Pastoral Care For Those Experiencing An Epistemological Crisis

Chances are that you have never heard of an epistemological crisis. Don’t worry I will be the first to confess that the terminology is a bit confusing. Even though the terminology is confusing, it is a very common occurrence in the church and every pastor and lay leader should familiarize himself with it.

A common example that authors have shared in describing an epistemological crisis is with a story of a wife discovering a hand written note from another women in the pants pocket of her husband. The note says, “I Love You.” This new knowledge, if accepted, has drastic consequences. In other words, the inescapable result of these three simple words on a note will bring into question the truthfulness of what her husband says about their marriage and the status of the marriage. The note will also bring into question her marriage values, her behavior and feelings towards her whole family. The conflict between her prior knowledge and the new knowledge collide, which creates an epistemological crisis. As a result of the collision, she may accept the new knowledge, which could potentially bring about an alternative reality and reveal that she has been living in a lie for countless years. She may also reject the new knowledge or try to rationalize it away so that things will stay relatively the same, with the exception of possible lingering doubts. Painfully she may choose to neither fully accept nor reject the note but try to absorb the new knowledge into her prior knowledge, thus attempting to hold the two truths together in an obviously painful contradictory unit.

As we can see from our example above, epistemological crises have large ramifications for individuals and this is also true for churches. As we will see in the following sections of this document, when the Scriptures are continually revealed to the church, parishioners will also experience epistemological crises. These crises will occur as God’s truth conflicts with and undercuts other sources of truth that they accept and perceive to be the norm. Thus this subject demands our utmost attention for proper and compassionate pastoral care. CLICK HERE to read more.

The previous material is from the introductory portion of a recent paper that I wrote titled, “Pastoral Care For Those Experiencing An Epistemological Crisis,” You can access the full paper in PDF format by CLICKING HERE.

A special thank you is needed for the following gentlemen in their review and editorial suggestions of this paper.

-Rev. Robert Overgaard,
-Rev. Ken Narvesen
-Peter Slayton
T.R. Halvorson

Gentlemen, your insights were most appreciated and valued.

I hope you enjoy the paper, I enjoyed writing it. As you learn more about the intricacies of epistemological crises and worldview conflicts, may you also contemplate ways that you might pastorally serve with compassion and integrity in the midst of these situations .

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Richard 


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About Pastor Matt Richard

Rev. Dr. Matthew Richard is the pastor at Zion Lutheran Church of Gwinner, ND. He was previously a Senior Pastor in Sidney, Montana, an Associate Pastor of Spiritual Care and Youth Ministries in Williston, North Dakota, and an Associate Pastor of Children and Youth in Rancho Cucamonga, California. He received his undergraduate degree from Minot State University, ND and his M.Div. from Lutheran Brethren Seminary, MN. His doctor of ministry thesis, from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO, was on exploring the journey of American Evangelicals into Confessional Lutheran thought. Pastor Richard is married to Serenity and they have two children. He enjoys fishing, pheasant hunting, watching movies, blogging, golfing, spending time with his family and a good book with a warm latte! To check out more articles by Pastor Matt you can visit his personal blog at:


Pastoral Care For Those Experiencing An Epistemological Crisis — 10 Comments

  1. “Writing Love Letters in the Sand” by Pat
    Boone would seem to accent the epistles we find
    on the beaches before we find them in the pockets
    of our spouses.

  2. Yes, I did enjoy reading it; Thanks Pastor Richard.
    It’s my opinion that because of the ever increasing advancement of the sciences and as a result of the unparalleled free flow of ideas via the internet epistemological crisis occur more frequently now than ever before. I am surprised, however, that I didn’t run into the term cognitive dissonance i.e., “an anxiety that results from simultaneously holding contradictory or otherwise incompatible attitudes or beliefs.” Alan Watts described the phenomenon as separating the mind into two watertight compartments. Well, it’s what we all do when we desperately want to avoid one of these crisis and I think it far more widespread than we realize.

  3. @#4 Kitty #3
    “…cognitive dissonance i.e., ‘an anxiety that results from simultaneously holding contradictory or otherwise incompatible attitudes or beliefs.’”

    That’s essentially what F. Pieper called a “felicitous inconsistency.”

    For example, Baptists believing they are saved only by grace through faith in Christ… and that they must choose to be saved.

    Or Roman Catholics believing they are saved by the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world… and that they must do penance for their sins to be saved.

    And Lutherans who believe we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to him… and that they must switch to Contemporary Worship for the lost to come to believe…

  4. @Pastor Ted Crandall #4

    The lyrics found within most contemporary worship songs do promote a Theology of Glory, don’t they.

    The “worship wars” have already been fought. The “Confessionals” have lost and continue to lose every time the style of worship is challenged by the “Missionals” within a congregation. How many LCMS congregations offer the contemporary service only. It does not matter if the LCMS synod president is confessional. The district presidents will make sure that the “Confessionals” will lose. Did Luther hate the organ. What kind of music did he prefer?

    It is sad to see recent adult converts to the LCMS dismiss the organ and the liturgy as a creepy crypto-Catholic sort of thing. They have never learned to appreciate the value of singing the hymns of grandpa’s church. They cannot understand what they have never learned – and that includes singing hymns that reinforce the doctrines found in the Small Catechism and in other confessional Lutheran writings. The best outcome the “Confessionals” could hope for is for the congregation to keep the traditional service while offering a contemporary service as a second service.

    During a recent visit to a Roman Catholic church for mass, I looked behind me and saw four or five singers standing in the balcony and belting out the lyrics to the songs loudly and boldly to the accompaniment of the organ. Strange how most of the parishioners were standing silently during the hymns. The experience reminded me of the contemporary service in my LCMS church. The praise band sang while most of the congregation stood silent. I will admit that I do not have the best singing voice. In my experience, I found it harder to sing along to contemporary pop songs than to hymns.

  5. @Lumpenkönig #5
    “The best outcome the “Confessionals” could hope for is for the congregation to keep the traditional service while offering a contemporary service as a second service.”

    Unfortunately, what you say does seem to be too true!

    Did you ever notice they almost always schedule the liturgy at 8 AM and the contemporary stuff at the more popular later time? And then they use attendance numbers to “prove” that the people want CoWo… Schedule your praise band at 8 and see how popular it really is.

  6. Lumpenkönig #5 says:

    It is sad to see recent adult converts to the LCMS dismiss the organ and the liturgy as a creepy crypto-Catholic sort of thing.

    It is not the adult converts who are panning for CoWo. The adult converts I know are all pro-Liturgical Worship.

  7. Hey All,

    So, would the introduction of contemporary praise theology into the Lutheran Liturgy be the grounds for causing an epistemological crisis for parishioners? Two sources, speaking two different theologies (i.e. cross theology vs. glory theology). What are your thoughts? If so, how is this reconciled?

  8. Pastor Richard,
    It did for me. I came out of the Orthodox church, minored in confessional Lutheranism, studied the liturgy and had a crisis. It took the better part of ten years to figure it out.

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