Discerning Truth in a World of Fake News and False Views
By Cody Guitard, RC Chapter Director
I’m sure that the moment you read the title of this article, certain associations immediately came to mind. This is especially true when your eyes made contact with the phrase “fake news.” This tagline bears certain connotations these days and, for some people, “fake news” may be trigger words, bringing to mind certain events, media outlets, or people. And while we may make jokes and internet memes poking fun at this phenomenon, the fact of the matter is that we do indeed live in a world that is full of fake news and other false views.
The Problem of Fake News and False Views
Some people have blamed television, the internet, or their nosy neighbor for all the fake news in the world, but while such information outlets have no doubt accelerated the spread of misinformation, the problem of fake news has existed since ancient times. The problem of fake news and false views has persisted throughout our history, whether in the shape of conflicting accounts of historical events, unfulfilled predictions about the future, or false notions of what is fact and what is fiction. However, in the modern age of astounding technological advances that allow virtually any information to be accessed and spread like wildfire, it is not only impossible to take it all in, but it is also very often difficult to recognize what information is true and what is false.
Cause for concern
But we as Christians have also had our own share of fake news and false views make their way into the church, infiltrating our congregations, oftentimes ever so subtly, in the form of false teachings contrary to biblical Christianity. This should be deeply concerning for us, for Christianity by nature has a deep concern for truth.
The earliest known fake news report traces back to ancient Egypt when, in the 13th century BC, Rameses the Great falsely propagated the idea that the Egyptians achieved a great victory in the Battle of Kadesh when, in reality, the battle actually ended in a stalemate. See William Weir, History’s Greatest Lies: The Startling Truths Behind World Events Our History Books Got Wrong (Beverly: Fair Winds Press, 2009), 28-41. Weir calls the battle “at best a face-saving draw” (30).
The Centrality of Truth in the Christian Faith
One does not have to dig too deeply into the pages of Scripture to see the central role truth plays in Christian thought: the Christian worldview claims to be true (Luke 1:1-4; John 20:30-31; Acts 17:24-31; Rom. 1:18-20; 1 Cor. 15:1-9), the gospel message claims to be true (Gal. 2:5; Eph. 1:13; Col. 1:5), Jesus Christ claims to be the truth (John 14:6; cf. John 1:14, 17; 18:37), the Holy Spirit claims to be the Spirit of truth (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13; 1 John 4:6; 5:6), and God’s Word claims to be truth (2 Sam. 7:28; 1 Kings 17:24; Ps. 119:43, 142, 151, 160; John 17:17; 2 Cor. 6:7; Jam. 1:18; Rev. 21:5; 22:6).
Furthermore, Christians are to believe the truth (John 8:32; 1 Cor. 13:7; Eph. 1:13; 2 Thess. 2:13-15; cf. John 20:30-31; 1 Cor. 15:1-9), be grounded in the truth (Eph. 6:14; Titus 1:9; 2 Pet. 1:12), speak the truth (Ex. 20:16; Ps. 15:2; Prov. 8:7; 12:17, 22; Zech. 8:16; Eph. 4:15, 25), teach the truth (2 Cor. 4:2; 2 Tim. 2:15; Titus 2:1), rejoice in the truth (1 Cor. 13:6), love in truth (1 John 3:18), live according to the truth (Ps. 25:5; 2 John 4), and worship in truth (Ps. 145:18; John 4:24). We are, in fact, saved by the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ (John 8:31-32).
Central to our beliefs
It should be clear, then, that the centrality of truth is foundational to biblical Christianity and should run through the veins of the church. Unfortunately, however, despite Scripture’s focus on the centrality of truth, many Christians today have failed to consistently practice biblical discernment in their daily lives, leaving them susceptible to a world of fake news and false views that can be detrimental to their faith.
Warnings to the Undiscerning
Christians today have been all too quick to accept anyone and anything which bears the “Christian” label. Whether it be some new teaching circulating in the church, the newest book to hit the shelves of the Christian bookstore, something a celebrity said that just sounded so spiritual and even Christian, or the latest song to pop up on the Christian radio station, many of us have fallen into the trap of not taking the time to critically examine what we hear before accepting it. And yes, I do believe it is just that: a trap—one set by the father of lies himself.
Suited to your own passions
We are told time and time again in Scripture that not everyone or everything that claims to be or even has the appearance of being of God is, in fact, of God (2 Cor. 11:13-15; 2 Tim. 3:5; Titus 1:16). The early church father Irenaeus rightly said: “Error never shows itself in its naked reality, in order not to be discovered. On the contrary, it dresses elegantly, so that the unwary may be led to believe that it is more truthful than truth itself.” We are even warned in 2 Timothy 4:3-4 that “the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
Specific warnings against falsities
Scripture is also chocked full of specific warnings about false messiahs (Matt. 24:24); false prophets (Ezek. 13:9; Jer. 23:16; Matt. 7:15-20; 24:24; Luke 6:26; 1 John 4:1; cf. 2 Pet. 1:19-21; 2:1-22); false teachers (Matt. 16:11-12; Acts 20:28-30; Rom. 16:17-18; 1 Tim. 1:18-20; 2 Tim. 2:16-18; 4:3-4; Titus 1:9-16; 2 Pet. 2:1; 3:16); false apostles (2 Cor. 11:13-15); false disciples (Matt. 7:21-23); false doctrine (Eph. 4:14; 2 Thess. 2:1-12; 1 Tim. 1:3-4; 2 Tim. 2:16-18; 4:3-4; Titus 1:9-11; Heb. 13:9; 2 Pet. 2:1-22; 3:17); and false gospels (Gal. 1:6-9). Such falsities were a danger not only to the early church but has been a persistent danger to all believers throughout history.
