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I Understand
Volume 8.1 / The Changing Notion of Truth in the West and Implications for Christian Ministry in Africa


The Changing Notion of Truth in the West and Implications for Christian Ministry in Africa

Roydon Frost
The Western notion of truth has taken a sharply subjective turn during the modern era. Broadly speaking, truth is no longer an objective fact “out there,” to be discovered; instead, it is a subjective potential “within,” to be created and then expressed. Given the ongoing cultural influence of the West on Africa, this Western understanding of truth has a significant impact on traditional African notions of truth. Sociological and anthropological models indicate standard ways in which this cultural confluence might play out, including the prevalence of syncretism resulting from stimulus diffusion. Although this situation adds a layer of complexity to the Christian ministry in Africa, a brief reflection on core doctrines undergirding the biblical notion of truth shows the Christian minister to be amply outfitted for the task.

1.    Introduction

It is no longer contentious to assert that the Western notion of truth has changed in the modern era. Yet, however commonplace, it still brings with it inherent instability. How can truth change? Is not truth enduring and stable across space and time, per definition? To be truth, does not truth have to stay true always and everywhere? Do we prefix the definite article (“The Truth”), or not? For some, “The Truth” is a wholly alien and even obnoxious designation because for them “truth is subjective.” Better the possessive pronoun than the definite article (“My truth,” not “The Truth”). All this is to state the obvious: During the modern era, the notion of truth in the West has changed. The purpose of this article is to revisit the process of that transformation in a bare outline, to reflect on its impact on the church in Africa, and to propose a way forward for the Christian minister in that context.

2.    Changes in the Notion of Truth in the West during the Modern Era

In this section, I briefly survey the contours of changes in the Western notion of truth during the modern era.[1] Even such a cursory analysis reveals an undeniable turn to the subject as the locus of truth.

I begin with Descartes. In any analysis of modernity, he is, arguably, a natural place to begin. In response to the prevailing tides of skepticism during his days, Descartes sought a rational rock on which to stand. He sought a self-evident ground for truth, and he found it in the knowing “I”: “I think, therefore I am.”[2] There are at least three noteworthy features of that statement. First, and apposite for our purposes, is the location of truth within the subject (I think). For Descartes, the locus of truth was on the inside. Second is its appeal to rationalism (I think) as the grounds for axiomatic certainty. Third, in Descartes’s axiomatic formulation, God is hidden from view (though not entirely absent in his subsequent argument). This is significant when analyzing the nature of truth along the objective–subjective axis. As we shall see, metaphysics matters enormously to the conception of truth.

Seventeenth-century thought continued in the Cartesian vein to elevate reason and downplay revelation as an authority in the search for truth. For example, Baruch Spinoza, a fellow continental rationalist, said the Bible “has no authority over the interpreter’s mind …. If he is truly rational, reason alone will govern his whole life.”[3] Likewise, John Locke, the English empiricist, while admitting the possibility of divine illumination, still made reason the arbiter of revelation and concluded emphatically that “Reason must be our last judge and guide in everything.”[4]

Early modern European thinkers on either side of the philosophical and geographic divide were united over the necessity of reason and the dispensability of revelation in articulating the foundations of truth. This move toward the autonomous consciousness of man and away from external reality as the locus of truth led to an increasingly pragmatic understanding of truth. Francis Bacon was an early proponent of this view when he said that “Truth and utility are the very same things.”[5]

It follows that Jean-Jacques Rousseau was not altogether revolutionary when he located truth in the subject. His great innovation was to ground it in the feeling subject, rather than in the exclusively rational subject: “The particular object of my confessions is to make known my inner self … the history of my soul … all I need do, as I have done up until now, is to look inside myself.”[6]

Rousseau built several key doctrines on the axiom of subjective truth.[7] He depicted identity as an inner psychology. In addition, he argued that human beings are born into innocence (rather than sin) and are only later corrupted and enslaved by culture. Therefore, it is natural that Rousseau would cast human freedom as self-determination. The move from objective to subjective truth also entailed the reduction of ethics to aesthetics and then to personal sentiment.[8] As was the case throughout the ages, it was the artists who took the philosophers to the people.[9] Romantic writers, painters, and musicians popularized Rousseau and his emphasis on subjective emotion as the norming norm.

