating Christian truth. So that is where I am. And for the first week the program has primarily focused on identifying what the Gospel is, and why on earth it matters.

So, what is all this Gospel nonsense? And how does it relate to my research?

In fact, it is in the Gospel where we start to define Christian truth. Based on my research thus far, I would argue that, to the Christian, ‘truth’ is centered upon the Gospel. Truth begins and ends with the resolved faith that the Gospel outlines the overarching story of human history, and thus seriously impacts our conception of God, self and neighbor. I do realize that this is still saying very little, and there is much defining to do (yes, the Gospel nonsense remains unresolved), but I wanted to start with how my study of the Gospel related to my research, in nebulous-ominous form, and then begin to flesh it out.

So, what is the Gospel?

The Gospel is most centrally the good news that God so loved a fallen world that he sent his only son (John 3.16) to redeem humanity and restore God’s people back into right relationship with himself. This definition too carries many abstractions and assumptions. To clarify, the Gospel carries the narrative that the one triune God – one being yet three persons: Father, Son, Holy Spirit – created everything we consider as existence; that he created humankind in his image to steward the earth; that humanity fell out of right relationship with God, each other and creation as we put our trust not in God but ourselves and our own sense of control; and that God, in his grace and mercy, saved fallen humanity through the life, death and resurrection of his son, Jesus Christ, promising adoption into his family and eternal life for all who believe. Though slightly anthropocentric in quality, this is the Christian Gospel.

Now, how does the Christian center truth upon this narrative?

Christianity stakes its claim to truth not on reason, but revelation: God and truth can be known if and only if God reveals himself and the truth of his creation. The Christian’s understandings of God and truth are inextricably related: God defines truth, because he is creator and author of all things, including the ideas of himself and truth in the first place. This does not imply the divinity of creation. The Gospel narrative tells us that, as we desired to take the place of God in our own lives, we paved a way for evil to distort the original, good purpose of creation. However, it does imply that there is truth to the reality around us, but beyond what we may understand for ourselves, and God’s revealing of himself is the key into understanding truth.

So, how does God reveal himself?

There are two forms of revelation by which we can know God: General Revelation – namely creation and conscience – and Special Revelation – the written Word (the Bible), and the incarnate Word (Jesus Christ – John 1.1). Believed to be the inspired word of God by Christians (2 Timothy 3.16-17), the Christian Bible, both Old and New Testaments, most clearly explicate who God is. And as we see what he has done, we begin to discern who we are in light of what he has done, and then what we are to do in light of who we are (i.e. his will). The biblical account is the clearest source of God’s revelation. We look to creation for confirmation, namely human reason and natural order, but creation is a nonlinear revealer of truth; therefore, the Bible represents the most definitive authority, itself authoritative because of the Christian faith in revelation. While the Christian can certainly reason truth, that is only possible because of revelation.

So, how does the Gospel fit back in?

As the Bible is understood as the most explicit revelation of God and his will, and the Gospel represents the central narrative of the biblical account, the Christian begins to know God and truth through the story of God and his creation as the Gospel. In this way, Christian truth is then framed by and centered upon this event – Christ’s life, death and resurrection – as its assumptions and implications totally inform the believer’s anthropology and theology: that is, identity, existence, and God. For the believer, truth becomes any insight or revelation into the God of the Gospel, his will, and his way.

Cornerstone’s purpose, however, is much more than refining biblical literacy; it really focuses on how faith in the Gospel as truth transforms your life. The program covers identity, diet, exercise, time management, work and rest rhythms, and personal life, all illustrating how faith in the Gospel as truth informs a lifestyle, an ethic per say. In this first week, we have also discussed how the Gospel informs our physical health, as we understand how we are to value our bodies in light of who we are in Christ – that is, children of God (Eph 1.5) and temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6.19). We have also covered how to engage with the Bible, how to nurture our personalities and leadership strengths, and the relationship between our work and worship. The program’s logic has certainly informed my research question, which is more explicitly interested in the relationship between Christian belief and praxis.

There are many challenges to this research. Firstly, the material requires a primary faith that is at times demanding for even the experienced Christian, especially when confronting our sin nature and inherent evil. I am definitely appreciating how faith is best understood as a process. The Christian basis for truth as revelation also requires a difficult humility, emphasizing the necessity of faith in the Christian walk. Nevertheless, it is far from an illogical or unreasonable position to have, at least in my mind. Logistically, the research has much evolved. While I had planned to undergo interviews while on the program with local churches in Durham, I now realize that it is a much more worthwhile endeavor to be fully present to Cornerstone, both intellectually and socially. With already 100 pages of notes on the Gospel alone, there is a lot to chew on, and the wealth of community at the program is another great resource, both personally and ‘professionally’ (is this professional?).

