There’s a lot of talk today about “culture wars,” but these external conflicts are only a symptom of a deeper problem: there is trouble with the truth. Beneath our differences about the values that should define our culture is a real disagreement about what is true. Those who hold to the traditional beliefs of the Christian faith find themselves at odds with a culture that no longer believes there are universal spiritual or moral truths that apply to everyone. And they grieve that the confusion about what is true is just as strong in the church.
The Trouble with the Truth explores the truth—why it’s in trouble, what the culture tells us about it, and why the church is so confused about it. In an engaging and compelling style, Rob Renfroe reminds us that the Christian life requires commitment to both truth and grace. Like a tightrope walker with a balance bar, we must learn to balance compassion for people and passion for truth, combining them in equal measure just as Jesus did. Readers will examine the essentials about truth and grace, understand the differences between a cultural worldview and a scriptural worldview, and discover how to be instruments of real influence and transformation in our time by following Jesus’s example.
A DVD featuring six interviews with the author and a full leader guide are available for group study.
|Product dimensions:||5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.40(d)|
About the Author
Rob Renfroe is Pastor of Discipleship at The Woodlands UMC in Houston, Texas, leader of the popular men's Bible study Quest, attended by over 500 men, and the author of The Trouble with the Truth and A Way Through the Wilderness. He also is President of Good News—a national organization committed to the doctrinal integrity and spiritual renewal of The United Methodist Church. He and his wife, Peggy, are the parents of two adult sons.
Read an Excerpt
The Trouble with the Truth
Balancing Truth and Grace
By Rob Renfroe
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2014 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
Full of Grace and Truth
At the heart of the universe, there is a heart of grace. It's the heart of one Jesus described as a loving Father, one who finds joy in bringing good gifts into the lives of his children. It's the heart of a shepherd who discovers that one of his sheep is missing, so he leaves the ninety-nine to find the one that's lost. It's the breaking heart of one who is looking a long way off for a rebellious, wandering son and who runs to embrace his retuning child, kiss his face, and forgive his transgressions.
This heart of grace is also a heart of truth. It is a heart that is offended by lies and deception and hypocrisy. This heart belongs to a God who tells us that the truth will set us free and warns us about teachers who tell people what they want to hear and are willing to remove the "offense" of the gospel when contending for the faith proves unpopular or costly. At the heart of the universe there is truth as eternal and as unchanging as the God who has revealed it.
At the heart of the universe, there is a heart of compassion—a compassion so great that God could not turn his back on those who turned their backs on him; a compassion so great that God himself came into our world in the person of Jesus to seek and save the lost, knowing that if he did so, he would be scorned and mistreated and ultimately nailed to a cross.
This heart of compassion is also a heart of righteousness. It is the heart of one who delights in all that is good and who is grieved by all that is evil. It's the heart of a God who sent prophets to demand that his people be pure in heart and just in their actions, and that they repent of their sins.
At the heart of the universe, there is a heart of love. Nothing is more real—not the earth beneath our feet, not the pain we suffer, not the sins we commit. Before any physical realities came into existence, there was love. And when the earth and our pain and our sins are no more, love will remain.
This heart of love is also a heart of holiness. It is a heart that cannot be neutral about evil without denying its very nature. It is the heart of a God who cannot ignore the wrongs done by his creatures because evil not only does harm to those who are wronged but also mars his image in the one who does the wrong.
When the Father sent the Son into the world that we might be saved, he came with grace and truth, compassion and righteousness, love and holiness. Without grace and truth together, we don't have the God of the Bible. Without compassion and righteousness together, we don't have Jesus of the Gospels. Without love and holiness together, we don't have the good news. The Christian faith is not one instead of the other or one more than the other but both together in equal measure, because this is the nature of our God.
The Perfect Combination
The Gospel of John begins with a picture of God entering our world and making himself known in the person of Jesus. John's description of "The Beautiful One" opens with a sentence that may be at the same time one of the simplest and most profound ever written. When I was a sophomore at Rice University, John 1:1 was the first sentence we read and translated in Greek 101. Even then I was struck by the elegance and power of the Greek, which is translated "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."
"The Word," of course, is Jesus, and John tells us more about Jesus' coming into the world later in his prologue: "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). When John describes the beautiful life of Jesus, he says that Jesus came with both grace and truth.
Grace is compassion for people. Grace is being better to people than their actions deserve. It's trying to understand their struggles, caring for their needs, and sharing their burdens. We see this grace in the ministry of Jesus over and over again throughout the Gospels.
Jesus also came with a passion for truth. He spoke the words that people needed to hear even if they didn't want to hear them. He was faithful to his principles even when doing so angered the authorities. He refused to compromise his message even when he knew that he would lose followers as a result— even when he suspected that if he continued to proclaim the truth he would be nailed to a cross. Jesus was as committed to the truth as he was to grace.
