"I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth."
Paul has clearly stated his reason for writing Timothy in the above verses (1 Timothy 3.14-15). His statement is at odds with the prevailing relativism of a western postmodernist worldview. The church, Paul contends, is the repository of truth about the work and person of Jesus Christ. Knowledge of and acceptance of this truth is essential for all people in all places and at all times. Whatever else one may claim to be true, it is subservient to Christ who is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation (Colossians 1.15-20). This is not to minimize the importance of the empirical sciences, nor to devalue the speculations of philosophy. Yet these things may only be properly appreciated when they are understood in the context of their relationship to the purpose of creation. In this two part message, we will first consider how truth is popularly conceived and in the second part what Paul has to say about the truth of work and person of Christ.
TRUTH IN A POSTMODERN WORLD
Can anyone know right from wrong? A few years ago such a question would have raised more than a few eyebrows. Today hardly a person would claim to know the answer to that question. What does the Bible have to say about it? In a culture that is increasingly confused about morality, there are few people who speak up about moral absolutes. Relativism is the prevailing and determinative epistemology (theory of knowledge). Alan Bloom argues in his book, The Closing of the American Mind, that the open mindedness of pluralism will be the savior of western culture. (Let me add parenthetically that G. K. Chesterton said he always kept an open mind until he found something solid on which to close it.) Religiously minded people, in an attempt to be sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of others, are often seduced by an ill-founded appeal to be tolerant of the thoughts of others to recognize the obviousness that all things are somewhat relative. But the truth is that relativism is simply a variant form of anti-rationalism. It is a war against reason that has come to dominate the way in which people process information. In the academic circles of literature, social sciences and philosophy it is frequently referred to as the deconstructionist movement. Addressing this movement in education, Dinesh D’Souza commented in an issue of the Atlantic Monthly (March 1991): it is no exaggeration to say that the changes that are taking place are a revolution in ‘higher education.’ There is a kind of liberal closed mindedness that is driven by political expediency rather than a quest for truth and excellence.
Jacques Derrida, a past professor at Duke University and known as the intellectual father of deconstructionism, rejected the idea that human beings can rise above their circumstances. That is, everyone is presumed to be a product of his or her race, gender, class, and sexual orientation. All principles and standards are subordinate to political and social pressure and expediency. However, when these forces drive a culture in an ‘undesirable direction,’ it is impossible, under the terms now considered politically correct, to develop any reason to resist these social movements which are not deemed arbitrary. Of course, one cannot properly study or discuss the nuances of deconstructionism without depending on ‘un-deconstructed’ concepts. Though many people are influenced at a popular level by this system of thought, it is in the end a house of cards. It is a philosophical labyrinth that succeeds only in distorting true morality. There are no moral or ethical absolutes. There is no moral truth that transcends culture. There remains only popular consensuses of morality. The rules of relativism prohibit ethical debates. The questions that remain focus on what is politically correct. Having forsaken God’s moral absolute in the Garden of Eden (And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” – Genesis 2.16) the only thing that remains is an arbitrary indignation and a rage at subjectively perceived injustices.
BIBLICAL TRUTH AND SCIENCE
A few years ago I read John Polkinghorne’s little book, Quarks, Chaos & Christianity, and was impressed once again with the reasonableness of a biblical faith. Polkinghorne was a particle physicist and the former president of Queen’s College at Cambridge. When he retired from research and teaching he took orders to become an Anglican clergyman. Many might consider these two disciplines about as compatible as the solubility of oil and water. Of course, it is common to think of religion as a matter of the heart (or a flight of fantasy), which, by definition, is incompatible with the hard facts of science. Religion, so the argument goes, is speculative but science is investigative. The former deals with the metaphysics of the mind and the latter with the reality of the cosmos. The popular habit of segregating “truth” is nothing more than the illegitimate child of logical positivism (a philosophy which postulates that only sense perceptions can be adequate building blocks for epistemology). The fact is, truth knows of no such boundaries between science and religion. What is true of science is also true in the realm of religion. Faith is not something devoid of reason. Indeed, Paul Davies, in his book, God and the New Physics, says, “It may seem bizarre, but in my opinion science offers a surer path to God than religion.” Indeed, there is a rapidly growing list of scientists and a philosophers who have come to espouse a faith in God because the weight of scientific evidence suggests His existence. The Bible gives the only adequate definition of God (read Philosophers Who Believe, Inter Varsity Press).
