What is Truth? (eXclusive)
What is Truth? from Brian Branam on Vimeo.
Christianity makes some audacious, exclusive claims. What we mean by exclusive is that according to the Bible, Christianity positions itself so that it cannot possibly be inclusive of other ideologies or ways to God. Christianity claims that the Bible is God’s revealed Word and as such it is ultimate truth. Jesus claims Himself as the only way to God (John 14:6). Christianity approaches un-believers by telling them that they are sinful and condemned but can be redeemed by receiving Jesus Christ as Savior.
The response of modern culture is to see Christianity as a narrow minded, almost hate filled religion that refuses to play fair on the platform of modern ideas. In short, the public square regards Christianity as a way of thinking that is short-sighted, uneducated, naive, and ignorant.
This series is designed to investigate these exclusive claims and to also engage them in the public square of ideas. In this series we are going to investigate three claims:
- How do we know the Bible is true?
- Why do we say Jesus is the only way to God? (or even that He is God)
- What gives us the right to call anyone sinful and say they need to be saved?
Let’s begin by investigating the first exclusive claim. How do we know the Bible is true?
What does the Bible Claim About Itself?
2 Timothy 3:16–17 (ESV)
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
- The Bible claims to be the Word of God.
- As God’s Word, logically then we would say that to disobey the Bible is to disobey God.
- The Bible’s claims about itself give no room for other religious writings to be considered as ultimate truth (this does not mean that other religious writings do not contain truthful statements.) It also claims moral superiority in that those who choose lifestyles contradictory to Biblical teaching are sinful. As such, we understand that the Bible not only claims to be truth for its adherents, but also for those who reject it as well.
Yet, before we dig into the exclusive claims of the Bible, we must investigate a paramount word, often overlooked in the argument. What is truth? If we are to say that the Bible is true, what do we mean by “true?”
- That which is.
- The actual state of a matter.
- Telling it like it is.
- That which corresponds with reality.
- A truth that is the same for all people, at all time, in all places.
- Also called “objective truth.”
- Truth that is determined internally by a subject or person.
- Most often truth is a matter of perspective
- Also called “relative truth.”
Redefining Truth in Post-Modernism
What is Post-Modernism?
Postmodernism is largely a reaction to the assumed certainty of scientific or objective efforts to explain reality. In essence, it is based on the position that reality is not mirrored in human understanding of it, but is rather constructed as the mind tries to understand its own personal reality. (wikipedia)
The movie The Matrix was post-modernism on film. It portrayed the world as we know it , and what were thought to be its absolute truths and physical laws, as a fabricated reality.
Post-modern view of truth:
- There is no such thing as absolute truth.
- Truth is relative.
- All truths are equally valid.
This ideology completely undercuts the gospel:
John 8:31–32 (ESV)
31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
In this system there are two presuppositions and one cultural value that becomes prevalent.
- Truth is created by the individual or his community. The reason you believe what you do is because of how you were raised or the era of your lifespan. Given that you were raised in another culture or at another time, your beliefs may be drastically different. While it may be true that one’s life may be very different if raised in a different culture, we are going to argue is that it still does not change truth! One may have a very different set of beliefs, but beliefs are not truths.
- The standard of truth is what one believes. Something is true when and if it is accepted as true.
In this system, the cultural value becomes tolerance.
- Essentially the need to seek and test truth is futile and in a sense counterproductive, perhaps even dangerous. To test one truth against another is insinuating superiority and only leads to divisiveness and prejudice.
- Every individual’s truth claims should be regarded as equal. There is no hierarchy of truth or belief. I should accept your beliefs as being true for you, you should accept my beliefs as being true for me. I should not condemn you and you should not condemn me.
- For the sake of the community we should foster harmony by making tolerance the supreme virtue.
- The ideology is expressed marvelously in the coexist bumper sticker.
Let us revisit our definition of truth:
- That which is.
- The actual state of a matter.
- Telling it like it is.
- That which corresponds with reality.
It is important for us to hold a “correspondence” view of truth because it asks us to do the most common sense thing, simply look around and see what is true. How do the “truth” claims of post-modernism correspond to reality?
The Intolerance of Tolerance
The Manhattan Declaration is a petition created by prominent Christian leaders to help define some core moral issues of the Christian conscience. The website states that it is a, “4,700-word declaration speaks in defense of the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, and religious liberty. It issues a clarion call to Christians to adhere firmly to their convictions in these three areas.”
In 2010 Apple pulled the Manhattan Declaration App from its app store after being pressured by pro-gay, lesbian, and transsexual groups. Apple was criticized for pulling the app and stated that their decision was in compliance with their marketplace policies.
A statement from the Manhattan Declaration, citing Apple’s statements reads, “Apple is telling us that the apps' content is considered "likely to expose a group to harm" and "to be objectionable and potentially harmful to others." Inasmuch as the Manhattan Declaration simply reaffirms the moral teachings of our Christian faith on the sanctity of human life, marriage and sexual morality, and religious freedom and the rights of conscience, Apple's statement amounts to the charge that our faith is "potentially harmful to others."
Similar stories are occurring in every venue of life from banking to politics (See D.A. Carson, The Intolerance of Tolerance). Christian groups are being excluded because they are considered intolerant and regarded as dangerous in the public square.
