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Tf-703


'That's Your Truth, I've Got My Own'


 



Society sees faith asamatterof personal opinion, not objective truth.

by Douglas Groothuis


 


ou Christians are always judging others," young man said after reading the tract I gave him. "Don't you know that all ways are right? How can you say your way is the only way? You're so self-righteous!"

We talked briefly about Christ and truth, but he wasn't interested. For him, all roads lead to God. The only sin is putting up roadblocks, and / was putting up a king-sized one. I had no right to judge someone else's truth; every­one picks his own.


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21


With so many

competing

claims, how can

one be THE truth?

We live in a pluralist society Various religions, world views, and ideologies exist side by side and are more abun­dant than television channels. But no one world view dominates our culture. We rub shoulders with Baptists and Buddhists, Mormons and Mennonites, Christian Reformed and Christian Scientists.

With so many competing claims to truth, how can any one of them claim to be the truth? The sheer number of reli­gious options dissolves their credibility. For any one of them to claim a monopo­ly on truth is — well, anti-pluralistic.

Douglas Groothuis is research associate with Probe Center Northwest in Seattle. He is the author of Unmasking the New Age (InterVarsity).


"Open the phone book to 'churches' and look at all of them!" says a friend of mine. "How could you ever know you picked the right one?" So he doesn't try.

He's right, however; there is a lot of religious diversity. And because of that, many people are unwilling to discuss their faith. Faith has become a strictly personal, private matter that, if dis­cussed at all, shouldn't be "rammed down people's throats." So we have politicians who say they're privately against abortion but publicly support abortion rights.

Religion has become little more than cultural tradition or personal habit rath­er than objective truth — knowable facts about God, humanity, and salva­tion. If something makes you "feel good" or "works for you," fine. Just don't hit me over the head with it. I've found something else.

We're* urged to attend the "church of our choice"; it doesn't matter which one, any one will do.

So most people refuse to consider the facts of Christianity, especially Christ's death and resurrection. They don't want to be bothered. What they feel is true is more important than what is in fact true. Faith is a "religious pref­erence" or "lifestyle," a matter of.per­sonal opinion, not established fact.

Pluralism once meant religious liber­ty Today it means that no religion can


claim sole possession of the truth. Peo­ple say there is no such thing as exclu­sive truth and will not tolerate a narrow-minded Christianity that claims to be the only way. But the fact is, Christians feel at peace with God only because it is theological fact that Christ died for their sins.

The idea that there are many ways to God, or many truths, is nonsense. Ei­ther God exists or he doesn't; my feel­ings or opinion has nothing to do with it. God said, "I am who I am," not "I am what you believe I am." Either Christ is God or he isn't — whether we be­lieve it or not. "Let God be true, and every man a liar" (Rom. 3:4).

As one philosopher said, "Logic stands independent of our whims." The mushroom eater who says, "I pick and eat any mushroom I want, whatever I feel is right at the time," won't feel much for long. Many kinds of mush­rooms are deadly. If he eats a poisonous mushroom, he will die. There is only one truth.

"Christ is true for you," the student said to me. "If you believe it, then it's true for you!"

"No!" I said. "I'm saying that Chris­tianity is true and I believe it. It's not true because I believe it. It's true whether anyone believes it or not. At least understand what it claims."

"Look," he sneered, "if it's true for you, fine; but it's not true for me."

Softening the Gospel

Because truth seems so elusive, many people hesitate to adopt any con­victions. They call it "being open-mind­ed." Everything, including the gospel, might be true, and they end up, as C.S. Lewis said, with "a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing together in their heads." Each entree in the smorgas­bord makes for good fare, as long as you don't make it a steady diet.

When I received Christ, my friends thought it was just a "phase," some­thing to experiment with for a while. I certainly wouldn't stick to it. That would be too narrow-minded. They couldn't understand that the gospel is a radical call to lifelong obedience to a sin­gle truth.

Maybe the problem is that Christians


 


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*»


aren't communicating the real gospel. Sociologist James Hunter has shown that evangelicals tend to "civilize" their faith, softening the more offensive facts of the gospel — sin, hell, God's wrath — to make it more palatable to others.

I know a Christian who told his friend that he didn't want to see such a "nice person" go to hell, but hell exists be­cause no one is, in God's sight, a nice person. Hell is an unpopular fact, but still a fact.

Jesus didn't mince words about God's holiness and justice, even when he chal­lenged the Sadducees, who didn't be­lieve in hell. Christians must speak the truth, and nothing less than the truth (Eph. 4:15).

Some Christians communicate the gospel in pragmatic terms. "It works," they say. "Let me tell you what Christ can do for you." True, Christianity works, but if people hear only how ful­filling or exciting it is to be a Christian, the gospel can be misunderstood as just another religious preference, another way to God — not the only one.

Christianity isn't true because it works; it works because it's true. "And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith" (1 Cor. 15:14).

Hardening Our Stand

A pluralistic society worships many gods and many lords. In other words, "in gods we trust." Just as Paul chal­lenged the religious plurality he found in Athens (Acts 17), so must we.

First, Christians must learn to think, refuting the "closed-minded" label we've carried for the past hundred years. All truth is God's truth, and di­rected by God's Word, Christians can seek it wherever it's found. The closed-minded bigot says, "Don't confuse me with the facts, my mind's made up." The active-minded Christian says, "Bring on the facts. I'm not afraid of them; I have the mind of Christ." Au­gustine said, "The Christian thinks in believing and believes in thinking."

Second, because Jesus said he was the only way to God, most people who say they are open-minded are not open to Christ's claims. The Christian's task


is to make them face the questions they are not asking: "Why don't you think there is absolute truth — something that is true for everybody? Doesn't be­lieving that there is no absolute truth take a lot of faith? What makes you so sure you can't be sure of what is abso­lutely true?"

The idea that there are absolutely no absolutes is a contradiction, and Chris­tians must make people face that. To reject all absolutes is to make an abso­lute statement, which is logically false.

A student once wrote a paper arguing that there were no moral absolutes. Al­though the paper deserved a high grade because of its research and thorough­ness, the professor gave him an F. When the student protested, the pro­fessor said, "Why should I give you an A? Everything is relative, isn't it?"

Truth is, by definition, exclusive. The pilot landing a packed 747 has but one option — the narrow flight path that leads to life. Deviation from that path will bring destruction. A question on a multiple-choice test has one cor­rect answer, no matter how many pos­sible answers are listed.

But the truth has to be knowable, a fact. Paul claimed that the resurrection of Christ was a world-shaking objective fact that could be verified by witnesses (1 Cor. 15:1-8), and many modern scholars have shown that Scripture is accurate and trustworthy


Third, Christians must boldly chal­lenge people's false beliefs and ideas. Yes, it's unpopular, uncomfortable, and defies the common attitude of live and let live, but lives are at stake. If some­one believes his malignant tumor is just an inflammation, he must be shown the truth. Similarly, Jesus came to divide truth from error and was not afraid to challenge the Sadducees on their under­standing of the resurrection. "You are badly mistaken!" he said.

Yet we point them to Christ, not be­cause we're right and they're wrong, but because God is offering them salva­tion. We must not destroy arguments to prove ourselves superior, but out of love, compassion, and humility to help them receive forgiveness from a holy God. ■

Christianity isn't

true because it

works; it works

because it's true.


 


MOODY/MARCH 1988


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