Immanuel Kant gave considerable momentum to the subjective turn by placing objective truth on the far side of an impassable epistemological chasm. According to Kant, we simply do not have access to things as they truly are (“things in themselves”).[10] His critical idealism was concerned not with the existence of things as they are but with the sensory representation of things.[11] We can see the kind of impetus toward a subjectively located epistemology that Kant injected in, for example, his vision for metaphysics:

Up to now it has been assumed that all our cognition must be conformed to the objects. But all our attempts to find out something about them … have, on this presupposition, come to nothing. Hence, let us once try whether we do not get farther with the problems of metaphysics by assuming that the objects must conform to our cognition….[12]

Or, succinctly, “The understanding does not derive laws from, but prescribes them to, nature.”[13]

In short, Kant asserted a synthesis of reason and experience as an epistemological authority and prioritized the human subject in the pursuit of truth.

Hegel furthered Kant’s line of reasoning by altogether collapsing the object and the subject into each other. Since it is impossible to assert reality apart from a thinking subject, the thinking subject is in fact the essence of reality. Hegel’s working premise was “What is rational is real, and what is real is rational.”[14] Human reason participates in infinite reason or the Absolute Spirit. Since history is the “incarnation or dynamic unfolding” of the Absolute Spirit, history is of utmost importance.[15] History is the arena of the Absolute Spirit’s struggle with itself:

That the truth is only realized in the form of a system, that substance is essentially subject, is expressed in the idea which represents the Absolute as Spirit (Geist)—the grandest conception of all, and one which is due to modern times and its religion. Spirit is alone Reality. It is the inner Being of the world, that which essentially is, and is per se; it assumes objective, determinate form, and enters into relations with itself … yet … it is still one with itself.[16]

Subjective participation in the Absolute Spirit meant “Experiencing and knowing and feeling in one’s own self-consciousness all that formerly was conceived as a Beyond.”[17] 

In other words, the objective world is no longer beyond us; it collapses into us. In Hegel, we have a synthesis of the subject–object dialectic—one that blurs the distinction in favor of the rational subject. Hegel proffered a conception of truth that was both historically dynamic and subjectively located.

In the nineteenth century, Charles Darwin gave empirical credence to the modern philosophical groundswell with his materialist theory of evolution. In the words of Francis Ayala, “It was Darwin’s greatest accomplishment to show that the complex organization and functionality of living beings can be explained as a result of a natural process … without any need to resort to a Creator or other external agent.”[18] 

Darwin holds an important place in the modern Western history of the notion of truth because seminal thinkers in that milieu, such as Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud, all drew scientific warrants for their materialistic presuppositions from him.[19]

Indeed, Marx inverted Hegel and argued that underlying material conditions determine the cultural ideal, not vice versa.[20] History advances by technological change, which in turn drives change in the material substructure (ownership of the means of production), which in turn drives change in the cultural superstructure and its conceptions of truth. Therefore, “objective truth” is a dynamic construct that serves the interest of the socio-economic elite and their power relations with lower classes. For Marx, as with others before him, “truth” was entirely pragmatic; it was subservient to historical action.[21] Marx understood religious “truth” in these terms. He viewed religion as a projection out of the working classes—a functional anesthetic to numb the pain of economic alienation and class oppression. In that sense, religion is “the opiate of the masses” and the enemy of action.[22]

Nietzsche had what many moderns lacked—the intellectual integrity to take the premises of modernity to their necessary conclusions. He argued that if God is dead—if we have killed God with our enlightenment rationality—then we must have the convictions to admit that there is no basis for truth nor for right and wrong. Each individual must construct a truth for himself/herself.

Indeed, “There are many kinds of eyes, and consequently there are many kinds of ‘truths’, and consequently there is no truth.”[23] Furthermore, “This world is the will to power—and nothing besides! You yourselves are the will to power—and nothing besides!”[24]

Nietzsche was consistent in applying his philosophy to his own life: “What I tried to do was stand on my own shoulders, to superimpose nature upon nature, denying a Creator God, insisting that the world lives on itself; feeds on its own excrement ….Where did [the] Titanism of defiance lead me? … to moral and spiritual exhaustion, to the nothingness of the Abyss!”[25]

The existentialists took Nietzsche’s basic impulse and developed it. The heart of the existentialist endeavor is neatly captured in Sartre’s dictum, “Existence precedes essence.” Sartre asserted that “… man exists, turns up, appears on the scene, and, only afterwards, defines himself.”[26] Moreover, “Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself. Such is the first principle of existentialism.”[27] Indeed, “Man is the being whose project is to be God.”[28] 

After Nietzsche and the existentialists, truth was no longer merely to be discovered within the subjective self or the collective consciousness of history; it was to be created ex nihilo.

Like Darwin, much of the significance of Freud is in the respectability of the scientific status he conferred on the modern philosophies of Marx and Nietzsche and in the ready reception of his theories in the popular consciousness. For Freud, meaning, purpose, and truth are located within the domain of subjective psychology. The goal of life is happiness, and ultimate happiness is found in genital pleasure. In other words, sexual freedom is the source of true happiness. However, societal norms are the necessary constraint on sexual chaos and, therefore, act as a constraint on individual happiness in the form of sexual repression. Thus, because morality is merely a social reaction to the irrational desires of the subconscious, morality is ultimately subjective and irrational. As Marx opined, religion is merely a defense mechanism against the threats posed by nature and society. In all this, Freud gave “scientific” credence to the subjective turn in the Western notion of truth.[29]

Neo-Marxists, such as Reich and Marcuse, added Freud to Marx to identify the family, and then the church, as instruments of sexual repression and, therefore, as instruments of class oppression. The surrealists applied Freud by burying truth deeper within the murky, irrational, subconscious “Id” of the individual subject.[30] Their goal in representing truth as such was, like that of the neo-Marxists, to overthrow an oppressive cultural superstructure. Once again, art served as the mainstreaming agent of modern philosophy.[31]

By the end of the modern period in the West, within professional philosophy and increasingly within popular culture, objective truth claims were widely considered to be an oppressive power play by dominant classes in society. These objective truth claims began to be replaced by the authenticity of personal choices and normative feelings drawn from the pure subconscious well of the subjective individual. To switch metaphors, during the modern period, the edifice of objective truth had its foundations eroded to the point of the final collapse—a collapse that would follow in the postmodern era.

The final collapse of objective truth in the West came, arguably, at the hands of the linguists, who challenged truth at the atomic level. De Saussure and the structuralists argued that the very meaning of words was a mere convention, derived within the total language system rather than from any external referent in reality. Derrida built on this idea by arguing that the locus of meaning must shift from the text to the subject and that any text claiming truth can only serve a power agenda. Thus, the task of the reader was no longer the pursuit of truth or meaning but to expose the underlying power dynamic latent in any text or interpretation.[32]

This brand of radical skepticism is the postmodern terminus of what began as the modern turn to the subject. In it, foundations are replaced by deconstructions. Truth is replaced by power. Reason is replaced by feeling. The world without is replaced by the world within.[33] When the madman proclaimed “God is dead!” he was also proclaiming the death of truth.

In the modern era, the journey of the Western notion of truth began with a turn inward, to the knowing subject, and ended in the death of truth itself. Os Guinness offers this sketch of the contemporary state of truth in the West: “There are … tell-tale fingerprints that postmodernism leaves on all it touches—the rejection of truth and of objective standards of right and wrong, the levelling of authorities, the elevation of the autonomous self as the sole arbiter of life and reality, … the promotion of image over character, the glorifying of power, … and so on …”[34]

The development I have just narrated played out in the West, and it is fair to question its relevance elsewhere. However, given the cultural influence the West has in a global age, developments in the West have had a profound impact on Africa. At least, that has been true for much of the modern era.[35] We turn now to reflect on the impact of the Western modern and postmodern understanding of truth on the Christian ministry in Africa. To do so, we must first examine the “African” notion of truth.

