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What is Truth?

Written by: on January 24, 2020

In John’s account of Jesus before Pilate there is an interesting exchange that I reflected on while reading this week:

Jesus answered, “For this reason I was born, and for this reason I came into the world— to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate asked, “What is truth?”[1]

The idea of truth, what truth is and why it matters, permeates Mark A. Noll’s writing in The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind and Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind. This word and the importance of it became my week’s continual ponderings. Whose truth is the truth, each person seems to have a version of it. For Jesus followers the answer is simple, the one we center our life around, his self-identification, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life…”[2] Noll challenges the Evangelicals in particular, to live out of the fullness of Christ, the Truth, understanding that all truth is God’s truth.

J.C. Sproul writes about Muslim thinkers from the Middle Ages who created the concept of double-truth theory:

 The double-truth theory argued that what was true in religion could be false in science, and what was true in science could at the same time be false in religion…Thomas Aquinas responded to the Aristotelianism of the medieval Muslim philosophers by replacing double truths with the concept of mixed articles, distinguishing nature and grace (not dividing them, as many of his critics allege). Aquinas said that there are certain truths that can be known through special revelation that are not discerned from investigation of the natural world, while at the same time there are certain truths learned from the study of nature that are not found, for example, in the Bible. One does not find the circulatory system of the human body clearly set forth in Scripture. What Aquinas was saying was that there are certain truths that are mixed articles, truths that can be known either from the Bible or by a study of nature. Among those mixed articles, he included the knowledge of the existence of a Creator. The fundamental point, of course, that Aquinas was arguing, in agreement with his  famous predecessor, Augustine, was that all truth is God’s truth, and that all truth meets     at the top. If science contradicts religion, or if religion contradicts science, at least one of them must be wrong. There have been times in history where the scientific community has corrected not the Bible but poor interpretations of the Bible, as we saw in the Galileo scandal. On the other hand, biblical revelation can act as intellectual brakes upon scientific theories that are groundless.[3]

This is part of the argument Noll is making and the challenge he gives to Evangelicals, do not turn off your brains! Do not scoff at science, the natural world and the other disciplines. Recognize they are all part of God’s world. If the Church is to have a voice we must be part of the conversation about all truth, affirm what is and challenge what is not. We must believe the solutions needed for the social, political, economic and other maladies of our day can be found in the mind of Christ which he gives to the Church. I found myself continually asking, “What are we afraid of?”

Has the wisdom of God been given to the “unlearned and ignorant?” Yes, scripture is clear that it is not the knowledge and wisdom of the world or those believing they have found such, to be who God has revealed the mysteries to. Yet does it have to be either/or? Does one need to set aside the intellect in order to receive such revelation?

God certainly reveals his mysteries to the unlearned but he also told us to, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.[4] (italics added) Why would he include the mind if it were not a significant part of who we are and our influence in the world? Could it be that including it in this way is intended to say, “Use your mind, engage the conversations and concerns of culture, do so with the mind of Christ. Know that all truth is God’s truth. In other words, it’s not yours. You do not own it. You have been given a gift of insight and understanding which you are to use for the good of others and our world.”

The link between Noll’s two books is found in the word humility. Reviewer Phillip Byers describes this as the “one concept that unifies all of Noll’s content.”[5] In Scandal Noll challenges and grieves over the anti-intellectualism of Evangelicalism and in Life he addresses the opposite in which some have leaned upon intellectualism only to show disdain for those who are unlearned. Paul warned about this when he said, “Knowledge puffs up while love builds up.”[6] Linked together Noll’s writings reminds the Church of its history, presses us to re-engage the world of knowledge and not use certain scriptures as an excuse for anti-intellectualism. At the same time, he argues that all truth is found in having the mind of Christ for the sake of the world. Not for the sake of knowing which leads to arrogance or isolation from the world which we have been called to influence.

As a Regent University, Wheaton University professor and church historian, Noll has been in the bastion of Evangelicalism so he is not an outsider throwing rocks. Rather, he is a concerned insider who is inviting the Church to a different future than our recent past. Are we prepared to answer Pilate?

 

[1] John 8:37a-38b NIV

[2] John 14:6a NIV

[3] https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/all-truth-gods-truth-sproul/

[4] Matthew 22:37 NIV

[5] Philip D. Buyers, “Jesus Christ Is the Life of the Mind: A Review of Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (1994) and Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind (2011).” Christian Higher Education 12, no. 3 (2013): 229-38.

[6] I Corinthians 8:1-3 NIV

About the Author

mm

Tammy Dunahoo

Tammy is a lover of God, her husband, children and grandchildren. She is the V.P. of U.S. Operations/General Supervisor of The Foursquare Church.

10 responses to “What is Truth?”

  1. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Tammy,
    Thanks for another splendid post. As a fellow member of the Pentecostal stream, I so appreciate Noll’s admonition to “not turn our brains off.” I love how you brought out the humility emphasized in Noll’s second book. Both of his books taken together, perhaps express the both/and the Apostle Paul was trying to get the church at Corinth to understand. Thanks so much for the breadth and depth of your perspective.

    • mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

      Thanks, Harry. I often say we have “either/or” disease and the cure is “both/and” in many situations. One is small thinking, dualistic, closed, while the other opens to a myriad of possibilities which sounds much more like the character of God.

  2. mm Mary Mims says:

    Tammy, I love your, “don’t turn off your brains!” comment. I feel like screaming this at many Christians who are waiting for a sign to move or make any kind of decision. I thank God for the advances made and the fact that we can further the cause of education for evangelicals. I’m glad I’m on the journey with you.

    • mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

      I laughed when I read your comment. I think I did scream at someone this week while reading his email response to a situation that reflected the kind of situation you described (gratefully he couldn’t hear me through the computer :-)).

      I too am glad we are on this journey together. All of us have responsibility for the knowledge we are gaining to practically put it to good use in the Church, for her good.

  3. Mario Hood says:

    As always great post. We can no longer live behind because the Bible says so. The next-gen doesn’t even know what the Bible is! At the same time we don’t base our faith on reason but the revelation of the person of Christ. Hence, as you said we can’t “turn off our brains” but neither “neglect our faith”. I think we are starting to see leaders like yourself, show us we can do both.

    • mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

      Thank you, Mario. A critical acknowledgement the Church must make is that God’s truth extends beyond Scripture. That people who do not accept Jesus as Lord may still know some of His truth in the natural world. The fear that drives some only confirms the next generation’s disdain for what they see and hear. Again I ask, what are we afraid of? Why do we keep boxing God in?

  4. mm Rhonda Davis says:

    Well said, Tammy. Your post points to why it is so refreshing when we encounter someone whose mind is strong and developed, yet also deeply values God’s miraculous work in the current world. In my post, I reference Dallas Willard. He strikes me as someone who lived a life that provides an answer to Pilate’s question.

  5. mm Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    Great post Tammy. My question is do you really think it is fear that is holding the Evangelical community back? Where does the power lie in the institution, that can in some areas empower amazing “Spirit led” movements, while in other areas silence voices and therefore oppress entire populations of believers?

    As always thank you for your incredible witness!

  6. Tammy, you bring out a very important point that Mark Noll highlights, we should not “turn off the mind” because in so doing, we close our eyes to the possibilities of God. I am persuaded that more learning helps us to widen our sphere of influence and increase the impact of the work of ministry.

  7. mm Karen Rouggly says:

    Really good post, Tammy, as per usual. I really appreciated your tie to scripture in it. It was relevant and insightful to consider this commitment to truth alongside this weeks readings, especially when we realize that we have nothing to fear, as you mentioned!

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