Sunday, August 13, 2006

Synthesis

When I was (quite a bit) younger, I used to think that if something was true, that was it. A different statement about the same facts couldn't be true as well.

And I read someone else summarising Hegel, with his ideas about one person coming up with an idea - a thesis, then someone else reacting to that with an opposite idea - an antithesis, and then eventually the two end up coming together - a synthesis. I don't know how much of that is actually what Hegel said or wrote, but it's what I understood this person who was trying to summarise Hegel to be saying. I guess reading Hegel is one of the things I'll do some other time.

Anyway, Hegel is obviously wrong in some respects. Either 2+2=4 (in Euclidean space) or it isn't. You can't have someone coming up with the thesis "2+2=4", then someone else coming up with the antithesis "2+2<>4" and then them somehow working that into a synthesis. It's rubbish - it doesn't work.

But some of the time, especially when we are using metaphors and discussing ideas and stuff, Hegel has a point. Take, for example, these ideas:

  1. Jesus died on the cross to take the punishment that we deserve for our sins.
  2. Jesus died on the cross so that Christians, who are united with him through faith, can die to sin but rise to new life
  3. Jesus died on the cross to defeat Satan
  4. Jesus died on the cross as an example for us of what it means to lay down our lives in following God
  5. Jesus died on the cross to incorporate Christians into God's covenant community

Now, as far as I can tell, all of those are taught by the Bible, and all are true. The actual true and complete reason Jesus died on the cross is kind of a synthesis of all of those (and more). That's not to say that any of those explanations isn't true, nor is it to say that any of them is more true than the others. One of them might be a lot more useful than the others, or a lot more relevant than the others to a particular situation, but all are true.

So why am I saying this? Because I can see two opposite dangers that people seem to fall into. One is to say that all truth is like that - that, for example, Jews and Christians and Muslims and Zoroastrians and whatever are all following the same God and that they are all just different aspects of the same truth. But that doesn't work, because it comes down to the question of who Jesus is. He can't be both God (as the Christians say) and not God (as the rest say).

On the other hand, some people say that Hegel's idea never works. So they'll say that Jesus dying for our sins is the only true explanation of why he died. That's also a load of rubbish - the Bible teaches all of those.

I think this is at the root of some of the arguments over NT Wright (and others). He tends to emphasise the last one of those explanations, whereas a lot of conservative Christians tend to emphasise the first one (and FWIW, I think the second is probably the dominant idea in Biblical thought). So people disagree with him. But at the end of the day, a lot of what he says is just a different way of looking at the same truths.

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