How do we know we’re not in a cult? How do we know we haven’t reduced or simplified faith to the point of distorting it?

Here are some warning signs: Does your church have all the answers? Do your opinions convey a touch of arrogance? Do you limit personal relationships to those in your own church? Do you frequently refer to other churches as cults? Do you require others to not only believe like you, but be like you?

Let’s face it. Most of us actually assume we can fit God into our tiny heads. And when that happens, our church becomes a "ghetto of truth." It becomes a "cult."

Truth, after all, cannot be reduced to the "opinion" of any one person or any one group. And, the God of History cannot be permanently anchored to the "vote" of any one subculture or any one era.

Yes, there is One Truth! We see its signs in the merging of differing perspectives—in the unity of diverse notions—in a network of manifold meanings—in a system of distinct parts. We recognize these signs when multiple impressions support and corroborate each other—when varied revelations verify and validate each other—when isolated beliefs bring richness and relevance to each other.

And we find these mutual agreements even among mutual disagreements—among apparently contradictory or uncongenial interpretations.

Then, as a result, we sense a greater picture, an integrated whole, a belief-mosaic. Eventually, this mosaic becomes a vast relevance, an overarching pattern, a universal significance. . . .

. . . systems resting within systems—networks nesting within networks.

These patterns of Truth are like holograms where a single part evokes the whole, and the whole is in the part. They are like the Internet where each link leads to the same vast web of relationships. They are like a kaleidoscope where continually changing patterns reflect something that never changes.

They are like a great polyphonic choir where multiple melodies weave soaring similarities and where mingling consonances sound significant because of equally significant dissonances. Or, they are like exquisite choreographies where individual dancers celebrate the same Great Dance.

And, if you are a scientist, these patterns of Truth are like forward-looking physics where previously incompatible theories eloquently converge in one, unified theory of the Universe.

Such patterns are not mere coincidence or serendipitous luck. Nor are they the modern idea of "pattern" where everything reduces to one, exclusive idea. Neither are they the postmodern notion of "pattern" where anything goes. And, finally, they are not the Eastern mysticism of "pattern" where we embrace the whole, but destroy the parts.

Instead, these patterns represent dynamic, flexible systems—worlds teeming with links and minglings. And we’re part of them! When whole systems and their parts—including us!—mutually determine one another, they take on powerful and miraculous dimensions.

Yet, paradoxically, these patterns do not reflect many "truths." They reflect One Truth.

The Web of Life

Life is relationship. Wherever we see life, we see patterns or networks of relationships.

And, we know when these connections touch us. An apparent coincidence, as example, may suggest a "bigger picture," consistent and coherent within itself. And we sympathetically respond. We sense a bond between what we feel and something real "out there." Further, we feel at home.

And, moreover, these bonds yield pleasure upon contemplation.

Contrary to modern "logic," this is exactly the way the brain works. The brain’s biology demands endless patterns. Or, put another way, this is exactly the way the mind thinks. The mind’s versatile and variable nature requires endless links.

Our thinking, in other words, is meditative. It is a seemingly random series of serendipitous revelations with multiple feedback loops. We could also describe these loops as "to-and-fro" movements: We think in related images which give light to the whole. Then, increased revelation from the whole gives light to still more related images. Of course, each return or "loop" generates a more complete picture.

This may seem like pandemonium for those who preach a "proper" linear logic. Yet, chaos or information overload "leads to pattern-recognition."1

Not surprising, then, this kind of thinking also forms the basis for our beliefs. Faith, after all, is a mosaic of belief—a process of truth—a web of conviction. When our individual convictions support and corroborate each other, our confidence grows. Our faith is affirmed in a myriad of ways, and the affirmations just keep coming.

These affirmations reveal, in turn, a "bigger picture," a greater web of remembering where we know things we didn’t know we knew.

"Every comprehension of a whole acknowledges the reality of it."2

A "Holy Holograph"

Scripture confirms this pattern recognition, for Scripture is "relational" Truth. Its truths converge—its messages interact—its "fruit of the Spirit" relate.

Granted, Scripture speaks with a multitude of voices—sometimes even contradictory voices. It admits "many-sided wisdom," "infinite variety," and "innumerable aspects."3 It concedes "many separate revelations," mere "portions" of Truth, and the "different ways" God speaks through the prophets.4

Yet, these diverse voices (even conflicting voices) do not mean we’ve lost the unity or the universal authority of Scripture. For Spirit still speaks with one voice. That’s why Paul wrote, "In Him all things consist (cohere, are held together)."5

God remains, after all, all in all.

Multiples, mosaics, and many-sided metaphors have more in common with the origin of our faith than with the modern traditions of our culture. Meditative, circular dialogues have more in common with early prophetic voices than with today’s production-line ideas. And biblical glory has more incommon with the contextual beauty of the first believers than with the intellectual "beauty" of the latest, literal "believers."

God’s Kingdom, after all, is a "holy holograph."

In many separate revelations [each of which set forth a portion of the Truth] and in different ways God spoke of old to [our] forefathers in and by the prophets.6

Pulling Things Together

Pattern recognition—the multilingual voice of God—poses no threat to the minds of the future. For, once again, prophetic voices are seeking signs of Truth in open-ended connections, multiple lines of "reasoning," and interrelated beliefs. They are moving beyond modern signs of "truth"—narrow "truths"—ghettos of "truth."

In doing so, they are pulling things together rather than tearing them apart.

The minds of the future are also moving beyond the postmodern loss of Truth, the shared delusions of subjectivity, and the seas of disconnected dots. In doing so, they are seeing links of significance, connected dots, and the whole in the parts. They are also discovering individual perspectives, unique interpretations, and inspired points of view that are not without a Metanarrative—not without a Universal Story.

In short, they are discovering the signs of a new "how-we-know" holism—the patterns of a new transcendence—the unity of a new Incarnation.


© 2010 Thomas Hohstadt


1. Marshall McLuhan, quoted in Derrick de Kerckhove, The Skin of Culture (Toronto: Somerville House Publishing, 1995) p. 151.

2. Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1958) p.344.

3. Ephesians 3:10, The Amplified Bible.

4. Hebrews 1:1, The Amplified Bible.

5. Colossians 1:17, The Amplified Bible.

6. Hebrews 1:1, The Amplified Bible.  

Future Church Administrator