Whence Truth? - Truth Defined: Part 3
Now that Christmas is over we return to our blogs. I trust that you all had a good Christmas, wherever you are and under whatever COVID restrictions you found yourself under.
Just a brief summary of where we have been. In the first two blogs we came to understand that truth is under attack in our world, and what kind of attack it is. Postmodernism and critical theory have attempted to lay waste to the idea that truth is objective and can be discovered with relative certainty by a knower. In the third blog of this series we defined truth and came to understand the following,
Theologically speaking we see an important connection between truth and God. Truth is that which is consistent with the mind, will, character, glory, and being of God. Truth is the self-disclosure of God himself. It is what it is because God declares it so and makes it so. All truth must be defined in terms of God, whose very nature is truth. (cf Groothius) Truth is not a cultural invention but is received. It is not something to which we can be agnostic or apathetic. It must transform our lives.
This, in a nutshell, is the correspondence theory of truth which simply means that truth is correspondent to reality. A reality that God has made and over which he is sovereign. The truth is determined by how a propositional statement relates to this world, and whether it accurately describes it.
We then articulated, borrowing from Groothius and Lawson, ten features of biblically defined truth.
Truth is divine and therefore must be revealed to us
Truth is objective
Truth is absolute and authoritative
Truth is singular
Truth is universal and immutable
Truth is eternally engaging
Truth is antithetical and exclusive
Truth is unified and systematic
Truth is an end in itself
Truth is authoritative
We explained the first three in the previous blog, now it’s time to look at numbers 4-7. As we do so we must recognize that our explanation of these realities touch on many overlapping ideas. Those of epistemology (how we know what we know) as well as metaphysics (the nature of reality) and ontology (the nature of a thing).
4 &7. Truth is singular; meaning that it is antithetical and exclusive
Here I will combine numbers 4 and 7 since they overlap in some key places.
This point is simply stated - for every yes there are no’s. Or to put it more philosophically, what is true excludes all that opposes it. (cf Groothius) This means that truth is exact and precise. If we depart from the truth, even slightly, we are substituting what is false for what is true. We are, in essence, staining the purity of truth. (cf Rushdoony)
In the last blog we noted that the view of truth we are advocating is simply called the correspondence theory of truth or the common sense view of truth. Emanating from this perspective, or leading to it, both are correct ways of saying it, are two fundamental laws of logic - the law of noncontradiction and the law of excluded middle. The logic of truth is the logic of these two laws.
This is an important perspective to hold. Logic in this sense is a set of axiomatic principles that determine the relationship of statements. Using logic in this manner allows us to see the consistency of statements and how they relate to each other in order to derive correct conclusions. (cf Carson) Logic helps us to “understand the set of relationships that must apply if any knowledge is possible and if any communication of propositional knowledge is possible.” (Carson) This may sound like philosophical gobbly-gook, but it has immense practical application, “The necessary substratum of all coherent knowledge and of all rational communication is simple logic.” In other words, when you break the laws of logic everything in communication falls around it - truth being the first thing to go.
Now on to our understanding of the two laws mentioned above.
The law of noncontradiction – nothing can both be and not be at the same time in the same respect. Nothing can be what it is not. If one thing is true, the opposite cannot also be true. Put in biblical and theological terms, Jesus Christ cannot be both sinful and sinless; there cannot be only one God and many gods; there cannot be many ways to heaven if Christ states that there is only one way, etc. (cf Groothius)
The law (or principle) of excluded middle which states that any statement and its denial cannot both be true. In other words, there is true and false but there is no middle option such as a half-truth. Christ is either the only way to the Father or he is not the only way to the Father. Both cannot be true.
It amazes me how many times these laws are broken by our culture. One simple example will suffice. In an attempt to be tolerant of others beliefs many people think or speak like this - Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Sikhs, etc. all believe in roughly the same deity. People who are committed to their deity and follow their religion as best they can will get to heaven or nirvana, or whatever since all religions are really just different expressions of a singular deity. So you believe what you want about who or what you want. If you are a good person you will get the good life for eternity.
Sadly this is not just a secular perspective, but one that has creeped into evangelical theology through the emergent church and a number of anabaptist thinkers as well.
There are many problems with this line of thinking. For our purpose I will highlight only one. To make this claim you need to abandon both the laws of logic I stated above. Even a cursory understanding of each of these religious expressions listed above demonstrates that each of them make contradictory claims regarding the fundamental nature of ‘salvation.’ This means that to believe in religious pluralism and tolerance in this matter you must ignore logic at a fundamental level. To put it differently, for the sake of tolerance and religious relativism you need to abandon the fact that contradictory statements cannot both be true.
