Eastern vs. Western Angles on Truth

Continuing the discussion from Life, the universe, and everything (with apologies to Mr. Adams):

Now that Praveen’s lecture just hit the web I can answer @Mervin_Bitikofer question. Please watch from minute 28 for about 6 minutes…

And an excerpt:

28:07nor can refute it therefore the important point that I want to make here
28:12is that science does not constrain us
28:15it doesn’t force us to look only to science in our search for the complete
28:19truth about human identity about who we are
28:23you know that lesson does not lead us directly to God as much as it breaks
28:29down the barriers that would otherwise prevent us from considering deeper
28:33spiritual realities
28:35you know as a Christian myself i have three reflections that I’d like to share
28:40on what the Bible has to say on who we are
28:43the first reflection is on the Bible itself it’s more of an aside really but
28:48I think it’s a very important point to make as a follower of christ i have a
28:53high view of Scripture but to me having a high view means with that I strive to
28:59understand and respect what the Bible is but also what it isn’t
29:04the Bible’s primary objective is not to describe the mathematical language of
29:10the physical laws or the chemical makeup of the world
29:13its goal is entirely different
29:16it’s to speak of God’s interwoven presence in the history of mankind
29:20his love for us our need for him
29:23eternity sin Redemption restoration purpose and the Bible communicates these
29:31things in diverse ways prose and poetry and song parables polemics rhetoric
29:38observational language
29:40whatever way will help us best understand who God is who we are what
29:46he’s done for us and why you’re treating the Bible is a scientific texts
29:52it’s a bit like a robot reading Romeo and Juliet me the true meaning in the
29:57effect is likely to be missed
29:58despite the fact that the text was read out if we don’t prayer fully in
30:03respectfully strive to understand the richness of the language and the breadth
30:07and the depth of the intended meaning that i think will be in danger of not
30:11only limiting the power of God’s Word in our lives but also potentially of
30:16committing injustice in the name of God you consider the the famous case of the
30:21church’s reaction to Galileo supporting evidence that the Sun and not the earth
30:26is at the center of our solar system
30:30he was branded heretics for a scientific view on the basis of scripture verses
30:34that we today quite broadly recognized as poetic and observational we have to
30:41ask ourselves whether we’re making any similar mistakes today because a high
30:46view of Scripture in my opinion respects both what the Bible is and what it isn’t
30:51my second reflection is on one of the most remarkable scenes in biblical
30:57history for me anyway
30:59when Pontius Pilate asks the condemned Jesus of Nazareth investigated us what
31:06is truth it is striking to me that there is no record of Jesus verbal response
31:13despite the fact that he answers all the preceding questions
31:16why is that maybe he answered and it’s just not recorded but I think he may be
31:23speaking volumes in his silence pilot you’re looking at truth i am the truth
31:32I am NOT and stop him and he met
31:36I am that which binds all things together and is now making all things
31:41you see to me truth is more than an ocean
31:46it’s more than an idea it’s a person and that colors the way that I think about
31:52reality because think about a person is multi-dimensional intricate nuanced
31:59mysterious particularly if that person is my wife
32:03beautiful also my wife and relational and because to me truth is a person
32:12truth is all of those things as well it’s not something I can put in a box
32:17it’s not something that I can fence in
32:20it’s not something that I can seek with just one faculty of my being and that
32:25brings me to my third reflection and that is on christ himself during my own
32:29spiritual journey my first discoveries is that stripped of Christ Christianity
32:34was no more or less compelling to me than any other faith tradition
32:38it was the person of Jesus that made all the difference to me in my journey


Thanks, @Swamidass. Praveen has impressive clarity in what I saw (I watched the excerpt you recommended).

My first impression, if he represents a more eastern approach, is that eastern and western approaches have converged on very similar conclusions regarding what should qualify as scientific. I would be hard pressed to tease out the differences just based on my one listen here.

