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Reflections on the Truth in a Postmodern world

November 10, 2014

 

What is truth?

The truth must first be understood, not as a theoretical system of ethics, but a Person (John 1:17), namely the triune God. The truth is described as Jesus Christ, who is the divine Logos (John 1:1) and the only Way to God resulting in eternal life (John 14:6). God has given His Son to reveal the truth to us (John 3:16). Furthermore, the Holy Spirit testifies to that truth and convicts the sinner of his necessity to submit to the truth. Since the truth is revealed in the personage of God, it is His essential nature to be true. It is impossible for Him to lie (Heb. 6:18). Jesus Christ is the representation of visible truth (Heb. 1:1-3) and demonstrated truth in His life, death and resurrection (John 18:37). It is through the Person and work of Christ that truth is made known to mankind.

Truth promises to free men from error, sin, and the penalty of eternal judgment (John 8:32, 17:17; Psalm 25:5, Psalm 43:3). Truth, by nature, is opposed to wickedness, deceitfulness, and the lies of the adversary (John 8:44). It is the truth that causes unbelieving rebels to turn to Christ and be saved from the wrath to come (Col. 3:10).

The truth is the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:16). The truth is the sum of God’s redemptive work in the person of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1). Although the redemptive plan of God is a historical fact, the truth is also a pronouncement that God has sent His Son to die on behalf of sinners (Rom. 10:13-16). The truth possesses power to save men from their sins and reconcile them to God (2 Cor. 5:18; Eph. 2:1-10).

The truth is indestructible and unchanging (Heb. 3:18; Matt. 16:18). The truth is absolute and men are held accountable for rejecting the truth (John 3:17-21; Ps. 98:9; John 12:47; Heb. 10:30; Rev. 20:12; Rom. 1:17-18). Therefore, the truth is the canon to which men are held.

The truth is known about God through the revelation of God in nature and special revelation in His Holy Scripture (Romans 1:20-21; 2 Tim 3:16). The truth is a unified corpus, attested to, and preserved by the triune God (Jude 3; 2 Tim. 3:16). Truth does not exist within sinful, rebellious man, but is revealed outside of him (Rom. 17:17; John 3:16). Man’s only response to truth must be submission. The corpus of truth is in the Holy Scripture alone, authored by the Holy Spirit, and affirmed by His prophets and apostles. It is not only knowledge but must be applied to one’s life.

The truth is the declaration to man concerning God’s assessment of him. The truth is the proclamation of the will of God to man. It is the sole basis that brings man to terms with his dilemma before God. The truth testifies that man is desperately wicked and cannot seek God on his own accord. God’s wrath is upon man because he has suppressed God’s truth, has become morally bankrupt, and has exchanged God’s truth for a lie (Rom. 1:25). This ‘truth exchange’ assumes a unified corpus and man’s inherent knowledge of the truth. The truth promises freedom to those who cry out for mercy in the name of the Lord (John 8:32; Acts 4:12). Man must recognize that he has rebelled against the Person of Truth and the word of Truth. It is only through this recognition by the word of Scripture, that man can be saved him from his sins, and the wrath of God (Eph. 2:8-9).

In postmodern culture, how does the discussion of truth affect the Christian’s approach to Scripture?

The postmodern culture decries absolutes and aspires to relevancy. Postmodernism is at enmity with the truth, because it falsely promotes a fact/value dichotomy which has waged war against the minds of the unsuspecting.[1] Specifically, the fields of education and other public spheres has relegated ‘religion’ to personal value, while postmodern thinking has exalted subjectivity and removed the Scripture from her midst.[2] This has a profound affect on how the Christian approaches Scripture. Specifically, the Scripture must be studied as the inerrant and inspired Word of God.