Grace and truth—we see them both in the most beautiful and powerful life ever lived. I believe that one reason Jesus dramatically impacted the lives of so many in his day was that he perfectly combined compassion for people with passion for truth, and that's one reason why his words and life still have the power to transform people two thousand years later. I am convinced that if we, as individuals and as God's people together, are to be instruments of real influence and transformation in our time, then we will have to learn how to combine grace and truth in the same way that Jesus did.
A Balancing Act
Balancing grace and truth isn't easy. It's like walking a tightrope, holding onto a long pole to help you keep your balance.
Many of us watched aerialist Nik Wallenda walk across the Little Colorado River Gorge near the Grand Canyon on June 23, 2013. Fifteen hundred feet above the canyon floor, he walked on a tightrope for a quarter of a mile, trying to keep his balance as the wind blew at speeds of thirty miles an hour. It was excruciating just watching him make the twenty-two-minute journey. If his pole tipped too much one way or the other, he would fall off the wire and plunge to his death.
Trying to live and minister the way Jesus did is something of a high wire act, too. To keep our balance, we hold onto the gospel like an aerialist holding onto a balance pole. On the one side there is grace. On the other is truth. Let the pole tip too much one way or the other, and we'll lose our balance. Lean either way too strongly, and we'll fall off. It's only as we hold the pole in balance that we can walk the way that Jesus walked, live the way that he lived, and impact our world in a way that is truly transformative.
None of us does this balancing act perfectly. We are all influenced by a myriad of factors that affect how we combine compassion for people with passion for truth. Usually we aren't even aware of how they shape our ideas about grace and truth.
Many of the factors that influence how we think about living a balanced life of grace and truth stem from our culture. Some cultures seem to value compassion more than truth, and others seem to value truth more than compassion. Without question, our Western culture today values compassion—which often is wrongly defined as words or actions that make someone feel good—much more than it does truth.
We care so much about the feelings of others that often we don't keep score at children's sporting events because we think that the truth about who won or lost a game might damage their fragile self-images. With adults, it's not much different. If you speak words that someone else finds offensive, the assumption is often that you have stepped over some boundary of political correctness. The assumption is rarely that the other person may have misunderstood your intent or is being too sensitive. If you believe that you're right and others are wrong in matters of spirituality and morality, you'll probably be labeled "intolerant." If you claim to know "the truth" and it contradicts what others believe, our society generally says that you are judgmental, you don't appreciate diversity, and your views are hurtful and harmful. Many of our most popular television shows, movies, and newspapers, as well as websites and college courses devoted to cultural events, perpetuate the message that anyone who claims to have "the truth" is naïve and bigoted.
The winds of our culture influence us to lean toward compassion rather than truth. The problem is not emphasizing compassion; it's forgetting that in order to be like Jesus, we must hold onto truth just as tightly.
The Influence of the Church
The church also plays a significant role in influencing our beliefs about grace and truth. If you attended church when you were young, that church helped to form you and your thinking, including your beliefs about grace and truth. And if you are attending a church now, that church is, to some degree, shaping your beliefs about how you should balance compassion for people with passion for truth.
Some churches place a high value on knowing, understanding, and teaching truth. Nothing wrong with that. The problem comes when the necessary balance of grace is missing. When a church spends more time teaching its members what they should believe about secondary doctrines such as the tribulation or predestination than it spends telling them about Jesus' heart for the poor, it's not a healthy church. When the litmus test for being a good member is agreeing with a church's leadership on relatively minor matters of doctrine instead of loving God and neighbor, chances are it's not transforming its members into people who live and minister as Jesus did.
Other churches seem not to be as concerned about what their members believe. They seem to devalue the distinctive truth claims of the Christian faith and instead stress being a caring and open person who doesn't judge others. And who can fault a church that tells its people to love God and love others? But there's a problem when the necessary balance of truth is missing. Jesus came with grace and truth, yet some of his followers care much less about truth than grace. Churches that emphasize grace are doing a good thing—unless they downplay the importance of the truth, which many do.
I once spoke to a group of pastors, and after I finished a young man in his early twenties approached me. He said that he was the pastor of three small churches in a rural area of Tennessee. He told me, "They're very different." I thought to myself, How can three small country churches only a few miles from each other be "very different"? So, I asked, "How so?"
He replied, "One wants me to yell at them and tell them how bad they are. One wants me to yell and tell them how bad other people are. And the other one doesn't want me to yell, and they don't think anybody is bad."
I had to laugh. They were different. And none of them got it right. We need grace and truth. Teaching and preaching truth is good, but it becomes a problem when we emphasize our sins more than we do God's grace. And opening our arms to welcome and accept everyone sure sounds like Jesus, unless it also means we can't say, "This is good and that is bad; this is right and that is wrong; this is truth and that is not."
