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Truth is About the Journey: A Review of The Sacred Hill We Climb by Jan M. Long

Many Adventists are interested in truth and have long advocated for “present truth” in their teachings. Jan Long, a recent director of Institutional Research at La Sierra University, wrote a book explaining that an unexamined faith is not worth holding, helping readers develop a process for assessing sacred narratives and discovering truth. Though the book is written by an Adventist, it is not only for Adventist readers. 

Long argues that truth is a process rather than a destination. And that process is more important than simple belief. He begins with this assumption: whatever it is we believe is going to be at variance with reality at some level. Therefore the path to discovering truth is like climbing a hill. Long says, “The incongruent and diverse nature of the sacred landscape has been an issue on my mind for many years, and through a process of education and study, certain clarifying features of the hill we climb have emerged. These clarifying features will all become an important part of this discussion.”

The author also makes an argument between the relationship of science and religion that “for anyone inheriting assumptions that are closed off to the most obvious interpretations of publicly accessible physical evidence, there is a decision threshold that must be crossed in cases where the physical evidence is at variance with assumed belief. This threshold involves making a choice between the familiar and comfortable or making a strategic decision to follow the evidentiary path of physical data–concluding it should mean something to us.” The ultimate purpose of Long’s book is “not to battle against those who have a settled worldview but to offer a method of optimizing our connection to reality for those who seek such.”

I believe his book succeeds in building a framework to deliver more credibility to belief. Along the way, he uses Galileo as a case for study for what can be learned, including the issue of wrong assumptions, the importance of strategic stories, and the need for humility. Do we allow assumptions to control evidence or allow evidence to guide us? We learn to distinguish knowledge from belief and the dangers of devoting ourselves to willful ignorance. Science is good at observing, describing, and drawing conclusions on matters pertaining to the physical world, but has little insight as to the meaning of what is observed. We are reminded by Stephen Gould that science and religion operate side by side, but that it is better to look for areas of overlap than opposition. It is important to remember that commitment to truth should not require dogma to become the opponent of scientific conclusions. The author deals with the role of empirical evidence and common theological assumptions, including scientific denialism. 

I found the chapter on “The Rise of Credulity” useful in navigating our current situation, staying as close to reality as possible and discriminating information we rely on. The epilogue brings a satisfying conclusion to the narrative. The book is divided into two sections: strategic story and the sacred hill we climb. In the end, Long tried to elevate a defensible, modest, and strategic, approach to the sacred. For myself, he has succeeded. 

About the author

President Emeritus of La Sierra University and Executive Director of the La Sierra University Foundation and longtime contributor to Spectrum. More from Larry Geraty.
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