Nasty Jesus, Mean and Wild
by JUSTIN D. BARNARD
Director of the Institute for Intellectual Discipleship
December 17, 2010 - Among academics, the desire to overcome the stifling categories of truth and falsity is the mark of intellectual sophistication. Thus, the enlightened professor who, having studied Nietzsche and Foucault, apprehends that the rhetoric of truth and falsity is merely a guise for the will to power delights in unmasking naïve Christian fundamentalism as a metanarrative in the service of the subjugation of “the other.” Such blatant hostility, though ironic, is to be expected from those who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.
More troubling is the trend among Christian intellectuals who, having outgrown their fundamentalist naiveté, seek a mode of gospel witness that attempts to evade the Nietzschean critique. For these, the effort to offer a public expression of one’s faith in categories that presuppose the oppositional nature of truth and falsity is rhetorically misguided at best, downright mean-spirited (not to mention, embarrassing) at worst. As one recent Christian author puts it, such talk constitutes a “discourse of negation; the condemnation and denigration of enemies in the effort to subjugate and dominate those who are culpable.”
Those made squeamish by the rhetoric of negation tend to lack the intestinal fortitude to digest the roughage served by the law of non-contradiction. They would prefer the pabulum of ambiguity – a diet of ideas harvested from fields sown so far from truth or falsity that the ingestion of assent hardly requires the commitment of chewing. (Perhaps this is partly why those who cannot commit to feeding on the Truth in this life will eternally gnash their teeth without nourishment in the next.)
For the professing Christian who seeks the praise of such intellectual elites, Jesus is utterly scandalous. For despite the divinity of his intellectual powers, our Lord not only failed to grasp the oppressive rigidity of such dualisms as truth and falsity or good and evil, he also regularly employed the dreaded “discourse of negation.” Consider his rather impolitic remarks to the scribes and Pharisees in John 8: “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
The very nature of truth makes the rhetoric of negation inescapable. Of course, this reality is not grounds to enact rhetorical violence against another for its own sake. However, it does entail that public proclamation of almost any message, as if it were true, bears an inherent moral judgment against those who reject its content. The latter may view this as unkind. Hence, they might prefer a more nuanced form of dialogue that neither implicates their own commitments nor calls for volitional realignment. But such sophisticated discourse will never serve the Gospel. For the Truth of the Gospel comes with moral demands. Perhaps that is why the rock upon whose faith Christ built his church was not a university professor but a fisherman.