At first sight, the biblical view of truth is obscene to modern minds. But on a deeper look, the biblical view is profound, timely, and urgent for today, even for those who reject it.
The following is a plenary session delivered by Os Guinness at Lausanne 2010 in Cape Town, South Africa (www.lausanne.org). Used by permission of the author.
In this extraordinary moment in human history, why is it that truth matters? There are times when history and the gospel of Jesus converge and create a great thrust forward in human history. So it was with the “gifts” of the gospel, such as the rise of philanthropy, of the reform movements, or the creation of the universities, or modern science. There are other times when history and the gospel collide and the titanic struggle shapes history in a different but equally decisive way. So it was when the Lordship of Christ triumphed over the might of imperial Rome. But there are still other times when history and the gospel appear to collide but, in fact, the gospel speaks to the deepest dilemmas and the highest aspirations of the age, even to those which oppose it. So it is today with the concept of truth.
At first sight, the biblical view of truth is obscene to modern minds. It’s arrogant, it’s exclusive, it’s intolerant, it’s divisive, it’s judgmental, and it’s reactionary. But on a deeper look, the biblical view is profound, timely, and urgent for today, even for those who reject it. But obviously regardless of what the world thinks, we follow the one who is the way, the truth, and the life. We therefore worship and serve the God of truth, whose Word is truth, and who Himself is true and may be trusted because of his covenant faithfulness.
Let me, therefore, sum up six reasons why truth matters to us supremely. And why those Christians who are careless about truth are as wrong, and as foolish, and as dangerous as the worst scoffers and skeptics of our time.
FIRST, ONLY A HIGH VIEW OF TRUTH HONORS THE GOD OF TRUTH. Too often truth is left as a philosophical issue. Philosophical issues are important to us but truth is first and foremost a matter of theology. Not only is our Lord the God who is actually, objectively, really, and truly there—so that what we believe corresponds to what actually is the case —but our Lord is also the true one in the sense that He is the one whose covenant loyalty may be trusted and the entire weight of our existence staked on Him. Those who weaken their hold on truth, weaken their hold on God.
SECOND, ONLY A HIGH VIEW OF TRUTH REFLECTS HOW WE COME TO KNOW AND LOVE GOD.Jesus is the only way to God although there are as many ways to Jesus as there are people that come. But the record of Scripture and the experience of the centuries show us that there are three main reasons why we believe, often overlapping. We come to faith in Christ because we are driven by our human needs. We come to faith in Him because He seeks for us and finds us. And we come to faith in Christ because we believe his claims and the claims of the gospel are true. It is because of truth that our faith in God is not irrational. It is not an emotional crutch. It is not a psychological projection. It is not a matter of wish fulfillment. It is not an opiate for the masses. Our faith goes beyond reason because we as humans are much more than reason. But our faith is a warranted faith because we have a firm, clear conviction it is true. We are those who think in believing and we believe in thinking.
THIRD, ONLY A HIGH VIEW OF TRUTH EMPOWERS OUR BEST HUMAN ENTERPRISES. Skeptics and relativists who undermine the notion of truth are like the fool who is cutting off the branch on which he is sitting. Without truth, science and all human knowledge collapse into conjecture. Without truth, the vital profession of journalism and how we follow the events of our day and understand the signs of our times dissolve into rumor. Without truth, the worlds of politics and business melt down into rules and power games. Without truth, the precious gift of human reason and freedom becomes license and all human relationships lose the bonding element of trust that is binding at their heart. We then as followers of Christ are unashamed to stand before the world as servants and guardians of a high view of truth, both for our Lord’s sake but also for the highest endeavors of humanity.
FOURTH, ONLY A HIGH VIEW OF TRUTH CAN UNDERGIRD OUR PROCLAMATION AND DEFENSE OF THE FAITH. If our Lord is the God of truth, we gladly affirm that all truth is God’s truth and we therefore welcome all ideas and arguments and beliefs that pass the muster of God’s standard of truth. But we also know that all humans, including we ourselves, are not only truth seekers but truth twisters. And that because all unbelief, as St. Paul says, holds the truth in unrighteousness, we have the grounds as well as the duty to confront false ideas and false beliefs with the assurance that they are neither true in the end nor are they in the best interests of those who believe them. And we must never forget today that our stand for truth must start in the church itself. We must resist the powerful seductions of those who downplay truth for methodology, or truth in the name of activism, or truth for entertainment, or truth for seekersensitivity, and above all those who put modern and revisionist view of truth in the place of the biblical view. Whatever the motive of these people, all such seductions lead to a weak and a compromised faith and they end in sorrow and a betrayal of our Lord. To abandon truth is to abandon faithfulness, and to commit theological adultery, and to end in spiritual suicide. Let the sorry fate of Protestant liberalism be a stern warning to us all. a
FIFTH, ONLY A HIGH VIEW OF TRUTH IS SUFFICIENT FOR COMBATING EVIL AND HYPOCRISY. Postmodern thinking makes us all aware of hypocrisy but gives us no standard of truth to expose and correct it. And now with the global expansion of markets through capitalism, the global expansion of freedom through technology and travel, and the global expansion of human dysfunctions through the breakdown of the family, we are facing the greatest human rights crisis of all time and a perfect storm of evil. Both hypocrisy and evil depend on lies. Hypocrisy is a lie in deeds rather than in words. And evil always uses lies to cover its oppressions. Only with truth can we stand up to deception and manipulation. For all who hate hypocrisy, care for justice and human dignity, and are prepared to fight evil, truth is the absolute requirement.
SIXTH AND LASTLY, ONLY A HIGH VIEW OF TRUTH WILL HELP OUR GROWTH AND OUR TRANSFORMATION IN CHRIST. Just as Abraham was called to walk before the Lord, so are we called to follow the way of Jesus. Not just to believe the truth or to know and defend the truth, but to so live in truth that truth may be part of our innermost beings, that in some imperfect way we become people of truth. So let there be no uncertainty from this congress, as followers of Christ and as evangelicals. If we do not stand for truth, this congress might as well stop here. Shame on those western Christians who casually neglect or scornfully deny what our Lord declared, what the Scriptures defend, and what many brothers and sisters would rather die than deny: that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.
Let us say with the great German reformer, as he said of truth in regard to the evil one, “One little word will fell him.” Let us demonstrate with our brother the great Russian novelist and dissident, “One word of truth outweighs the entire world.” If 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 were against it. So let the conviction ring out from this conference. We worship and serve the God of truth and humbly and resolutely, we seek to live as people of truth. Here we still stand, so help us God.
As evangelicals we are people of the good news, but may we also always be people of truth, worthy of the God of truth. God is true. God can be trusted in all situations. Have faith in God. Have no fear. Hold fast to truth. And may God be with us all.
Os Guinness is senior fellow of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics.