Wednesday, March 03, 2021

True truth

If evangelicals know anything about themselves, it is that they are the truth people.  Evangelicals have fought the good fight against the postmodern assault on the very concept of truth.  They have enlisted cheerfully in the struggle against relativism.  They have contended for the truth in battle after battle.

But I wonder if in the midst of all the battles, we've neglected to fight the war.

I've expressed concern before about the number of evangelicals who responded to the restrictions on public worship by saying that we could not expect HMG to understand the importance of worship.  We, of course, believe that worship is important, but we shouldn't try to make that case to secular authorities; those who don't share our worldview will not be open to persuasion.  Similar arguments are sometimes expressed around ethical issues - of course we as Christians hold that position, but there is no point trying to argue this publicly, and certainly not to attempt to legislate (even in matters of life and death).  It is not to be expected that non-Christians will behave like Christians.

In each case, you seem to end up saying: this is objectively true, but I wouldn't expect anyone to be able to see that, nor would I consider it worthwhile contending for it.  Of course we would contend for it within the church - if there were those in our churches who thought that worship was unimportant, or that abortion was fine, or whatever, we would certainly argue, and we would do so on the grounds of truth.  God's truth is true regardless of our opinions.  But that doesn't seem to hold in the world outside the church.

Stepping back, it seems to me that something has gone wrong with our concept of truth.

We believe in objective truth, but it seems like that objective truth is private, only true for believers.  I understand the logic, I think - given the interconnectedness of truth claims, we are unlikely to persuade people of second order things if they don't share our commitments to high level truths about reality.  Sure.  But when we don't think it's even worth advancing those truth claims, or publicly stating them, what is happening?  Has our 'objective' truth actually become objective truth only within the church, and not in the world at large?

Is the gap between 'we can't expect non-Christians to believe this' and 'I have my truth and you have yours' all that big?

It seems to me they're practically the same.  The upshot of both positions is that I hold my truth claims without any expectation that they will be shared.  I worry that they are psychologically the same.  How long can you hold a belief that this claim is both true and important, and yet not to be advanced universally, without slipping into relativism?  And I can't for the life of me see any ethical difference.  If we allow people to pursue false beliefs about issues of human goodness and flourishing without a protest, because we can't see why we should hold non-Christians to Christian standards, how does our stated belief in objective truth help those who suffer as a result?

If the truth is true, it is true everywhere and for everyone.  If the standards of righteousness and goodness revealed in Scripture are from God, they are universal.  If we won't make the claim, are we really the truth people anymore?


  1. Very well diagnosed. Now that you've mentioned it, I actually think it's even a problem between different churches and within individual churches. One does hear things along the lines of "Well, we can't expect them to understand, because they're (insert denomination here)". I certainly find myself thinking sometimes in Bible studies and the like, "Ahh, this person believes (insert heretical or contentious viewpoint here), so there's no way they're going to believe the truth in this instance". I don't think I'm the only person with this problem! I suspect that 'you do you' culture has its claws deeper into us than we know, and in some cases pervades our whole attitude to relationships, not just towards the 'outside world'.

    1. I agree, Tom. This is the air we breathe. All we can do is try to be conscious of it and push back where we can.