Today's Broadcast

No Place for Truth

A Message by Alistair Begg

We are facing a culture that does not see truth as absolute, that says all paths lead to God, and that disdains the rigorous intellectual pursuit of the things of the Lord. Such darkened thinking resists the light of God's Word, and it influences the church in ways that hinder our ability to shine forth the Lord's truth. Dr. Alistair Begg looks at the threats of anti-intellectualism, relativism, and postmodernism, exhorting us to proclaim Christ as the way, the truth, and the life. Dr. Begg calls us away from a low view of truth to a view that places truth front and center in the Christian mission.

From the series: After Darkness, Light: 2015 National Conference

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. article

    The Consequences of Truth

  2. article

    The Politization of Truth: The New Sophism

  3. blog-post

    The Moment of Truth: Its Reality

The Consequences of Truth

Gene Edward Veith

Readers of Tabletalk over the last 30 years have learned a lot about theology. But they have also learned a lot about history, philosophy, and the arts. The various writers of the “Truth and Consequences” column have been writing about culture, a category that includes everything from great literature to awful TV, from family values to moral collapse. What Tabletalk has been serving up over three decades is not just Bible study but more broadly, truth.

“Truth” is a word that these days nearly always comes with quotation marks around it. Many people today believe there isn’t such a thing. There was a time when the major apologetic issue was whether it is true that God exists. Today, the apologist must deal with an even more fundamental issue, whether truth exists.

Thirty years ago, when Tabletalk first got started, truth was somewhat more popular. But, to allude to the title of a book on the subject, the last three decades have seen a significant truth decay. And a person’s or a culture’s view of truth has consequences.

In the premodern days — say, from the ancient Greeks through the rise of Christianity, the Reformation, the seventeenth century, and in some circles beyond — there were all kinds of truth. Reason leads us to some truth. Scientific experiments lead to other truths. Some truths, such as those having to do with the God of Israel, can only be known through revelation. 

But a moral principle also had the equivalent status of truth. “Thou shalt not steal” and “Thou shalt not commit adultery” were understood to be transcendent, objective, and as valid as any other fact.

Even aesthetic principles were equivalent to truth. Beauty was an objective quality in a work of art or of nature. Some works of art really were understood to be better than others. Not as just a matter of subjective personal taste, but as a matter of objective reality. “The true,” “the good,” and “the beautiful” constituted the three “absolutes.” Truth, goodness, and beauty were objectively valid categories in the external universe.

The consequences of believing in all of these different kinds of truths, plus the objective reality of morals and aesthetic standards were, to put it briefly, Western civilization. That is to say, education and law; Bach, Rembrandt, and Shakespeare; the Reformation and America. 

Then in the eighteenth century came the Enlightenment, the Age of Reason. The great range of truths became restricted to only one. Reason alone became the only authority for discerning what is true. Then, in the nineteenth century, only one kind of reason passed muster: scientific reasoning. Only what can be empirically verified through experimentation and other applications of the scientific method could have the status of truth.

This was “modernism.” In these centuries, older premodern notions, such as Christianity, with their more generous openness to different kinds of truth, still exerted their influence. But in the twentieth century, modernist scientism reigned supreme. 

This narrow-minded view of truth had consequences. If only what can be empirically sensed and measured can be true, the universe shrank to what the senses can perceive. The material world was assumed to be all there is.

Furthermore, other kinds of knowledge had to be translated into material, empirically detectable terms. No one can see a moral absolute, let alone put it in a test tube. So morality became utilitarianism: something is good if it is materially useful. 

But if modernists restricted the range of what could be considered true to only one category, the postmodernists — whose reign began in the 1960s and became dominant when Tabletalk was first getting started — took the next step.