Christ is Christianity - that is a given. The nature of Christ therefore, is the core truth of Christianity, and as such, it is impossible to argue that that the nature and attributes of Christ (nd thus all those in Christ) has emerged from a primordial pre-human - nor that His nature is an emergent aspect or property of the collection of molecules that made up the physical reality called Christ. This is the central problem of TE/EC.

No @GJDS. This is the central problem of the Incarnation. We all believe that humans are created things. We are creatures. Yet somehow the Creator becomes one of us. This paradoxical Truth of the Incarnation is grand.

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Perhapse @praveens will join in the conversation. He is a great communicator.

In the context of our original conversation, I was saying that I see Truth as a Person, not as a complete understanding of how the world (as you were explaining). Sure, there is truth everywhere, but Jesus is the totality of Truth.

I think we all have to grapple with the fact that the disciples, by their proximity to Jesus, were in the most important senses closure to Truth than we are now. At the same time, they all believed in geocentrism, knew nothing of germ theory, or had even conceived of electricity or computers. Jesus spent approximately zero time correcting their cosmology and technology. We believe they found the totality of Truth in Jesus, and He did not seem concerned with giving them a modern (or futuristic) understanding of how the natural world works.

I would say this unsettles western understandings of truth entirely, which are tightly tied to scientific understanding.

In contrast if we see Truth as a Person, and in Jesus Himself, it all starts to make sense.

@praveens has his way of putting it too. I agree with him.

I do not agree with this really. Rather, I would say that in Jesus we do see a deep convergence of eastern and western thought. However, in the modern american church, i think it is unduly influenced by scientism and its conception of truth. Truth is more about knowledge than a relationship to a Person. That, I think, is a problem. Jesus is our corrective.

No @Swamidass, your comment, if taken at face value, seems to deny about 2000 yrs of orthodox Christianity. It is not paradoxical, but rather central to the Christian faith - that the Son of God was truly and completely human, and lived without sin. It did not occur as “somehow”, but instead, the Holy Spirit “caused” the birth of Christ.

I think it lamentable that some Christians will turn what is plainly understood, into a paradox to try and save their scientific outlook, when the faith may cause them to question their speculation.

Sorry @GJDS if that was taking as rude.

I’m just echoing a long tradition of Christian thought that calls the dual nature of Jesus a paradox. I certainly did not invent that concept. For example, here are a just a few reviews of this history.

  1. Idealism and Realism in Politics: A Response to Richard J. Bishirjian's "Origins and End of the New World Order" - Intercollegiate Studies Institute
  2. The Doctrine Of The Incarnation - Philosophical Fragments
  3. Luther Land Theology Intro
  4. The Incarnation: Paradox or Contradiction? - Greg Boyd - ReKnew
  5. http://www.catholicworldreport.com/Blog/3231/the_incarnation_and_three_metaphysical_paradoxes.aspx


Of course I embrace that core doctrine, but that does not resolve the paradox. Perhaps I come from a different Christian tradition than you? One that has embraced the paradox at the core of our faith for centuries. Maybe that is another example of an eastern western split?

Though I do confess some lack of expertise of the history here. I know Lutherans have really embraced paradox, but there is much more to it here than just this. Perhaps @Jon_Garvey can weigh in.

I have made a comment on “paradox” previously so I will not labour the point. Discussions on Christ as the Son of Man are abundant, and I will spend some time to look through a few sources and post these as time permits. Perhaps the best response is this (I hope you and others see why poetry may be an appropriate way to convey the meaning):

The Nativity sermon

by St John Chrysostom

"I behold a new and wondrous mystery!
My ears resound to the shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but loudly chanting a heavenly hymn!
The angels sing!
The archangels blend their voices in harmony!
The cherubim resound their joyful praise!
The Seraphim exalt His glory!

All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead herein… on earth and man in heaven. He who is above now, for our salvation, dwells here below; and we, who were lowly, are exalted by divine mercy!

Today Bethlehem resembles heaven, hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices and, in place of the sun, witnessing the rising of the Sun of Justice!

