You Can’t Handle the Truth


In the past few weeks I have brought up, in various venues, the question, “What is Truth?” With no set schedule, I would like to take a look at that question.


Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). This is a very good question these days, when everything is viewed as “relative”; law is built on sociology, not truth. Competing religions and belief systems call out to us like hawkers at a carnival: “Hey, you, look over here. I’ve got the best truth.” Others tell us that everybody has the truth – until somebody steps up and says they’re a Christian. Then we get a sort of “selective relativism.”

How can we know what’s true? How can we sort out the charlatans from the purveyors of truth? Related questions include: “What does it matter what’s true? Do we really need to know?”

If Christianity is true, then sin has invaded the world and men need salvation from the consequences of that sinfulness. If I cannot know that this is true, I will be lost – and suffer whatever those consequences are. If there is no God, as many modern teachers claim, then it really doesn’t matter what’s true. Is it worth the risk not to make an attempt to discover what’s true.

The correspondence view of truth, held by the vast majority of philosophers and theologians throughout history until recently, holds that any statement is true if and only if it corresponds to or agrees with factual reality. If I tell you that a hymnal is red I have made a statement which corresponds to reality or it doesn’t.
Another principle of logic, the principle of contradiction states that “A cannot be non-A in the same way and in the same respect.” The hymnal is either red or it is not red.


The theological statement, “Jesus is Lord of the universe,” is either true or false. Its truth or falsity does not depend upon the sincerity or the loudness or the brilliance of the person making the statement. It also does not depend upon the birth culture of the person making the statement. The statement either corresponds to reality or it doesn’t. If I claim that a ladder is sound, and firmly believe that it is, that does not make the ladder sound. It only means that I believe it is. If I’m wrong I could be endangering myself and anybody else who climbs the ladder.


What we’re embarking on, over the course of the next few weeks, (or, perhaps , months) is a study of something called worldview. It has become a popular term in the recent past, but it is a concept as old as mankind.

How we view the truth really matters. Think about abortion, marriage, ethics, euthanasia. How we view truth will color how we deal with such topics.

Christians today, especially in the US are often held captive by the so-called intellectual elites. These are the same people who agreed with the editorial in the Washington Post a few years back which referred to conservative Christians as “poor, uneducated, and easily led.” We’re cowed by them. We allow them to back us into a corner so that we check our intellect at the church door, effectively creating a dichotomy between our “sacred beliefs” and our secular beliefs.

A is not non-A. Either God is who He claims to be in the Bible, or He is not. We cannot have it both ways. If we believe that God is the Creator of the Universe, we have to believe it on Monday as well as on Sunday. More importantly, we have to act as though we believe it – every day.

This is the point of this excellent book by Nancy Pearcey. Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from its Cultural Captivity (Crossway Books, 2004).

Her purpose, Pearcey writes, is to help Christians “recover a place at the table of debate.” In order to do this, she explains, “Christians must find a way to overcome the dichotomy between public and private, fact and value, secular and sacred. We need to liberate the gospel from its cultural captivity, restoring it to the status of public truth” In other words, Christians need to stop checking their minds at the door to the office, the school, the shop, the gym. We need to have a full intellectual understanding of our faith and an ability to apply biblical principles in all areas of our lives.

Pearcey urges that Christians develop a full-orbed approach to their world. She addresses both the political activist Christians and those who would shrink from society and create evangelical ghettoes. Neither approach, she writes, has produced any lasting effect on our culture.

I will continue this discussion in the coming weeks.

I’d like to know your thoughts, now and along the way. Join me in the discussion.


Not My First Pandemic

A recent story in USA Today opened with the following,

For many Americans, the novel coronavirus pandemic has generated illness-related fears that have little precedent in our lifetimes.

But 60 million Americans over the age of 70 have seen this horror show before: the polio scourge that ravaged the world’s young from roughly 1916 until Jonas Salk’s vaccination arrived in 1955.

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/03/21/coronavirus-quarantine-haunts-polio-epidemic-survivors/2868771001/

Epidemics and pandemics are nothing new. The first recorded pandemic occurred prior to the birth of Jesus Christ. What’s the difference between an epidemic and pandemic, you may ask.  The answer is reach. If the disease is localized it is referred to as an epidemic. If a medical catastrophe crosses multiple borders it may be designated a pandemic.  The Greek prefix pan…means all.

The deadliest pandemic in history is the flu outbreak of 1918. Not only did it kill millions worldwide, but much like today, people around the globe were “social distancing” and wearing masks, although they were more pleased with the mask situation than many today (https://www.history.com/news/1918-spanish-flu-mask-wearing-resistance).

Fast forward to the 1950s and ‘60s.Americans were recovering from WWII. They were sure that the world was now in good shape.  Then polio hit. The disease had been around for decades, but brought its full force in the 1950s. In 1952 alone more than 50,000 children were infected. Also known as “Infantile Paralysis,” children were the hardest hit demographic. 

Polio struck fear in the hearts of people worldwide. Having lived through this, I can affirm that the fear was palpable. Businesses and recreation areas were closed to the public. For me the greatest loss was the public swimming pool. A city kid whose family did not own a vehicle, this was a meeting place as well as our “swimming hole.” Schools were closed. Some churches closed, others were open but did not allow children to attend. No internet services were available. Kids couldn’t go to summer camps. As today, quarantines and lock-downs were part of life.

