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The death of Truth

You can’t handle the truth

In 1882, Friedrich Nietzsche pronounced the death of God. In 1900, God pronounced the death of Nietzsche. In the years between, this German philosopher sought to open the eyes of the masses to the sheer pointlessness of existence using his biting, nihilistic rhetoric.

In 1966, TIME Magazine’s cover echoed Nietzsche’s sentiment, albeit in question form. “Is God Dead?” in giant red letters has become an icon of 20th century history. Nietzche’s intellectual descendants were proud of their his voice now influencing on an even grander scale. Hopelessness bred hope.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of this iconic cover, TIME published some new red letters – same style, different subject. “Is Truth Dead?” was the question for 2017. As a keen cultural observer, my ears were pricked. The subject matter of this piece was the Trumpian concept of truth as a malleable tool – an important conversation, no doubt. But I can’t help but think that TIME Magazine missed an opportunity to be truthful about truth.

Good job, TIME. Bad job, TIME.

TIME’s critique of truth massaging is both warranted and hypocritical. Warranted because language of fact and truth, right and wrong should never be distorted for any form of personal gain. Plain and simple – truth is good, falsehood is wrong. The Great Truth Masseuse of Washington would do well to listen.

On the other hand, TIME has missed a contradiction. A bad one, right in their blind spot. TIME refer to “binary distinctions between truth and falsehood” in the Trump piece, yet they represent a culture that flagrantly denies these same distinctions in areas of personal preference. TIME claims the moral high ground on matters of truth and falsehood while representing the wider cultural norm of relativizing truth whenever it suits. 

I guess I would find it hard to see this if I too had a tree in my eye.

Binary – not just for nerds

Abortion and the transgender revolution are two examples of this – the suppression of self-evident truths in favour of Sovereign Self decrees.

Despite this organism inside me being a human, I will disregard its value and kill it. I make the rules.

Despite being a man, I will declare myself a woman. I have spoken.

Despite no supporting evidence, there are surveillance devices everywhere listening to every word my administration says. That is that.

How are these things different from each other? How is one worthy of critique and the others are not to be questioned? You either keep your cake or eat it. You can’t have both.

This 50 year slide from the death of God to Truth is telling – after all, if there is no God, no Ultimate Truth Giver, can things really be said to be true in any meaningful sense? Obviously, we use ‘truth’ and its derivatives daily to convey meaning but are we appealing to our own subjective sense of meaning, or are we rooting these words in something objective, something that is, regardless of who believes it – something greater than our own unstable circumstances and desires.

If TIME are receiving answers to their pointed cover question, I have one – Yes. Truth died a long time ago. But it has risen and reigns.

UFO landing - newspaper article

Fake News versus Good News

The best way to start this article is probably with an astonishing claim somehow related to political figures currently popular with the media – perhaps a new Russian edition of The Apprentice involving selling off former Soviet military, hosted by a Trump lookalike … But we’re all used to fake news and clickbait, and we actually need something better.

In a world with climate change, homelessness, disaster, politics, and the seemingly endless deaths of celebrities – and normal people – many are looking for good news. Some will go to the internet looking for it, and most will then, eventually, discover that a lot of the ‘news’ available is fake.

Followers of Jesus claim that he offers good news. But the internet, and the world around us, offer a multitude of claims, and many are false. Perhaps the majority of claims on the internet are false, or at least misleading. Living in an information age, we need a good filter to find the reliable information, and we either learn to be sceptical quickly or start believing a lot of nonsense. The central claims of the Christian faith are bits of information in a huge biosphere of alternatives. How to find the golden thread of truth amidst the blonde toupees of falsehood?

Two key steps in practice, I think, are to find sources we can generally trust, and set aside sources that are not trustworthy. So, tackling the challenge head on, what kind of news can we not trust? The main thing here is perhaps to try to weed out sources that are heavily motivated by something other than truth. They might still be true, but sources not typically directed towards the truth undercut the rational basis for holding what they say to be true. Fake news has a motivation of some kind, in our era often to do with money or political control. Sources that are never self-critical or open about their flaws are also suspect. Sources that limit the important claims to things that can’t be checked also raise questions. But, doesn’t everyone have selfish motives in some sense? Who can we trust? The scientific community, CNN, and the New York Times, are popular sources for many of the educated and thoughtful in our society. The feeling is that they’re rational, progressive, and open to new ideas, while also solid and reliable. Whatever you think of these particular sources, these organisations have huge communication power because they are trusted by hundreds of millions.

How does the Christian claim to be offering good news stand up in light of the two key steps? Christian claims are centrally claims about Jesus, a historical figure, so to make sense of it we need to zoom back to the early Church. I’ll leave you to do the research, you can check out many of the facts on this site. I believe that the early Christians were not motivated by money or power, as they gained neither, and exchanged what they had, including secure conservative religious beliefs (they weren’t motivated by, say,  fear of death), for risk and discomfort. They also make claims open to public examination, and the accounts are down to earth and honest about suffering and human failure. The central claims, unlike most worldviews, are about public reality, not private inner experience or an idealised future state. Jesus lived a human life, died a shockingly human death, and rose from the dead publicly. The claims lack features which fake news tends to have. Christian faith is also open to new information – the Spirit is still active, and, while it’s 500 years since the remarkable Protestant Reformation ‘officially’ began, the community of Jesus followers should be always reforming. Christianity, unlike ethically arid secular worldviews, provides a moral imperative for social progress, but the desire is grounded in an unchanging reality and a realism about human wilful brokenness and fallibility.

We’ve touched on two key steps, but there’s a third that probably should be added too. This is what I’ll grandly call the wisdom criterion. It goes something like this: “how important is this topic, anyway?” Most of the news swirling around crying out for attention can safely be set aside because it simply doesn’t matter whether it’s true or false. Time is limited, and the opportunities in life are great for those who will take them. Jesus, as recounted by the redeemed formerly broken tax collector Matthew told a confronting story about ‘talents’, silver coins, left behind by their owner to be invested. We’ve all been given some.

New information will pop up on your Facebook feed or homepage any minute now. Is it important? Is it well-motivated? Is it up for public scrutiny or an implausible claim to secret knowledge? No matter how cynical, I think we’re all looking for good news – Jesus offers it, reliably.

The Incompatibility of Anti-intellectualism and the Fullness of the Spirit

[pk_box width=”600″]”The fact that Jesus called the Holy Spirit ‘the Spirit of truth,’ and gave such a prominent place to his teaching ministry, is of great importance in the anti-intellectual cultures of the world. I do not hesitate to say that anti-intellectualism and the fullness of the Spirit are mutually incompatible, because the Spirit with whom we claim to be filled or desire to be filled is the Spirit of truth. In consequence where the Holy Spirit is free to work, truth matters.”[/pk_box]

John R. W. Stott in “Biblical Expositions” (The Anglican Communion and Scripture), page 27.

[Source: Joseph E. Gorra]

An Inconsequential God

[pk_box width=”600″ align=”center”]”The fundamental problem in the evangelical world today is that God rests too inconsequentially upon the church. His truth is too distant, His grace is too ordinary, His judgment is too benign, His gospel is too easy, and His Christ is too common.”[/pk_box]

–David Wells, God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams (page 30).

Is belief in Jesus any better than belief in the tooth fairy?

UCLA law professor Daniel Lowenstein interviews Oxford mathematician John Lennox about the truth of Christianity and the grounds for faith.

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[Source: Veritas Forum]

Apologetics is the Answer to Everything

Anthony Horvath, a pro-life advocate and Executive Director of Athanatos Christian Ministries, has written a provocative post about the importance of apologetics for the witness of the church in the post-Christian world:

“Some Christians will begin seeing red just from reading the title of this entry.  They will be angry and annoyed and may even jump up out of their seats.  Therefore, let me say it again:  apologetics is the answer to everything.

Whether it be the rapid decline of the Christian Church in America, the brisk acceptance of homosexual ‘marriage,’ the prevailing and deepening culture of death, the shallow spirituality of many of the Christians who actually remain in the Church- and certainly much of the lack of action- and many other issues can track back to nothing less than disobedience, for the Scriptures themselves command:  “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”  1 Peter 3:15

Horvath argues that our proclamation of the Gospel has been harmed by an abandonment of an assumption that was central to the witness of the early Christians:

“What is this assumption that the apostles carried with them wherever they went and the unbelieving world they interacted with shared, and generally still tends to share, yet many Christians today have jettisoned?

It is simply this:  that what is objectively true and real in the world requires our assent in mind, body, and soul.

In short, apologetics rejects the relativistic and post-modern notions that we all get to make up our own ‘truth’ as we go.   Apologetics carries with it the assumption that what is described in the Bible really happened.  Jesus, to his very own disciples, appealed to the fact that they themselves had witnessed miracles- that really happened.  The Bereans strove to show that what Paul was saying really happened was really consistent with their Scriptures.  Paul directed Agrippa to investigate what had really happened.  If Jesus did not really rise from the dead, we are to be pitied more than all men.