Ask not how this is accomplished, for where God wills, the order of nature is overturned. For He willed He had the powers He descended. He saved. All things move in obedience to God.

Today He Who Is, is born ! And He Who Is becomes what He was not! For when He was God, He became man-while not relinquishing the Godhead that is His…

And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him angels, nor archangels, nor thrones, nor dominions, nor powers, nor principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Yet He has not forsaken His angels, nor left them deprived of His care, nor because of His incarnation has He ceased being God. And behold kings have come, that they might serve the Leader of the Hosts of Heaven; Women, that they might adore Him Who was born of a woman so that He might change the pains of childbirth into joy; Virgins, to the Son of the Virgin…

Infants, that they may adore Him who became a little child, so that out of the mouths of infants He might perfect praise;
Children, to the Child who raised up martyrs through the rage of Herod; Men, to Him who became man that He might heal the miseries of His servants;
Shepherds, to the Good Shepherd who was laid down His life for His sheep;
Priests, to Him who has become a High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek;
Servants, to Him who took upon Himself the form of a servant, that He might bless our stewardship with the reward of freedom (Philippians 2:7);
Fishermen, to the Fisher of humanity;
Publicans, to Him who from among them named a chosen evangelist;
Sinful women, to Him who exposed His feet to the tears of the repentant woman;
And that I may embrace them all together, all sinners have come, that they may look upon the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!

Since, therefore, all rejoice, I too desire to rejoice! I too wish to share the choral dance, to celebrate the festival! But I take my part, not plucking the harp nor with the music of the pipes nor holding a torch, but holding in my arms the cradle of Christ!

For this is all my hope!
This is my life!
This is my salvation!
This is my pipe, my harp!

And bearing it I come, and having from its power received the gift of speech, I too, with the angels and shepherds, sing:

"Glory to God in the Highest! and on earth peace to men of good will! "


The discussions, debates, and arguments concerning the divine and human nature of Christ have taken place over many centuries. Orthodox teaching are that Christ was divine and also human, although schools of thought arose in which some thought both divine and human were completely one nature and another believed that Christ was both fully human and fully divine.

An excellent treatment is found in “On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius”. A few quotes may suffice for this post – I have included the term “paradox” in the last quote, as used by Athanasius, to show you what that refers to (obviously a few quotes are not sufficient, but they illustrate my point):

“Now in dealing with these matters it is necessary first to recall what has already been said. You must understand why it is that the Word of the Father, so great and so high, has been made manifest in bodily form. He has not assumed a body as proper to His own nature, far from it, for as the Word He is without body. He has been manifested in a human body for this reason only, out of the love and goodness of His Father, for the salvation of us men.

We will begin, then, with the creation of the world and with God its Maker, for the first fact that you must grasp is this: the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word Who made it in the beginning. There is thus no inconsistency between creation and salvation for the One Father has employed the same Agent for both works, effecting the salvation of the world through the same Word Who made it in the beginning.”
“You may be wondering why we are discussing the origin of men when we set out to talk about the Word’s becoming Man. The former subject is relevant to the latter for this reason: it was our sorry case that caused the Word to come down, our transgression that called out His love for us, so that He made haste to help us and to appear among us. It is we who were the cause of His taking human form, and for our salvation that in His great love He was both born and manifested in a human body. For God had made man thus (that is, as an embodied spirit), and had willed that he should remain in incorruption. But men, having turned from the contemplation of God to evil of their own devising, had come inevitably under the law of death. Instead of remaining in the state in which God had created them, they were in process of becoming corrupted entirely, and death had them completely under its dominion.”
“He saw how unseemly it was that the very things of which He Himself was the Artificer should be disappearing. He saw how the surpassing wickedness of men was mounting up against them; He saw also their universal liability to death. All this He saw and, pitying our race, moved with compassion for our limitation, unable to endure that death should have the mastery, rather than that His creatures should perish and the work of His Father for us men come to nought, He took to Himself a body, a human body even as our own. Nor did He will merely to become embodied or merely to appear; had that been so, He could have revealed His divine majesty in some other and better way. No, He took our body, and not only so, but He took it directly from a spotless, stainless virgin, without the agency of human father—a pure body, untainted by intercourse with man.”
“What, then, was God to do? What else could He possibly do, being God, but renew His Image in mankind, so that through it men might once more come to know Him? And how could this be done save by the coming of the very Image Himself, our Saviour Jesus Christ? Men could not have done it, for they are only made after the Image; nor could angels have done it, for they are not the images of God. The Word of God came in His own Person, because it was He alone, the Image of the Father Who could recreate man made after the Image.