3. The African Notion of Truth and the Influence of the West

Is there an “African” notion of truth? Like “the West,” “Africa” is not a cultural uniformity. Like the West, Africa may be divided into many distinctive subcultures that are in a state of constant flux. African culture is diverse and dynamic. However, also like the West, there are several recognizable and distinctive attributes at the aggregate “African” level. Of course, the extreme nominalism of postmodernism would rule such a position out of court, by presupposition.

Nürnberger offers helpful reflections on this challenge.[36] In the first place, he acknowledges the merits of the postmodern critique:

There is not only one, static African spirituality, not only one biblical, Catholic or Protestant doctrine, not only one manifestation of modernity, not only one recognisable form of postmodernity. In the current spiritual situation you find a diverse spectrum of combinations, interactions, inter-penetrations, adjustments, new developments, deconstructions and decay. Local and detailed analyses would be necessary to know exactly what happens at grass roots level in specific communities.[37]

Having fully appreciated the weight of the challenge, he argues that it nevertheless does not defeat the enterprise to which he has given himself:

But that is not the purpose of the exercise. This is … not … cultural anthropology or phenomenology of religion. I concentrate on some classical interpretations of the Christian faith and get as close as possible to some classical forms of African spirituality, because I want to get to the core of the problem. It is my task … to try and figure out what makes the two sets of convictions tick …. The purpose is … to come up with some parameters, to understand what the ingredients of the alloy found in the melting pot could have been.[38]

That is the purpose to which we, too, give ourselves here.

The possibility of a uniquely African epistemology is fiercely debated among African scholars themselves.[39] Nevertheless, those who deny any uniqueness to the African notion of truth do so based on prior philosophical commitments and in a way that begs the question.[40] Those who allow for a uniquely African notion of truth point to the following sorts of distinctives.[41] First, the African notion of truth is deeply embedded within African ontology.[42] African ontology implicitly tends to resolve the problem of “the One and the Many” in favor of the One. It tends to favor unity over distinction, such that the subject participates in the object and the individual finds his/her being in the collective.[43] Second, it follows that the subject–object divide is either entirely porous or altogether absent in African thought.[44] Third, truth in the African context is a highly communal, relational, and therefore ethical concept.[45] Fourth, in Africa, knowledge, and therefore truth, can arise from a wide range of sources, including reason, emotion, intuition, and, especially, the spiritual realm.[46]

Based on the above distinctives, we can immediately identify stark contrasts between the African notion of truth and the Western notion of truth. The postmodern power of poiesis—the power of the individual subject to manufacture truth—is utterly foreign to the traditional African worldview. The external world can be manipulated to a limited extent, but it certainly cannot be created ex nihilo. From an African perspective, even the idea of a strict subject–object distinction is jarring since all things are organically related. Just as the Western power of the subject is strange, so is the Western isolation of the subject in his/her own barren world of truth. This would be an affront to the communal-ethical nature of truth in the traditional African mindset. While the Western postmodern inclusion of intuition and emotion as valid sources of truth might resonate, the exclusion of the spiritual realm as a valid source of truth (where that residual of modern Western materialism still holds sway) robs the traditional African truth complex of its essential grounding. Thus, as with any cultural engagement, the coalescence of Western and African truth concepts results in significant disequilibrium for African Christians. How might the subject respond?

