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WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT DEFENDING YOUR FAITHIN 12 LESSONS
By MAX ANDERS
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 1997 Max Anders
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhat Is Truth?
Gary Paulsen was running the Iditerod dogsled race from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska, for the first time. He edged his dogs onto the ice where they ran easily for hours. Then suddenly everything changed:
In the first instant I saw Cookie alter her pace ... almost to a walk, and her tail shot up to the question-mark position. If she was confident about things it hung straight down and to the rear, and the height it went up was in direct proportion to what she perceived as risk. I was very much in tune with the position of her tail—lived by it—and now it was straight up, the tip curved over in a question mark. At the same time she "got light." I felt my heart freeze. When she went up on her tiptoes and tried to be lighter it meant only one thing—bad ice.
Half a second later I felt the sled move. It was the same movement an earthquake makes.
Initially there had been no visual indication of the ice changing. Paulsen had every reason to assume it was its customary six or eight feet thick. But it turned out to be new ice that had a dusting of snow blown over it. It wasn't a foot thick, perhaps only two inches, and it was heaving from the underwater surges.
Paulsen grabbed a rope and fell back from the sled on his stomach, his legs open to spread the weight. At the same time he yelled:
It was an old trapline command and wouldn't work on the race dogs. But Cookie knew it meant to swing out to the right and bring the team back around to get out of a tight spot.
They fought her for a bit, tried to go straight, but she found a crack in the surface and got her nails in and dragged them around with me skidding in back on my stomach.
We went that way for a hundred yards or so when I saw Cookie's tail drop and she headed out almost straight east. I felt a bump as my stomach slid off the bad ice and onto the older ice pan.
Had Paulsen hit the bad ice an hour sooner, he would have gone through. People die every year on the ice. Because so many husbands get lost on sea ice, some native women have been widowed several times by the time they are twenty-five (Winterdance 243–244).
It is a dangerous thing when "part" of the whole breaks off and starts floating away. It means almost certain calamity to those floating away. In a sense, that is what is happening in western society today. Most westerners (including Europeans and North Americans and those influenced by American and European ways of thinking) used to share a lot of common ground about the nature of truth, on moral, spiritual, political, and scientific issues. Today there is a crisis over whether truth can be known at all.
What Is the Contemporary Crisis over Truth?
The contemporary crisis concerns whether or not objective truth exists and how well people can know it.
Chuck Colson has written that the confusion over truth is the fundamental crisis of our age.
What good does it do to tell people, "the Bible says ...," if two-thirds of our listeners don't believe the Bible is true? What good does it do for us to say Jesus is the truth if two-thirds of the American people believe there is no such thing as truth? This is not to deny that the Word of God has the power to convince even the hardest heart. But if Christians are to be heard by the modern mind and make effective inroads into our culture, we must first develop what Francis Schaeffer called a cultural apologetic: We must defend the very concept of truth (Introduction to Can Man Live Without God? by Ravi Zacharias, ix–x)
The loss of confidence in truth can be illustrated from a number of areas of knowledge.
The Loss of Confidence in Truth in Morality
First, people have become uncertain about what's right and wrong, what's moral and what's immoral. Alasdair MacIntyre argues in his book A Short History of Ethics that the loss of strong moral beliefs can be traced back to the Enlightenment, and, in particular, to the views of the philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804).
The Enlightenment refers to a time when European philosophers like Kant, Voltaire, and David Hume believed that there was a new way to determine truth and goodness, apart from the authority of the church or the Bible. While the Enlightenment philosophers were basically skeptical about Christianity, they were very certain about their own "rational" solutions to moral and intellectual problems. MacIntyre says that since the time of Kant and the Enlightenment, "'the acids of individualism' have eaten at the social unity that used to exist on matters of good and bad." What used to be the solid piece of ice—nearly universal agreement on what was wrong and right—cracked into fragmented pieces. Now people in our society disagree considerably about what is right and wrong.
This breakdown in moral values can be seen all around us. For example, morality is viewed as simply a product of culture. What is right in America is not necessarily right in Saudi Arabia. And who are "we" to tell others how to live? This kind of view is represented in the astonishing fact that, as John Leo reported in the July 27, 1997, edition of U.S. News & World Report, some American college students won't condemn Hitler for the Holocaust. "After all, from the Nazi point of view, Hitler believed he was doing the right thing."
The clash over right and wrong plays itself out daily on television talk shows. Every day guests defend practices and beliefs that would only be discussed privately—and then only rarely— forty years ago. Everything is defended by statements like: "Who are you to tell me what is right?" or "I am happy in what I am doing, and it is not hurting anybody, so why does it matter to you?"
The Loss of Confidence in Truth in Religion
People have also lost confidence in religious beliefs. If you and I could travel back to the year 1250 and sit in a class at the University of Paris, we would probably notice that everybody basically shared the same views. There was really only one church in western Europe, and nobody was in a mood to question the pope.
Three centuries later, a young German monk protested some of the errors of the pope of Rome. Luther said: "My conscience is bound by the word of God. Here I stand! I can do no other." Those of us who are Protestants look to Luther as our hero. We love his courage to stand for Bible-based truth. Luther was confident in his religion, and so was John Calvin, another great reformer.
There was an unintended negative spin to what Luther and Calvin did, however. Since they questioned the pope, who was believed to speak with the full authority of Christ, they opened the door to having their own beliefs questioned by others. This unleashed an overall critical, even skeptical, mindset. This mindset in Protestant churches has encouraged hundreds of churches to split from parent churches, until today we have scores of denominations in America. The unity in the church that Jesus prayed for has not been realized.
Of course, the Protestant—Catholic split and the creation of all sorts of Protestant churches is not the end of the story. In the last century there was an emergence of radically new religious traditions (cults) in America. Joseph Smith started the Mormon church. Mary Baker Eddy introduced us to Christian Science. Madame Blavatsky started Theosophy, a precursor to the New Age Movement. And the list goes on. No wonder there is a loss of confidence in religion.
The Loss of Confidence in Truth Itself
Confusion about moral and spiritual truth has led to bewilderment about the very notion of truth itself. Many professors in western universities have argued that truth is relative, that it is a culturally created reality like our views of morality. What is true for one group is not necessarily true for another. In fact, they believe, truth is a very individual thing, if there is even such a thing as truth.
This perspective concerning truth is often called postmodernism. This relative, subjective, and skeptical view of truth is a reaction against earlier "modern" understandings of reason and truth. Basically, Enlightenment philosophers replaced religion with reason and were as dogmatic about their trust in reason as Christians had been about their trust in divine revelation. Modernism, the child of the Enlightenment, has been confident that truth exists and that it is the same for all people. It was sure that reason, aided by the modern scientific method of observation and experimentation, enables us to discover truth. The postmodern mind, however, lacks confidence both in Christian religion and in the views of the modern philosopher or scientist. Postmodernists like Jacques Derrida (DERry-dah) are skeptical about every philosophy or ideology or religion, though, of course, he tends to like postmodernism!
Postmodernism is partly born out of a recognition of the diverse moral and spiritual views in the marketplace of ideas. This is not the whole story, however. Postmodernists have also seen how the "truth" or "science" can be used to sanction evil. Think of the justification of the slave trade by Christians in the last century in America. Nazi ideology was advocated by brilliant philosophers, scientists, and theologians and Bible scholars. Postmodernists like Derrida or Michel Foucault (fu-KOH) have seen how intellectuals can defend any position or theory, depending on who is paying or who has the social or political power.
Tolerance is perhaps the most important virtue to postmodern society, and intolerance the most serious vice. One can violate the Ten Commandments and no one blinks an eye. If one dares to question the truth or moral value of someone's views or actions, that is intolerable, unless, of course, you are attacking evangelical Christianity or some other "politically incorrect" view.
Of course, postmodernism can celebrate Christianity if it is viewed as simply another path of spirituality. So one can hear this kind of praise: "Oh, that's wonderful that you are a Christian. It is great that you have found meaning in following Jesus. I, too, have found meaning. I have rediscovered my past life as a Native American shaman (medicine man) and am now into tribal chanting as my mystical path. It is so spiritual. I feel so close to God and nature when I do it. Isn't that wonderful? We're both spiritual!"
How Does the Bible View Truth?
The Bible views truth as objective, coming from God Himself, and something that can be known, as fully as God permits.