In order to effect this re-creation, however, He had first to do away with death and corruption. Therefore He assumed a human body, in order that in it death might once for all be destroyed, and that men might be renewed according to the Image. The Image of the Father only was sufficient for this need.”

“There were thus two things which the Saviour did for us by becoming Man. He banished death from us and made us anew; and, invisible and imperceptible as in Himself He is, He became visible through His works and revealed Himself as the Word of the Father, the Ruler and King of the whole creation.

There is a paradox in this last statement which we must now examine. The Word was not hedged in by His body, nor did His presence in the body prevent His being present elsewhere as well. When He moved His body He did not cease also to direct the universe by His Mind and might. No. The marvellous truth is, that being the Word, so far from being Himself contained by anything, He actually contained all things Himself. In creation He is present everywhere, yet is distinct in being from it; ordering, directing, giving life to all, containing all, yet is He Himself the Uncontained, existing solely in His Father. As with the whole, so also is it with the part. Existing in a human body, to which He Himself gives life, He is still Source of life to all the universe, present in every part of it, yet outside the whole;”

Only because specifically requested! I suspect you and GJDS are talking somewhat past each other (unless, as I suspect, GJDS is responding to a point in the thread from which this split). I don’t think that, coming from an Orthodox tradition (that’s undoubtedly Eastern!) he denies the mystery of the Creator becoming one with the creature at the Incarnation.

I read him as continuing the thought that was expressed elsewhere that Christian scientists, having been so careful to exclude the supernatural from their purview, should feel no qualms in investigating consciousness. Quite apart from the philosophical problems of doing so (raised, amongst others, by Thomas Nagel - but then he’s a philosopher, and too few scientists repect philosophy… that scientistic streak coming out again!)… quite apart from that, the Christian at least - and of course Christ as our forerunner - is a foreatste of the new creation, and indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God: so to investigate that type of consciousness is to include the supernatural in the realm of natural investigation, without recognising that this is straying into metaphysical naturalism (like the investigation of miracles or demonisation naturalistically, perhaps)

Of course, in Cartesian science, the conscious human self in general is explicitly said to be supernatural and beyond science: which is, I think, what gives the scientist his status as a fixed point - the investigator - rather than part of passive nature.

Catholicism (very western!) teaches that the soul of each individual is created directly by God (and though that can be understood hylemorphically rather than in a Cartesian way, it does indicate a supernatural element to mankind). And even in the witness of Scripture, there is a strong tradition of the spirit of man surviving death (shades in Sheol and so on), perhaps also represented in the breathing of life into Adam by God directly.

I would think that this may be the kind of false paradox that GJDS means (and he will correct me if not!). To treat mankind entirely scientifically, even to include his conscious, innately teleological and immaterial mind, as if he were “nothing but” the product of natural processes would not be to embrace paradox, but to make a category error.

Incidentally I disagreed with some modern Lutheran interpretations of “paradox” in this post: in brief, Luther, expanding mediaeval thinking, recognised that we could not truly know the nature of God, only approach it spiritually through faith in Christ. That had no bearing on natural theology, for Luther was quite orthodox (in mediaeval terms) in accepting that God could be assuredly recognised in nature - all he denied was that God could be known from nature. Nobody from Paley to Behe (with Asa Gray, B B Warfield and Alfred Russel Wallace filling in the gaps) denies that.

That’s an interesting one, Joshua. The New Testament has dozens of references to “knowledge”, eg “come to a knowledge of the truth”, but of “relationship to a Person” … not one. Granted some of that “knowing” is about personal knowledge, though a lot more is about propositional truth. So have we lost our focus of Scripture as Evangelicals as a separate issue from that of scientism in the Church?

I mention it because of a survey cited recently by James McGrath, showing that “personal Saviour” or “personal relationship” in that context were virtually unknown in books before 1900, and uncommon even then before they escalated after 1960.

I note V J Torley’s response to you on another thread that in his Catholic tradition, the idea really isn’t common at all. Now it’s true to say that “experimental” (ie experiential) faith was stressed by the Reformers, and especially the English Puritans; and after them by the Methodists both Calvinistic and Wesleyan, but always in the sense that one came to knowledge of Jesus through hearing and believing the gospel message (and one grew by the Bible’s propositional teaching made effectual by the Spirit).

That focus was the hallmark of Evangelical faith when I became a believer 51 years ago (eg in the charismatic preaching of Martyn Lloyd Jones, which was termed “logic on fire”), but I note that in many discussions now, especially in the US, “personal relationship” is the central tenet of Evangelicalism - if so, Evangelicalism is only half a century old… and rather parallel to the old liberalism which, to quote Theopedia,

tends to emphasize ethics over doctrine and experience over Scriptural authority.

I rejoice in my own individual experience of forgiveness when I first trusted in Jesus, as also in more than one experience of being filled with his Spirit, guided individually and so on, but have come to realise more and more that (a) it’s more appropriately understood in the context of being a “son of God’s kingdom” than “a personal relationship with Jesus” and (b) that there really is no dichotomy between Jesus the Word and the words he has spoken, received through faith.


Traditionally there is a gap between the East and West. Western philosophy is dualistic, natural and supernatural. Eastern philosophy and religion is monistic, mystical for non-Christians, and to some extent for Christians also… Neither philosophy is Christian.

Christianity through Thomas in the West and the Cappadocians in the Eastern Church has tried to assimilate some forms of Greek philosophy with some success, but it is still not Christian. In my opinion the only way we are going to have a true understanding of life and faith, and science is to have a philosophy based on God’s Truth, which is Jesus Christ the Logos and the Trinity which is the Christian understanding of Who God is.

Not sure I agree with this, Jon, which is rare because I almost always agree with you. (Probably why I rarely reply to your posts!) I sympathize with what you and McGrath are getting at, but you are aiming at the wrong target. American evangelicalism is much more focused on propositional truth than on personal experience, and is much more concerned with doctrinal purity than personal relationships. As an example of the latter, I simply have to point out the fractured state of the church: we break fellowship over minor doctrinal questions, such that few these days will know that we are his disciples by our love for one another (Jn. 13:34-35). Regarding the former, I find this even more problematic. I agree with you in principle, that a relationship with Christ presupposes hearing and believing the propositional truths of the gospel message. HOWEVER (and this is literally a big “however”), many people equate merely accepting certain propositions as “true” with saving faith in Christ, and many of those same people sadly will hear Jesus say, “I never knew you…”

There are many, many Scriptures that indicate that it is our relationship to Jesus that determines our destiny. I could compile a list, but I’m pretty sure it’s not necessary. We are called to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and our neighbors as ourselves. What does love involve, if not relationship?



If in the conventional view of millions of Christians Jesus is an emanation of the Divine into the vessel of imperfect mortality - - yet simultaneously sustaining the perfection of the Divine - - I don’t see how this process could not be equally applied to HUMANITY - - as created through divinely led evolution, rather than a hominid built from dust.

Hi Jay

I see that Eddie has replied along the lines of one of my responses to your post (and it’s not something we’ve discussed much at the Hump or here, so no connivance!). I think there’s been a sea-change in the understanding of “Evangelical”, at least in the US, to which McGrath draws attention (though I don’t think he’s an Evangelical, AFAIK). I wasn’t aware of it until I read a piece here taking about what the “core” of Evangelicalism is a year or two ago (in relation to BL’s mission), and was surprised to read not “Sola fide, sola gratia, Sola scriptura” stressed as the distinctives, but “personal relationship with Jesus”.