It is not, as Polkinghorne readily admits, that “science works, therefore God exists, Q.E.D.” Frankly it does not seem possible either to prove or disprove God’s existence, and the Bible simply assumes it. However, the existence of the Creator explains why the world is in fact so profoundly intelligible, and there is nothing else that explains the world as we know it better than the Bible. Yet, the debate about God’s existence and character cannot be settled by an incontrovertible argument. There isn’t any such case to be made for God. However, neither is there any simple and single case to be made in science which will resolve the physics of quantum mechanics. Quantum physics is too complicated for that. And if such is the case for something so simple as this new physics (though it’s not really so new anymore), then it is reasonable to assume that the nature of God is also an issue which is too complex to quantify with some simplistic formula. That is not to say that we cannot make simple and true statements about God which a child can understand. But the ultimate nature of God is not simple. Just as we look for clues about the origin of the universe and, as a result of our inquiry, construct postulates and theorems, so too we are able to set forth truths about the nature of God and man from the evidence in creation that is apparent to all who diligently inquire after it. Moreover, the nature of the inquiry into these two fields of study is not altogether different (read Polkinghorne’s book for a further exposition of the similarities).
The Bible is not an exhaustive resource on all things, but it provides everything one needs to know about salvation. It instructs Christians how to live their lives in a manner that pleases God (2 Corinthians 7.1) and it is a logical alternative to philosophical skepticism. The Westminster Confession of Faith reads: “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men” (Chapter 1, para. 6). One may argue the truth of Scripture is supported by its internal consistency (40 authors written over a period of 1600 years). Certainly archeological discoveries also confirm the biblical witness and the prophetic passages in the Old Testament are validated in the New Testament.
Although some may argue, not incorrectly, that such reasoning is circular, such a contention is not unwarranted. The theologian Wayne Grudem says, “Everyone either implicitly or explicitly uses some kind of circular argument when defending his or her ultimate authority for belief.” Grudem cites some examples: “‘My reason is my ultimate authority because it seems reasonable to me to make it so.’ ‘Logical consistency is my ultimate authority because it is logical to make it so.’ ‘The findings of human sensory experiences are the ultimate authority for discovering what is real and what is not, because our human senses have never discovered anything else: Thus, human sense experience tells me that my principle is true’” (Grudem, Bible Doctrine, 37–38). The Christian begins where the Bible begins: In the beginning, God …
Francis Schaeffer, in his book, He is There and he is not Silent, asserts that the biblical view of creation has a personal beginning to all things. “That is, it was not by chance (evolutionary hypothesis) that we are here on this planet. It is the direct result of a God who is there and is not silent. Within this framework, why would it be unthinkable that the non-created Personal (God) should communicate with the created personal (man) in a verbalized form if the non-created Personal made the created personal a language communicating being” (p. 93)? It is not at all incongruous that a personal and loving God should wish to communicate with His own creation. To have a personal relationship with God is not a non-cognitive experience, but one where every facile agency of the mind is needed.
Having come to such a conclusion, we can reasonably assume that one can know God through his own self disclosure, namely, the Bible. Indeed I am constrained to believe that the Bible is the best starting place for knowing about God. Christians may begin with the assumption that while they may not know God exhaustively, they can know some things about him that are true. Their relationship with God is not wholly subjective. Thus, they ought not unwittingly to treat faith as an irrational belief system and subject it to inherent contradictions. Scripture advocates loving God with all of one’s mind, soul and strength. Consequently, any insistence upon the need to curb logic flies in the face of the Biblical mandate. Remember, God does not ask men to believe in their hearts that which is incompatible with their minds. In short, faith is not against reason, although the necessary consequence of revelation may require a belief in that which is beyond human experience: the Trinity, for example.
TRUTH ENTRUSTED TO THE CHURCH
The central theme of Scripture is the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ and the truth of it is entrusted to the church. The commission to hold forth the truth of the gospel is the most important task ever undertaken. It is the church’s responsibility to preserve the truth of the gospel without addition or subtraction and to propagate its message throughout the world. As Calvin observed, the church is the mother of all believers. Those who receive the truth of Christ are regenerate through the preaching of the Scriptures. It is by the word that believers are educated, strengthen and nourished throughout their lives. It is the immeasurable greatness of Christ, the limitless depth of his love and the wonder of his person and work that occupies the rarest minds of the centuries. The more one knows of Christ the better he is able to worship him.