In 2016, Oxford Dictionaries declared “post-truth” the international word of the year and added it to their dictionary. The action was prompted by the intense debates surrounding that year’s “Brexit” vote for Great Britain to withdraw from the European Union, the heated presidential election in the United States and controversial social movements worldwide. Oxford defines “post-truth” as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
The inference is that ours is a day when absolute truth does not exist and is not needed.
The Washington Post reported the story with this opening line, “It’s official: Truth is dead. Facts are passé.” In the shifting sands of culture, The Post’s statement accurately describes the contemporary scene. But, on the solid rock of eternal verities, truth never dies.
In the April 21, 2018, issue of the Biblical Recorder, I reported Josh McDowell’s comments on this subject in his message at the recent Truth for a New Generation conference (read the story here).
“We’ve had a total shift in what truth is and even where it comes from,” McDowell said.
The popular Christian apologist and author explained how two very different cultures are clashing. McDowell believes the differences grow out of two conflicting understandings of truth.
By way of illustration, he said most adults see truth as objective and external. It is personally discovered from authoritative sources. “But the youth culture would likely say, ‘That’s ridiculous. All moral truth is created. It is personal opinion,’” said McDowell. “This generation has no reference point for truth.”
For the first time in history, we may be living in an age when feelings overrule science, history and facts. Debates over social issues no longer hinge on facts. According to McDowell, everything is determined by “how you feel.” The concept has spread across all generations and ethnicities.
We’re seeing a widespread shift away from objective truth that signals an ominous forecast for civil order. If truth is fluid, moral laws are viewed as obsolete and civil laws are meaningless.
This is troubling! But, I fear we are witnessing an even more troubling state of affairs within Christian circles. There is evidence that some among us are equally guilty of redefining truth. We may be customizing it around ourselves rather than the God whose nature it reflects.
Let me illustrate. Throughout recent controversies in the Southern Baptist Convention, we’ve seen posts on social media and clandestine blogs purporting to expose “The Truth About … (you fill in the blank).” The subject matter mostly centers on one or more personalities the writer holds in high regard or greatly disdains. Reading the material, we are subjected to half-truths, selected pieces of truth and a heavy dose of someone’s personal opinion.
At that point, those who are committed to a biblical worldview must stop and ask some serious questions. Is the perspective of the writer based on their experiences and preferences or is there substantive truth in this article?
Eternal truth is never rooted in personal experiences or preferences. Baptists have been preaching against such relativism for generations. We’ve railed against the charismatic movement for its obvious elevation of experience above scripture in shaping its doctrines and practices. But, we may be just as guilty of twisting scripture to fit our own preferences.
When controversy erupts, the natural tendency is to take sides. In the emotion of the moment, truth becomes a casualty as we look for ways to defend our predetermined position or personal allegiances.
Emotions are temporal; they constantly change. They are not a dependable source of reality. They are not a trustworthy foundation for truth.
Personalities are temporal; not eternal. Although we hold some leaders in high regard, they are not our source of truth. The Bible is our source of eternal truth.
It is possible to have such great respect and appreciation for a person that whatever the person says or does is embraced as inerrant. That is a very dangerous posture. Earned trust does not make anyone infallible.
If we are guided by emotions, experiences and preferences, this error puts us in the same category that McDowell is exposing as a faulty worldview.
Our experience is only useful when it serves as an eyewitness testimony.
However, it is never the foundation of Christian doctrine.
In the first chapter of the letter to the church in Rome, Paul sets the context for standing strong against a world that despises truth. A key verse reads, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18, NKJV).
Many of us have preached about the “ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” – specifically those in the secular world who reject scripture. Maybe we need to give some attention to those “who suppress the truth.”
We are guilty of suppressing the truth if we misrepresent, distort, warp or alter it in any form.
A post-truth moment in Baptist life is emerging in the same manner that Oxford Dictionaries justified the need to include the word to their dictionary. It comes at a time of intense debates where preferences are used as arrows against brothers and sisters in Christ. This is not who we are called to be.
The next time you read a title that begins, “The truth about…,” don’t expect the article to live up to the headline – unless the scripture and biblical principles are accurately represented.
I pray that the damage of post-truth misconceptions on a lost world will drive us to a new passion for the One who called Himself “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6, KJV). His gospel is the great truth that must not get lost in conflicts that emerge from our personal preferences.
No one goes to the Father except through Jesus. He must be proclaimed. Let’s get back to work on our main assignment. The Great Commission is a definitive truth that we should be able to stand on together.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, NKJV).