What is Truth? (from Sunday, 9/28/08)
(For those just joining us, every we I post the notes from our Sunday School lessons with the youth group. Click “youth studies” to view past entries or to catch up with the current series.)
We’ve been on these detours for a while. We talked about evolution for three weeks, and last time we talked about that ten-dollar word, postmodernism. This week, we are going to conclude our discussion on postmodernism by looking at the reality of truth.
Let’s start by looking at a biblical example – the Garden of Eden. Satan tried to sin his way to independence by trying to outgrow his “creaturehood” by rebellion against God. Instead, he found himself corrupted, degraded, and deceived. He cut himself off from the love, light and life of God. Satan’s lie offered independence, but delivered death and bondage (Gen 3:1-19).
In the garden, Satan’s self deception was, in essence, “passed on” to the human race. Eve assumed God’s mind, her mind, and Satan’s mind were all equal, not allowing God’s mind to be exalted above her own. By eating the fruit and reflecting upon the effects, she would determine what was “true for her” rather than believing in the superior Word of the Lord. Her method provides a clear picture of modern man’s approach to moral choices – being in the driver’s seat of truth and knowledge.
Thus, the lie offered autonomy, omniscience, and divinity. Autonomy comes from two Greek words (auto and nomos) which, together, means “self-rule.” Omniscience is from two Latin terms (omni and science) which mean “all knowledge.” Divinity speaks of “godhood,” that which is divine. The result of Eden, then, is creatures of God saying “I am in charge, I have the knowledge to make my own choices, I will determine my own truth, and I am the only god of my mind.”
Once the lie was believed and acted upon, our first parents became alienated from the life of God. Their thought processes were no longer capable of thinking correctly about God and themselves.
“Postmodern Christianity” is an Oxymoron
An oxymoron occurs when two opposite words are combined, like “jumbo shrimp” or “pretty ugly.” While these combinations have gained some meaning (we understand “jumbo shrimp” to be shrimp that are much larger than normal), other combinations simply cannot work. For instance, an atheist believes there is no god, while a theist believes some higher power exists. No one could speak with any clarity of an “atheistic theist.”
We run into the same issue if we speak of a “Postmodern Christian.” Postmoderns tend to deny absolute truth, yet Christians believe in absolutes and have certainty about some issues. At the very least, Christians believe God exists and Jesus is key to knowing God. Yet, there are Christians who try to hold onto the postmodern mindset.
Let’s look at some implications to Christian belief. If there is a God who made everything, this means He made reasoning and relational people. That is, He made people both able to think and naturally fitted for relationships. Ultimately, the implications of this is seen in the Garden of Eden – He made people with whom He communicated and shared a relationship.
If He continued to communicate with mankind after the Fall, then He still cares and has a message for us. Now, it seems logical that if the God who made the world and everything in it had a message, He could both communicate it and preserve it against corruption. Since both logic and the evidence seems to point to preservation (we can look at the millions of pages of manuscript evidence at a later time), then the implication is that there is truth God wants us to know.
Anyone denying ultimate truth cannot hold onto the term “Christian.” They receive knowledge from a place outside the Christian Scriptures, even if they use some Christian verses to justify their belief. They do not stand on the Christian Bible, and, as such, are not Christian.
Two Models of God
There are only two models that represent God’s existence. Either there is this thing called “Truth” of which God is part, or God made everything that exists. If the first model is correct, then truth exists outside of God and is superior to God. If the second model is correct, then truth is defined by God. In the case of the latter, we need to go to Him if we want to know something about truth.
John MacArthur said in The Truth War:
If you reflect upon the subject with any degree of sobriety, you will soon see that even the most fundamental moral distinctions—good and evil, right and wrong, beauty and ugliness, or honor and dishonor—cannot possibly have any true meaning apart from God. (p. 5)
Since He has communicated with us, we have somewhere to go.
Truth is Inseparable from God
Trying to separate truth from God is trying to make God dependent upon an external thing called “Truth.” However, Scripture teaches that God’s knowledge of the world is based upon His knowledge of Himself (Psalm 139).
God knows Himself, THEN He makes a dependent universe. (By the way, this is why the Trinity is an important doctrine – God knows Himself because within His substance is three persons.) God’s knowledge determines what shall be and what is real. By God’s knowledge, we move, exist, reason, and have our being (Acts 17:28).
That truth would exist outside of ourselves and be concrete (defined by God) is not strange. If a person becomes delusional or falls victim to the influences of certain substances, that person will fall to the ground no matter how sincerely that person believes he or she could fly.
Or, consider if I told you my wife is pregnant but, when you ask her, she claims she is not. Most would seek resolution to such a contradiction! Some may decide it is not their business, but would still feel odd about the non-reconciled information.
In such situations, it is logical to believe in an absolute “right” and “wrong” answer (either a person can fly or not; either my wife is pregnant or not). In terms of existence, if God created the universe, then it seems logical to have truth claims about the universe.
How can we define truth if everyone has his own ideas? John MacArthur says it well in his book we’ve been mentioning when he says
Truth is that which is consistent with the mind, will, character, glory, and being of God. Even more to the point: truth is the self-expression of God (p. 3).
Flip back a few pages to John 14:6. What is truth but Jesus Christ? If you claim to follow Jesus, you claim to follow “the truth” according to Christ’s own words. John affirms this when he opens his Gospel – Jesus came full of grace and truth (John 1:14). To deny ultimate truth, then, is to deny Christ.
Now consider the Gospel. In the most correct sense, the Gospel is the proclaimed Good News that Christ came, died for our sins, and rose on the third day. (It is NOT that Christ came to encourage people to feed the poor.)
Saying “Christ came” means nothing outside of the Old Testament. His coming is couched in the prophesies of Scriptures as well as our condemnation by the Law. Further, He believed God’s Word was truth, and commanded others to give it high respect. The impact of the Gospel on our lives, then, depends on the truthfulness of the Bible as a whole.
Going a step further, the New Testament gives us the understanding of the Gospel. The Gospel is born from New Covenant and Kingdom concepts, requiring us to continue understanding the Old. As such, if the Bible is not true, then the only use it serves is as a book of morality (and other books are easier to follow and understand).
So, putting these puzzle pieces together, here is the picture. God defines truth, and that truth was communicated to people and preserved for us in the Bible. The Bible speaks of the True One, Jesus Christ, the name we need to know if we need to know the truth of God.
Last time, we looked at a quote from a leading postmodern pastor and his wife, who believed not knowing the Bible brought them more freedom. Diving into the dark is not freedom! You may not have to face outside truth in a cave, but is that really a better experience? Consider 2 John 9:
Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.If Jesus came in truth, called Himself “truth,” said the truth sets captives free, and shines a light in dark places, do you know Him if you don’t believe the Bible? Do you truly know God? Allow Him to define truth in your mind, and submit to His Word. Don’t stubbornly resist like the serpent tempted Eve to do – make Him the definer of your reality.