Horvath suggests that, in contrast to the early church, we have succumbed to the postmodern denial of both the existence of objective truth and human access to it. This has consequences:

“If you walked around thinking that your articles of faith were in fact nothing more than articles of faith without any grounding in reality, how willing would you be to share your views?   If this is what you thought, how excited would you be to evangelize?  Easily answered:  not very.”

What is his solution?

“Apologetics is the answer to everything- in the sense that knowing what you believe and why you believe it is that which gives you the confidence to act in a society that does not share your values and beliefs.   The notion that the Church should confine itself to ‘spiritual’ issues has more than passing resemblance to the gnostic heresy.    God created ‘earthly’ things, too, and said they were good!  Ah, but is that just an article of faith, or is it an actual truth?

The apologetically minded individual tends to be someone who believes that what he is presenting and defending is an actual truth about the real state of affairs.   Not presenting and defending the Christian faith implies to Christian and nonChristian alike that Christianity is a collection of arbitrary dogmas.  Merely asserting those dogmas accomplishes the same thing.  Defending the Christian faith poorly cements the notion in people’s minds (Christians as well!) that ‘faith is believing what we know isn’t true.’”

You may not agree with everything he says, but it is worth taking the time to read the whole thing.

Os Guinness on Why Truth Matters

More than 4,000 evangelical leaders have currently gathered in Cape Town, South Africa for the Third Lausanne Congress on Global Evangelization. The first Lausanne Conference was held in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1974 and was organized by influential evangelicals such as Billy Graham and John Stott. This year’s convention continues the focus on the mission of the global church and evangelism, with speakers including John Piper, Tim Keller, Chris Wright, Ajith Fernando, Michael Ramsden, and many, many more.

One of the presentations worth considering was that given by Os Guinness on day one. His topic was the importance of truth for the church today. He offered six reasons why truth matters supremely, and why those Christians who are careless about truth are as dangerous as the open skeptics of our day:

  • First, only a high view of truth honors the God of Truth.
  • Second only a high view of truth reflects how we come to know and trust God.
  • Third only a high view of truth empowers our best human enterprises.
  • Fourth only a high view of truth can undergird our proclamation and defense of the faith.
  • Fifth, only a high view of truth is sufficient for resisting evil and hypocrisy.
  • Sixth, only a high view of truth will help our growth and transformation in Christ.

And his conclusion: 

“If our faith is not true, it would be false even if the whole world believed it. If our faith is true, it would be true even if the whole world and the entire cosmos were against it.

So let the conviction ring out from this Congress: We Evangelicals do not just believe the truth. We do not just claim to know the truth, and to defend the truth. We worship “the God of truth,” whose Spirit is “the Spirit of truth,” whose “Word is truth,” whose Gospel is “the message of truth,” and whose Son our Lord is “the way, the truth, and the life.” And we ourselves are committed, humbly but resolutely, to becoming People of Truth. Here we still stand, so help us God.”

You can watch his address on the Lausanne website or download it below. 

What Would Jesus Say to a Relativist?

In this sermon at Castle Pines Community Church, Douglas Groothius offers a useful overview of religious and moral relativism. He talks about Jesus as a thinker and a model for us in communicating truth and approaching intellectual problems. Groothius shows the importance of apologetics, and valuing the Christian worldview as true in both our own Christian walk and in talking with unbelievers.

What Would Jesus Say to a Relativist? – Douglas Groothius

(Original file is found here)

Groothius is professor of philosophy at Denver Seminary and blogs at The Constructive Curmudgeon.

Groothius on Apologetics and Postmodernism

Brent Cunningham has posted three lectures by Douglas Groothius, professor of philosopher at Denver Seminary, that were delivered at the Worldview Conference in Fort Collins earlier this month. Groothius is a seasoned apologist and great teacher. If you’re looking for more from him about postmodernism and truth, check out his book Truth Decay.

Here are the lectures:

1. The Crisis of Truth in the Postmodern World – Download mp3 | Stream
2. A Short Course in Defending Christianity – Download mp3 | Stream
3. The Lordship of Christ in Culture – Download mp3 | Stream

(Source: The Constructive Curmudgeon)

Free Resource – Study Guide to Biblical Doctrine

If you’re looking for a rigorous introduction to the doctrines of the Christian faith, there are few contemporary works as solid as Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. Published in 1995, the text continues to stand out as a resource for its clarity and refreshing doxological emphasis. However, for many, the 1,300-page book can be intimidating. To help lay people and new Christians, Wayne’s son Elliot has produced a guide to the essential Christian doctrines, based on Systematic Theology. Elliot’s book, Christian Beliefs: Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know, canvasses subjects from the character of God to the nature of the church in a readable and non-technical way.

