Some time ago I heard this quotation from G. K. Chesterton: ‘When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they then become capable of believing in anything.’
When I heard that, I thought it hit the nail on the head in terms of describing our current, post-truth age. It also implied much regarding the church.
Previously if something was true, then that was it – it was simply true. No discussion or questions asked. If something could be verified and argued convincingly with evidence, then it was true.
That isn’t really the case anymore. The phrase you’ve probably often heard is, ‘That might be true for you, but it isn’t true for me.’ Or, ‘That’s your truth.’
Six or nine?
Truth thus becomes relative rather than objective – subject to change depending on your perspective. The illustration is given of two men standing over a ‘9’ written on the ground. One man argues that it’s the number six, whilst the other man (standing opposite) argues that it’s the number nine.
Granted, perspective and difference of opinion are real and important. But this can go too far and reach the extent that no objective truth claims are admissible at all. Truth is not tied to individual perspective but remains independent of it. There are a range of perspectives on certain issues, but to let that ambiguity dilute the meaning of evidence-based truth is unwise.
The reason I was so struck by the Chesterton quote was that I see what he was warning us about all around us today. The UK can largely be described as a post-Christian country. People are beyond Christianity – they think they know what it is, and what Christians believe, and they have cast it off in their minds as nonsense. At least, some have.
But if you dig around a little, it transpires that few people know what biblical Christianity is really about. The critics and sceptics haven’t actually asked questions but have come to conclusions based on preconceived ideas – never a good thing to do.
People can reject Christianity without giving the evidence a thought, but will happily subscribe to a form of mysticism that has no evidence. Or people will gladly give credence to their own feelings rather than their God-given common sense and reason.
Our world is rapidly declining to a state where truth is a myth, where evidence is not required for facts, and where the nonsensical becomes common belief and practice. We need to recover truth.
‘What it means to me’
But this isn’t only an issue in the wider secular world: there are elements of this in the church as well.
Let’s just think about one aspect of this. How many of us have sat in a Bible study and heard a statement beginning with, ‘To me, this passage means…’? Or how about those who are so entrenched in their views that nothing – not even sound and solid arguments based on Scripture – can convince them otherwise?
The Bible was written with specific meanings and applications. The applications of passages will need work to place them in their context in order to make them applicable today, but that does not mean that we can or should alter the meaning of a biblical text at all.
While the desire is right to have the Bible applied to an individual’s life, the application must be born out of a correct understanding of the meaning and purpose of the specific passage.
This approach also means that two people can read the same Bible passage and come away with two completely different, contradictory ideas. When it comes to the Bible, Christians need to submit to what it teaches. We cannot determine which parts of the Bible are ‘true for me’ or not, but we must recognise the truth that is being taught.
This requires more work to know why a particular passage is saying something and how it fits into the chapter, book, and the Bible as a whole. It is more work, but it will mean we are being more faithful.
From bad to worse
If we’re not careful, the post-truth trend that is ravaging the world will also creep into our churches. It can start subtly with our quiet times as we interpret and apply passages of the Bible. It can progress to the importance that we place on our feelings about doctrines, Bible passages and so on. It can end in a pulpit that is void of the Word of God and full of the opinions of man.
Over the years I have heard a lot of people say that they don’t believe a certain doctrine because they don’t like it and therefore it can’t be true. That is putting one’s own thoughts above the Bible, seeing one’s own emotions as more important than the authoritative Word of God.
This is a serious thing to consider because if we start with small hermeneutical mistakes we could progress unchecked into areas that are dangerous.
A Christian is called to know the truth and to live by it. The church is to be a community shaped by the truth of Scripture and not the so called ‘truth’ of the time we live in.
There is no such thing as ‘your truth’ or ‘my truth’. Truth is not relative. Christians should be at the forefront of the movement that points people to see the importance of knowing and standing firm in truth. Because only then will people see the truth that Jesus is the Son of God who came into the world to save sinners like you and me. Stand firm in the truth and guard it well.