Category Archives: Truth
A friend recently sent me this rather ironic email:
One of my coworkers is about 23 years old and a nondenominational Christian. We had lunch the other day and she was talking about how she was going to be teaching at her church’s young adults’ group on “truth.” She wanted to speak about what it means that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, and what it means to worship in the spirit and the truth.
I said something to her about how that was a big topic to prepare for. She said, no, not really, that she was just going to open it up for discussion to see what everyone else thought. She said the pastor told her that he wants people to realize they don’t have all the answers, either, and doesn’t want anyone to be afraid to speak up for fear of having the wrong answer, etc…
The apostle Paul was a man driven by truth. On several occasions he supports his claims by explicitly denying falsehood (Rom. 9:1, 2 Cor. 11:31, 1 Tim. 2:7). How did this passion for truth motivate him? It drove him to missions, preaching, and developing arguments to persuade others. Truth persuades. This is one of the chief reasons that religion spread by the sword (as in historical Islam) is a bad idea. Once a truth enters into the mind and captures it, no amount of force can simply erase it. This is true of both unbelief and belief. Conversion is both 1) the changing of our minds by way of new convictions and 2) a radical miracle wrought by the Spirit of God.
Too often well-intentioned Christians ignore the first point in defense of the second.
We shouldn’t make that mistake.
What does the Bible mean by the concept “truth”? When we turn to the biblical usage of the word, we find that “[t]he meaning of the Hebrew word ‘emet, which is at the root of the great majority of Hebrews words related to truth, involves the ideas of ‘support’ and ‘stability.’ From this root flows the twofold notion of truth as faithfulness and conformity to fact.” J. P. Moreland and Garrett DeWeese expand upon this theme:
The Old and New Testament terms for truth are, respectively, ‘emet, and aletheia. The meaning of these terms and, more generally, a biblical conception of truth are broad and multi-faceted: fidelity, moral rectitude, being real, being genuine, faithfulness, having veracity, being complete. Two aspects of the biblical concept of truth appear to be primary: faithfulness, and conformity to fact. Arguably, the former presupposes a correspondence theory. Thus, faithfulness may be understood as a person’s actions corresponding to the person’s assertions or promises, and a similar point could be made about genuineness, moral rectitude, and so forth.
I will now provide what I believe is a biblically faithful harmonization of the information gathered above regarding the nature of truth. The most promising of the secular theories of truth is that of correspondence theory. Nonetheless, while truth without a doubt refers to a proposition’s correspondence with the reality to which it refers, Evangelicals must not fall into the trap of modernism with its correspondence definition of truth. Modernism’s error with regard to its view of truth was the same as its views of logic and science, namely acknowledging their reality while abstracting them from the Lord who governs them. As Christians we must acknowledge this correspondence perspective of truth, but, and this is crucial, we must make sense of the Bible’s usage of truth as faithfulness.
I propose this understanding of truth, while acknowledging that it can be expanded and revised: Truth ultimately points to God’s relationships, first to Himself, and secondly to His decrees for His creation. Our statements are validated as true when they properly represent the reality to which they refer, yet the reason they can correspond to reality to any degree is because God stabilizes our world. The reason we can ever acknowledge and have any degree of insight into the working of God’s world is because He enlightens our mind. So ultimately the world acts in such a recordable fashion because of God’s faithfulness in action.
Thus I see both correspondence as well as coherence as valid definitions of truth, when properly presented within a Scriptural framework. A God-centered view of correspondence sees a belief or state of affairs as true if it corresponds to the way God structured reality. Likewise, a God-centered perspective on coherence views a belief as true when it harmoniously fits with God’s way of thinking about His world. Bahnsen defines truth as that which corresponds to the Divine mind. Van Til called this “analogical reasoning,” i.e. truth is attained by “thinking God’s thought after Him” on a particular subject matter.
