Friday, December 20, 2013

Truth Incarnate vs. Pluralism

All truth is God's truth, or so we have been informed by St Augustine of Hippo (354-430). I believe this to be true when put into proper perspective. If truth is that which corresponds with reality and is opposed to all falsehood then, in a religious context, we need a purely objective Being to inform us what truth is exactly.  In other words, contradictory religious claims cannot all be true, and all paths do not lead to God. John Piper adds, "All truth exists to display more of God and awaken more love for God." (link) I believe this also to be true. God's Son Jesus Christ claims to be Truth incarnate (John 14:6), which fact one would imagine all professed followers of Him would hold and defend. Unfortunately, this is not so.

Episcopal priest Barbara Crafton, writing for the Religion section of the Huffington Post, writes, "Our reverence for our ancient texts trips us up. We imagine the truth of scripture to be of the journalistic sort . . . which many among us have come to believe is the only kind of truth there is. But it is not so." (link) Her intent in that piece was to defend the right of gay marriage by suggesting there remains an out-dated mode and cultural irrelevance of God's word for the modern world. While I understand that complaint, since there are aspects of the everyday lives of many in Scripture that are no longer relevant for us, read her religious pluralism carefully as she continues: "There are many truths -- the truth of story, the truth of archetype, the truth of poetry, the truth of group aspiration. None of those fit easily into [a who, what, when, where, how motif]. And the world's holy scriptures contain them all." The world's "holy scriptures" contain them all? They all contain truth even though they all contradict one another?

The world's "holy scriptures" do not contain the incarnate Truth of Jesus Christ. Can we, then, suggest that the world's "holy scriptures" lead us to the one, true and living God, such as those in Thessalonica trusted, when they "turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God"? (1 Thess. 1:9 NRSV) The answer, clearly, is no. The contradictions of the world's "holy scriptures" are irreconcilable with the Bible, to say nothing of being irreconcilable with each other.

I heard Barbara Crafton speak at a conference held at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Raleigh, North Carolina, 17-19 September 2010 (where I worshiped from May of 2010 to January of 2012). During the conference, she informed us that all human beings are unequivocally children of God, not merely in the sense of being His offspring (i.e., God as Creator of all, cf. Acts 17:26, 28), but that in a very real sense all people belong relationally to God, even if they do not realize it yet. For example, she outlandishly insisted that Osama bin Laden was and is a child of God, and that when he entered heaven at his death, God "set him straight" with regard to all of his misdeeds and skewed views. Her views are further promoted by the following, again, written for Huffington:
Because we have so beggared our notion of what truth is, we can easily find ourselves imagining religious truth to reside only in our past, as the words on the page record it. There it is, in black and white, we say. Just do what it says. And so we reach back across several linguistic groups and several cultural groups, through the filters of redactors [editors] and translators too numerous to count, and struggle to don first-century clothing we can no longer wear.
First, according to Crafton, we have "beggared" our notion of "what truth is." I wonder, does that include Crafton's notion of what she thinks "truth" is, or is only her notion of what "truth" is the real truth? Moreover, what truth? Or, truth about what? This may appear a harsh critique of her views, and I reject naïve realism right along with her, but at what point do we trust Christ and His truth and deny all other claims to the truth? If we trust in His word as truth, are we still perpetuating a beggared notion of what truth is?

Second, since she is a priest of God, does she consult Christian Scripture to inform her in matters of truth or faith? Does she agree with her Savior that, not only is He Truth incarnate (John 14:6), but that God's word is absolute, objective Truth (John 17:17)?

Third, note that we enlightened, twenty-first century folk can no longer "don first-century clothing," implying that Scripture is not true for all ages, but must be interpreted and re-interpreted in light of what is culturally acceptable. Crafton seems to be sitting in judgment over Scripture rather than placing herself under the authority of God and His word. We need to be reminded of some people mentioned to the believers in Thessalonica who "refused to love the truth and so be saved." (2 Thess. 2:10 NRSV)

We understand that the Bible is rarely seen as God's authoritative and infallible word to humanity today; it is just "man's word," what men think God would say to us, and not the plenary verbal inspired words of God, as it proclaims (2 Tim. 3:16). Nevertheless, "the word of the Lord endures forever" (1 Pet. 1:25 NRSV; cf. Isa. 40:8; 2 Pet. 1:19-21; 2 Tim. 3:15-16). What is the goal of truth? John Piper rightly states, "This means that knowing truth and knowing it as God's truth is not a virtue until it awakens desire and delight in us for the God of truth." Thus merely knowing or acknowledging truth is insufficient. Even the devils know the Truth of God, yet it does them no good (cf. Luke 4:34; James 2:19). "And this is eternal life," notes Jesus, "that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." (John 17:3 NRSV)

The God of the Bible -- the only purely objective Being -- is the only one who is capable of establishing what is truth and what is falsehood. This is because God is Truth: He is the God of truth (Deut. 32:4) and is incapable of lying (Titus 1:2 NASB). Therefore, when He speaks, and He has spoken to us by His Son in His word (cf. John 1:1-3; Heb. 1:1-3), then what He speaks is absolute and objective truth, to be obeyed by all. This means that all other claims to truth must be measured against the only viable rule of truth: God's word.


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