What is our posture on truth?

In my last post, we examined the nature of truth. Truth is objective. Truth is discoverable. We also saw that we can stand in right relationships to both propositions (knowledge that) and persons (knowledge of). For example, we can know truly things about God and we can also know God. Moreover, since God is a thinking being and all created reality flows from his wisdom, all created things are to be understood as an outpouring of divine thought. Creation, as Kuyper colorfully describes it, “is nothing but the visible curtain behind which radiates the exalted working of his divine thinking.” [1]  Humans long for truth partly because, as finite thinking beings, we image a thinking God. We long to know and understand God and the world he has made. Ultimately, whether we are aware of it or not, the deepest longing of the heart is to be united to Jesus, the source of truth.

This more robust understanding of the nature of truth informs our posture toward truth as Christians and our posture toward teaching as Christian professors. Our posture toward truth should involve seeking, believing, submitting, living, and proclaiming. Let’s consider in greater detail each aspect to this Christ-informed posture toward truth.

Christians ought to be characterized as seekers of truth

Part of what it means to flourish as humans is to be rightly related to reality. This involves a relentless pursuit of the truth. God has provided us two books, the book of Scripture and the book of God’s works (i.e., nature), for our study. Regarding the Bible, Paul implores us to “[d]o your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who correctly handles the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15, NIV). God’s word also encourages us to learn from the world around us: “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise” (Prov. 6:6, NIV). Will we ever find the whole truth about God or the world he has made? No. The immensity of God ensures we can never know all of God. The same seems to hold regarding God’s world—it is too immense to grasp every mundane fact about it. (How many rocks are there in a crater in some distant planet in some galaxy far, far, away?) Still, as rational beings, we can know God and the world he has made truly, even if not exhaustively. This posture toward truth encourages in us (and the students we teach) a sense of wonder: we are on a path of discovery, seeking treasures of wisdom and knowledge that ultimately point to Jesus and the divine drama (Col. 2:3).

Christians ought to be characterized as believers in truth

It is fashionable these days to think that there is no objective and exclusive truth to be found. The idea is that truth is relative to individuals or culture and assertions to have found the truth are veiled power plays. The idea that truth is relative is confused. “All truth is relative” is self-defeating. There are truths to be found. As Christians, we must defend the validity of objective truth. We believe, of course, that that truth is found in Christ. But too often, we must first defend the truth of truth before we can defend the truth of Christianity. As professors, we can serve our students by helping them understand (i) the difference between matters of truth and matters of taste, (ii) that religious claims are knowledge claims (and can therefore can be true or false), and (iii) that belief in objective truth doesn’t entail intolerance. Truth by definition is exclusive. If it is true that “arsenic is poison,” then its false that “arsenic is not poison.” It isn’t arrogant to think that a proposition is objectively true and, in the case of arsenic, our belief obviously matters for our own health and well-being. The same holds for other beliefs we hold, especially when it comes to those perennial questions about life, meaning, purpose, God, identity, and morality. This posture toward truth encourages in us (and the students we teach) epistemic humility. There is truth to be found, but we could be wrong. As fallible knowers, we argue for our beliefs but remain open to the possibility that our beliefs are false or are in need of adjustment. 

Christians ought to live the truth

Jesus famously says in John 8: 31-32, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (NIV). Notice Jesus is stating a conditional: “If you hold to my teachings . . . then you will know the truth (a truth that will set you free).” Jesus is calling his would-be disciples to more that propositional assent to his teachings. We are to “hold” to his teachings. The word “hold” is meno, the same word translated as “abide” in the ESV [2]  and “remain” in the NIV in John 15:4 “Remain (abide) in me, and I will remain (abide) in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain (abide) in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain (abide) in me.” As Mark Galli summarizes,

Bearing fruit—or human flourishing—does not come from grasping intellectual insights about the nature of reality, but by entering into and remaining in a personal, intimate, mystical relationship with Jesus Christ. We abide in his person, and he abides in ours. For Jesus, truth certainly includes believing in certain truths, certain teachings, certain doctrines about ultimate reality. But that is truth as milk. The meat of truth is not a concept but a person. [3]

In Jesus we are able to connect propositional knowledge with personal knowledge. Life is found in communion with God through union with Christ. Practically, this reminds us that students don’t just want to know professors as talking heads or dispensers of knowledge. They want to know us as persons. And they want to be known. We have an opportunity to “shine like stars in the universe” (Phil. 2:15, NIV) as sacred messengers to a lost and dying world. Hold onto his teachings. Christ in you. You in Christ. For the sake of the world.

Christians ought to proclaim the truth

As Christians, we stand in a right relationship to reality. In coming to know God, we also have entered into a personal relationship with the source of all truth. As followers of Jesus, we are called to share this truth with others. “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us” (2 Cor. 5:20). In addition to commending the truth, we are called to defend the truth of Christianity with our words and action. Peter implores all believers to be ready to “give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). Likewise, Paul implores Timothy to “Guard the good deposit [i.e., the gospel] that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us” (2 Tim. 1:14). What a privilege we have! Your calling as a professor is central to your calling to be an ambassador for Christ!

May you be compelled by the love of Christ to seek, live, and proclaim the truth of Christ and the gospel story to your students, colleagues, friends, and family.

 


[1] Abraham Kuyper, Wisdom & Wonder, trans. By Nelson D. Kloosterman (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian’s Library Press, 2011), 39.

[2] Mark Galli, Beautiful Orthodoxy (Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today, 2016), 44.

[3] Ibid., 45.