Talk About The Truth!

The recent discussions with Marcus highlight an interesting challenge for Christians. How do we discuss the things Jesus said about truth when talking to folks who have a fundamentally different understanding of what truth is?

Folks like Markus don’t believe that there is such a thing as absolute truth and even if there was, there is really no way we could ever know it anyway. Because Christians belong to another school of thought that says that truth is absolute, fixed and can be known, we can come off appearing intolerant, judgmental, and even bigoted.

Now some of those labels have definitely been earned by some folks on our side of the discussion. But the question remains how do we have meaningful discussions when we don’t even agree on the terms we are discussing?

Many folks seem to think that this shift by many away from the idea of absolute truth is something new because it is part of postmodern philosophy. But differing understandings of truth have been around at least since Jesus’ day.

There is an interesting exchange recorded in the Bible between Pilate and Jesus during his trial. Take a look.

Pilate said, “So you are a king?”

Jesus responded, “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.”

“What is truth?” Pilate asked. Then he went out again to the people and told them, “He is not guilty of any crime.

Pilate asks Jesus what truth is. But it doesn’t appear to be a sincere question. He certainly doesn’t put any effort into getting it answered. It is almost dismissive, like Pilate is saying, “Look, Bub. All this blah, blah, blah you keep spouting about truth is a waste of time. We all know truth not something fixed that we can actually know. Besides truth isn’t important here anyway.”

Jesus took a different view of truth. In the four gospel accounts, Jesus is recorded saying the word “truth” over 100 times. Most often he says it in the phrase, “I tell you the truth” when he prefaced some particularly important point, for example when he says, “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes has eternal life.”

Jesus also said, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

To him the subject of truth was fundamentally important to those who would follow after him. He said that not only was truth knowable, but when we found it, truth would be the very source of freedom for us.

And here’s the kicker. Jesus said that truth wasn’t some abstract set of thoughts or ideas that we had to hunt for and try to assemble. He rocks our understanding of the whole concept of truth by claiming that he himself is that truth. Jesus said of himself, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

Philosophers go around hunting for truth as though it is a collection of ideas, when in actuality the thing they are looking for is a person. Is it any wonder so many miss it?

When you read through the gospel accounts with an understanding that when Jesus speaks of the truth he is really speaking of himself, statements like the one he made to Pilate above take on a whole different level of meaning.

And that also may explain why folks like Marcus may be offended when we quote scriptures such as the one I mentioned in The Source of Wisdom, which says, “Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools.”

From the perspective that truth is relative and unknowable, than any statement that claims to state truth in absolute terms must be offensive.

But that still doesn’t answer the question of how to have a meaningful dialogue with someone whose understanding of truth is fundamentally different from our own. Is it even possible?

It doesn’t appear Jesus made too much headway with Pilate. Should we even try?

Or should we simply state the truth, allow others to take it or leave it, and move on?

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  1. says

    Hello Chris,

    I think you are right that the mindest of a person like me presents an interesting challenge because the differences are more fundamental than between religions. Even between a Christian, Muslim and a Hindu there is a common base in the fact that there is a personal God and that religion is the path towards truth. Between religions the question is only who has got it right.

    I think it is no coincidence that pope Benedikt in one of his first speeches was saying that dealing with what he called the modern mindset of relativism as one of the important taks he wanted to take for his time as a pope. Compared to those differences, the differences between Islam and Christianity (dramatic as they may seem) may appear like nitpicking.

    To me, the idea that one religion or one book has got it entirely right is less than convincing. I fully accept that others are seeing that differently and if living by those guidelines and truths makes their lifes better, I’m all for it. I’m not telling anyone to give up their faith, not if it serves them.

    I have faith in various things also (I’m by no means a modern atheist or cynic, I do believe that life has meaning and that there is a power beyond what we currently call sciencific evidence) and in many points, I live in line with what Jesus teaches. It’s like you wrote in one of your posts, he was a great teacher, and I would dismiss his message, but I simply don’t swallow the bible (or any other religion) hook, line and sinker.

    » It doesn’t appear Jesus made too much headway with Pilate. Should we even try? Or should we simply state the truth, allow others to take it or leave it, and move on? «

    I obviously have no answer to this question, as it only makes sense from your standpoint. But for practical purposes and from the standpoint of someone at the receiving end of the message, my preference would be to be offered those things with freedom to choose and with reason. Being offered the message simply because someone says it’s true and that that’s the reason why it is the right way to live does nothing for me and it will most likely be frustrating to anyone who tries to convince me that way. Not that I say this would be wrong, but for me personally it doesn’t have any effect (if not even having the opposite effect of what was intended). Even pope Benedikt recently had that lecture about religion and reason.

