Summaries and Reflections on Longing to Know: The Philosophy of Knowledge for Ordinary People (Brazos Press, 2003) and Loving to Know: Introducing Covenant Epistemology (Cascade Books, 2011) by Esther Meek

“Longing to know” is part of the human, soul-embodied caring and coping experience of trying to integrate all that we experience into a coherent integrated whole, and is part of the transrational process of worship, either of the Lord or of idols, since who or what we worship explains and reinforces our experience (Meek, 2003:69-74, 76, 94).  Yet Scripture answers the questions that most need to be answered; some of our questions and lines of inquiry are futile and irrelevant (Meek, 2003, p. 78). Scripture interprets and confirms the clues we pick up about reality, whether about beauty or chaos, ethical flourishing or immoral disintegration, and shows them all to be reflections of God’s own nature or teaches us his ways to engage the world in his likeness (Meek, 2003, pp. 93-94).  Authoritative guides help us interpret our experiences in all forms of learning, and we must believe those guides, whether studying religion or science. Thus, we should not posit that only religion requires faith, while science requires reason (Meek, 2003, p. 105). Both require faith in authoritative guides, and also show enough contact with reality to give us confidence that the pattern is true such that we can submit to it and use it to understand and explore the world (Meek, 2003, pp. 139-154). This requires commitment, reverence for our subject of study, patience and humility (Meek, 2003, pp. 175-179). Ultimately, knowing truth is not our initiative in seeking, knowing or finding, but God’s initiative in seeking, knowing and finding us and mankind answering his questions to us (Meek, 2003, pp. 192-196)

Meek (2011, pp. 400-403, 408-409, 411, 417, 425-468) describes the epistemological etiquette to interpersonal covenant knowing and discovering of reality, such that reality responds favorably to this kind of etiquette with self-disclosure: desire (passive longing, active loving); personal qualities relating to self that are required to know (called composure: knowing and being ourselves as beautiful before God, knowing and comfortable with our healthy self-differentiated virtue, skillfully developing use of our five bodily senses to engage reality and appreciating how body senses confirm correct perception of reality, fidelity to our renewed nature, openness to learn, and embracing pain); personal qualities needed to engage or relate to the yet-to-be-known (called comportment or candidacy: a pledge to invest in, care about learning, trust that the investment is worthwhile, responsible submission-obedience to the reality revealed, humility to receive what is revealed, patience to slowly learn, alert to reflections of God in the reality we find); methods to learn (called strategy: pursue the best means of knowing from the life and words of authoritative guides, developing foundational  competencies and skilled use of tools to grasp new patterns of reality, creative-value-assigning-attention-to the subject, collaboration and active listening, integrate a subsidiary range of knowledge or academic fields looking for unrealized or unexpressed integrative possibilities or interpretations of the reality,[1] indwelling the knowledge to use as a lens to seeing more patterns, as a connected knower, seeing with delight as God sees; and consummation: (in the likeness of the covenant the Creator established and sustains with all creation, developing new loving, creation-caring, transforming friendships and shalom-healing communions with the constitution of reality—blessing all the created world, including ourselves and other people, to be more fully itself/ourselves/themselves, and responsibly voicing or characterizing its/their self-disclosure into the known world, to a cloud of witnesses that accord interpretive value to our efforts—that lead us to ultimate conversation-communion with the Lord, knowing and being known, seeking and being sought out, through the “sacramental” eating and drinking of all reality).

These etiquette themes readily apply to psychological research as well. Meek’s primary antithesis throughout the book, thus the example of how she engages in critique of error, is the epistemological “sin” of learning impersonally—the “I” looking at data without seeing through the data to the “You” as a form of divine, covenantally personal encounter. Seeking neutral clinical, scientific objectivity is excluded and damaging to researcher, bodies of knowledge and subject studied, as this approach denies covenant loving, relational, transformative engagement with reality and seeking God’s likeness in the knowing process, leading to worship and communion (Meek, 2011, p. 415). Seeking evidential support, coherence with other knowledge claims or workability (419) can be useful only as tools of a loving individual or community taking risks to act on the knowledge, as if it were clumsily describing parts of or tokens of reality (there is unspeakable mystery in all things), but being open to revise it. These are useful tools only as they enhance our grasp of and engagement with reality (421). Meek’s critique of secular forms of research, writing and knowing that seek to authoritatively guide others is against their impersonal, atheistic failure to know as part of a relational friendship, an experience of God’s eternal power and divine nature, failure to give him thanks and worship, but instead worshiping the creation and created images (Rom. 1:20-25).

The biblical counseling literature and the training of counselors already utilizes several the concepts of epistemological etiquette. Even so, Meek’s model enriches the quality and purposes of BC using an interpersonal covenant perspective to focally integrate some previously existing, but conceptually disconnected, subsidiary commitments of biblical counselors. Recast by Meek’s model, we counsel in the interpersonal covenant likeness of Christ, loving to know, and knowing that everything in the universe is from him, through him and to him, to him be the glory forever and ever (Rom. 11:36).

The advantage of Meek’s model, when indwelt and used as a subsidiary commitment to see reality, will be to see all knowledge God-relationally, rather than abstractly or as isolated sets of informative facts.

 Meek (2011:165, 181, 183, note 27) expands Frame’s normative perspective into the controlling “notion of storied, unfolding covenant relationship,” within which God’s word, ethics, law and truth functions normatively as subsets, or articulating subsidiaries. What we ultimately seek is not truth, law, the Word or ethics, but our covenant Lord engaged in historical unfolding of a relationship with us his people. Our knowledge of truth, law and ethics function as subsidiary presuppositions that can also be temporarily enhanced when we focus on them to improve these basic skills and develop better presuppositional pattern recognition (Polanyi calls it destructive analysis Meek, 2011:168).   But as those subsidiary commitments or presuppositions are integrated as patterns, they are used to focus on covenantally personal aspects of knowing God better and building friendship and communion with God.

[1] Powlison (XXX Biblical Counseling Movement: History & Context???) concurs that we can augment our study of man by learning from a wide range of knowledge sources, such as news stories, fiction, biography, history, case studies, sociology or psychology.