Is truth personal or absolute? Is truth relative? As a student of theology and apologetics and, more importantly, as a teacher of the Bible, I believe wholeheartedly in absolute, propositional truth.
If we use the phrase “my truth” to mean “my personal experience,” then this phrase is rather benign. However, if we use “my truth” to mean that our personal beliefs are relative and are just as valid as anyone else’s (with regard to any truth claim), then we’ve missed the point with regard to truth. Relative truth is becoming all-too common. According to a recent Barna study 64% of millennials believe that religious view are basically different versions of the same spiritual message. This trend is problematic because Christianity claims that truth is propositional and absolute.
None of us holds a view of personal or relative truth when it comes to the fields of science or mathematics. Here are some examples. Gravity is absolute. It is no more true for me in the USA, than it is for those living in Asia. It is absolutely true as a scientific law. Mathematics are absolute. 2+2=4, and it always will be 4. Furthermore, the decimal points in our bank account balances are absolute. At least we expect them to be. They are not relative or arbitrary. A diagnosis for a disease is also absolute. When a biopsy comes back as cancer, what we feel or think about the result is irrelevant. The doctor’s feelings are irrelevant as well. It is an absolute.
Even if a postmodern world wants to argue for truth as relative and personal, we operate in a world of absolute truths.
Why then would we treat religious, philosophical, or moral truths as anything less than absolute? There is no short answer to this question as hundreds of years of philosophical and religious debate during the Enlightenment and through to the philosophies of Modernism and Post-Modernism have supplied answers.
One of the major debates regarding religious truth comes when a religion makes propositional statements like: “All men are sinners” or “Jesus was resurrected from the dead.” As propositions, they are important theologically. They are also factual claims. The Bible defines sin. If we commit sins as the Bible claims, then we are sinners. So according to the biblical definition, all men are sinners. This is a propositional truth whether or not one accepts the Bible as true or not. One might disagree with the Bible and deny it as God’s revelation, but that person cannot deny that according to the Bible, the proposition that all men are sinners is valid. The same holds true with the second proposition above, “Jesus was resurrected from the dead.” This proposition was preached by the early church and is the foundational claim of Christianity. Remove the resurrection, and you know longer have Christianity. But while many may not believe that Christ was resurrected, there is no denying that the Bible teaches Christ was resurrected. This proposition is then left to be defended or disregarded based on the evidence.
The challenge faced by those who make religious truths relative is the competing truth claims between those religious systems.
- Islam denies the deity of Christ.
- Christianity claims that Christ is God.
- Atheism denies God altogether.
- Hinduism claims that Jesus is one god among many.
These are mutually exclusive truth claims. If these truths are merely personal or relative, then they no longer effectively represent their religious system. Not only are relative truth claims within religious doctrine incompatible with their religious system, but they also become meaningless.
One reason for the popularity of relative truth or personal truth is that it dismisses the competing propositional truth claims of religious or philosophical systems. Another reason for the popularity of relative truth is that it personalizes truth. It makes truth individual and accessible.
Ironically, Christian truth has always been accessible because while it is propositional, it is also relational. Jesus claimed to be the very embodiment of truth.
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.John 14:6
For Christians, truth is propositional and absolute, but it is also relational and knowable in a personal sense. Jesus is not just a historical figure, but he is God in human flesh. He is knowable. He is the truth.
As Christians, the biblical view of truth as propositional, absolute, and relational has several important implications.
- Christians need not fear any truth (scientific, rational, historical, etc.). God embodies truth, and therefore, all truth is God’s truth. There is nothing true that ultimately contradicts a Biblical worldview. In all my studies, there are many theories that contradict biblical truth (see above on conflicting religious truth claims), but there are no verified facts that undercut biblical truth claims.
- Christians should clearly proclaim the propositional truths of Scripture. We need to understand the culture of relativism and personal truth in which we live. And because truth is viewed so differently, our Christian message will often be rejected. But that never means we must stop proclaiming it. Paul taught that the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to all who believe” (Romans 1:16).
- Christians should be cautious when speaking, posting, or declaring something to be true that is either speculative or a conspiracy theory. When we become evangelists for what is false, merely temporal, or what is a conspiracy theory, we undercut the power of our voice for truth. My friend and editor at the Biblical Recorder Seth Brown offers a very helpful analysis on this subject with regard to the Q-Anon Conspiracy Theories.
The bottom line is this. Because Christianity is founded upon the very embodiment of truth–Jesus Christ–we must be people who embrace and proclaim the truth to others.