Postmodernists believe there are no absolutes at all. Truth is not a discovery, but a construction. Some say that truth is a cultural construction, so that our beliefs about reality are all forced on us as we grow up in a culture. We think what and how we do because of our culture, and those notions, in turn, are expressions of power, allowing one group (males or whites or heterosexuals or humanoids) to oppress another group (women or racial minorities or gays or animals). Others say that truth is an individual construction, that by our will we create our own reality, so that what is true for you may not be true for me.

Believing that truth is nothing more than a construction has consequences: Morality is “pro-choice”; there is no moral principle applicable to everyone, so whatever a person “chooses” is right for him or her. 

In religion, whatever a person “chooses” to believe is right for that person. Religion has to do not with what is true, but what one wants. All religions are equally valid. And truth has nothing to do with it.

In education, if there is no truth, what is there to teach and what is there to learn? Thus our current educational crisis.

Tabletalk reminds us that despite our personal and cultural denials, truth exists after all. And that Christians can be confident that truth is on God’s side.

The Politization of Truth: The New Sophism

R.C. Sproul

In October of 1991, the American people were riveted to the drama of the Supreme Court nomination of Clarence Thomas. Then, a twist of biting irony took place when Anita Hill emerged with allegations of sexual harassment. After Professor Hill testified before a watching world, Clarence Thomas reappeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

But something had changed. A marked contrast appeared in the demeanor of Judge Thomas from what he described as his "real" confirmation hearing. Thomas was angry. Sensing that his appointment to the Court was lost and that he had nothing else of a political nature to lose, he waded into the fray with fists flying. Gone was the elusive, evasive, "politically correct" respondent. Now Thomas spoke with the candor of fury, accusing those who sat in judgment on him of a "high-tech lynching." Thomas was obviously unconcerned about further alienating his antagonists.

I don't know if Thomas spoke the truth. I know, however, that he spoke differently, and the nation responded positively to his less—than—cautious replies. He broke all the rules of political sensitivity and got away with it. That part, at least, was a breath of fresh air, a political aggiornamento (a Latin term used by Pope John XXIII meaning "to open the windows") in an atmosphere of choking blue smoke.

Politics in America has degenerated to the nadir of the rhetoric of sophistry. It was not truth that kindled the spark that brought Socrates to the fore in Athens. It was the sophists of antiquity with their multitude of empty phrases and vacant words designed for persuasion. The "gadfly of Greece" was convinced that sophism was a clear and present danger to the very survival of civilization, and that made him willing to drink the bitter dregs of hemlock to sound his protest.

Socrates, with his protegé Plato, and in turn, Plato's most gifted student, Aristotle, restored truth over perception and science over political opinion, and delayed the disintegration of Western civilization.

With the advent of Christianity, the quest for ultimate truth and the priority of ethics over vested interests conquered the new pragmatism of Roman morals.

Now, however, it seems that once again civilization is threatened by neo-sophism. To understand this, we need a brief recapitulation of ancient sophism. Sophism emerged in ancient Greece after science and philosophy reached an impasse in the metaphysical tension between Parmenides and Heraclitus.

Parmenides postulated a land of metaphysical monism by declaring the ultimacy of being with his famous maxim, "Whatever is, is." He rejected the physical world of changing entities as being ephemeral and illusory.

Heraclitus responded by asserting the ultimacy of change, arguing that whatever is, is changing. The only thing permanent is change itself. Everything is always and everywhere in a state of flux.

This metaphysical debate left the public with a collective Excedrin headache. The man in the street reasoned, "If these two titans of theoretical thought cannot agree, how can we ever resolve such ultimate issues?" Ultimate truth was then deemed unknowable and equally unnecessary. What was left was the pragmatic concerns of daily living.

The cry of the sophist was, "Give us some news we can use." Ultimate truth is not possible; what matters is the here and now in my political situation. Sophism gave rise to "how to" schools that majored in the art of political expediency. The new science of rhetoric became popular. This "science" was not concerned about discerning truth through argument and debate. Rather, rhetoric stressed the importance of political persuasion. Whatever is persuasive is true. Science was reduced to popularity opinion polls. Does this sound familiar? Sophism became equated with superficiality where truth and ethics were relativized and politicized.