How might an African Christian respond to Western brands of Christianity that place the individual subject at the center?[47] Here, I propose a standard range of three outcomes: 1) welcome and embrace, 2) reaction and retreat, and 3) disconnection, confusion, and compromise.[48]

In the first model, African Christians could, in time, accept the tenets of Western postmodernism and adopt them as their understanding of truth. The result for the African church would be a faith and praxis that orbits around the individual subject. In the second model, African Christians could react to the Western notion of truth as a creation of the individual subject by retreating into the familiar notion of truth as something defined by the group and its traditions (since in Africa, a group is defined diachronically to include those who came before us). This could mean a total retreat from the Christian faith or the kind of blend option described next. In the final model, Christianity packaged in Western pluralism could prove attractive in substance (the gospel) but repulsive in form (Western pluralism), or vice versa, with an overall impact of disconnection or confusion. It would combine an arbitrary and unconscious embrace of certain Western elements with an equally arbitrary and unconscious retention of certain African elements, producing a disordered and eclectic compromise in a church struggling for identity, a status we might designate “syncretism.”[49] In my experience as a pastor in a suburban African setting, the last of these three models (syncretism) is the most prominent. This is an intuition borne out by scholarly reviews of the evidence.[50]

Anthropologists have at times called the process by which we arrive at syncretism “stimulus diffusion.” Kroeber defined stimulus diffusion as the process whereby “… a system or pattern as such encounters no resistance to its spread, but there are difficulties in regard to the transmission of the concrete content of the system. In this case it is the idea of the complex or system which is accepted, but it remains for the receiving culture to develop a new content.”[51] Christianity packaged in Western pluralism has spread in Africa, but the receiving cultures have added new content. The result is syncretism, and that syncretism extends to the notion of truth. One manifestation of the impact of stimulus diffusion and syncretism on the African notion of truth is an increasing individualism and, with it, a growing reactionary tension among those who have a more traditional communal outlook. Njuguna describes and laments this phenomenon as follows:

The African person has changed his way of looking at himself and the universe due to modernity. At the heart of life in the traditional African community was the collective and communal formation of the person. Emerging issues in the contemporary society have caused disintegration of the moral fabric of society giving rise to an individualistic society.[52]

4. The Christian Minister in Africa and the Biblical Model of Truth

What is the role of the Christian minister in this complex situation? Attempting a negotiated settlement between the subcultures, or any form of social engineering, is ill-advised, to say the least. Instead, the minister must understand the biblical notion of truth and how it engages with cultural counterfeits. Or, in the words of Marshall, “Christians can and should have their own ways of thinking about truth …. They need not take their truth claims on loan from some other intellectual or cultural quarter, or regard the only alternative to epistemic servitude as isolation from the broader human conversation about what is truth.”[53]

The biblical notion of truth is “rich and complex,”[54] and a detailed exposition is beyond the ambitions of this paper.[55] That said, three doctrines serve as helpful plumb lines to the biblical notion of truth and are also relevant to the particular cultural distinctives in question: the doctrine of the Trinity, the doctrine of Creation, and the doctrine of the Incarnation.[56]

The doctrine of the Trinity compels us to affirm the ultimacy of both unity and distinction. The triune nature of God prevents us from collapsing truth into either universals or particulars. This point is demonstrated by the history of heresy relating to this doctrine. It is a history that tends to collapse God into one person or explode God into three gods. It is a history of privileging either the universal God or the particular persons.[57] Since truth is anchored in the Being of God (e.g., Exod 34:6; John 14:6, 16:13; 1 John 1:5), the doctrine of the Trinity safeguards not only our understanding of God but also a proper understanding of truth. The doctrine of the Trinity prevents us from privileging either universals or particulars, the object or the subject, and the community or the individual, as the locus of truth.

The doctrine of Creation helps us to assert the otherness of a God who is the single objective universal to which all created particulars relate by grace.[58] This precludes a chain of being (ontological monism), and so it affirms distinction without denying the unity that comes from God’s gracious creative acts and purposes.

The doctrine of the Incarnation also helps us to affirm truth at both poles of the objective–subjective axis. Jesus Christ said, “I am the truth” (John 14:6). As Marshall put it, “… truth is not just any person, but this human being in particular: Jesus of Nazareth, and among human beings only he …. In the admirably exact phrase of Thomas Aquinas: … this human being is divine truth itself.”[59] In the incarnate particularity of Jesus Christ, we have access to the universal of divine truth. Jesus Christ is, in his subjective being, the essence of objective truth. In our subjective being, we are united with the Father through the Son and by his indwelling Spirit. Thus, in Christ, truth is integrated into both its objective and subjective aspects.

