Christian Truth: In Spite of Post-modernism
While teaching his theology class at Grace Theological Seminary, Dr. John C. Whitcomb, showed his theology class a magazine photo. In the photo you could see an “evangelistic” outreach by liberal seminary students standing at a shopping center, with hands pointing straight up. They kept this posture and that was really their message. Their message was “We don’t know what it all means … but we are in contact with whoever is up there…”
Although there are some things(1) that we might never be able to explain or make perfect sense of there are things that we can know for sure. John MacArthur stated, “Authentic Christianity starts with the premise that there is a source of truth outside of us.”(2) I find this statement true, and profoundly so in our post-modern culture where liberal theology is still popular.
In the Gospel of John Christ states, that it is the “truth” and knowing truth that sets us free, it is liberating. Jesus, the historical Messiah, and genuine Son of God, goes on to call Himself “truth” (John 14:6). In fact, the same Greek word for truth (ἀλήθεια) was used in both passages. Jesus is God, and God then is Truth. The exclusivity of Jesus cannot be denied. It is in our emotional or philosophical unpacking of this fact that we can assimilate this truth. Spiritual disciplines aid the discovery of these truths as darkness disappears at the presence of light.
Jesus is the light. John the Baptist, the forerunner for Christ, came as a witness to the light (John 1:7-8), the light which is Jesus (John 1:9; 9:5). Truth and light are very similar but yet very different. For example, when a person, who has been in the darkness, comes into the darkness their iris can sometimes constrict due to the amount of light entering the pupil. This is called adaptation, in ocular physiology. Light then exists whether we can or will allow ourselves to see it or not. The same is with truth, at times propositional truths that we read in the Scriptures can be rejected or accepted yet they do exist whether the atheist or skeptic acknowledges it or not.
Truth therefore remains truthful despite the degenerate nature of a society which seeks to redefine or marginalize. No matter how far the earth may distance itself from the sun does not mean the sun ceases to exist. The same is with truth today, a defeatist, “hold the fort” mentality is not acceptable to God.
It seems as though some people believe in a village god. A god that is created and sustained to meet their needs. It does not reach out and does not transcend their current crisis most of the time. This is an existential crisis in our society as we become increasingly focused upon the individual.
It seems symptomatic to our post-modern society to interpret every life situation or even Scriptural passage from the individual standpoint. This is appropriate in some part but not always. The closer we get, as a collective, to sole human reasoning as a guide in our society the closer we return to dark ages or when men grope in darkness and not truly knowing. Man was not made for dependency from God--this is the angst of the atheist.
Mark Twain, in his writings about Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, alluded to a gilded era that believed they were really getting something. Who would ever whitewash a fence for an apple core? Do you remember how much the entry fee was to a Barnum and Bailey show back then? Twain saw that gilded notion that we are getting something for our money and labor but are really getting nothing.
This was a picture of his times but I see it in Christianity too. Too many Christians are satisfied with thin or superficial relationships with God and His Word. Our shouts or cries unto God better be more about Him rather than our desperation to pay the bills or to receive a get out of "trouble" card.
Truth Exists With or Without Human Detection
Truth exists no matter if the moral relativist acknowledges its existence or not. Christian philosopher, William L. Craig, was recently answering the question, “How do you know objective morality is based upon God?”(4) He notes that “there is an objective moral difference between abusing a baby and loving that baby.”
He continues, “In the animal kingdom, some animals eat their young.” He then relates a childhood story of his father flushing his white mice. At first, he noted that he felt “crushed” by these actions but understood and felt different once he realized that the mother mouse was eating her babies and her parents intervened by flushing them. This is a sort of utilitarian dilemma but it also reveals, acutely, the moral dilemmas permeating our consciousness.
The recognition or non-recognition of these dilemmas do not mean that they do not exist but that they do exist, very much like 1 plus 1 equals 2 and although it is indescribable blue is indeed a color. I cannot see the wind yet I know it is there according to my senses.
Ironically the aftermath of Facist and Communist regimes like those of Hitler and Stalin or Mao, although disillusioned, vividly demonstrate that truth exists. If the heinous crimes of such men can be rightly said to be wrong then upon what basis do we make that claim. Surely it is a truth that exists objectively.
