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Thursday, July 06, 2006

A few brief words on a Theology of Truth

I would like to very briefly discuss a general direction for developing a theology of truth. The purpose of discussing a theology of truth, as opposed to a philosophy of truth is that a theology of truth will be developed within the context of a Christian worldview. As such, a theology of truth will take seriously the biblical account of truth, and will also quite naturally incorporate truth-talk into the work of evangelism and missions.

As I see it, there are three main areas that are addressed and help to define a theology of truth: the biblical testimony, philosophical discussion, and the cultural climate. I would like to briefly discuss each of these in the hopes of providing a general outline within which intelligent conversation can take place within the Christian community on the nature of truth and its place in the mission of the church.

The first issue that is addressed in a theology of truth is the biblical witness. This I see as the examination of the Scriptures to determine what we can say about truth. Generally speaking, there seems to be two dangerous extremes when looking into the Bible. The first is to not take seriously the witness of Scripture. In this case the revelation of God is treated far too casually and the Bible is seen as outdated and unable to really speak to the contemporary situation. On the other extreme are those who take the Bible seriously, but try to make it speak on issues it does not speak on. For example, in the past, there has been a tendency to look for a “biblical” view of truth, or to look for the “biblical” view on anything. The problem with this approach, however, is that the Bible may not speak to a particular situation and, as such, we may end up looking too deeply into certain passages and assuming that these passages speak to our issue when, in fact, they do not.

In regards to the issue of truth the danger of looking for a “biblical” view of truth is that it simply does not exist. What I mean by this is that there is no one, common element that we could apply to every use of the biblical word(s) for “truth.” Even in the Gospel of John, where truth is used more frequently than any other book in the New Testament, the word “truth” takes on different forms. So, rather than look for one, unified view of truth it may be more appropriate to look at the biblical views of truth. The goal in doing this, I believe, would be to take note of how the Scripture presents truth to us and perhaps also to note what it does not say about truth.

The second area of concern for a Christian theology of truth is to seriously engage the philosophical developments of truth. In the last hundred years or so there has been a great deal of philosophical writing and research on the nature of truth. We have seen the development of the correspondence theory, the coherence theory, pragmatist theories, various deflationary theories of truth, existential theories, and more recently various pluralist theories of truth. An investigation of these theories reveals a wide range of thinking and a many very diverse approaches to the subject. Exploration into the philosophical theories of truth can help to sharpen our discussion on truth and help guide our thinking.

If we find ourselves investigating the Scriptures and also engaging the various philosophies of truth the next question that naturally arises is: What is the relationship between philosophy and the Bible? This is a rather complicated discussion, and there will be different answers depending upon which issue is being discussed. In relationship to a theology of truth I believe that the relationship is reciprocal. That is, our study of Scripture will inform our philosophical investigations and our philosophical investigations will inform our study of Scripture. Our study of Scripture must inform our philosophy if we are at all serious about the Bible being the revelation of God. But anyone who reads Scripture will naturally do so by using their minds to think and to interpret. When we use our minds to think and interpret we are simply doing philosophy. As such, as we study philosophical theories of truth – both Christian and secular – we sharpen our ability to think and interpret Scripture.

The third area of examination for a theology of truth is the cultural. How is “truth” used in culture? What is the reaction to “truth”? By answering these questions I think that we will then be able to examine how our biblical and philosophical conclusions on truth will apply to the mission of evangelism.

In recent days there has been a great deal of debate amongst Christians regarding “absolute” and “relative” truth. The debate here is whether truth is objective, universal and fixed for all time and for all people, or if truth is relative to a specific culture or social setting. And yet I believe that as we seriously examine Scripture and think critically about these terms we may find that these distinctions are less important than we have made them out to be. For example, there are clearly truths of Scripture that are fixed for all time. These primarily relate to God and to the revelation of Jesus Christ. These are absolute claims. And yet on the biblical account there is also a very temporal dimension to truth. Truth must be lived. Truth must be proved in one’s life. Truth, in fact, seems to be about a person’s relation with God through Christ. And, so, perhaps the distinctions between “relative” and “absolute” might give way to a holistic theology of truth that recognizes the validity of the absolute and temporal perspective.

Regardless of where one falls in this debate it is critical to examine one’s theory of truth in light of contemporary culture and the presentation of the Gospel in that culture. It is also important to ask how a theology of truth impacts life and how our theology of truth impacts ourselves.

As such, we have our three components of a theology of truth: the biblical testimony, philosophical investigation, and cultural considerations. A Christian worldview will seek to engage the issue of truth on these three playing fields.

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