Truth

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.

Photo by DJ Paine on Unsplash

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Well, it’s been a month since the North Carolina legislature passed and Governor Pat McCrory signed House Bill 2 into law. You can read the law here. The current law from the legislature stemmed from Charlotte’s City Council passing an ordinance that allowed transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice, here. Judging from the media and social media controversy, it would appear that North Carolina’s legislature set off a firestorm. President Obama weighed in here, as did other political leaders regarding non-essential travel to North Carolina here. Current presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz took different approaches on this issue, here. The current NBA commissioner weighed in since Charlotte is slotted to be the destination for next year’s NBA All Star weekend, here. Popular musicians, like Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam (among others) have also spoken out against what they perceive as a hateful law, here. Understatement of 2016–HB2 is controversial.

In some ways, this controversy is patently absurd. Common sense indicates that one’s gender is clear. Males should use the men’s room and females should use the ladie’s room. I believe that to argue for anything else is foolish and potentially disastrous. In other ways, this controversy is entirely predictable. The Supreme Court’s decision to redefine marriage is only a step in the direction of the new moral left. Make no mistake that this is an issue of morality (especially as you read some of the comments above). The problem is “whose” morality?

As a Christian who holds to the inerrancy and authority of Scripture, I believe that God is the author of good. As such, it is his prerogative to define morality. In Scripture, he’s done just that. Of course, biblical morality is not the moral compass endorsed by contemporary American culture. In fact, it is not at all clear that there is a governing moral law being used in this debate. The response and reaction appears to me very postmodernism where morality is private and determined by each individual. In this case, those governed by a moral law (the Bible) or even common sense have no right to tell others they cannot self-identify as a female if they are anatomically male (or vice versa). The obvious problem is that while one group, in this case the LGBTQ community, is allowed to self-identify and publicly opine, the other group, in this case the legislature and morally conservative, are dismissed as full of hate and discrimination.

While we might bemoan this pattern, let me offer this warning—it is not going away. It is not going away because this issue attaches itself to an intrinsic part of humanity—gender. Gender is one of God’s most basic and essential elements of creation. In Genesis 1:27, God created humanity in his own image—male and female. Gender is a part of the created order—for animals and people. The male and female play an unmistakable and necessary role in procreation. The Bible is clear on this issue, and I believe that one’s gender is designed by God himself—determined in the womb and declared publicly at birth. Questioning and attacking gender is not merely an attempt at political correctness. Nor is it primarily an attack on humanity or traditional gender roles. It is most pointedly an attack on the created order, or to be more precise, an attack on God himself.

The Bible predicted this as well. In Romans 1:18-32 Paul declared that man in his unrighteousness rejected God and worshiped and served the creation rather than the Creator. While Paul’s context would have been idolatry, our context is unfettered human autonomy. Contemporary Western society (as illustrated in this controversy and the LGBTQ community) is an expression of man’s attempt to worship himself rather than God. So, this controversy is predictable.

Questions remain. 1. How should we as Christians think about these issues? 2. How should we respond to this controversy publicly and on social media? 3. What if we are connected to or confronted by someone in the LGBTQ community?

  1. We as Christians should consider these issues biblically. We have one authority, God himself, who exercises his authority in Scripture. Gender, sexuality, marriage, procreation, pleasure, identity, etc. originated from God. Thus, he gets to set the parameters and rules regarding these issues. By the way, his rules are not meant to be restrictive, but meant to release us into living according to our created purpose. The greatest fulfillment in life will occur as we live within God’s design.
  2. When responding to this issue, I propose that we consider two angles—the political and the personal. Politically, we not only have a right but a responsibility to speak out. We can and should vote and voice our thoughts in appropriate arenas. The media fascination with this issue will not go away if we become silent. I believe that as Christians we owe it to our founders, our freedom, and our faith to speak out for common sense and biblical morality. If you choose to respond on social media, please do so with informed wisdom and grace. Before you speak or post, read the bill. Before you engage in the public debate, consider the opposing viewpoint. Being well informed before responding can help us articulate with wisdom and grace. Remember that arguing is rarely effective at changing another’s point of view and even less effective when occurring on social media platforms. We must be ready to give an answer for our beliefs and speak out, but with gentleness and respect for others (1 Peter 3:15).
  3. If you are connected to or confronted by someone in the LGBTQ community or someone who advocates for homosexuality you should be gracious and Christ-like. Unlike the political angle above, we oftentimes have to address these issues interpersonally—with family or friends. We should be Christ-like and full of grace and truth. We should be firm in our stance on biblical truth, but we should do so with grace and love. The LGBTQ community is an expression of uncertainty, doubt, and confusion. We cannot know all the reasons behind each individual’s expression in these communities, but we should be compassionate. I can’t imagine what they are experiencing, but they are searching for something. Let me assure you, they will only find what they are looking for in Jesus Christ. Jesus will receive them as they are, just like he received us as we were. Changing perspectives, opinions, lifestyles, and preferences is God’s job. Our job is to be people who communicate truth seasoned with grace.