Scott Thomas, of the Acts 29 Network, has just made available a study workbook that he has written to help people navigate Christian Beliefs. The workbook presents questions for review, essential Biblical texts, recommended reading, and references to Grudem’s original Systematic Theology. For small group facilitators and bible study leaders this is an incredibly valuable resource. There’s nothing more important than knowing God and thinking true thoughts about Him. Without a proper knowledge of who He is, our faith can quickly become emotionalism or worse. John Stott was right – as Christians we should neither seek to be loveless in our truth nor truthless in our love (Christ the Controversialist, page 19). This resource will be an enormous help to those who want to pursue a deeper knowledge of God and ground their affections for Him in the reality of who He is and what He has disclosed.

Thomas has released several versions of the workbook, in both black and white and in colour:

Theological Clarity and Application: Equipping Leaders in Biblical Doctrine

Why Truth Matters

Without truth we cannot answer the fundamental objection that faith in God is simply a form of “bad faith” or “poor faith.” The wilder accusation of “bad faith” … is one of the deepest and most damaging charges against [faith] in the last two centuries. …Christians believe, critics say, not because of good reasons but because they are afraid not to believe. Without faith, they would be naked to the alternatives, such as the terror of meaninglessness or the nameless dread of unspecified guilt. Faith is therefore a handy shield to ward off the fear, a comforting tune to whistle in the darkness; it is, however, fundamentally untrue, irrational, and illegitimate — and therefore “inauthentic” and “bad faith.”

In modern times the charge of “bad faith” was raised by the French existentialists but is more widely associated with Marxist and Freudian attacks on religion — religion for Marx was the “opium of the people” and for Freud a “projection.” Needless to say, the germ of the charge is far older and wider. “Fear made the gods,” wrote Lucretius as a first-century B.C. Roman. Or as Henrik Ibsen remarked as a nineteenth-century Norwegian, “Take away the life-lie from the average man and you take away his happiness.” Whatever the historical period, the dynamic of the accusation is the same.

… There are several possible responses to this charge, such as those who wield it are rarely courageous enough to turn it on their own beliefs, the very charge is itself the biblical critique of idols, and so on. But at the end of the day, there is no answer without one: Those who put their faith in God do so for all sorts of good reasons, but the very best reason is that they are finally, utterly, and incontrovertibly convinced that the faith in which they put their confidence is true.

Os Guinness in Time for Truth: Living Free in a World of Lies, Hype, & Spin (Baker Books 2000), pages 76-77.

The indispensibility of humility in apologetics

Betsy Childs from Ravi Zacharias International Ministries:

“What are we offering to the world?” Those of us who desire to engage in the ministry of the Gospel – whether formally or informally – must continually ask ourselves this question. Although we may start with a clear sense of purpose, it is frustrating to recognize one’s self gravitating towards selling the messenger (ourselves) rather than the message. Critics of Christianity goad us toward self-preoccupation when they focus their critique on a particular method or messenger, ignoring the claims of Jesus altogether. This may tempt us to believe that the salvation of souls has less to do with the power of the Gospel and more to do with the skill of the one presenting it. Yet the apostle Paul writes, “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants” (2 Corinthians 4:5).

…humility is not just vital to our own spiritual health; it is crucial for our witness to the world. Not only should a defense of the faith be humble, humility should itself be a defense of the faith. I know of no more startlingly countercultural scheme than to be honest about one’s own failings. In the political world, to admit a mistake seems to be equated with signing one’s own death warrant. In the intellectual world, both professors and students are encouraged to bluff comprehension and competence rather than admit ignorance. In the world of sports, one loss or weak moment can end a career. But the Gospel radically calls us to bring our sin and our weakness into the light. If our message is one of forgiveness, how can we conceal from the world our own need of it? We should certainly not flaunt our sin or champion our failings, but we can be honest about them in reverence and gratitude.

Practicing the apologetic of humility does not mean that we content ourselves with ignorance, accept our own laziness, or “continue to sin so that grace may abound” (Romans 6:1). On the contrary, taking any of these courses would not make us any different from the world and would not testify to the power of the Gospel within us. We should strive for excellence in all we do. We should never forget that we are Christ’s body and that we reflect him to the world. Many people first approach the faith when they recognize the excellence or intelligence of a Christian they encounter. But Christian humility should also be a means by which people are confronted with the genuineness of our message. When non-believers discern ongoing repentance and meekness in the lives of believers, they observe that which only the Spirit of God can effect.

As earthen vessels, we can admit our ignorance of an answer to a particular question, while at the same time holding fast to the idea of absolute truth. After all, we do not claim to be omniscient; rather we claim to know the One who is. Honesty is far more disarming than defensiveness.

Read the whole thing at BeThinking.org.