Truth and its consequences

christine helmer

BARRY GITTINS

“What is truth?” was the question asked by Pontius Pilate of Jesus and it is a question that a visiting eminent theologian from the US will be addressing later this month in a public Northey Lecture at the Centre for Theology and Ministry.

Dr Christine Helmer will be speaking on “Truth and Reality: An Ecclesiology of Resistance”, touching on the very nature of truth itself in an Orwellian era of traduced language, propaganda, “fake news” and the vilification of truthtellers.

In the lecture Dr Helmer, who is Professor of German and Religious Studies at Northwestern University in Illinois, will address the question of how to commit to truth and doctrine, while also making room for pluralism.

Pursuing truth, rather pointedly, points to the dissemination of falsehoods on Twitter and elsewhere.

“We have to get clear on how language works, and on why distinctive practices of truth-telling have to be cultivated in a community,” Dr Helmer said.

“Truth-telling is so important in the modern world, where verifiable events and words are denied under the label of ‘fake news’ and drowned in a flood of insults and repudiations.

“Theologians have been given the gift of talking about truth – the truth of God. Given the contemporary assault on truth, theologians can use this opportunity to bring truth-telling into the discussion.”

Dr Helmer, who is known for her work on the reformer Martin Luther and 19th century German theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher, believes that it is time to put the protest back into Protestantism.

The church, she affirms, can “protest what we identify as false; and reform those aspects of reality that are in need of truth”.

“I usually am shy about politics, having been an expat from Canada for many years in the US, but I have recently come to the realisation that theologians must be politically responsible,” she said.

“Contemporary Protestants, especially in the US, should take up the banner of protest and reform, as part of the name ‘Protestant’. The challenges today are immense, perhaps even insurmountable – and, given the scenario of climate change, even apocalyptic.

“If Protestants are to be true to their name – if they are to protest spiritual, political and social injustice – then they must protest what they see is wrong, and work to reform problems and challenges.

“They are called to do this in order to witness to God’s truth, which affirms life in all its diversity.”

Rev Dr Geoff Thompson, Pilgrim’s co-ordinator of studies – systematic theology, said that Dr Helmer’s realist theology is ‘realist’ in the philosophical sense; human knowledge is not an illusion generated by our imaginations, but does actually reflect reality.

“So, realist theology states that Christian doctrine makes true claims about the living God,” he said.

The Northey Lecture will begin at 7pm on 23 August at the Centre of Theology and Ministry.

Dr Helmer will also contribute to the “Doctrine, Truth and Pluralism” Pilgrim Theological College intensive unit being taught by Dr Geoff Thompson from 24-26 August.

 

 

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