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Propositional Truth and the Inner City

I've been blogging on a pretty consistent pace over the last 5 years. During that time I've not delved too much into the whole propositional truth discussion frankly because it doesn't excite me too much. Many of my suburban educated friends in the church world get pumped about the debate but I've tended to consider the discussion pretty non-germane to my life. Do I have a decent understanding of the framework of the non-conversation conversation? Yeah. Do I think both sides understand each other? Not really.

This week however I was reminded of one place even my pomo friends would probably agree that propositional truth is active or at least worthwhile... the inner city. When I talk of inner-city I'm not speaking of very educated white people who grew up in the 'burbs and just purchased a renovated warehouse-condo. I'm speaking about the people for whom the church has all but ignored.

Let me share a little story to help you appreciate where I'm coming from:
My best friend and I made a trip to my childhood home of Baltimore about 6 months ago. This was the second trip we've made together but the first where I'd introduce him to Mr. Don. Mr. Don is the man God used to bring me to faith in Christ. Mr. Don filled the role of mentor and Sunday School teacher from the time I was 13 until about 17yrs old.

After my friend and I drove away from Mr. Don's home and that visit my friend said that he wouldn't have pictured that a guy like Mr. Don would have made such an impact on the guy he knows as Tally.

Why did he feel that way? Propositional truth.

Now that I'm educated and have been around the block I don't often let people get away with half-baked statements. I most certainly don't follow people who appear to be confident but make no logical sense to what they are saying. Unfortunately this type of yapping is what most of the world sees as "propositional truth". Most of my educated peers look to a truth statement and ask "In every case would this be true?" Most of the time they come to the conclusion that what is being proposed only works within a certain framework but not within every framework. So it is that the educated among my generation (and the uneducated for that matter) are able to hold two or three opposing views at the same time. Contradiction is embraced and the need to logically connect opposing belief systems doesn't exist.

Now back to the point of my post. I'm aware of one place where propositional truths still work pretty well. The Inner City.

This past week when I checked out some great ministry being done in the heart of Baltimore I observed it everywhere... Propositional truth in action. Some of that 'truth' was not much more than old-school phrases we've all heard. The phrase itself may be theologically shaky but the point is there.

For instance... a phrase we've all heard "This is the house of God".

A student tossed a piece of candy wrapper to the side and I heard the Pastor say to him "Clean up your mess son... you can dirty up your house but we're not going to do that to the house of God."

The boy went and cleaned up his mess. Life moved on. If you think about it, propositional truth works in an environment where the power of the gun and the mighty dollar do most of the talking. The use of the phrase "God's house" is one that marks off 'turf'. People in the city get that concept. Is it 100% accurate? No. But does it matter? No.

Do you want to know another reason why the propositional statement works among the roughest groups of people? The narrative. Yes, a narrative. The same Pastor who stood on a propositional truth statement also has a relationship with his community. He loves the people and they know it. They know it when their mom picks up food from the church basement once a week or when they see the Pastor give medicine to a drug addict. There is a beautiful narrative at work that isn't written in propositional truth statements. The propositional truth is backed with the narrative and they lead to an amazing marriage where a middle-aged white man is able to walk up and down the city block ministering to the poorest among us.

To my friends on both sides of this discussion I urge you... quit talking theory and live in practice. My propositional truth friends... it means nothing if you don't back it up with a story of love. Go love someone, don't just tell them. My friends on the other side of the discussion, go love someone and come back writing poems about it... it doesn't matter to me... just get the truth of the gospel to the people who need it most.

posted by Tally Wilgis @ Tuesday, April 01, 2008

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