The Bible teaches that truth exists and can be known. We can share postmodernism's distrust of Enlightenment rationalism and postmodernism's doubt that modern science operates with total objectivity. With postmodernists, we agree that the personal will of philosophers and scientists shapes how they think and what conclusions they reach. We all tend to see what we want to and even to force what we see into our own agendas, to justify what we want the truth to be. Yet as Christians, we believe that God has revealed truth through His prophets, apostles, and Son, and that this truth is preserved for us in inspired Scripture. So we do not share the postmodern anxiety about truth.
The Bible emphasizes that truth comes from within God Himself. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, "I am the truth," not a truth (14:6). Jesus spoke of truth in these ways too:
You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free (John 8:32).
When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth (John 16:13).
Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth (John 17:17).
The apostle Paul was equally unambiguous:
The truth is in Jesus (Ephesians 4:21).
For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:3–4).
To agree with the Bible that truth is objective (existing whether or not we know or accept it), absolute (unchanging), and universal (true for everyone), is not to say that we know truth completely and purely. We must admit that we do not have a perfect grasp of the truth that God has given us. Godly, well-informed, and intelligent Christians disagree over many things in the Bible—such as the sovereignty of God and the free will of man, or Bible prophecy, or how we should baptize. Therefore, we should not overstate our case when discussing truth. We may believe something to be true (such as how to baptize) without being able to prove to someone else that it is true.
As Francis Schaeffer used to say, we must be careful to say all that Scripture says, and we must be equally careful not to say more than Scripture says. As 1 Corinthians 13:9–13 teaches, it is not until we stand before Jesus that we will know and understand truth perfectly. When presenting truth, we should have a certain humility that acknowledges our imperfect grasp of truth, and that treats others with respect even if we do not agree with them.
Nevertheless, we do not determine our own truth, as postmodernists claim. Instead, we accept and practice the truth as it is revealed in Jesus, who is the truth. And in areas outside God's special revelation through Jesus and the Scriptures, we reject as false any claims to truth that are not in harmony with what we understand of revealed truth.
How Can We Present and Defend the Truth Effectively?
We combine a credible lifestyle with an appropriate presentation of truth.
While we believe that truth is absolute, there are three important ways we may grasp truth: by reason, by faith, and by experience.
1. Knowing Truth through Reason
Many Christians are influenced by fact-based knowledge and careful reasoning based on that knowledge. It is important to them that their faith be rooted in facts and that it be reasonable. Christian apologetics, the study and practice of defending our faith, has been heavily influenced by rationalism, the belief that truth is grasped by reason, even though Christians believe that God is the ultimate source of truth. This means that Christian apologetics can use reason, but it should not be limited only to what the human mind can understand. Thomas Aquinas was significantly shaped by the rationalism of Aristotle, and so he offered us five proofs for God's existence. Josh McDowell, a wellknown contemporary evangelical philosopher, loves to present very careful reasons and historical evidences in defense of Christian beliefs.
2. Knowing Truth through Faith
Other Christians, on the other hand, have been influenced by an outlook known as fideism (FEE-day-ism). This view is prominent in Reformed or Calvinistic theology and in some Catholic writers. It says that we find truth by first trusting in God and then following His revelation as the accurate map of all reality. This quote from C.S. Lewis expresses the fideist's perspective (although Lewis himself did not rely only on fideism in his defense of the faith): "I believe in Christianity as I believe in the sun—not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else" (emphasis mine). Human reason is fallible and gives no ultimate certainty. Faith rests in God who alone is the anchor of truth.
Cornelius Van Til, a famous Christian apologist, advanced a version of fideism in contending that one's presuppositions determine everything. Van Til, who taught for forty years at Westminster Theological Seminary, believed that unless one presupposes that God has given truth, there is no way for humans to be certain of anything. For Van Til, only the assumption that God is sovereign and has revealed the truth in the Bible will save humanity from the otherwise confusing voices of human reason. From the Lewis quote, Van Til would emphasize that only by the light of God's revelation—and not by human reason—could he truly see or understand anything else.
3. Knowing Truth through Experience
Still other Christians emphasize experience in defending their faith. They might refer to their conversion experience as proof for their faith, or talk about a mystical moment in their lives, or an answer to prayer, or share an example of divine healing. Still others might talk about a time when they believe God gave them precise, accurate knowledge about a future event or about another person's need as evidence that God is real. Or they may rely on a deep sense of intuition that the gospel has what J.B. Phillips called "the ring of truth" to it.
Excerpted from WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT DEFENDING YOUR FAITH by MAX ANDERS Copyright © 1997 by Max Anders. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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