Western civilization experienced a renaissance of culture with the emergence of modern forms of democracy. The supreme model for the new experiment was the republic of the United States. It was formed not as a pure democracy but as a republic. The difference between a pure democracy and a republic is crucial, though this difference is being more and more obscured with each passing day. The republic is defined as "rule by law," whereas a pure democracy is defined in terms of majority rule. The chief safeguard of a republic is embodied in a constitution that guarantees certain rights to every person in the society, individual rights that may not be usurped via a tyranny of the majority.

When the American experiment began the Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville warned of two eventualities that could destroy the plan. Both involved the threat of the politicization of economics. He said that when people discover that the vote is worth money, the republic is in trouble (bribes and financial support can corrupt statesmen and turn them into prostituted politicians); and when people discover that they can vote for themselves largess from the government, it's over.

What de Tocqueville apparently did not anticipate was the politicization of education. Once economics is politicized, the public education system follows. We are accustomed to distinguishing in our culture between public schools and private schools. Perhaps a more accurate designation for "public schools" is "government schools," or more precisely, "politicized schools."

The relativization of higher education philosophy was documented by Allen Bloom's book The Closing of the American Mind. Now, the politization of American higher education is documented in the recent work of Dinesh D'Souza entitled Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus. D'Souza traces the pattern of the new sophism as it has moved through institutions such as Stanford, Harvard, Duke, and other universities that had achieved the highest level of credibility in education. Now, hiring policies, entrance policies, and curricula are being reshaped by a left-wing activistic political agenda.

The book jacket asserts: "Student activists march under the banners of pluralism and diversity. They have demanded an admissions policy based not on academic merit but on ethnic representation; a curriculum and faculty assembled not by intellectual standards but by race and gender categories; and sensitivity training which borders on the totalitarian in its invasive insistence on a new social and political orthodoxy."

The structural innovations D'Souza documents are as scary as they are silly. The politics of intimidation are used to enforce a radically leftist political agenda on liberal arts education. D'Souza did well on exposing the illiberal character of this movement. We need a new Socrates who would prefer hemlock to such a distortion of the academic enterprise.

The Moment of Truth: Its Reality

Steven Lawson

During the trial of Jesus, Pontius Pilate asked a question that has resounded through the ages: "What is truth?" That is the key question for today, when the idea of absolute truth is increasingly and soundly rejected in our culture. To help us understand what's at stake, we're examining the conversation between Jesus and Pilate in John 18. In the first post, we looked at the rejection of God's truth as that which lies behind all sorts of evil in society today. This post will look at the reality of truth. Let us look at our passage again:

Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm." Therefore Pilate said to Him, "So You are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice." Pilate said to Him, "What is truth?" (John 18:36–38a)

Jesus says, "For this I have been born and for this I have come into the world." Here, in part, is the reason for the incarnation. Ultimately, the reason for the incarnation is the cross upon which Christ died. But He also came to bear witness to the truth, to testify, to teach, to declare, to assert, to affirm the truth. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6). In that statement, Jesus claims to have a monopoly on the truth. He is the truth. There is no truth outside of the Lord Jesus Christ. And there is no way to be on the way except to believe the truth, and there is no way to have the life except to receive the truth. What is truth? In one word, truth is reality. Truth is the way things really are. Truth is not how things may appear to be. Truth is not what we want things to be. Truth is not what popular opinion polls say things are. Truth is the way things really are. So let us look at a few characteristics that help distinguish and define the truth.

Truth Is Divine

Truth does not come from this world. It does not arise from society and culture. Rather, truth comes down from above. It comes from God, who is truth and who reveals His truth to us. Truth is the self-disclosure of God's own being and God's own nature. God is the author of all truth because God is the truth. All things are measured by God Himself—by Himself—to determine what is in conformity with truth and what is non-truth. God is the final judge of all truth. Romans 3:4 says, "Let God be found true, though every man be found a liar."