It is true that Christianity makes exclusive claims. Morally it is exclusive. It condemns homosexuality as a valid lifestyle. By its simple demand of Jesus as God and Savior it excludes all other ways to salvation. All other religions are false views of God and deceitful paths to salvation. By claiming its sacred writings are inspired by God it rejects all other writings as inferior and less than the truth.
So if Christianity is to be excluded, we ask a simple question, is relative truth better? Is it better for society to say that tolerance is the truth?
So in observing this “reality” what is the truth of these positions?
One way to test a “truth” is to see if it can meet its own standards. Let’s examine several statements of post-modernism’s view of truth:
- There is no such thing as absolute truth. (This is an absolute statement.)
- Truth is relative. (This too is an absolute statement.)
- All truths are equally valid. (This is also an absolute statement that does not tolerate nor give validity to the statement, “All truths are not equally valid.”)
We can easily demonstrate the futility of the premise that all truth claims are equal by stating that “all truth claims are not equal.” If we say that “all truth claims are equal” then the statement that “all truth claims are not equal” cannot possibly be equal.
We can also demonstrate the futility of the tolerance view as well as the subjectivity view by saying, “We exist” or “We do not exist.” Both of these statements cannot be equally true and neither of these statements depends on any subjective verification. If you do not agree, you are verifiably nuts. This tells us then that there is truth that is absolute or objective, true for all people at all times.
There is milk in the refrigerator vs. There is no milk in the refrigerator. If these statements are equally true then there must be milk in and not in the refrigerator at the same time. Thus when the atheist claims, “There is no God” and the theist claims, “There is a God” these statements cannot be equally truth. This defies logic - a thing cannot be A and non-A at the same time. Someone is right.
Think about the statement, “What’s true for you may not be true for me.” - do you mean that as true for yourself or must it also be true for everyone?
Statement: You should not question someone’s religious beliefs. (goes back to the idea of post-modernism that we should not investigate the superiority of a truth - which is a statement that is narrow, judgmental, and intolerant)
Evaluating the cultural value and statement that, “We should accept all religions.”:
- The statement is an exclusive, intolerant religious belief - it asserts non-pluralistic beliefs are wrong.
- The statement is an absolute moral position. Why shouldn’t we question religious beliefs? Who has the moral authority to tell us this is wrong? Who sets the standard? Why should we allow you to impose this idea on us?
- The statement is tolerant only of those who agree.
- The statement is a judgmental - in prohibiting that it is false to judge other religions one is casting judgment.
- The statement is dishonest because as a statement it is not ready to accept every expression of religion - such as those who are terrorists in name of god or those who would sacrifice children. Should we really not judge child sacrifice as a false cultural or religious value? It also fails to be honest that not every religious idea should be accepted.
To avoid these difficulties, an old philosophical position has found new favor again, agnosticism:
Agnosticism is a position that simply says we are without knowledge, or we can’t know. But that position in itself does not correspond to reality in that it too is self defeating.
How do you know, you can’t know?
So here is what we find about the nature of truth (Geisler 38):
- Truth is discovered not invented.
- Truth is not belief!
- Let’s be sure that we are not caught in the trap of equating the two.
- It is at this point that we see the mistake of post modern presupposition. What they should be saying is “belief” instead of truth. Belief may correspond to truth, but it is not truth. As such the presuppositions of post-modernism are easily defeated.
- Truth is created by the individual or his community. The reason you believe what you do is because of how you were raised or the era of your lifespan. Given that you were raised in another culture or at another time, your beliefs may be drastically different. Again, one may have culturally conditioned beliefs, but beliefs do not change the truth.
- The standard of truth is what one believes. Something is true when and if it is accepted as true. In essence, relative truth is a statement on belief, not truth.
- Truth is transcultural - it is true for all people, in all places, at all times.
- Truth is unchanging even though out beliefs about truth may change. People once believed the earth was flat. The truth about the earth did not change, it was always round, but out belief about the earth did change.
- Beliefs cannot change a fact, no matter how strongly they are held. One may insist that the earth is flat, or that the earth is the center of the solar system, but this does not change reality.
- Truth is not affected by the attitude of the one professing it. An arrogant person does not make the truth he professes false, nor does a misguided person who claims to follow Christ change who CHrist is.
- All truths are absolute truths.
A common parable to demonstrate the viability of relative truth over absolute truth is the story of the blind men feeling the elephant. The parable commonly goes like this:
The problem with the parable is that it denies one perspective. There is a storyteller who is objective, who knows the truth. The storyteller knows all the men are blind. The storyteller also knows the truth about the elephant. The storyteller also recognizes that if the blind could only see, they would know for certain what the elephant is like.
Our problem is not that we can’t know the truth. Our problem is that we are blind and we don’t want the truth.
According to John 3 we resist truth and prefer darkness. Biblical truths make moral demands of our lives. If a person does not want to comply morally or spiritually to Biblical demands it is much easier to regard them as invalid. Once again, this is a statement of belief, not truth. In post-modern culture, the posture towards Christian exclusivity becomes even more clear, they will absolutely not be tolerated. As such post-modernism as a “truth claim” does not correspond to a workable reality. It defeats itself.
D.A. Carson, The Intolerance of Tolerance
Josh McDowell, New Evidence that Demands a Verdict
Josh McDowell, Beyond Belief to Convictions
Norman Geisler, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist