The Value of Knowledge and The Goal of Theology

Today I had class on Plato’s Meno, and one of the major themes which came up in class was the value of being wrong and continuing to seek knowledge instead of complacently and arrogantly (possibly fearfully) claiming to know something unknown. Meno thinks he knows what virtue is, and he reacts poorly against Socrates “stirring up” his opinions.

I am reminded of Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, a book which I have not read but which has come up in my own reading an inordinate number of times in the past few months. From what I gather, the gist is that science does not progress in a linear fashion; one does not simply collect all the facts until one knows everything there is to know. Facts must be interpreted, and they are interpreted through paradigms which are themselves overthrown; science doesn’t tell us how the universe really is, but it does give us the most plausible explanation of observed facts (cf. Plato’s Timaeus). What we believe may be wrong, but we are willing to continue seeking a better explanation.

A similar point is made by John Frame in The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God. Frame cautions against the tendency of some theologians (the example he uses is Charles Hodge) to make theology too objective. Hodge describes the goal of theology as collecting the facts of Scripture and exhibiting them “in their proper order and relation.” Frame counters by pointing out that this view necessarily implies a deficiency in Scripture; Scripture itself is truth in the proper order and relation. Frame then presents his own view of the goal of theology:

The way out of this bind is to recognize that Scripture is language, that it has its own rational order, that it gives a perfect, normative, rational description and analysis of the facts of redemption. It is not the job of theology to supply such a normative description and analysis; that account has been give to theology by revelation. Theology, then, must be a secondary description, a reinterpretation and reproclamation of Scripture, both of its propositional and of its nonpropositional content. Why do we need such a reinterpretation? To meet human needs. The job of theology is to help people understand the bible better, not to give some sort of abstractly perfect account of the truth as such, regardless of whether anyone understands it or not. Rather, the job of theology is to teach people the truth of God. Although Scripture is clear, for various reasons people fail to understand and use it properly. Theology is justified not merely by its correspondence with the truth—if that were the criterion, theology could do no better than simply to repeat Scripture—but theology is justified by the help it brings to people, by its success in helping people to use the truth.

DKG, pp.79-80.

Theology’s goal isn’t to present a once-for-all formulation of the truths of Scripture; the goal of theology is to help people better understand Scripture. Scripture itself is the normative rule; theology’s ever-present quest is to present the truth of Scripture in a form that helps people.

    • Steve
    • February 2nd, 2011

    Amen! Gotta love Frame’s insight and heart on these topics.

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