Maybe your congregation is getting it just right. But most churches lean one way or the other. Does your congregation worry more about "right doctrine" than it does about welcoming the last, the least, and the lost who may not be living "the right way"? Or in the name of being accepting, is your church conveying that it doesn't matter what you believe as long as you believe something? The apostles were not martyred for telling people to believe "something." They were put to death because they would not stop preaching the uniqueness of the Christian faith. Whether you realize it or not, your church experience is influencing you in one direction more than the other—and that experience is significantly shaped by your pastor and church leaders and teachers.
I am a preacher, and I know plenty of other preachers; and trust me, very few of us get it just right when it comes to balancing grace and truth. Like other Christians, we too tend to lean more one way than the other—more toward grace or more toward truth. Some pastors tend to emphasize grace. Yet for some of these pastors, their primary goal on Sunday morning seems to be for you to leave church feeling good. They want you to leave worship feeling great about God, the church, and yourself. They want you to head out into the world humming that James Brown favorite, "I f-e-e-e-l good." And there are pastors who emphasize "the truth." Regrettably, some of these pastors do so in a rather warped way, thinking that they don't deserve a paycheck for the week if they can't make you slink out of church feeling worse about yourself than when you first slunk into church.
How you came to faith in Christ also tends to determine whether you place more value on compassion for people or the importance of truth. If you came to Christ because of the warmth, acceptance, and love of a church or a particular person, then you're more likely to believe that this is how people should come to Christ and, consequently, to emphasize grace. If your journey to faith involved a long, intellectual search for satisfying answers to deep questions, then you're more likely to believe that this is how people should come to Christ and, consequently, to stress truth when sharing Christ with others.
With all of these influences, each of us tends to lean more one way than the other. If we will take an honest look at ourselves, most of us will see that we tend to be more of a "gracer" or a "truther."
Gracers want everyone to know how much they're loved and accepted. Gracers really do believe that if people only knew how much God cares for them, then they could accept themselves, their lives would change, and they would be happy. It's natural for gracers to reach out, throw their arms around others, and hope that through their love lost souls will experience God's loving embrace.
Truthers come at it differently. Truthers will tell you that there are many people who know they are loved and who feel good about themselves but still are wandering away from God. They will tell you that there's right and there's wrong. There are truths and principles that God has written into the fabric of the universe, such as humility, honesty, generosity, faithfulness, and self-denial, and people need to live accordingly if they are going to be right with themselves and right with God. After all, Jesus said, "The truth will set you free" (John 8:32).
So, which are you? Do you find yourself more naturally inclined toward grace or toward truth? Personally, it's my nature to want to be the grace guy, not the truth guy. I love saying and doing what makes people feel loved and affirmed. And I hate it when I think that my words have caused someone discomfort or pain—even if they needed to be said. But I know that I must be as passionate about the truth as I am about grace, because Jesus was. Neither is better or more important than the other. We find them both in Jesus in equal measure. Both are required for a Christ-like life. And both are essential for us to impact the lives of those around us and transform our culture as Jesus said we are to do.
Our culture, our own experiences, and too often the church can set us up to think about grace and truth as an "either-or" choice when what we see consistently in the life of Jesus is "both grace and truth," not one instead of the other or one more than the other but both together in equal measure. What might happen if the church of Jesus Christ was not afraid to love like Jesus and was not ashamed to speak the truth like Jesus? His grace and truth changed the world once before. And I believe if we get it right, his grace and truth can change the world again through us.
* In what ways do I show grace?
* In what ways do I proclaim truth?
* Do I tend to be more of a "truther" or a "gracer"?
* What can I do to grow as a person who balances grace and truth?CHAPTER 2
Why Grace Is Essential and Truth Matters
If we are to have an impact on our world the way Jesus did, then we must possess his compassion for people and his passion for truth. Both are equally important for those of us who want to represent him well and care for people the way he did. Let's consider why each one is critical to our faith.
Why Grace Is Essential
Grace seems the right place to start as we think about following Jesus faithfully. For two thousand years, when people have heard the name Jesus, they have thought about the greatest love the world has ever known. My hope and prayer is that one day soon, even if they disagree with what we believe, when people hear the word Christian—they will immediately think of people who love as selflessly and as sacrificially as Jesus did. Why must we be people of grace?
Excerpted from The Trouble with the Truth by Rob Renfroe. Copyright © 2014 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1 Full of Grace and Truth 13
2 Why Grace Is Essential and Truth Matters 27
3 Why Our Culture Values Compassion Over Truth: Understanding Three Worldviews 61
4 Comparing the Cultural Worldview to a Scriptural Worldview 85
5 The New Absolutes 101
6 What Does Love Require? 127