Christian Truths Must Be Distilled
Since these truths do exist, with or without human detection, then it becomes important, in some way, for them to be recognized. Jesus stated that “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;”(5) The timing is obviously not so great as it is the laborer being in right relationship with Christ. Being sent of God and also being in the field. The commissioning and the orientation of the believer is partly to “go and make disciples of all nations”(6) and it is in the field where they should “go” for the harvest awaits. It is the laborer in the field that stands ill equipped to gather the waiting harvest.
Spiritual truths or even propositional truths must be assimilated and then disseminated. It cannot be simply glanced off our spiritual and divine capacity to pray and reason with God. Instead, it must be taken and ingested. You may remember the quote from T.S. Eliot, a 1948 Nobel Prize winner for literature, which stated:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.(7)
Here Eliot takes out his canvas and paints for us literarily what it means to learn and reckon truth or knowledge. We can continuously grow and mature, not only as we grow spiritually (See Galatians 5:20-22; 2 Peter 3:18) in Christ, but also as we take on the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5). God has gifted us, since Creation, with the ability to reason and have logic. Aristotle did not create the laws of logic rather he discovered them. There is probably no new truth, only truth we may have perceived but not noticed. Everyone can be shown truth but it is not always received, nor is it always believed. Truth can be known, a lie cannot be known.
At the end of our exploring and discovering, however, we still stand in awe of God’s truth, as if for the very first time. This is the humility of Christ, possessed by the eternal deity and yet being Alpha and Omega (Revelations 1:8) he “humbled himself” (Philippians 2:8).
John R.W. Stott, in Your Mind Matters, notes that God “has constituted us thinking beings; he has treated us as such by communicating to us in words; he has renewed us in Christ and given us the mind of Christ; and he will hold us responsible for the knowledge we have.” In this book Stott essentially suggest that anti-intellectualism is a form of worldliness. God expects us to not only worship him with demonstrative worship or lifestyle but also with our minds. If we are to take on the mind of Christ as he tells us by the Apostle Paul (See Philippians 2:5), then our mind and rationality is intrinsically related to our transformation process as new and maturing creatures in Christ.
When we distill truths they will surface in our thoughts and practice. They will effect our very nature of existence and purpose on the earth. Many homes and individuals are smitten with anger and range in these times. Many of the contributions of literature (the rise in vampire novels and affinity with violence) and entertainment (Hostel, Saw, Friday the 13th) have been filled with blood and violence incited by rage and confusion.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach has written a book called The Broken American Male wherein he notes the rise of anger in men. Fear and anger are possibly the most expressed emotions in our dreams. These are also emotional impulses we possibly give into on a daily if not regular basis. It is also what plagues many broken and hurting families where one parent or family member is always angry.
In the 1400’s Thomas a Kempis, in the Imitation of Christ, wrote “Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be.” Often times we express our anger unfairly or in the wrong direction. Our anger should be with ourselves, at ourselves, for not being consumed by The Truth. We should allow God to not only transform us spiritually but intellectually as well. The more light added to a dark place the more information we are able to see or understand. We increase as we draw near to Christ.
Christian Truths Are To Be Defended
God is in the details, and if He is there then we can be sure that Satan would like to be an influence there as well. Since the Gospel is to be proclaimed and since we are going to make truth claims then there is going to be a need to give a defense, or a reason for that claim. The defense and the reason for our claims is where the details enter, and this is where another war wages.
In 1 Peter 3:15(3), the Apostle Peter, makes it clear that Christians should do at least three things:
1. Make Christ Lord in their hearts. A Gallup Poll on Religion in 1980 revealed that “we are having a revival of feelings but not of the knowledge of God. The church today is more guided by feelings than by convictions. We value enthusiasm more than informed commitment.” To make Christ Lord in our life is going to mean He invades our thoughts and our reasoning. We will have to place Him upon the throne of our life. It is He we must submit and yield too.
2. Be prepared to give an answer for the hope within us. The NRSV makes this statement plain, “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you;” NRSV The word “ready” or ἕτοιμος mentioned by Peter here suggest that one be ready for anything. This word is also used in Titus 3:1 where the believer is encouraged to be “ready to every good work” (KJV). To be expecting the skeptic or questioner to ask of you the reason for your hope, the very claim on which you have staked the truth.
