Defending True Truth

A little while ago I wrote about what I thought were some of the critical frontiers in Christian apologetics. None of them are new as in sui generous, but they are new in the sense that we have not paid much attention to them in the American culture for a while. I still believe all three areas are still critical.

I want to add to my list some thoughts on another critical area of work for the Christian – truth itself.

There was a time not that long ago when Christian apologists and philosophers were defending the belief that there was anything like truth at all – that it existed objectively and could be known. A basic definition of truth is “that which corresponds with reality.” Or as the philosopher Dallas Willard used to say, “reality is what I bump into in the morning.” There have been powerful philosophical assaults on the idea of the existence of objective truth, or our ability to know if there is such a thing. Those assaults came from all kinds of directions, a couple of the most common were either some form of relativism or scientism. Relativism is the view that truth is relative to a culture or an individual. Scientism is the belief that the only knowable truths are produced by the hard sciences.

While both of these ideas are alive and well in their own ways, it turns out that the more dominant trend in our culture is more like a hard-nosed belief in the truth, but one in which truth itself is utterly redefined. Relativism predictably turned into a purely subjective view of truth, replacing the idea of universal truths, or, objective truths for what we now call “lived experience” and the emotions and cultures of every imaginable group of people. This rising trend does not end with a sense of universal tolerance, believing there are many truths, and to each his own. It culminates in a very ridged assertion: there is no universal truth, all universal truth claims are oppressive, and all acts of oppression are immoral.

Our age is striving to redefine truth itself and censure claims to objective truth.

Our age is striving to redefine truth itself and censure claims to objective truth.

The follower of Christ is now presented with a complication: defend and live out the gospel as universally true when more of our neighbors (outside the church and increasingly inside) view that as oppressive. In other words, we defend truth when our culture increasingly calls it a moral evil.

One guide we go to for wisdom on this tricky issue saw the stirrings of this view on truth at least sixty years ago. Francis Schaeffer often emphasized the importance of what he called “true truth”. True truth is universal, applies to all people, and is an understanding of reality itself. What was happening around him, even decades ago, was an erosion of truth itself. The move away from the Christian faith does not need to come as a frontal assault on its truth claims, it can come from behind by redefining truth itself, attempting to de-claw its universal claims.

The faithful church is walking through a minefield right now, and there will be a lot of work to do. But here are a couple of thoughts as the church moves forward.

The follower of Christ is now presented with a complication: defend and live out the gospel as universally true when more of our neighbors view that as oppressive. In other words, we defend truth when our culture increasingly calls it a moral evil.

Right now courage is compassion.

Jesus said that when we get to know him and the Word of God, “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). This is true in the salvific sense, but it is also a universal dictum. Knowing the truth is simply a matter of lining up as many beliefs and behaviors with reality as possible. Going through life believing that “2 + 2 = 5” does not free anyone; it tries to do the impossible – conform reality to my mistakes. Going through life believing that gender is a construct and can be changed through hormone therapy and surgery is completely destructive.

When a western theory like Critical Theory, Postmodernism, or Postcolonial Theory (those who seek to “decolonize” knowledge and power structures), try to disconnect cultures from reality by labeling it as “oppressive” or “colonial”, the people who suffer the most are those in the weakest cultural conditions. They need science, math, and technology. They need advances in law and economics. Western theorists luxuriate in the fruit of all of these advances while simultaneously telling others that they are morally evil.

The courage to not participate in lies is compassion for our neighbors.

The courage to not participate in lies is compassion for our neighbors.

Churches and families hold the line.

It has been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over thinking the results are going to change. If this is true, segments of the church have been insane for a long time. Every wave of cultural change brings with it the pressure for the church to conform its beliefs to a new set of values. And, sadly enough, plenty go down that path believing it is some form of wisdom or even mission. But the results are always the same: more people leave the faith than come to it.

Without trying to win some kind of cultural war, it is possible for a faithful church to hold the line on the fact that Jesus still changes lives. We may not be able to change all the curriculum in all the public schools in the next election cycle, but we can hold the line on the truth and power of the gospel. Proclaim it, live it, and watch it bear fruit in our homes, churches, and God willing, our communities.

Photo by James Wheeler

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