Friday, May 16, 2014

The Christian Concept of Truth

The contemporary situation regarding the concept of truth is more than a little confused, more than a little chaotic, more than a little cluttered: it is spiritually and infinitely catastrophic. It is confused because modern society can’t seem to recognize it. It is chaotic because modern society can’t seem to agree if it even exists or is knowable in any meaning way. It is cluttered because modern society cannot seem to decide on a precise definition for it. Finally, it is spiritually and infinitely catastrophic because modern society’s failure to come to grips with truth is moving it rapidly toward moral decay, epistemological bankruptcy, and metaphysical meaninglessness. It is spiritually and infinitely catastrophic because it has led modern society to cut itself off from its only source for morality, meaning, and knowledge: the God of Christian theism, the God that has revealed himself clearly in creation and in Scripture.

A contributing factor to the current state on the concept of truth in modern society is the lack of concord within the Christian community on the subject. For starters, the visible Christian community has failed to maintain a single source or final standard of truth, shifting its theories and doctrines along with the shifting whims of the society itself. Rather than providing a fixed and immovable target, the visible church has followed the shifts and movements of a blind society desperately attempting to find ground upon which it can rest. That ground, of course, cannot include God in any way, shape or form. Christian scholars, philosophers, pastors, and Christians themselves are in large part to blame. In their desire to remain relevant, they have become increasingly irrelevant. The visible church seems to be just one more confused entity among an already confused society. To give you an example of the problem, I will provide a quote from a leading Christian philosopher, William Lane Craig. Craig writes, “No, there is no peculiarly Christian theory of truth, one that is used only in the Bible and not elsewhere.” Craig contends that a distinctly Christian theory of truth would lead to equivocation in matters of doctrine and that Christianity itself would be circular or system-dependent, reducing the entire system of Christian theism to nothing more than a trivial claim. With such an unbiblical view of truth and such a misguided understanding of Christianity, and this coming from the supposed leading Christian philosopher of our day, it is easy to see why the concept of truth in modern society is in such a dismal condition.

Before moving to John’s distinctly Christian concern about truth, I want to point out the very basic notion in Paul on the subject and use William Lane Craig’s comments on Paul’s notion in Rom. 1:25 to illustrate what it looks like when one’s philosophy directs their interpretation of Scripture as opposed to allowing Scripture to interpret itself. The phrase I am concerned with is located in Romans 1:25: “Exchanging the truth of God for the lie.” The NASB translates it, “For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie.” Craig quotes it, “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie.” This is not a genitive of reference, a rare use of the genitive in the NT. But Craig’s previous comments that there is no such thing as a peculiarly or distinctly Christian theory of truth seems to influence his interpretation of this verse. More likely this verse means the reality consisting of God Himself and His self-revelation (Cranfield). Others refer to it as the self-disclosing reality of God. Note that Paul uses the article with “lie” so that he is not talking about some lie or merely a lie, but “the lie.” “The lie” is the lie that is at it most basic level, in opposition to the self-disclosing reality of God Himself. It is that worldview that contradicts Christian theism. It is that notion of truth that rejects the distinctly Christian view of truth as revealed in Scripture and articulated in Christian doctrine. Christian theism has a very fixed and steady view or theory of truth that is as sure as the person and being of God Himself. To say otherwise can only mean that one does not understand Christianity or they have not bothered to evaluate the Bible’s teaching on the subject, or they have engaged is a seriously flawed reading of Scripture.

John, in writing to Gaius said that he was very glad to hear that his children were ν ληθεί περιπατοντα, walking in the truth. According to Christian theism, truth is something that we can walk in. The implications are far-reaching. The phrase is used in John 17:17 in the high-priestly prayer of Christ, γίασον ατος ν τ ληθεί· Sanctify them in the truth. To walk in the truth is to walk in holiness, it is to work in God’s word, it is to purfy oneself from the works of the flesh, to mortify the deeds of the body. The word περιπατοντα means to live or behave in a customary manner. Hence, to live or behave in a customary manner in the truth is to live, or behave in a customary manner in God’s word for Jesus said, “thy word is truth.”

The same John informed us that Jesus said in His own words, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (Jn. 14:6) And again, John described Jesus as the word made flesh that was full of grace and truth. (Jn. 1:14) The same John just three verses later said that both grace and truth are realized through Jesus Christ. (Jn. 1:17) John 8:32 tells us that we will know the truth and the truth will make us free. Scripture tells us that there is no truth in Satan, even though Satan can reason better than the best philosophers. Scriptures describes the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of truth. (Jn. 14:17) Paul, having given Festus the gospel said, “I utter words of sober truth.” (Acts 26:25) Romans 1:18 declares that all unregenerate men suppress the truth in unrighteousness. Yet, unregenerate philosophers are trying to convince us that they are actually after the truth. It is the truth they seek, we are told over and again. And many Christian apologists agree with them even thought Scripture denies such misleading claims. The gospel of Christ is called the message of truth, or better, the message of the truth. (Eph. 1:13)

We live in a culture that makes so many different claims about truth it is impossible to keep up with them. One silly notion claims there is not such thing as absolute truth and claims this is statement is absolutely true and sees nothing wrong in the statement. Another person claims that truth is relative, and this claim applies to all of us. Again, she sees nothing wrong with this reasoning. Another person argues that truth cannot possible be known and asserts they are sure of it. On the one hand, our culture makes fun of one man that bows his knee before God in thanksgiving in the end zone and praises another man who gets on his knees for all sorts of disgusting reasons on the other. Videos of moms killing their unborn babies go viral while mothers that stay out home to spend more time with their children are called Exhibit A is Gretchen Ritter, who apparently makes her living directing the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Texas and as associate professor of government and women’s studies, who maintains stay-at-home moms are dangerous subversives and a plague on society.

Contrary to William Lane Craig’s perspective that Christian theism doesn’t really have a theory or view of truth, nothing could be further from the truth. Christian theism does have a very serious and focused theory and understanding of truth. Sadly, many Christians are doing nothing with that theory. Many of us go to church, and home again. We go to work and home again. We go to the gym, the coffee chop, the barber, the grocery story, the restaurant, and home again. We observe truth being smashed and perverted, and God being blasphemed everywhere we go and do nothing to engage. I am not saying you can stem the tide of coming judgment on this nation. I am not saying Christianity can rescue America. Only God can do that. This isn’t about America. It isn’t about rescuing our culture, not really. It is about rescuing you and me. Speak up Christian! You have the truth. But you say that you are not prepared to answer questions. Frist, you don’t need all the answers. Get the conversation going, admit when you don’t know, but somewhere in there, give them the gospel. At least do that much. We can begin to prepare ourselves to have better conversations over time. We will get better. But one thing is for sure: unless you begin to spend some energy to prepare yourself to engage the culture and work up the courage to start talking about Christ loudly, everywhere you go, and condemning sin and blasphemy in a loving way, pointing it out, you will find yourself a minimal fruit-producing Christian. Is that what you want? Have loud enough conversations at the coffee shop for others to sort of overhear you. Introduce yourself to strangers and work the conversation toward the gospel. Do something!

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