- Keith Harris
As Christians, we are convinced and convicted that God is and that God has spoken through scripture – God has revealed himself to us. To believe that God has revealed himself through scripture is to believe in truth. The Scriptures speak of truth and claim to be truth. Revelation can be defined as knowledge coming from God. In John 8:32, Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” That verse is often lifted from its context and used at will. The verse before says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.” Scripture, without question, claims to be truth. In John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” The truth is we all believe in truth. We learn to make it in this world by learning some great truths like gravity and the difference between hot and cold.
There are truths, or realities, that we count on each day. There are conclusions we all agree are true, e.g. 2 + 2 = 4. The problem comes when we speak of moral or spiritual truth. The Bible teaches – and we live daily by – what is termed the “Correspondence Theory” of truth. Truth is when what I think or believe corresponds with what is. This implies that there is an objective reality outside of myself. Dr. Phil Thompson has asked, “Does truth come from within us, or is it outside of us?” Philosophers phrase it by asking, “Do we live in a mind independent world?” When what I think or believe is aligned with reality – with what is – then I have arrived at truth. Our world today only has problems with this concept when it comes to moral and spiritual truth.
Is truth bigger than me? Have you ever thought about how we learn about our world…about reality…about truth? Between my mind and the reality of the world (material or spiritual) are two things: 1) my senses, or my experience with the world, and 2) the Revelation of God. For centuries, knowledge and truth came from our senses and interaction with the world, and from God’s revealing himself through nature and through scripture. There came a time when it was argued that you cannot trust your sense of the world, it’s only your perception of the world. We end up with the six men of Indostan who are blind, trying to describe an elephant. The only issue is they are blind and each only feels a part of the elephant. This is essentially the idea that the world around us is only a social construct. Later, it would be argued that it is language that stands between you and the world. People of different languages see the world differently. Every group of people have their story, their narrative. Having a coherent story (a unified story) is the only thing required. People who speak a different language, or have a different culture, have then different worlds in which they live – not to be judged in reference to another world or worldview. Thus, your story becomes the only truth about which you need be concerned. Belief becomes the truth-maker. This process is part of what has led us to think that truth is within us, that we, or at least our community, determine what is truth to us.
The Bible suggests boldly that we can know truth – and that truth comes in the person of Jesus and the story of his redeeming sacrifice on the cross. In John 17:17, Jesus says, “Sanctify them in the truth, your word is truth.” Christianity gets attacked for believing that the gospel is for all…a story or truth that is true for everyone, no matter what culture you come from, or what language you speak. But what we see being so prevalent today is the privatization of truth. There’s a reason our culture wants to make truth a personal and private matter. No one gets to tell us what’s right and wrong. Everybody gets to do what they want to do. That freedom really seems to drive our society. It solves the issue of a global world and its major religions.
There are many Christians doing the same thing. Though most Christians will say they believe the scripture is God’s word, many don’t believe it is a meta-narrative, a story or truth that is true for everyone. Some are looking for God’s word for them. Many Christians will flip in their Bibles and put their finger on a passage. When they read it, they will begin, even subconsciously, to create a meaning for themselves from that particular random passage. Then the assumption is that God must have wanted me to read that passage because it means this particular truth to me and my life now. So, the subtle reality for many Christians is the thought that the meaning of specific texts in the Bible is determined by what I am experiencing in my context. Stanley Grenz says this about the way many come to realize the meaning of a text, “Meaning is not inherent in a text itself…but emerges only as the interpreter (reader) enters into dialogue with the text. And because the meaning of a text is dependent on the perspective of the one who enters into dialogue with it, it has as many meanings as it has readers.” Grenz goes on to explain the postmodern world’s understanding of truth, “The postmodern worldview operates with a community-based understanding of truth. It affirms that whatever we accept as truth and even the way we envision truth are dependent on the community in which we participate. Further, and far more radically, the postmodern worldview affirms that this relativity extends beyond our perception of truth to its essence: there is no absolute truth; rather, truth is relative to the community in which we participate.” Some argue that God has encoded his word and only those who can decipher it will find its truths. Others exalt elements which are considered spiritual above scripture. For instance, the still small voice of God. They believe in revelation, but they are expecting a private one. We privatize truth because any standard has been rejected. When you throw God out, why should there be a standard? Remember the Book of Judges? “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). Does this sound anything like our world today?
Chuck Colson wrote in a recent book: “The task of this generation — as it will be in every generation — is to understand Christianity as a complete view of the world and humankind’s place in it, that is, the truth. If Christianity is not the truth, it is nothing, and our faith mere sentimentality.” Paul heartily agrees: “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:12-19). Paul didn’t think that simply believing something makes it right for you. Paul saw truth as bigger than himself, something outside himself. Paul said that if they found the dead body of Jesus, then he was a fool. Again, in John 8:31-32 Jesus says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”