J. Warner Wallace, the “cold case detective”, has become a leading Christian apologist. He brings a unique perspective to the world of faith. Having grown up in an atheist family, he didn’t come to faith until well into adulthood.
He didn’t grow up in the church, obviously. The traditional focus on personal experience and testimonies in evangelicalism was not part of his background. He didn’t come to faith through experience or the influence of personal testimonies. For him, it was simply a matter of the facts.
Wallace observes that the most popular answer people give for being a Christian is that they were raised in a Christian family. The second most popular answer people give for being a Christian is some experience that demonstrates that Christianity is true.
Wallace criticizes these bases for Christian faith because because Mormons give similar answers to explain their belief in Mormonism. The number one answer people give for being a Mormon is that they were raised in a Mormon family, and the second most popular answer is some experience that demonstrated for them that Mormonism is true.
Christians don’t think Mormonism is true, but their stories are the same as ours. Thus, Wallace concludes, experience can be a powerful thing, but it doesn’t necessarily settle the truth of the matter. People who rely on experience are relying on weak anchor to faith.
More important than experience is whether something is true.
Wallace goes on to share his testimony in the short interchange linked at the end of this article with the caveat given above – don’t put too much faith in his (or anyone else’s) testimony.
Perhaps, my favorite speech (sermon) in the Bible is Paul’s address to an elite group of people in Athens. The people in Athens were fond of spending their time “in nothing except telling or hearing something new”. (Acts 17:21) When some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers heard Paul in the marketplace, they brought him to the Areopagus.
Do you know people like that? They like to talk philosophy, but they don’t do it out of a love for the truth. They just like the intellectual challenge or the exercise of the imagination. Those conversations are ultimately unfulfilling unless truth is the object.
When Paul came to Athens, he was struck by all the idols he saw. (Acts 16:17) Athens was filled philosophies and gods of unending variety. In this way, Athens was like the modern Internet: a person might not ever exhaust all the possibilities. A person could spend a lifetime trying without ever synthesizing all the information and fitting the pieces to the puzzle of life together.
Paul cut the chase. Referencing an inscription: “To the unknown god”, Paul opened his speech with the statement, “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.” (Acts 17:23)
I love that! Paul started where they were. He started with something familiar to them, and he used it as a segue into an introduction of “[t]he God who made the world and everything in it”. There were temples everywhere in Athens, but Paul was not shy in saying that the “Lord of heaven and earth does not live in temples made by men”. (Acts 17:24)
Paul wasn’t interested in small talk, or ideas for nothing but the novelty of them.
I also love that Paul quoted Greek philosophers and poets to them. He quoted Epimenides of Crete for the proposition that “In him [the God who made the heaven and earth] we live and move and have our being”; and he quoted Aratus for that proposition that we are His offspring. (Acts 17:28)
Paul was educated, and he could speak the language of educated people. He could take poetry and use it in a sermon on God. He didn’t play their games, though. He didn’t speak just to hear himself talk. He didn’t pander to their penchant for novel ideas.
He called them to account: “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30)
Paul preached the Gospel, the good news that Jesus died for our sins, redeeming us from destruction and giving us the hope of everlasting life, but Paul lost most of his audience at that point. They weren’t interested in “dogma”. They took offense at the exclusivity of Paul’s message. They liked ideas, but they weren’t interested in truth. Sound familiar?
Truth, of course, is exclusive. That’s the nature of truth. People like the Athenians, and people who embrace post-modern thought today, don’t want to want to hear ideas that are exclusive. They want variety. They want to keep their options open, ironically even to the exclusion of truth.
A few people, though, were moved by Paul’s sermon. They wanted to hear more. Among them was Dionysius, the Areopagite. For Dionysius, Paul provided him the missing piece to the puzzle of his life.
Today I read A Slice of Humble Pie, in the newsletter, Science for the Church, by Drew Rick-Miller. This piece is noteworthy for at least two reasons. First, it models a high regard for truth (and joy in discovering it), and second, it models the integrity that is required for humility.
Truth matters, because our Father is the progenitor of all truth, and through his Word all things seen and unseen were made. (John 1:1-3) His Word, of course, “became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14) – Jesus. Thus, Jesus was able to say accurately, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6)
The statement that all things were made through the Word/Jesus, particularly speaks to the truth of science, which is the truth that we can discover in the creation. Rather than fear scientific truth, we should embrace it, as God is the creator of all things.
I like the approach of Hugh Ross to the seemingly contradictory “truths” of the Bible and science. He says that we have the book of revelation (Scripture) and the book of nature (which science reveals); if we see contradictions between them, then our understanding of one, or the other, or both must be inaccurate.
We should not hold so tightly to our assumptions and understandings that we fail to recognize and acknowledge truth. We should not fear the need to adjust our understanding because God is not the author of confusion, but the author of truth.
We are finite beings. That means that we sometimes need to hold truths in tension with each other when we don’t know how to synthesize the truth as we understand it. We do this in the hope and expectation that we will grow in our knowledge of God and the truth. If we can’t harmonize those tensions that we see today, we hope to understand them better tomorrow.