    I know that faith goes beyond reason, in fact that’s almost the definition of faith. I can’t intellectuallly explain everything I believe in, that’s why science per se doesn’t have the answers for me either.

    My approach (with that relative truth in the background) is to offer information to people (that’s why I have this blog and website) and let them choose. Those who feel it’s right or useful will be drawn to the information and hopefully benefit from it. With all others it is my beief, that I can’t persuade them and I won’t even try. It allows for an exchange of ideas. Like in your blog, where I assume neither side would have much fun if I tried to push or promote anything. And if nothing else, it saves a lot of conflict and frustration on both sides.

    If I had any influence (which I don’t) the same appoach would be my preference when it comes to dealing with people with other world views (be it science, philosophy, religion or new age).

    I’m heading for vacation now, so I won’t contribute much to this discussion over the next two weeks, but I would like to thank you for the exchange and I hope my views have resulted in interesting lines of thought, no matter if you (or your readers) actually agree with my views or not.

    Btw, I took no real offense in your views, not even the fool thing. Let’s just say it provoked me a bit, but I see nothing wrong with that, because that is what fuels an exchange. Otherwise we wouldn’t be talking at all. It is my understanding, that this is mutual and that the exchange has been of mutual benefit (whatever the benefit for both sides may be).



  2. says

    Can I toss something out right in the middle of the circular thing you guys have created? What if “truth” is much more relational, as I think you’ve stated here and somewhat as Markus has stated here and at his site. In that light, your statement saying that Jesus had a “different view of truth” is like saying, “Chris has a different view of being Chris” – when He said, “I am… the truth”, He’s making a claim to personify the whole thing. In that frame, it’s tough to say He was for “absolute truth”, much like it would be tough to put a finger on “absolute Chris” or “absolute Markus”.

    All that to say, our ability to know anything “absolutely” is limited by our myriad limitations. But we can know each other deeply, and even know Christ deeply. Having to put “absolute” in front of anything as a descriptor, for me anyway, somehow dimishes what it was meant to be.

  3. says

    Marcus, I’m glad you took no offense, especially as none was intended. And I think you make a good point about a reasonable approach. Lay your beliefs out there and let folks choose for themselves. Really there is no other viable alternative anyway.

    Now Rick… I’m still chewing on what you said here. You managed to pack some profoundly deep stuff in those two paragraphs!

    The whole concept of truth being a person certainly changes some things doesn’t it?

  4. says

    Sadly we’re seeing a lot more people take the stance that truth is relative. Those of us who believe in what the Bible says about truth obviously believe that truth is absolute and that we have found the truth.

    But how is telling everyone that they’re wrong going to bring anyone to the truth?

    Now, Chris, I’m not saying that you’re telling everyone that they’re wrong. That’s not what I’ve gotten out of your posts at all…I’m just thinking out loud here (the discourse between you and Markus was informative and gracious, not condemning in any way).

    I love what you said in this post: “Philosophers go around hunting for truth as though it is a collection of ideas, when in actuality the thing they are looking for is a person. Is it any wonder so many miss it?”

    The thing to remember, especially in a discussion like this, is that we can’t force anyone to believe what we believe. That in itself goes against the very nature of the Gospel. We want people to choose life, not be forced into proclaiming it. Does that make sense?

    In all honesty, I’m not sure what that really had to do with your blog post, but those are the thoughts that popped into my head as I was reading.

    I love reading your thoughts–you definitely challenge me in my own beliefs.

  5. says

    Amanda, Folks are welcome to disagree with me here, so don’t sweat it if you take issue with something. (The only thing that might set me off is perhaps if someone were to threaten Gorgeous. THEN they might see Evil Chris :evil: raise his head. But short of that I think you’ll be fine here. :) )

    You are absolutely right that we can’t force anyone to believe what we believe (not that there aren’t cases of forced conversions and baptisms in Christian history. They were wrong, as we know.)

    I don’t think we can even convince someone through persuasion, really. About all we can do is present the truth (i.e. introduce them to Jesus) and let them decide how they want to respond.

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