Unlike the various secular theories of truth, the Biblical one does not limit the number of possible forms of truth. Particularly the pragmatic view of truth is in mind here, with its limiting of truth to practicality alone. Bahnsen draws out the wide scope of truth in the following:
God’s thinking is what gives unity, meaning, coherence, and intelligibility to nature, history, reasoning, and morality. In terms of this picture of the knowing process [i.e. the search for truth, JET], man can search for casual relationships and laws (thinking God’s thoughts after Him about His providential plan). He can think in terms of shared properties, similarities, or classes (thinking God’s thoughts after Him about the patterns, classifications, or kinds of things He creates and providentially controls). He can draw logical inferences (thinking God’s thoughts after Him about conceptual and truth-functional relations). He can make meaningful normative judgments (thinking God’s thoughts after Him about the demands of His righteousness). He can account for man’s mind knowing extramental objects (thinking God’s thoughts after Him about created man’s control over the created environment in which God placed Him). He can account for the public or objective character of truth available to many finite minds (thinking God’s thoughts after Him about the community of minds created and providentially planned to reflect His thinking), etc.
 J. P. Moreland and Garrett DeWeese, “The Premature Report of Foundationalism’s Demise,” Reclaiming the Center: Confronting Evangelical Accommodation in Postmodern Times (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2004), 88.
 Douglas Groothuis echoes this thought, “In a theological sense, one could say that coherence is the meaning of truth, if one means that whatever is true coheres with the mind of God, since God know all things with perfect consistency. But, this fact does not eliminate correspondence as the meaning of truth, since all true statements correspond with facts, which are either in the mind of God or pertain to other states of affairs.” “Truth Defined and Defended,” footnote 49, 73. Unfortunately, Groothuis saves these comments for a footnote, thus showing, in practice at least, that he privileges the correspondence definition of truth over the coherence model, as opposed to what I propose, i.e. seeing both as maintaining a reciprocal relationship.
Those who place their trust in Jesus have the privilege of being in fellowship with the One who claimed not only to be the Way and the Life, but also the Truth (John 14:6). The Christian’s love of truth should be no less than a demonstration of their love for Christ. Once one has seen that in Christ all the fullness of God dwells, their ultimate allegiance is to him and him word above all else. John M. Frame clarifies
The lordship of Christ is not only ultimate and unquestionable, not only above and beyond all other authorities, but also over all areas of human life. In 1 Corinthians 10:31 we read, “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (cf. Rom.14:23; 2 Cor. 10:5; Col. 3:17,23; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). Our Lord’s demand upon us is comprehensive. In all that we do, we must seek to please him No area of human life is neutral.1
We are to acknowledge the Bible as our final standard beacon of light. Everything we need for life and faith is found in God’s word. The Westminster Confession of Faith states our point this way, “The whole purpose of God about everything pertaining to His own glory and to man’s salvation, faith, and life is either explicitly stated in the Bible or may be deduced as inevitably and logically following from it.”2 This is what we mean when we speak of the sufficiency of Scripture (The Reformation cry of sola Scriptura).
Since the Christian worldview holds to the complete and binding authority of God’s inspired revelation in the Bible, naturally it assumes that one who takes the name of Christ will take the message of Christ to those who are in dire need of it. If the gospel is true (and it is) and man is a sinful creature in need of reconciliation with God (and he is) then we are not only called to, but compelled to proclaim forgiveness of sins in Christ name to the lost and dying world!
The Bible’s message corresponds to reality, it is true. What it says about man’s fallen condition is true, therefore man is responsible to believe and repent. Since truth suggests that it applies to all people, at all times, in all places, then we can say with the Apostle Paul, “…God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom he has appointed” (Acts 17:30-31a).
1 John M. Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God: An Introduction, pg. 7
2 The Westminster Confession of Faith: An Authentic Modern Version, Chapter 1, article 6, pg.3
Though in our day we must wrestle with the postmodern expression of relativism, relativism itself is nothing new. Protagoras of ancient Greece, philosophical nemesis of Plato, held that “man is the measure of all things.” So, if relativism is an old enemy of God’s revelation, why tackle it here…again? Crystal Downing, in her recent work, How Postmodernism Serves (my) Faith, notes that speaking about relativism is a tricky matter. Not all forms of relativism are opposed to the Christian message. She notes at least three forms of relativism, with the second having three expressions.
The first form of relativism that Downing mentions is what she calls Bird relativism. This view approaches the matter from a bird’s eye view, assuming that it can understand the nature of truth from a non-situated position. This is the type of relativism that most people fear and denounce. It’s the view that says all views are equally true, or equally false.