I am having a great time thinking and reflecting on this stuff, and I am raring for the upcoming month and a half.

Letter 1

…And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

Matthew 28.18-20 (ESV)

Known as ‘The Great Commission,’ Matthew 28.18-20 records the last encounter between the resurrected Jesus and his disciples in the first canonical Gospel account. These few verses are foundational to the evangelization and expansion of the Christian church. They are also a key impetus for the more quotidian activity of evangelism – most basically the act of sharing the Christian gospel. As a Kenan Summer Fellow this summer, I am back in Durham researching the Christian ethic of evangelism, and will continue to do so in London, UK, my hometown. My project will explore the Christian concept of ‘truth’ and how that ‘truth’ informs how the believer understands and approaches his/her responsibility to share ‘truth’ with others.

Exclusive claims to truth are becoming much less fashionable in an age of moral relativism and expressive individualism, which makes evangelism such a contentious and exciting ethic to explore. Christianity follows and proclaims a firm concept of Truth, whether or not his or her neighbor believes, which provides for unique areas of philosophical challenge in the increasingly relativist, post-truth cultural contexts of the United States and the UK. The evangelist is frequently inhabiting what I like to call ‘truth’s frontiers,’ an area of thought and conversation where there is a fundamental, and beneficial, clash of worldviews. If nothing else, these clashes provide enormous opportunities for self-reflection and education of people’s more fundamental belief complexes.

Personally, I am also excited to engage and grapple with an ethic I am not only interested in, but deeply committed to. While I have been nominally Christian all my life, I have only recently become fully committed to following Christ, and have yet to have the opportunity to study and engage with a comprehensive, systematic theology of the Christian faith. Therefore, when addressing the KSF prompt, “what does it mean to live an ethical life?” I felt drawn to explore my Christian ethic, as my understanding of ‘the ethical life’ is deeply, if not wholly, defined by my faith. It is also a practice I engage with more frequently, and I am looking forward to learning more about the historical and contemporary evangelical praxis, and see how that begins to de-construct and evolve my current conceptions of my faith.

Now, I understand I am introducing the nebulous phraseology of ‘Christian truth.’ In the age of the post-reformation, multi-denominational church, there arises the question whether we can ever actually define an exhaustive Christian understanding of ‘truth.’ Nevertheless, as far as I am aware of, all Christianity shares key Biblical foundations that profess the centrality of and faith in Jesus Christ as the incarnate Deus, and the savior of humankind, and part of my project will look to identify the most basic and common truth claim of Christianity. Part of the purpose of this research is to gain a greater understanding of the diversity within Christianity, and how different denominations, and nations, understand and perform Christianity and evangelism. I recognize that my Anglican and charismatic experience of the church is only a sliver of what Christianity encompasses, and I am keen to survey the breadth and depth of the Christian faith.

Downtown Durham

My research will be divided into two parts. First, I will be investigating Christian truth – what is Christianity’s exclusive truth claim which demands proclamation? In order to tackle this rather monumental task, I will be attending a three-week theological intensive at King’s Park International Church in Durham, NC. Though naturally limited in its scope, the program will certainly aid in defining the overarching Biblical narrative and what all Christians (supposedly) profess to believe. Then, I will explore the means through which that truth is then proclaimed – how does the Christian believer understand and perform his/her responsibility to share ‘truth’ with others, and why? For this segment of the research, I will be conducting semi-formal interviews with leaders of Christ-centered communities – churches and other organizations – in Durham and London and distributing online survey to various church congregations on how individual believers understand and engage with evangelism. I will also be surveying scholarly literature on evangelism, to gain an insight into how authoritative scholarly contributions and the history of Christian evangelism informs the current praxis.

One thing that worries me about the upcoming eight weeks is whether the task I have set before me is unrealistic. There is no way I will be able to capture the entire essence and diversity of what is ‘Christian truth;’ however, that is certainly no reason to shy away from the endeavor. The nature of the topic naturally leaves much room for uncertainty, and I hope I am able to capture something coherent between my readings and interviews.

Another challenge will be engaging with my own faith throughout these eight weeks, which will naturally affect the purpose and tone of my project. My subjectivity is certainly worth acknowledgement and ample reflection; correction, however, is not a task I deem necessary for the convictions and goals of this research. While I am academically trained to oppose bias, I question whether it is incumbent upon me to separate myself from a perspective that informs my life and most certainly affects the course of this research. That being said, I do hope that my own understanding of Christian faith does not obstruct essential insights to the thoughts and ideas of my interviewees.

It is a big process, and I have very little idea of how it will all turn out. I am enormously grateful to the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke for providing both the means and motivation for this project. I am excited for what lies ahead!

Here goes…


Noah Breuss-Burgess