God created us to be nourished on goodness, truth, and beauty. Truth sets us free. Goodness makes us whole. Beauty calls us home. Each of these transcendentals (as they are called by philosophers) find their source in Jesus. All truths discovered, all knowledge gained, point to Jesus. Jesus is the good in all good things and the beauty of all beautiful things. Part of our job as Christian professors is to serve as guides on the human quest for goodness, truth, and beauty, a quest that finds its fulfillment in Jesus.

Over the next few months, I’ll be exploring the nature of goodness, truth, and beauty to see what implications we might find for our teaching. The desire is to point others to Jesus with our teaching and our lives. But how? Does this mean we begin or end each classroom session with a bible study or prayer? Or find a proof text from Scripture to support our claims about engineering or physics or sociology or education? The answer is surely no. But, when we expand our vision of truth, goodness, and beauty, we find rich avenues of connection to the gospel story that can nourish our student’s souls and set them on the path to God.

In this post, we’ll consider the nature of truth and in the next our posture toward truth.

There is widespread confusion today about the nature of truth. In 2016, Oxford Dictionaries named “post-truth” the word of the year. Post-truth, according to Oxford Dictionaries, is defined as follows:

Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief. [1]

Post-truth is an adjective that describes (accurately) the cultural mood toward facts today, especially in politics and religion. We are guided more by our emotions and opinions than appeals to evidence and facts. The problem is our emotions and opinions just aren’t reliable guides to truth. Worse, given wide-spread anti-intellectualism, the now dominant lack of concern for truth can lead to confusion over the nature of truth. So, what is truth?

The commonsense and pre-philosophical view of truth is that truth obtains when our belief or statement or thought corresponds to the way things are. Truth obtains when we stand in the right relationship to an idea. If I say, “the moon is made of green cheese” I speak falsely. I’ve misplaced my ontologically predicate as Mortimer Adler colorfully put it, “putting ‘is’ where one should put ‘is not.’” [2]  If I believe that “water is composed of hydrogen and oxygen” I believe truly since water really is composed of hydrogen and oxygen. My ontological predicates accurately connect mind and world. On this ancient (and commonsensical) way of looking at things, truth is something we discover. We do not manufacture truth. Truth is not “whatever works” or relative to individuals or cultures. Rather, there is a ready-made world and we stand in right relationship to that world when our mind conforms to reality.

But there is another aspect to truth. Jesus famously and provocatively says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Surely Jesus doesn’t mean that he—a person—is an abstract idea or doctrine. What Jesus proclaims in John is that truth itself—or better, himself—has come. There is another way of knowing in addition to propositional knowing that, and this other way is, in fact, more ultimate. Truth is not only propositional; it is also personal. We can know about God (propositional knowledge) and, importantly, we can know God (personal knowledge).  Part of the good news offered in Christianity is that at rock-bottom reality is relational. The triune God exists and his love and generosity have spilled out into creation. Because of Jesus, we can now stand in a right relationship to God too!

So, how can this twofold nature of truth (as propositional and personal) inform our teaching? For starters, it helps us look with anticipation for connections between the things we study and Jesus and the gospel. Everything connects to the divine in some way. The connections might not be obvious, but they are there! The great Dutch theologian and statesman Abraham Kuyper puts it this way: “there can be nothing in the universe that fails to express, to incarnate, the revelation of the thought of God. . . . The whole creation is nothing but the visible curtain behind which radiates the exulted workings of this divine thinking.” [3]  It also frees us in teaching. Truth is not determined by public opinion polls or the emotional moods of the day. Guided by the conviction that truth is a matter of conformance to reality, in teaching the truth about physics or sociology or anthropology or whatever, we invite others along the way on the path that terminates in Jesus Christ. We also teach them how to properly be truth-seekers. It doesn’t mean they will stay on the path, but we can and do play a role, in helping them learn and love the truth, and hopefully one day, the source of truth. Finally, in locating all truth in God and the gospel story, our posture toward truth, learning, and wisdom changes. We learn to connect all of life, including our learning and teaching, to Jesus and the gospel. We follow the divine Logos (John 1:3) in whom are found all treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3). This should excite us. It should move us. And as we are moved, we’ll be better teachers—inviting others to find joy in discovery and solid food along the way to Jesus.

 


[1] https://www.oxforddictionaries.com/press/news/2016/12/11/WOTY-16

[2] Mortimer J. Adler, Six Great Ideas (New York: Macmillan, 1981), 33.

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