Truth Is Absolute

Truth is sovereign. Truth reigns over all. Truth is the definitive standard by which everything is measured. Truth is never relative. It is never arbitrary. It is never conditional. Everything outside the truth is a lie. Jesus said of the religious leaders of that day and those who followed them: "You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies." (John 8:44). Ultimately, there are only two fathers and two families in the world. There is God the Father, and all those who are of God are in His family, and they hear the truth. And there are those who are of their father the devil, and they hear the lies of Satan.

Truth Is Objective

Truth is propositional. Truth is conveyed in clearly defined words—and words that have a definite meaning. Truth is black and white. Truth is narrowly defined by God's Word. Truth is rational. Truth is not subjective. Truth is fact; it is not feeling. Truth is contained in the written Word of God. Psalm 119:160 says, "Your word is truth." Jesus said the same thing in John 17:17. Truth is found in specific words with specific meaning in the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of the living God.

Truth Is Singular

As Jesus represents the truth here in John 18, He speaks of the truth. When He says "the truth," not only is He stating that it is objective and authoritative, but He is saying that it is singular. All truth from the mind of God fits perfectly together, and there is never any contradiction. What God says to one generation is true for every generation. The Bible speaks with one voice. It sets forth one plan of salvation, makes one diagnosis of the problem of the human condition, presents one history of redemption, and offers one Savior. All of the sixty-six books of the Bible hang together. If you pull a thread in Genesis, your Bible will crinkle in Revelation. Though there are forty-plus authors, writing over a period of sixteen hundred years, there is one primary Author who used secondary authors to record what is in this book—it is the infallible truth of God.

Truth Is Immutable

Truth never changes. What was true in the Garden of Eden is true throughout the Old Testament, is true in the times of Christ, is true in the expansion of the church, is true down through the centuries, and it is true today because God never changes. He is "the same yesterday and today and forever" (Heb. 13:8). It is this eternal, immutable, unchanging God who speaks truth, and when God speaks truth, it flows from his own nature and what God says never changes. His Word "is settled in the heavens" (Ps. 119:89), and the "the word of our God will stand forever" (Isa. 40:8). The truth is always the same from generation to generation. Society may try to redefine morality, culture may try to reclassify right and wrong, but truth never changes.

Truth Is Authoritative

When the truth speaks, God speaks. John Calvin used to say, quoting Augustine, that when the Bible speaks, God speaks. His written Word is authoritative. It makes demands upon our lives. Truth is never just interesting. Truth is never intended to merely provoke our curiosity. No, truth is assertive. Truth has the right to make demands upon our lives because it is the truth of God. Truth possesses the right to rule our lives.

Truth Is Powerful

Truth alone convicts. The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, able to pierce the division of soul and spirit and to expose the innermost thoughts of man. Every other statement just lies on the surface. Only truth can bore down and penetrate into the very heart of a person, exposing their hearts before God and allowing them to see themselves as God sees them. Truth saves. There is in truth the very germ of life. And when that seed of truth is received into the heart by faith, it germinates by sovereign regeneration, and there is life. We have been "born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God" (1 Peter 1:23). Truth sanctifies. It conforms us into the image of Christ. Truth encourages. Truth comforts.

Truth Is Determinative

Your eternal destiny is determined by the truth. Your relationship to the truth will determine where you will spend all eternity. Your relationship to the truth will determine whether you are in heaven or in hell forever. Your relationship to the truth will chart the course of your life in this world. Your relationship to the truth will define your family. It will direct your business. It will be a lamp unto your feet and a light unto your path. Your entire life is marked by the truth. Everything that does not measure with the truth is a façade. Only once the truth has spoken may we understand what true reality is.

This is the reality of the truth. In our next blog post, we will consider the reception of the truth.

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