The Christian must strive in diligent study to discern authorial intent and to be commended before God as a diligent, unashamed workman (2 Tim. 2:15)

Scripture is antithetical to the essence of postmodern thinking. The Christian must approach Scripture, assuming the self-attesting exclusivity of the Bible. The Bible must inform the Christian’s orthodoxy and orthopraxy. The whole purpose of the revelation of the mind and will of God in Scripture is that it may work in us a spiritual, practical, power, so that we may do the things revealed in us.[3]

Postmodernism must not only be seen is a competing worldview, but an ideology which holds men and women captive to the ideas of Satan. It must be seen as a secular faith that is blinding the minds of the unbelieving. Therefore, when measured against the absolute truth of Scripture, it must be identified as a lie. True wisdom must begin with belief in the truth God.[4] The carnal mind is at enmity with God and cannot please Him.[5], the Gospel of Jesus Christ must rescue Proponents of postmodernism from this ideology. Those who rightly divide the Scripture must bring them to the conviction of God through the proclamation of truth.

The Christian may be tempted to equivocate because, in postmodernism, terms are redefined and refashioned in order to create meaning. It is essential to come to the Scripture, even for the layperson, as an exegete. The Christian must rely upon the Holy Spirit to draw meaning from the text, instead of reading meaning into the text. Postmodern thought must be viewed as pseudo-knowledge, with the purpose of taking the unsuspecting captive (Col. 2:8). The Christian must desire to have his mind renewed by the Scripture (Rom. 12:2). The Christian must believe the testimony of Scripture is true and also believe that any flirtation with postmodern thought places he or she at enmity with God (James 4:4). Also, the Christian must come to the text, assuming that Christ is the pinnacle of knowledge and wisdom (Col. 2:1-3). Greg Bahnsen has said:

“All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are to be found in Christ, thus if one were to try and arrive at the truth apart from commitment to the epistemic authority of Jesus Christ he would be robbed through vain philosophy and deluded by crafty deceit.”[6]

The Christian must approach the Scripture with humility of mind and forego the wisdom of the world, pursuing the eternal wisdom of God (Ps. 19:7; James 4:4; 1 Cor. 2:16). The Scripture must be approached as propositional truth and the only unified corpus of truth that stands to judge all other claims of verity. Since postmodernism is a rejection of God’s truth, it must be seen as intellectual folly and a matter of unbelief.[7]

How will having a biblical understanding of truth affect a pastor’s ministry to his flock?

The pastor, who possesses a biblical understanding of truth, will be affected both positively and negatively. He will be a faithful minister, proclaiming the mysteries of God revealed unto salvation. The faithful pastor will stand in a line of godly men, linking his arms with those who have preceded him in ministry. His voice will echo with the godly and God will commend his ministry. His ministry will be challenged by the adversary, but will overcome in Christ (Matt. 16:18).

The flock will be nourished on the word of truth and grow in holiness (John 17:17). Both the minister and the flock will continually grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ, and be able to resist the relentless attack of the adversary (Eph. 6:10-18). The Pastor who has a biblical understanding of truth will inevitably be ostracized and persecuted by those who hate the only God of truth (2 Tim. 3:12). The pastor will bless the flock and they will bless him (Psalm 1:1). Because truth is absolute and hostile toward all error in the world system, the minister will serve as a shepherd who protects his flock, not a hireling who flees at the first sign of danger (John 10).

The pastor’s flock will be the recipients of a unified corpus of undisputed truth that will not make them ashamed. (Rom. 5:5) Ultimately, the pastor who biblically understands truth, will hold before them Jesus Christ (2 Tim. 2:8), and lead unbelievers to faith in Him through the biblical gospel. Furthermore, the Pastor in the postmodern culture must persist through the cries of even those among so-named evangelicalism to ‘always be positive’. He must also be clear, not only on those things, which he is positively for, but also clear on what he is against.[8]

What does all this have to do with doing theology in the context of pastoral ministry in a postmodern culture?

The practice of theology in the context of pastoral ministry must be done with unwavering resolve to faithfully proclaim the truth “in season or out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2). The theologian must assume the presupposition of Christian theism: God is and God has spoken. It is by this premise that we must know that God has revealed Himself to us in Scripture.[9] Theology finds its presupposition in God’s existence and revelation.

Theology must not become merely an academic discipline of lofty treatises between men. Doing theology is anchored in the belief that God’s glory demands our study, and demands that Pastors proclaim Him according to His testimony of Himself. The Bible, then, must be upheld as the cure for postmodernism, and at war with the postmodern culture. Relevancy, contextualization, and an idolatrous desire to ‘be gracious’ at the expense of truth, must be refuted by theology; not the handmaiden for theology.

The thirst for knowledge must cause man to become a fool, that he may become wise (1 Cor. 3:18). John Calvin wrote:

“Whoever is utterly cast down and overwhelmed by the awareness of his calamity, poverty, nakedness, and disgrace has thus advanced farthest in the knowledge of himself.[10]

The pastor must be at war against any error that opposes Christ, even it is labeled as theology (Jude 3). Since people are experimenting with subjective, relativistic ideas of truth and labeling them “Christian”,[11] this must drive the pastor to warn, equip, and strengthen His flock in the truth. The pastor must be willing to forego hero-worship of theologians who subtly promote postmodernism in so-named evangelicalism.

Paul the apostle (Acts 17:22-34) is an example of how the pastor must be willing to pronounce the entire system of postmodern thought as erroneous. It would be slightly profitable to engage the thought of postmodernists in order to refute them; just as Paul refuted the Greek philosophers according to their own thinkers. As a tender watchman, and skillful soldier, it is the pastor who must do theology with a heart to draw the masses away from every form of error and into the light of the truth.

The pastor must not place a false dichotomy between his life and sound doctrine (Titus 2:1). Absolute truth demands absolute allegiance, and an uncompromising desire to assail postmodernism at all costs; even if postmodernism is found within his congregation. He must contend for the faith, and present himself as a holy, acceptable sacrifice before God, believing Christ to be Lord of his intellect and of his study. The Pastor’s theology must assume God and lead to God for the equipping of the saints. It must not become a means to its own end.

Doron Gladden
Biblical Christ Research Institute

Bahnsen, Greg L. Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith. Edited by Robert R. Booth. Atlanta: American Vision, 1996.

Busenitz, Nathan. Reasons We Believe: 50 Lines of Evidence That Confirm the Christian Faith. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2008.

Calvin, Jean. Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion: Library of Christian Classics. Edited by John T. McNeill. Translated by Ford Lewis Battles. 26 vols. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1960.

Lloyd-Jones, David Martyn. What Is an Evangelical? Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1992.

MacArthur, John. The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception. Nashville: Nelson Books, 2007.

Owen, John. The Nature and Causes of Apostasy from the Gospel. abridged ed. The Treasures of John Owen. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1992.

Pearcey, Nancy. Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity. study guide ed. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2005.

Young, Edward J. Thy Word Is Truth. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1981.

[1] Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity, study guide ed. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2005), 106-7.

[2] Ibid.

[3] John Owen, The Nature and Causes of Apostasy from the Gospel, abridged ed., The Treasures of John Owen (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1992), 71.

[4] Nathan Busenitz, Reasons We Believe: 50 Lines of evidence that confirm the Christian Faith (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008), 67.

[5] Owen, 77.

[6] Greg L. Bahnsen, Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith, ed. Robert R. Booth (Atlanta: American Vision, 1996), 7.

[7] Ibid., 105.

[8] David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, What Is an Evangelical? (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1992), 37.

[9] Edward J. Young, Thy Word Is Truth (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1981), 189.

[10] Jean Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion: Library of Christian Classics, Vol. 10. Edited by John T. McNeill Translated by Ford Lewis Battles. 26 vols. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1960) 189.

[11] John MacArthur, The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception (Nashville: Nelson Books, 2007), xxxiii.

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