The biblical notion of truth has much to say (through the ordinary modes of word ministry wielding the doctrinal emphases proposed above) to both the Western and the African cultural counterfeits. It confronts Western pluralism with the unity of the Godhead, and it challenges African monism with the distinction of the persons. It confronts impersonal African spiritualism[60] with the incarnate and resurrected Christ and impersonal Western materialism with its utter dependence on the transcendent Creator God. It confronts the Western deification of a truth-creating subject with the absolute sovereignty of the Divine Subject. It also challenges the African deification of a truth-creating collective with the Incarnate Truth of the image-bearing Son.

The biblical notion of truth poses several challenges to both Western and African cultural counterfeits. Yet, we must recognize that any counterfeit has much in common with the original. Both Western and African notions of truth present points of contact with the biblical notion of truth. Therein lies an enormous evangelistic opportunity for the African minister. Without overlooking cultural distortions, nevertheless, the spiritual ontology, the absence of a strict subject–object separation, the communal-ethical nature of truth, and the embedding of truth in a collective consciousness—all features of the traditional African notion of truth—provide segues into the biblical notion of truth. For example, in evangelism, affirming the spiritual nature of truth as a common point of departure could be disarming and help to win a hearing with the audience. In preaching, rehearsing what listeners already know about the structure of truth could establish solidarity and open the way to suggesting how God’s word bolsters and reconfigures that structure. In discipleship relationships, beginning with the goods of an existing presuppositional matrix can be the first brick laid in the construction of a new biblical matrix. Thus, by using nothing but the ordinary modes of word ministry with the specific doctrinal emphases proposed above, and by intentionally leveraging the overlap between a cultural notion of truth and the biblical notion of truth, the African minister can work toward redeeming the former with the latter in the life the people under care.

Thus, I see the work of the African church in this area as threefold. First, we must deepen our understanding of the biblical notion of truth, with special emphasis on the doctrines of the Trinity, Creation, and Incarnation. Second, we must examine the local context and try to discern which cultural forces are dominating the understanding of truth. Third, we must speak the biblical notion of truth in that context in every available forum, rejecting what is unhelpful and redeeming what is helpful, whether Western or African.[61]

5. Conclusion

Since the beginning of the modern era, the Western notion of truth has taken a radically subjective turn, such that truth is located, even created, within the individual subject, and any objective external truth claim is viewed as an oppressive power play. Due to the global reach of Western culture, this notion of truth has spread across the African continent, which has its own notion of truth (albeit differentiated across subcultures). This latest interaction between the West and Africa will most likely follow standard patterns of homogenization, polarization, or hybridization (syncretism) through the process of stimulus diffusion. In my observation of a suburban African setting, and with some scholarly warrants for confidence, syncretism is most prevalent. Placed in this or a similar setting, the Christian minister stands at the confluence of two powerful streams of culture. The result is turbulent chaos in the understanding of truth. Thankfully, in the biblical notion of truth, the Christian minister has ample resources to address the idiosyncrasies of either worldview and bring order to the chaos.[62] More than that, both the Western and the traditional African notions of truth present the sensitive minister with a range of inroads for a biblical reconstruction.

[1] In this survey, I broadly follow the lines of the analysis presented by D. A. Carson, The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996); Rousas J. Rushdoony, The One and the Many (Fairfax, VA: Thoburn, 1978); R. C. Sproul, The Consequences of Ideas: Understanding the Concepts that Shaped Our World (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2000); and Carl R. Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020).

[2] Carson, The Gagging of God, 58–64.

[3] Benedict de Spinoza, A Theologico-Political Treatise, trans. R. H. M. Elwes (New York: Dover, 1951), 103. Quoted in Carson, The Gagging of God, 66.

[4] John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, ed. Anthony D. Woozley (New York: Meridian, 1964), 432. Cf. Carson, The Gagging of God, 63.

