The truth.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 March
TRUE tru adjective. In accordance with fact or reality. Genuine, real, actual, correct.
2. Precisely correct; exact.
3. Loyal, faithful, honest.
[Truer 'tru.ər adjective, truth truθ noun, truly ' adverb, truthful 'truθ.fəl adjective]

True and false are such basic, foundational concepts, most people never bother to define them; we’re just expected to know what they mean. We’ve known what true and false are ever since we were first exposed to true-or-false quizzes. True is the way things legitimately are in the universe, and false is the way things aren’t; i.e. not true. Trying to pass off a false thing as true, is lying.

You might remember (and if you don’t, your memory will be jogged when your own young children start taking these true-or-false quizzes) “truth” and “falseness” are sometimes harder to figure out than people suppose. There’s a whole branch of philosophy, called epistemology because why not give it a hard-to-remember name, which is particularly interested in whether what we know is true. Because way too many things we think we know, aren’t so. People’s opinions, or best guesses, were handed down to us as “facts,” and they’re rubbish. Conversely, people’s facts were handed down to us… and we rejected them because rubbish suits our worldview far better.

Obviously truth is very important in theology: We’re trying to get to know God as he actually is. We believe, for good reason, Christ Jesus knows God best; therefore we’re trying to understand him as Jesus describes him. Fellow Christians claim they understand where Jesus, the apostles, and the prophets meant. Sometimes we listen to them, and sometimes we don’t; sometimes we really should, and sometimes they’re not trustworthy at all. Throw into this mix the devil, who’s happy to corrupt everything we believe, the better to get us out of its way. And don’t forget the many humans who likewise distort Christianity for selfish ulterior reasons. There’s a lot of rubbish out there!

But don’t get the idea there’s so much rubbish, we’ll never find truth at all. True, plenty of pagans claim so, and have given up in despair. But there’s an infinitely powerful resource they’ve dismissed.

John 16.13-15 ESV
13 “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

Yep, we got the Holy Spirit. Who will guide us into all the truth Jesus has—provided we actually follow him, and not just assume because he’s rattling around in us somewhere, we’re gonna naturally gravitate towards truth. You should know by now there are plenty of confused Christians out there (just look at politics!) who clearly aren’t following the Spirit towards truth. Let’s not be like them.

The starting point of theology is to recognize we’re wrong. But Christ Jesus is truth. Jn 14.6 We don’t have it; we gotta follow it and point to it. Not “Follow me; I know the way,” but “Follow me as I follow Christ.” 1Co 11.1

Christians who presume they aren’t wrong.

Too often, Christians have it backwards: Jesus is truth, and we have Jesus, so we have truth!

But more accurately, it’s like this. Imagine a woman buys a full set of leather-bound encyclopedias. (I know; it’s way easier to look stuff up online; she’s old-school.) And imagine she actually does use ’em; they’re not just an impressive decoration. When she wants to know something, she finds the right volume, and reads up on it. She’s not read the entire encyclopedia; she doesn’t sit down with a volume and read it for fun, or maybe to pass the time in the bathroom. She only uses it as necessary. But because she owns and uses a set of encyclopedias, she feels she knows all.

Does she really? Nah. There are a lot of gaps in her knowledge. And even if she did read the whole of her encyclopedia, no encyclopedia has everything in it; plenty of Wikipedia pages are just “stubs,” as they call ’em. But she hasn’t read the whole of her encyclopedia. If a subject is important enough to her, she will pause a moment and look it up. Otherwise she’ll guess. She’ll fill in the gaps of her knowledge with what she feels to be true. And figures that’s okay; she’s been so influenced by her encyclopedia, she figures all her biases will instinctively lean towards the factual.

Yeah it’s looney… but many Christians are the very same way with Christianity. And bible. And truth. We presume since the Holy Spirit lives in our hearts, we have the truth within. We don’t have to know what we’re talking about; we just know what’s true and what isn’t.

Hence a lot of Christians never bother to study theology. What’s the point?—we have the Holy Spirit. He’ll drop truth into us whenever we need it.

The result is a lot of Christians practicing truthiness, as comedian Stephen Colbert defines it: Concepts or “facts” one wishes were so, rather than real truth. We got Christians who follow our gut rather than the Holy Spirit—but we claim it’s totally the Spirit, moving in our guts. He has nothing to do with it! The claim it’s him, is simply more truthiness. We still have a lot of work to do when it comes to truth, and following the preexisting prejudices of an undisciplined mind instead of pursuing truth, is no help at all.

Likewise we got a lot of Christians following their churches, or their pastors, instead of real truth. I grew up in a church which claimed they taught absolute truth. They were a bit legalist, so man alive were there a lot of things they claimed were absolute truths… like dispensationalism, young-earth creationism, Darbyism, and political conservatism. Follow them, they claimed, as they follow Jesus. Thing is, they weren’t always following Jesus. Just Christianism.

I eventually switched churches and learned to follow the Spirit. More often Christians simply switch churches and follow… a different church. I know a number of people who used to listen to absolutely every sermon Mark Driscoll put on the internet, and when he was forced out of that church they finally realized they shouldn’t’ve put him on a pedestal to worship. But some of them have since found another idol for that pedestal, and now they worship Bill Johnson. I’m neither knocking Driscoll nor Johnson; both of ’em would absolutely discourage that behavior, although Driscoll would (at the time) absolutely encourage them to follow him, ’cause he was sure he had a handle on Jesus like few else. But the reason he had to leave that church was his own fruitlessness—a sure sign he wasn’t following the Spirit to the level all of us should, and church elders especially.

Absolute truth.

Because the church of my youth overdid it on their claims of “absolute truth,” I get really skeptical whenever people claim absolute truth. I doubt everything. I’m what philosophers call postmodern: We doubt “absolute truths” are as absolute, or even as truthful, as they’re made out to be. We’ve been burned too often.

Some conservatives claim postmoderns don’t believe in truth at all. Which is bonkers. Of course we believe in truth. We just don’t trust them, which is what gets their panties in a knot: They want our unqualified acceptance, and we suspect they’re up to something. Maybe they’re not, but too many of ’em are.

Plenty of truths, like the self-evident ones (two and two make four, what goes up must come down, black absorbs all light and white reflects all light) make perfect sense. But whenever we postmoderns are presented with new “truths,” our first response isn’t to swallow it whole, but question. Who knows?—it might be an absolute truth. Then again a lot of these “absolutes” are easily disproven. So if it’s all the same to you, we’re gonna investigate. If you’re legit, you can handle an investigation. The apostles were fine with it; Ac 17.11 so should any of us be.

For the Christian, Jesus is truth. What he says is true. Even for the postmodern Christian. Everything else may be up for debate, but Jesus is absolute. Meaning everything in Christianity—the bible, the church, theology, traditions, beliefs, practices, relationships—gets filtered through Christ. Jesus is the lens we use to look at things. Hence all our emphasis on his teachings, his interpretations, and his actions. He’s foundational.

Some Christians don’t entirely understand this, and make other things foundational. Like bible, or their church, or their leaders. That’s why we see a number of “bible-believing churches” which seldom do as Jesus did: Wrong foundation. They picked “the bible,” but the pastor doesn’t actually know Jesus, and like the woman with the encyclopedias, he figures he has Jesus… but he’s been following his own desires for decades. He’s been using his desires to reinterpret the bible into his own message, which looks only superficially like Christ’s. He preaches no fruit of the Spirit; it’s all condemnation and tough love and maintaining a good appearance. His church will be either impotent or astray—and have no idea, ’cause everything in the building sure looks Christian.

Hence we can never, ever rest on our laurels. Jesus is always calling us forward, and we have to continually pursue truth. When we think we’ve arrived, we stop growing, and are unsafe. When we think we have the truth, but haven’t tested it and don’t plan to, we’ve shown the devil—and anyone else who wants to take advantage—that we’re easy prey for any falsehoods they want to try out on us. And when put our hope in anything but Christ, we’ve set ourselves up for failure. Jesus is right; we are wrong. Never forget it.