Human Knowledge: Created, Corrupt, Constructed
As a number of Christian thinkers have observed, we need to keep in mind 2 thing when reflecting on questions like What is knowledge? They are usually paired together by the familiar alliteration, finitude and fallenness. I myself have employed this way of summarizing then biblical way of thinking this through. But I’ve created my own alliteration which I think gets at the same points, while expanding it so as to include something frequently overlooked in Christian circles.
Here’s my triad on human knowledge:
Human knowledge is 1) created, 2) corrupt, and 3) constructed.
Human knowledge is created. Our knowledge isn’t the knowledge of the world God has. He knows things as the Lord of creation, it’s Master and Creator. We know things as creatures of God. God’s knowledge is full, complete, and universal. Our knowledge is partial, incomplete, fallible. Our knowledge can be wrong, God’s knowledge cannot. Even apart from sin (which we’ll look at in a second), we can still, and often do, make “honest” mistakes. We have to grow in understanding, knowledge, and wisdom. Bit-by-bit we accumulate facts and learn more. God doesn’t have to do this as Creator. His knowledge dictates what is fact.
Human knowledge is corrupt. Since the Fall (Gen. 3), human knowledge is often employed to subject others in an exercise power. One of the clearest examples of this is Nazi scientific experimentation. In an attempt to document how quickly human bones heal, some of these scientists, it is said, actually broke the bones of children…then broke them again once they healed! Evil indeed. Closer to home, we use our knowledge to get out from under God’s authority, making excuses for our lack of obedience, our manipulation of others, and our lies to ourselves (Cf. Rom. 1:18-32).
Human knowledge is constructed. Many postmodern theorists have noted that human knowledge is a social construct. That is to say, so much of what we call “knowledge” is really just the process of living at a certain time, in a certain place, in a certain culture, etc., etc. The problem with so many postmodern explanations of the constructed nature of knowledge is that often knowledge is “explained away,’ stripping us of moral and social responsibility, whether before man or God.
Who we are, the particularities of our lives (our opinions, thoughts, hopes, fears, etc.) are largely shaped by the time, place, and culture in which we live. This is a “postmodern” insight that Christians should welcome. God has ordained it that way, designing us to be exactly the people He wanted us to be for His purposes. I believe the things I do because I was raised by my parents, and not others. I like the movies I do because of a number of influences that are unique to my surroundings (family, friends, etc.). Now, this should never be understood to mean that knowledge is reduced to mere group preferences. But, what it does mean is that our access to many aspects of our knowledge, that we often take for granted (like the chemical makeup of the water molecule), is mediated via the channels of time, culture, etc. While truth is true regardless of whether we know it or not, being at certain places (at certain time, etc, etc.) helps put us (or, as postmoderns would say it, “situates us”) in the best position to learn such truths (again, like the water molecule).
This is the importance of being steeped in the Scriptures, and rooted in a living and thriving community of faith (i.e. a good church). How we interpret the world, how we filter competing truth claims, knowledge claims, etc., is impacted by our interpretative community. God has designed the church as the haven for Christian growth in wisdom, knowledge, and character. God has purposed the church (and the robust fellowship that it implies) to edify us.
And lest we forget, the word edify means the same as to “build up,” or construct.
For more on this last point, see: