It has been said that we live in a post-truth world. If so, it represents the influence of postmodernism, a cultural shift away from reason, certainty, and absolute truth. Postmodernism sees truth-claims as tools used by those in power to control other people. This mood is expressed in statements like, “I cannot say with certainty that something is true. All I can claim is that this is my point of view. What is true for me may or may not be true for you.”
This denies the validity of any universal story or narrative that claims to explain the meaning of life. History is meaningless except for the meaning individuals impose upon it. In religion, all truth claims are said to be equally valid. The only belief that is not tolerated is intolerance.
In politics, misinformation and propaganda get spread around through social media until they become the “truth” that consumers choose to believe. These “alternative facts” reinforce fear, prejudice and outright hatred toward political opponents. As we have seen recently in our nation’s capitol, this sometimes leads to political violence and domestic terrorism.
Another expression of the postmodern view is, “You create your own truth.” It is like going to an art gallery. People see in the art what they want to see. “That’s just your interpretation” is another favorite cliche. It is often trotted out whenever the Bible’s standards of morality are presented to challenge people’s conduct. This can become an easy diversion from having to face the implications of belief.
A skeptic said to his Christian friend, “What you Christians say about Jesus being the only way to God, well, that’s just your interpretation.” His friend opened the Bible to Acts 4:12 and asked him to read it aloud:
“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
The Christian said, “I understand that to mean that Jesus is the one by whom we must be saved. How do you understand it?” His friend squirmed a bit. Realizing the weakness of his “interpretation” argument, he got up and walked away without a word.
It was in a world like ours that the apostle Paul wrote to his young disciple Timothy. Timothy lived in Ephesus, a marketplace of competing religious ideas and philosophies. It is refreshing to read Paul’s straightforward comments about truth. Truth is absolute, knowable, and trustworthy. It is centered in Jesus. It is to be safeguarded and proclaimed by the church.
“I am writing you these instructions so that if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He (Jesus) appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory” (1 Timothy 3:14-16).
Among other things, Paul was describing the church as a family. Believers in Jesus are children of God, and the church is said to be his household on earth. The church will be at its best when it looks and feels less like an institution and more like a family, This adds to its credibility in proclaiming truth in a postmodern environment.
The philosophical ambiguity of postmodernism leads to instability. Uncertainty prevails. Institutions are unreliable, leaders cannot be trusted, marriages are impermanent, morality is negotiable and God is whoever or whatever we make of him or her. Paul flatly contradicts this. “The church of the living God” he says, is to be like a supportive pillar and foundation for the truth. These metaphors imply strength and certainty.
Then Paul composed or quoted a hymn to Jesus which is a wonderful creedal statement. “Beyond all question” is another way of saying that these truths are beyond dispute, universally acknowledged by all believers. The gospel is “great,” of sublime importance. These transcendent truths about Jesus are the common confession of the universal church.
“He appeared in the flesh” means that Jesus lived and died in a physical body. In his flesh he suffered on a cross to pay for our sins. He “was vindicated by the Spirit” most likely refers to his bodily resurrection by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11).
He “was seen by angels” is possibly a reference to our Lord’s ascension and exaltation in the heavenly realm where he now ministers to the church as our great high priest and intercessor (Hebrews 4:14-16; 1 John 2:1-2).
He is being “preached among the nations” and believed on throughout the world. This means that his gospel is universally relevant in all cultures and nationalities. This contradicts the denials of postmodernism which say there is no such thing as an over-arching meta-narrative which is an absolute and final explanation of reality.
The Bible says that there is such an explanation of reality. It is not truth as I personally interpret it, or as I wish it to be. It is not one truth among many equally valid options. It is what Francis Schaeffer called “true truth,” the “truth that is in Jesus” (Ephesians 4:21).
This takes us out of the realm of propaganda and philosophy and lifts us to the higher realm of God’s eternal truth. Consider the following implications.
First, truth may be known and experienced. Truth was “revealed in the flesh.” Pilate may ask, “What is truth?” Truth was standing right in front of him! Pilate may crucify truth, but truth will be vindicated when Jesus rises from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. These historical facts validate Jesus’ claim, “I am the truth” (John 14:6).
Second, truth is universal. It is not a mere sociological construct. It is equally valid for East and West, South and North. The gospel has the same power to save in Asia as it does in Africa. It is proclaimed throughout all nations of the world.
Third, the truth is to be believed. Jesus said that God’s word is truth (John 17:17). It is God’s grand narrative, the story of his mighty interventions in human history and his plan to claim a people for himself. It reveals the undeniable divine wisdom in the man Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus told Pilate at his trial, “The reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone who is on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37).
Paul’s great hymn is an invitation to you to enjoy the stability and clarity of God’s truth as you live in the uncertainty of postmodern times.
Pastor Randy Faulkner