We don’t only find tensions between science and faith. We find tensions within Scripture, itself. Free will is implied in Proverbs (“In their hearts humans plan their course….” (16:9) and in the words of Jesus (“Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God….” (John 7:17)) Predestination is implied by Paul (“He predestined us for adoption as son…” (Eph. 1:5) and in the words of Jesus (“You did not choose me, but I chose you….” (John 15:16)
As finite beings, we have to recognize that our efforts to harmonize everything will likely never reach the point of comprehensive understanding and synthesis of all truth with certainty and without gaps in our understanding. If we were able to achieve such a synthesis, we would be like God… and we aren’t.
(And that was the original temptation, wasn’t it!)
Even if we highly value truth, we are going to get it wrong sometimes, and we need to be ever open and willing to acknowledge when we are wrong. This humility is also a recognition of the truth – the truth that we are finite creatures
There is freedom in valuing truth and in being humble. We don’t need to hold on stubbornly to assumptions and dogmas when we value truth and humility.
This is not to say that we should allow ourselves to be tossed about by every wind that blows. God is a rock whose foundation is secure and does not change. We can rest in that.
Sometimes, though, we build onto that foundation structures that we mistake for the very foundation, itself. We invest much of ourselves in those structures and are, therefore, tempted to cling to them when we should be letting go and embracing with humility truth as it becomes known to us that might suggest some remodeling is needed in those structures we have built.
We will never need to restructure the foundations, which are of God, but we may need wisdom to know what is foundational and what is structural. Fortunately, if anyone lacks wisdom, we simply need to ask God, who provides wisdom generously to all who ask. (James 1:5)
It’s interesting to me that, when James talks about asking God for wisdom, affirming that God will give wisdom to all who ask, he goes on to talk about humility. (James 1:9-10) We need humility (and faith) to receive anything God offers to us. James affirms this later in his letter, quoting Proverbs 3:4:
“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
“Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the public squares….”
Thus, said the Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 59:14 ESV) to the nation of Judah approximately 700 years before the new millennium that begins at 1 AD. Thus, might a modern prophet say today, over 20 years into the new millennium beginning with 2000 AD. Justice is still turned back while truth stumbles today in the public squares.
Fake news is the story of our times. We can’t trust anything written or said in the public squares. Never has so much information been available to people; but the glut of information comes without a guaranty: Buyer beware.
Indeed, information has become a commodity that is bought and sold. We get to choose our own facts. We can take our facts from Fox News, CNBC, Dailywire, Buzzfeed, and hundreds (probably thousands) of sources – served up just the way we like them.
We’ve also dispensed with the distinction between fact and opinion. Facts now are served up with ready interpretations. We used to call it “spin”, but we don’t even bother anymore. Facts are sorted for us as well, packaged together in neat bundles, with the pesky counter facts removed for our convenience.
Have you ever considered how vital truth is to justice?
Should there be any wonder that justice is turned back as truth stumbles in the public square?
“Behold, the Lord ‘s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear…. No one enters suit justly; no one goes to law honestly; they rely on empty pleas, they speak lies, they conceive mischief and give birth to iniquity…. [W]e hope for justice, but there is none; for salvation, but it is far from us. For our transgressions are multiplied before you, and our sins testify against us; for our transgressions are with us, and we know our iniquities: transgressing, and denying the Lord, and turning back from following our God, speaking oppression and revolt, conceiving and uttering from the heart lying words.”
Isaiah 59:1-2, 4, 11-13 ESV
The way to justice is the way back to God. The way to justice requires truth, honesty, integrity and righteousness.
There is so much angst in the world today. First the corona virus and now the explosion of racial tensions. The political and worldview polarization we we have experienced in recent years have been magnified as political machines ramp up for another presidential election. It even threatens to pull the church apart.
I have recently written about black lives matter and white privilege from a biblical perspective, in an attempt to redeem those phrases from a biblical point of view. I realize that those terms are loaded. The Black Lives Matter organization has a specific message and worldview that runs contrary to biblical principles at various points, but I tried to find the kernels of truth in those phrases through a biblical lens.
We run a risk in the church of getting off the narrow path of following Jesus by aligning ourselves too closely with a particular political platform, secular philosophy or other way of viewing the world that is not gospel focused. We also run a risk of falling off the narrow path the other way, by reacting in opposition to everything a particular political platform, philosophy or worldview stands, just because some of it (or even most of it) is contrary to “off”.
Truth is truth, and truth is objective. No one person or particular view is apt to be absolutely true, because we are flawed beings with limited perspective. The likelihood of one person, one church, one theology being absolutely true in every detail is not likely.
At the same time, truth is truth. It is objective, and people can see it. That means that even people who may not acknowledge the truth of the gospel may, nevertheless, accurately see some aspect of the truth.
It’s like science, the facts and evidence must be interpreted. We are all looking at the same facts and evidence, but we do not all interpret it the same way. Still, the facts and evidence are the same. We continually discover new facts and evidence that alters our interpretations of the facts and evidence we previously knew, and we sometimes discover that what we thought we knew is not accurate.
God, of course, never changes. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. Our perspective, knowledge and understanding, however, is finite and limited, and that requires we adopt a posture of humility in our understanding.
God’s Word doesn’t change, but our perspective of it changes. Think of the radical change of perspective Jesus introduced to the descendants of Abraham! God became man, came to His own people, and they didn’t even recognize Him!