quarta-feira, 16 de fevereiro de 2011

Epistemological insights about how I believe I know what I believe I know


A paper submitted to the faculty in partial fulfillment of the requirements
for the degree of PhD in Educational Studies
at Trinity International University / Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

Since Plato’s days it was believed that knowledge dwelt in the world of ideas, an imaginary space where words linked to each other and built the ideas.  Plato understood them as the images, forms, substances and feelings found in nature. Obviously, he attempted to understand how human beings believed what is true came from the infinite searching about reality. “What is real? What is true?” These were the common questions in order to answer the issues of how and what people believe they know. Since a determination of what is true or real is likely subjective, my intention here is only to provide some thoughts on my own understanding about my personal beliefs and how they are related to my reality.
After my personal contact with the reality of Jesus Christ, the Scriptures and fellowship in the Church, most of my personal beliefs changed. For instance, during my adolescence I grew up with the idea that to gain the world I had to get a job which could pay a high salary. My parents used to stimulate us to be proactive in searching the best opportunities.  My personal conviction made me believe that through my obedience to my parents I would definitely get  a good job. However, in the decades of the 80s and 90s, Brazilian economy was controlled by international inflation and for many years getting a job was something that was very difficult. After my conversion, my first prayer request was to acquire a job. I remember that it was Friday evening and the intercession group at the church prayed. On Monday morning one of the members phoned me and let me know about a job. Immediately I figured out that the best way of getting new things in life was through prayer.  Thus, I understood that the religious experience was the new stage in my life. I believe that my conversion was the starting point for my personal cognitive system for believing what is true and real.
What I am going to write now seems pathetic because it is totally opposite from the paragraph above.  In January, 1991 I entered my denomination’s seminary, which used to require high academic standards for their applicants. Seminary professors made me understand how to think critically about the origins of beliefs, mainly in theological schools. Because of my classes in philosophy, most of my personal beliefs changed again. After reading René Descartes, Discourse on the Method, I started believing that many of my creeds were wrongly built.  The problem was not essentially with my beliefs but with the structure of how to sustain them. One of my relevant changes was about the concept of miracle narratives in the Gospels.  I was told that miracles are something that happen literally as written in the Gospels, and the evidence of God is powerful because of these healing, signs and wonders. However, after studying exegetically the Gospel narratives, miracles were given new understanding. I was convinced that God is powerful in the understanding of attitudes of mercy, forgiveness, education, love, and discipleship. I remember a narrative in which Jesus healed a leprous man in the Gospel of Mark, and how the key of healing was His mercy for that life. After several papers on miracle passages, I was definitely sure that healings are possible not instantly but as a kind of process. Then, beginning in 1992 I believed more critically, rationally and scientifically.
In 1994, I had a third epistemological experience with my knowledge. I affirm that was my point of controversy with the two others I’ve already mentioned.  It was about my methodological comprehension of organizing and giving logical sustenance for my thoughts. In December of that year I was supposed to submit a final paper which would prove my academic and intellectual abilities. My adviser, an Irish professor, required that I have total mastery of the morphological approach for exegesis in the New Testament. I did not understand what I was supposed to believe until I outlined my research proposal, in which case he gave substantial help. I realized that my beliefs should contain a logical order and relationship with other areas of knowledge. I was able to submit a final paper with the credentials of two other professors. In a way, I was able to understand that my experiences, my studies and hypothesis qualified me as a researcher.
In 1995, in a program at my college, I had contact with two new approaches for organizing and thinking methodologically. First, it was with the theories from the Institute for Social Research (Frankfurt School). At the college, studying Walter Benjamin, I had changed my beliefs of understanding history and the way God plans His history. I also changed my theories of perceiving the role of narrator for both secular and Bible texts. In 2000, I continued studying the second generation of Frankfurt scholars and became familiar with the theory of communicative action by Jürgen Habermas. In that occasion, I wrote my thesis for my masters program applying the four actions for the liturgical models in Brazilian Protestantism. Second, it was when I worked together with a group of professors to plan a Pedagogical Curriculum for theological school. In that time, we developed our program under four axes (Bible, Theology, Spirituality and Ministry). Courses were planned according to the requirements of each one. Recently we reorganized the items to be developed at the Ministry axle.
After reading a book named Practical Theology in the Latin American Context I was able to think about the mission of the church totally differently than I was used to. I used to believe that God was always doing something for His mission, and the Church just followed the given examples in the Bible. Now I understand all the actions of the church as its mission, which is narrowly connected to the mission of God. So, the reflection is on the church and not on God. Nowadays I am also encouraged to believe differently about pastoral counseling. I used to believe pastoral counseling was a function that pastors have in the name of God. Whatever pastors tell their congregation members to do, they must obey them. After studying the Psychology of Development, I realized that some of behaviors change according to a person’s developments, not because of the pastors’ orientation.  Of course, counseling is much more saying what is wrong or right. I believe Psychology is necessary to understand people’s feelings and why each one has difficulty following basic instructions.
In addition, I used to believe sanctification was a state of our salvation; for example, I was in Christ, so I became a new creature and there was no need to be concerned about living in separation. Experiences with my feelings and thoughts made me understand that living according to the Scriptures and the guidance of the Holy Spirit were moments I was learning from God’s will and when I read His word.  Then, holiness meant searching for God’s guidance in all moments of our lives. Definitely, I understood sanctification is also a condition of our Christian race.
In conclusion, I can affirm that I can learn from the examples given in nature, from my family members telling their experiences, from personal readings, from academic research, and from the religious experiences I had both in the church and through the Scriptures.