Take just one statement, from one religion. Christians affirm, based on a legion of passages that the Trinitarian God is an exclusive God, there is none beside him. They also believe, again based upon a myriad of verses that Jesus is the only way to receive salvation from God the Father. These are strict statements that can only be interpreted relativistically if they are butchered and stripped of their truth value.
This touches on the singularity of truth. It is to say as Schaeffer does that “Christianity is not a series of truths in the plural, but rather truth spelled with a capital ‘T.’” Our world is a uni-verse not a multi-verse which is subject to a Creator God and thus truth is a single interrelated and coherent whole. In other words, to continue with the thought of Groothius, truth presents a singular worldview. It presents one origin for the universe, one problem of the human race, one way of salvation, one way of holiness, one standard for the family, one plan for human history, one consummation of the age.
5. Truth is universal and immutable
Universal means to apply everywhere, at all times. Truth engages everything and excludes nothing. God’s truth is universal in scope and application. Society may try to redefine morality. Culture may try to reclassify its ethics. But truth is universal all the while. It is permanent, fixed, and established. It is inflexible, unvarying, constant, lasting, enduring, timeless, unchanging. Therefore, truth is always relevant. It is always current, always contemporary, always relevant. Truth addresses the issues of the day with penetrating insight. It is never outdated, never obsolete, never expired. Truth never tires, never wanes, never ceases to be true. (cf Lawson, Groothius)
Immutable means that God does not change and neither does his truth, which cannot be true today but not true tomorrow. Truth is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Right is always right and wrong is forever wrong. Jesus identified Himself as the Truth, not the custom of the day. Truth is forever the same. The psalmist says, “Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven” (119:89). Isaiah 40:8 affirms, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of God abides forever.” The world changes. Kingdoms rise and fall. But truth remains unchanging. (cf Lawson; Groothius)
Once again we recognize the desire of our culture to avoid the truth by trying to make lived experience the arbiter of truth. (cf Pluckrose and Lindsay) This is the fundamental problem with critical theory and their belief in intersectionality - the idea that knowledge and truth flow from our identity (race, sexuality, gender, socio-economic statues, weight, ability, etc.) rather than from the world ‘out there.’ In many areas of our culture we are being told that one group cannot speak to another group because they do not have a shared experience and to do so would be to commit epistemic injustice. The view of truth held by many today is that who you are is what you know.
Let me explain using myself as an example, As a white, straight, middle-class, middle-age, male, living in the frozen tundra of southeastern Manitoba, Canada I cannot speak about truth or knowledge to a black, gay, poor, young, female living in public housing in Philadelphia, USA without in some way violating her lived experience. (In fact even if only one of those categories were different between us I would also not be able to speak to that person about truth and knowledge) If I were to do so I would be committing epistemic injustice or epistemic violence against that person. In fact, in a turn toward the insane, if I were to even ask said person to help me understand their situation in the world I would be committing epistemic exploitation against her. If this sounds crazy, it is!
A biblical view of truth, even a secular, liberal view of truth, recognizes this stuff to be nonsense. It is inherently ridiculous and unsustainable and is impossible to maintain as a worldview. Truth doesn’t have a side. It doesn’t have a gender, a culture, an ethnicity, a race. A claim, a statement is either true or not true on its own merits. (Source?) As Christians we recognize the reality of what Francis Schaeffer wrote, “Biblical Christianity is Truth concerning total reality.” That is, it exists without any exceptions. Truth is absolute because it is derived from the one God. Absolute truth depends on God.
6. Truth is eternally engaging
This point builds on the nature of God. God is eternal, he is outside of time. That is an oversimplified understanding of eternity, but it is good enough to communicate the necessary characteristic of truth that derives from the nature of God. Truth is eternal because God is eternal and thus truth has no expiration date and needs no adjustments at any point in time. “Moreover,” Groothius comments, “[truth] is a living, personal and dynamic truth – a truth that transcends the transient trivialities of our age and touches us at the deepest levels of our beings by including us in an eternal drama.”
Not only is truth eternal, but the consequences of what we do with that truth are universal as well. This makes “the Christian claim… the highest stakes proposition on earth.” (Groothius) The truth is so important. We cannot hedge on it. We cannot soften it or mute it in order to appear relevant to our culture. The truth of Christianity must be proclaimed and defended to a world that so desperately needs it even while they so desperately oppose it.
That was a long one! Congratulations on making it to the end!
In our next blog we will finish up the last 3 characteristics of truth and then move on to some further implications of biblical truth for our worldview and our apologetics.
Soli Deo Gloria