J.P. Moreland, in his book, Love Your God With All Your Mind noted:
“The Puritans were highly educated people who founded colleges, taught their children to read and write before the age of six, and studied art, science, philosophy, and other fields as a way of loving God with the mind...The minister was an intellectual, as well as spiritual authority in the community. As Puritan Cotton Mather proclaimed, ‘Ignorance is the Mother not of Devotion but of HERESY.’”
I do not think it is our imperative to become intellects devoid of spiritually. I do think though that we must realize that the Word of God, has been given us, and it means something. Education and learning is a gift and an ability that is God given. Learning institutions were first in basilicas and churches, not atheist or Gnostic halls of learning. It is out of the birth of Christianity that science grew. It is out of the light of the text of Scripture that the Reformation and Enlightenment sprang. America is a culmination of what was perceived as a new or intellectual and religious freedom by thinkers of that day who, at the very least believed in God and had been profoundly influenced by Scripture.
Often we are taken up with doctrines or beliefs that we have studied for years, yet they only relate to the believer. For example, can the unregenerate fully understand holiness and spiritual things? No, and that is why we must be balanced in our study of truth. It is a tragedy for us to vehemently declare our allegiance to truth in secondary matters yet “refuse consistently to face her where graver issues are at stake.”(8)
3. Do this with gentleness and respect. This pertains to how we are to give an answer to those who would ask.
With gentleness and respect. Alfred Adler once noted that, “the truth is often a terrible weapon of aggression. It is possible to lie, and even to murder, for the truth.”(9) The Crusades or the Inquisition illustrates the point here. Just because a cross or the name of Christ was placed on the shoulders or helmets of soldiers during the Crusades does not make the actions of that soldier valid. It does not make his shedding of blood godly nor valid.
As mentioned earlier when one is exposed to truth it can sometimes be much like entering a lighted room after coming in from the darkness of night. This happened during the times of the Renaissance, the Romantic era and in other points in time when true light was perverted by humanity. It can cause us to squint or to shy away. If this is the case, it is even more incumbent upon us as preachers of the Gospel to speak the truth but do so in love (See Ephesians 4:15).
Remember the story of Noah and the ark? Although no analogy is perfect his story does apply in a sense. For example, when Christ returns again it will not be as a lamb that is meek and mild, yet He will come in fire and judgment. The disobedient will be punished and evil will be reckoned. The great judge will come to balance the scales. This was the story during the days of Noah, and yet divine judgment is coming again. No, not in the form of a flood, but in flaming fire (2 Thessalonians 1:8).
God has told us to “go” and make disciples. The making of a disciple often does not occur overnight but it does involve teaching and it does involve reasoning truth claims. Discipleship does not mean we have to go to a college or university, nor how much you paid for it but the work that was actually done. In this process we should have no harshness or hypocrisy. Here there is no room for bitterness or flippancy when we speak of our Savior.
Christ is not physically in the world today, nor are His hands or feet. The Church, that One Body united, is to be His hands and His feet. With that in mind it is with the mind of Christ, and in the spirit and humility of Christ that we must bring light to a dark world.
Truth in The Church
Where do we begin to spread truth? Who shall begin to spread it? The answers to these questions do have immediate or simple answers but it should begin with the Church, even our churches. The Apostle Paul, while writing to Timothy stated:
But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. (1 Timothy 3:15 KJV).
Notice the location of what Paul calls the “pillar and ground of the truth”. It is not in human reason, alone. It is in the church. In Love Your God With All Your Mind, Moreland states, “Saint Paul tells us that the church--not the university, the media, or the public schools--is the pillar and support of the truth.” The battle for truth must begin inside of each of us and it must be declared, as a sign of Christian unity, to the pews of our churches.
1. “but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you;” 1 Peter 3:15 NRSV
2. e.g. Hypostatic Union, Incarnation, etc.
3. MacArthur, John (2002). Why One Way? : Defending an Exclusive Claim in an Inclusive World (19). Nashville: W Pub. Group.
4. Craig, William L. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C5MtBdG36g “How do you know objective morality is based on God?” Accessed March 11, 2010
5. Matthew 9:37, NRSV http://www.biblestudytools.com/nrs/matthew/9-37.html
6. Matthew 28:19, NIV http://www.biblestudytools.com/matthew/28-19.html
7. Eliot, T.S. Four Quartets: “Little Gidding”
8. Janos Arany (1817-82), Hungarian poet
9. Alfred Adler, Problems of Neurosi