The Bible quite bluntly calls those who do not practice discernment about these things simple, naïve, gullible, and childish (Prov. 14:15; Rom. 16:18; 1 Cor. 14:20; cf. Prov. 8:5). Scripture commands us to test everything (1 John 4:1), and Jesus in His ministry commanded that we must “not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” (John 7:24).
How, then, do we judge rightly? In a world of fake news and false views, how are we to distinguish between truth and falsity? How do we discern what is true and what is false?
Quoted in Justo L. González, The Story of Christianity—Volume I: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation, 2nd ed. (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2010), 69.
Learn more about the cultural battle on college campuses
by Neil Shenvi
“No more old white men!” The Pulse nightclub shooting. Feminist glaciology.
What do these incidents have in common? We might have a vague sense that they are somehow connected to “political correctness,” but may assume that no deeper ideology is at work. Perhaps they capture a kind of 21st-century progressive zeitgeist, but are otherwise unconnected.
Read more in Neil Shenvi’s book, exclusive to Ratio Christi
How to Discern Truth and Falsity
Scripture tells us that the final authority for discerning all matters of truth and falsity is God’s revealed truth (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 1 John 4:1-6). To clarify, this is not to say that there is no truth outside of Scripture, nor that we cannot discern any truth without the aid of Scripture. In fact, according to Scripture itself, there is much truth, knowledge, and even wisdom that can be gleaned from outside Scripture. The author of Proverbs 6:6-8, for example, tells us to observe the ant to gain wisdom about productivity. Paul tells us in Romans 1:18-20 that we can learn certain truths about our Creator through the study of His creation. The apostle again tells us in Philippians 3:17 that we can learn how to live rightly from the example of others. And in Paul’s sermon in Athens, recorded for us in Acts 17:22-34, we find the apostle himself drawing from the thought of Greek philosophers to make an intellectual case for the truth of Christianity (see vv. 27-28).
But the key point to remember when receiving information from outside of divinely revealed truth such as we have in Scripture is this: extra-biblical truth will not contradict biblical truth (1 John 4:6). This is because truth is by nature objective, absolute, and non-contradictory. Since the Bible is God’s Word and God cannot lie (Titus 1:2; Heb. 6:18) or teach what is false (Ps. 119:60; John 17:17; Rom. 3:4), it follows that everything God’s Word teaches is true and anything opposed to it is false.
A key text on this matter—though certainly not the only one—is 1 John 4:1-6, in which the apostle John emphasizes to his readers the need to test everything in light of the importance of believing God’s truth and shunning satanic falsehood. He provides two tests for discerning between true and false teachers, and between true and false doctrine: (1) truth will be consistent with God’s specially revealed truth in the person of Jesus Christ, who is made known to us in Scripture (1 John 4:2; cf. John 18:37); and (2) truth will be consistent with God’s specially revealed truth in Scripture (1 John 4:6). This is how we are to test everything, to discern what is true and what is false: We are to test everyone and everything against the divinely revealed truth found in the person of Jesus Christ and in God’s inerrant, infallible, indestructible, imperishable, inspired, and authoritative Word.
The Bible is the canon, rule, or standard of discerning truth from falsity, and rather than allowing ourselves to become conformed to the pattern of the world by uncritically accepting anything and everything it offers us, we must be transformed by the renewing of our minds (cf. Rom. 12:2) and show wise discernment with our feet firmly rooted in God’s revealed standard for truth. We must be like the noble Bereans, searching the Scriptures every day to see if what we are being told is true (Acts 17:10-11).
Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” My friends, we need to study Scripture. We need to know and understand the standard of truth which God has given to us. This is how we will combat falsity. This is how we will discern truth in a world of fake news and false views.
For a systematic case for the Bible being God’s Word, see Norman L. Geisler, Christian Apologetics. 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013).
LEARN MORE ABOUT
Cody holds a B.Sc. in Biology and a Youth Leadership Certificate from Crandall University, and an M.A. in Apologetics (concentration in Scientific Apologetics) from Southern Evangelical Seminary. He is currently pursuing a Master of Theological Studies through Tyndale Seminary. He is the author of several articles on apologetics-related issues and does itinerant preaching and speaking engagements. Cody currently lives in Moncton, NB, Canada with his wife, Kathy.
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