So I’d concur with Eddie on his suggestion - but also go along with his recognition that where one takes one sample is crucial, and the range will go from doctrinal bigots to airy fairy mystics: maybe an acid test is the extent to which ones conversation partners cite versions of the old liberal adage “Christ unites, doctrine divides”. In the old days our access to Christ came through doctrine, and that was the Evangelical distinctive: “Faith comes by hearing”.

My second “defence” though is that I was seeking to be nuanced by suggesting that the change has come not because there was not previously an understanding of personal conversion through an individual work of the Spirit’s grace and the love of Christ, and the individual hearing of the gospel: nor a sense of the Spirit’s indwelling and guidance and, often, holy joy.

Rather, the change (as it seems to me) has been to stress the “relationship” divorced from the propositional truths of the faith, and particularly their expression in inspired Scriture, to which which previous generations inextricably linked them. And that, I think, is why their vocabulary was less often in the “my friend Jesus” vein.

So there’s much less idea now of “letting the word of God dwell richly” in one’s heart by reading and meditation, which was how previous generations believed one grew in Christ. Much more one hears Evangelicals discussing which bits of the Bible reflect Christ, and which do not - the only criterion apparently being the nature of the “Christ in one’s heart”.

Linked to that is the tendency of modern Evangelicalism , well recognised now but not always well-taught, to stress “personal”, rather than “kingdom” concepts. It’s not new - I’ve been aware of it all my Christian life - but “I don’t go along with what my church teaches” (or even what “the Church teaches” is often heard, as if it were the polar opposite of Jesuitical compliance to the Holy See. We are saved to the kingdom, the family, the body, the temple of Christ - and all those truths need to be included in the balance with “my personal relationship with Jesus.”

PS that said, the danger you draw attention to, of “propositionalism” is very real - as A W Tozer pointed out at a time when that was a much more prevalent problem than it seems to be now.


Hi Joshua,

I have had a chance to look at some of your links, and my impression is that we may interchange the terms “paradox” with “mystery”. So often, I feel that “paradox” is taken to mean “contradiction” and atheists then claim the faith is contradictory. I do not subscribe to “contradiction” and instead view aspects of the Christian faith as greater than human language may express, and this takes us to the mysteries that God reveals to us as an act of Grace.

I am sure we can find points to debate on other issues like consciousness, but on the Incarnation I think we are in agreement.

The Christian view is that Christ, as the Son of Man, lived amongst us as one of us, but He was without sin. This shows us that Christ is the human being made in God’s image in toto and in this respect the Law did could not exert the power it has over us, and that is death. As the Son of Man, Christ took the just punishment attributed to human kind, on Himself, and became our Saviour. As the Son of God, the Holy Spirit was poured on Him without measure, and as the Gospel says, God was well pleased with Him.

These matters cannot be discussed within the context of an evolving human species, nor as an emergent aspect arising from complexities in Nature, or in bio-forms. This has been the thrust of my comments to Joshua.

@Eddie @Jon_Garvey
I don’t have time this morning to reply to you as I would like, but I wanted to offer a brief answer and give you guys something to chew on. Historically, the charismatic denominations (Pentecostal and Holiness) stress personal experience (gifts of the Spirit, esp. tongues and healing) over propositional truth. That most polls and surveys lump them under the term “Evangelical” confuses the issue. Part of the change that both of you also touched on is the rise of non-denominational churches (whether the mega-church or the storefront church down the street), which don’t ascribe to any particular historic confessions. These are on the rise, while Baptists, who represent one-third of all Evangelicals, are losing ground.

Here is a survey of American Protestantism by Pew. Some fascinating stuff. More to come …


… If Jesus can assume the form of a FALLEN man, I really can’t imagine why Jesus can’t assume the form of an EVOLVED man.

Your distinctions don’t seem intuitively obvious to me.