Parents worried that, having survived a world war, their family might not live through this viral plague. They had reason to be worried. The numbers of the afflicted rose, leaving many children paralyzed – or dead. We talked about it at school (I don’t recall my school being shut down) and gossiped about those we knew were affected. Fear stalked us. People we knew were being confined to iron lungs, steel cylinders in which the patient would be placed to help overcome paralysis of the respiratory system. They were that generation’s respirators. None of us wanted to end up in the lung.

In the late 1950s, help arrived in the form of a new vaccine developed by Dr. Jonas Salk. All over the US inoculation stations were set up in schools hospitals and commercial spaces. I remember waiting in a long line, extending down Weybosset Street in Providence, for my polio shot being administered at the Outlet Company, the largest retail store in Rhode Island (now gone).

I graduated from high school in 1962. The fear was still there. Many young men who were enlisting in the armed forces worried that they might not pass the physical. Later that year, on a flight home to Providence, I actually ran into a guy who had been a year ahead of me at Central High School. I didn’t know Skip well and was surprised to see him.  He had been a polio victim. He had been in an iron lung for a while and I think he still had to spend some time in one. He was weakened. He was never going to regain his former health. But he was a drummer in a band and was able to travel and play.

It was not an easy period in our history. Panic, fear, resistance to imposed authority were all part of life – as is also the case today. We, as a nation, got through it. If God wills, we will also get through this one. But we will be damaged. 

NOTE: The History Channel has a number of episodes on epidemics and pandemics.

Of the making of many books…

While completing an online application recently I came across the following question, “What is our favorite book? Why?

Naturally I assumed they were not interested in hearing that it’s the Bible. I can even come up with the “why” for that one.

We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture. And the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it does abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God: yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our heart.[i]

It wasn’t that easy, however. There ae so many favorite books. They didn’t even specify a genre. And I enjoy books from a number of different categories. I didn’t even know how deep my reading diversity ran until I was sitting in the living room of friends in Vilnius, Lithuania and, having run out of reading material, picked up a slim volume from their bookshelves. Not exactly my kind of book, I thought, but started reading and was quickly hooked. The book was At Home in Mitford, by Jan Karon.[ii] I have since read the entire series.

Not only do I read widely, but I read regularly. My grandson James asked me recently ”If you had to give up one, which would it be, coffee  or books?” Did I mention that he’s mean? I’m a coffee snob, but chose to give it up and continue reading. Fortunately, the exercise was hypothetical.

It took me some time, but I finally settled upon a title as my provisional favorite, knowing that were many others which could just as easily fit the description. I hope the readers enjoyed my answer. I wonder if they realized what a challenge they had presented me. I also wonder what they would have selected.

I this time time of quarantine for some, I wonder what book you, my readers, might have chosen, and why. Feel free to give more than one response.

ENJOY.

[i] Westminster Confession of Faith I,5.

[ii] First in a series of whimsical mysteries involving an unassuming Episcopal priest.

Think on These Things

I’m old. I’m also in that now fashionable category called immuno-compromised. These facts determine to a large extent my reactions to Covid-19.

Throughout my adult life, I have been involved in research and analysis. As a journalist and as a pastor, these were important skills. In today’s environment, with regard to coming to an understanding of what’s true and what’s propaganda, these skills are, for the most part, useless.

I have no problem admitting that I am not a scientist (neither is Bill Nye, by the way). But, who are these experts popping up all over the place to explain to us what our situation is? And why do they all contradict one another? Are these people seeing the same data?

Some tell us we need masks. Others say they’re actually harmful. It’s no more harmful than seasonal flu. Oh, but it may wipe out a large portion of the earth’s population. It’s Trump’s fault. Actually a lot of these experts and politicians seem to agree with that one.

Last week I asked the same question as Pontius Pilate: “What is Truth?” It seems that most of these experts wouldn’t recognize it if they tripped over it. The Bible has a lot to say about Truth. I’ll mention only one verse: Philippians 4:8.

8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Obviously, I have been thinking about these things. I’m still not clear on what’s fact and what’s fiction. OK, I’ll mention another verse. Joshua 1:9, 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
That’s the Truth that can sustain me.

If all these experts are looking at the same, or at least similar, data, why the confusion? How many people have died? Did they all die FROM Covid-19?
I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but this could convert me. It’s easy to see Orwellian double-speak here.

Now the nation is divided over the proper response. Crowds are showing up at State Houses and beaches to protest the closures. Some of these folk are armed. Today many states are allowing businesses to reopen. In others they are extending the “stay-at-home” orders. Where do they get the right to do this?

Sooner or later, I expect, this will end. What then? A lot of folks will rush to their favorite restaurant to dine and mingle. That’s assuming their eating establishment didn’t go out of business. The last one I ate at actually closed permanently last week.

I don’t know what to believe (regarding the pandemic. I know what to believe about God). Early on, before the quarantine orders started spewing from the microphones at City Halls and State Houses, I decided that for me it would be best if I stayed at home. In my situation I think that’s the right thing for me to do. That does not mean that it’s right for you. When the economy tries to restart, I will not be joining the happy throngs rushing to get back to whatever counts as normal. I’m old. I’m also in that now-fashionable category called immuno-compromised.