[5] Francis Bacon, Novum Organum, in Man and the Universe: The Philosophers of Science, ed. Saxe Commins and Robert N. Linscott (New York: Random House, 1947), 148. Quoted in Rushdoony, The One and the Many, 272.

[6] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Confessions, ed. Patrick Coleman, trans. Angela Scholar (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 270. Quoted in Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, 108.

[7] Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, 108–24.

[8] In a collectivized version of the same principle, Rousseau’s Scottish contemporary, Hume, argued that morality can have nothing more than a general opinion as its standard (Rushdoony, The One and the Many, 295–297).

[9] Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, 129–61.

[10] Sproul, The Consequences of Ideas, 120–24.

[11] Rushdoony, The One and the Many, 300.

[12] Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood, ed. and trans., The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant: Critique of Pure Reason (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 110 (emphasis added). Cf. Rushdoony, The One and the Many, 305.

[13] Paul Carsus, ed., Kant’s Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1955), 24. Quoted in Rushdoony, The One and the Many, 301.

[14] Sproul, The Consequences of Ideas, 134.

[15] Sproul, The Consequences of Ideas, 135.

[16] G. W. F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of the Mind, trans. J. B. Baillie (London: Allen & Unwin, 1961), 85. Quoted in Rushdoony, The One and the Many, 306.

[17] G. W. F. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy, trans E. S. Holdane and Frances H. Simpson, vol. 3 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1955). Quoted in Rushdoony, The One and the Many, 307.

[18] Francis J. Ayala, “Darwin’s Greatest Discovery: Design Without Designer,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 104 (2007): 8567. Quoted in Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, 186.

[19] Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, 185.

[20] Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, 178.

[21] Sproul, The Consequences of Ideas, 138–45.

[22] Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, 180–81.

[23] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, ed. Walter Kaufman (New York: Random House, 1967), 291.

[24] Nietzsche, The Will to Power, 550.

[25] Friedrich Nietzsche, My Sister and I, ed. and trans. Oscar Levy (New York: Bridgehead, 1954), 213. Quoted in Rushdoony, The One and the Many, 330.

[26] Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism, trans. Bernard Frechtman (New York: Philosophical Library, 1947), 18. Quoted in Rushdoony, The One and the Many, 332.

[27] Sartre, Existentialism, 18. Quoted in Rushdoony, The One and the Many, 333.

[28] Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness: An Essay in Phenomenological Ontology, trans. Hazel E. Barns (New York: Philosophical Library, 1956), 626. Quoted in Rushdoony, The One and the Many, 334.

[29] Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, 201–23.

[30] Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, 271–80. It is interesting that Sartre rejected Freud’s theory of the subconscious because of its deterministic implications for the nature of truth and subjective agency (Rushdoony, The One and the Many, 334).

[31] Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, 226–54.

[32] Carson, The Gagging of God, 72–77.

[33] Cf. Carson, The Gagging of God, 77 and Os Guinness, Time for Truth: Living Free in a World of Lies, Hype and Spin (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), 11–13.

[34] Guinness, Time for Truth, 52.

[35] Indeed, a case could be made (though its making is far beyond the scope of this paper) that even some of the growing African intellectual and cultural animus toward Western culture and thought has roots in Western culture and thought itself.

[36] Klaus Nürnberger, The Living Dead and the Living God: Christ and the Ancestors in a Changing Africa (Pietermaritzburg: Cluster, 2007), 19–21.

[37] Ibid., 20.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Note Udefi’s review of the debate in Amaechi Udefi, “The Rationale for an African Epistemology: A Critical Examination of the Igbo Views on Knowledge, Belief, and Justification,” Canadian Social Science 10.3 (2014): 108–17.

[40] “… the Universalist (analytic) African philosophers’ rejection of African epistemology is hinged on their conception of philosophy and its relevance, which according to them transcends the limits of the cultures and times of the philosophers that produced them…” (Udefi, “The Rationale for an African Epistemology,” 113).

[41] This list is neither exhaustive nor uniformly accepted by all scholars.

[42] Paulinas C. Ejeh, “A Critical Examination of the Concept of Truth in Igbo Thought,” Sapientia Global Journal of Arts, Humanities and Development Studies 2.1 (2019): 43–44.