The second form of relativism is Brain relativism. This form acknowledges that because of the plurality of human experiences, cultures, religions, etc., people think differently (“Brain”). There is therefore no way to enter in sympathetically to another’s perspective. In effect, we are trapped in our sphere of interpretation. Downing notes three sub-divisions of Brain relativism, namely the bouncing, bombardment, and lastly, the boundary form. Bouncing relativism calls us never to settle on a particular interpretative community, instead calling us to bounce around and “find ourselves” through multiple identity-forming communities. Since no one true interpretive paradigm has it all right, any attempt they make to totalize life under their scheme is inherently oppressive. In order to free oneself from the tyrannical control of just one worldview, the bouncing relativist must free themselves and “dip and dab” in various schools of discourse.
The bombardment relativist, like Stanley Fish, holds that discourse is always played according to the language games of our community. Since we live in a particular ideological commune our ultimate commitment is to that party, and we should radically defend our view of the world. While from a Christian perspective, at first glance this view may seem appealing, we must recognize that Fish’s sword cuts both ways; for a Muslim to question their towers of influence is inherently wrong. There is seemingly is no way to mediate between perspectives, we simply think about the world differently (this is way it is a subdivision of brain relativism). “If we endorse the bombardment position of Fish, we cannot say the that the actions of al-Qaida are universally immoral; we can only say that they are immoral according to our tower’s language of morality.” They took the notion of bombardment quite seriously.
Richard Rorty, the (im)famous American neo-pragmatist philosopher, is Downing’s representative of Boundary relativism. Immediately one will notice the parallels with the boundary and bombardment schools of relativism. Boundary relativism argues that one ought to cultivate the virtue of solidarity with one’s community. Why do Americans prefer freedom and democracy? Because those are American values. To break solidarity with the society’s paradigmatic view of the world is to be immoral. We ought to remain within our society’s boundaries because they work for us. Rorty is not concerned with the “how do you know?” question that has plagued western philosophy for centuries. He freely admits to parasitically feeding off of the Judeo-Christian worldview when he condemns cruelty and injustice. Were we to ask him why should he hold these standards as opposed to others, he would simply reply, “These are the values that have shaped America. And I’m an American.” Before moving on, I note that such a view of truth, morality, and solidarity, the notion of a social, intellectual, or ethical reformer is rendered unintelligible; by definition to reform is to break solidarity according to Rorty, and hence is immoral (i.e it doesn’t ‘work’). Martin Luther King Jr., William Wilberforce (who fought to end the slave trade in England), and Einstein (who rejected the Newtonian scientific paradigm of his day) would have to be remembered with disrepute rather than honor.
Lastly, Downing writes of Building relativism. Here she makes use of the word building as both a verb and a noun. As a noun the term building speaks of the structures, or towers, as she likes to call them, that act as ideological paradigms (such as fundamentalist Christianity, Reformed Christianity, Roman Catholic Christianity, progressivist Christianity, etc.). These towers serve as our worldview forming communities. As a verb, it speaks of the action of moving upward toward a truth that transcends our perspective. Thus, Building relativism is not mutually exclusive with a belief in absolute truth.
I find her distinctions compelling. Her nuanced presentation of relativism fleshes out the notion that not all postmodern relativists are of the same stripe. Rorty is of the boundary stripe, while Fish is of the bombardment type. Though I would be less inclined to call this last type a form of relativism, and more to call it a form of perspectivalism. But, I would argue that behind much of the reactionary rhetoric of so many evangelical responses to postmodernism is a genuine recognition that without a transcendent God- One who is not subject to the limitations of human finitude- and His perspicuous verbal revelation- to serve as our ultimate presupposition-there is no way to escape enslavement to a creaturely authority structure. But, these power structures, these “truth regimes,” need not always be our only suzerain.
As has been expounded time and again by Cornelius Van Til, and other thinkers, our slavery is often to our own sinful passions. Relativity reigns when standards of truth, beauty, and goodness fluctuate from individual to individual. Unfortunately, many advocate an aggressive acquiescence to just such an enslavement.