[43] Udefi, “The Rationale for an African Epistemology,” 109–10, 113.

[44] Frederick Klaits, “Self, Other and God in African Christianities,” Journal of Religion in Africa 41 (2011): 143–53.

[45] Udefi, “The Rationale for an African Epistemology,” 115; and Ejeh, “A Critical Examination of the Concept of Truth in Igbo Thought,” 40–46.

[46] Udefi, “The Rationale for an African Epistemology,” 115; and Nürnberger, The Living Dead and the Living God, 21–22.

[47] One such brand is “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” It is named for its focus on empowering the agency and happiness of the individual subject in exchange for moral effort to please a remote God. See Christian Smith, “On ‘Moralistic Therapeutic Deism’ as U.S. Teenagers’ Actual, Tacit, De Facto Religious Faith,” in Princeton Lectures on Youth, Church, and Culture (Princeton: Princeton Theological Seminary, 2005), 46–57.

[48] These three broadly agree with the conventional sociological models of 1) Homogenization; 2) Polarization; and 3) Hybridization (e.g., Robert Holton, “Globalization's Cultural Consequences,” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 570.1 (2000): 140–52.

[49] Alan Tippett has defined syncretism as “the union of two opposite forces, beliefs, systems or tenets so that the united form is a new thing, neither one nor the other.” Cited by Elizabeth Ezenweke and Ikechukwu Kanu, “Perspectives of Syncretism and its Modern Trend: A Case of Christian and African Traditions,” Unizik Journal of Arts and Humanities 13.2 (2012): 73.

[50] Syncretism in the African church is a phenomenon widely acknowledged among African scholars. See, for example, Ezenweke and Kanu, “Perspectives of Syncretism and its Modern Trend,” 71–84.

[51] Alfred L. Kroeber, “Stimulus Diffusion,” American Anthropologist 42.1 (1940): 1.

[52] Gerishon K. Njuguna, “A Critique on the Consequences of Priority of the Individual over the Community in the Contemporary African Context,” International Journal of Humanities and Social Science 9.2 (2019): 59.

[53] Bruce D. Marshall, Trinity and Truth (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), xi.

[54] Carson, The Gagging of God, 163.

[55] For fuller treatments of how truth is anchored in the nature and works of God, see Carson, The Gagging of God, 130–33, 163–74, 193–314; and M. D. Thompson, “The Divine Investment in Truth,” in Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture, ed. James Hoffmeier and Dennis Magary (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 84–96.

[56] Of course, there are a number of other doctrines that would help to fill out the account, including the doctrines of Revelation, Scripture, etc. In selecting these few as a beginning, I follow Van Til (in Rushdoony, The One and the Many, 352–63) and Yonghua Ge, “The One and the Many: A Revisiting of an Old Philosophical Question in the Light of Theologies of Creation and Participation,” The Heythrop Journal 57 (2016): 109–21.

[57] Scott R. Swain, The Trinity: An Introduction, Short Studies in Systematic Theology, ed. Graham A. Cole and Oren R. Martin (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020), 71–74.

[58] Cf. Carson, The Gagging of God, 500.

[59] Marshall, Trinity and Truth, 2.

[60] Here, I am referring to the dynamism prevalent in Southern and East Africa, which holds that all of reality is imbued with, and subject to, erratic and impersonal spiritual forces (Nürnberger, The Living Dead and the Living God, 22; and Jaco Beyers, “What is Religion? An African Understanding,” HTS Theological Studies 66.1 (2010): 1–8. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v66i1.341).

[61] Here, I follow Carson’s variegated model of cultural engagement (itself a revision of Niebuhr), which calls for deep discernment in applying all the resources of biblical theology to the specifics of a particular cultural setting and moment. See D. A. Carson, Christ and Culture Revisited (Nottingham: Apollos, 2008), 44–65.

[62] Here, I cannot help thinking of the apostle Paul successively addressing the two cultural groups in the church at Rome with the norming truth of the gospel.


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