Defining Truth

20 September 2009

The Truth Project takes as its definition of truth a quote from Noah Webster’s 1824 dictionary:

that which is in conformity to fact or reality

(Missed a heck of a trick by not sticking with John 14:6, but anyway…)

Returning to the Webster definition for the moment, the advantage is that it ties “truth,” “fact” and “reality” together.  This keeps someone from playing silly word-games where they talk about how truth is different from fact, and so on.  But when you insist on the Webster definition as a way to say that there’s such a thing as truth, and that it’s not relative, a savvy unbeliever will ask you to define “reality,” and before you know it, you’re mired in a debate about post-foundationalism, postmodern epistemology, social construction of reality, reliability of sense perception, optical illusions, misperceptions, and the like.  Messy.

Navigable, if you keep your head, remain humble, ask for clarification, and keep your eyes firmly fixed on Scripture, but very, very messy.

Tactically, there’s a better option. The Webster definition has the same essential meaning as a famous definition of “truth” given in one-syllable words (Socrates by way of Plato by way of C. S. Lewis, if I remember correctly):

He who says of what is, that it is, or of what is not, that it is not, tells the truth;

he who says of what is not, that it is, or of what is, that it is not, lies.

Now, because it has the same sense as the Webster definition, it’s vulnerable to the same sort of attack.  It’s just that since it doesn’t have the words “fact” or “reality” in it, he can’t ask you to define “fact” or “reality.”  Instead, the attack comes at the word “is.”

That’s right.  Your savvy interlocutor is going to have to ask you to define “is.”

And thanks to a certain former president, you get to say, “So it all depends on what the definition of ‘is’ is?  Really?”

That presidential statement has become, in our culture, a universal symbol for a liar playing stupid word games in order to avoid facing the obvious truth.  Milk it for everything it’s worth: “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.”


Apologetics Online Seminar Update

20 October 2008

Because of various scheduling considerations, we’re modifying our time slightly.  The Devotional Apologetics online seminar will meet for four consecutive Mondays starting next week, October 27th, from 4:30-6:30 pm Pacific time (6:30-8:30 Central, etc).

If you’d like to join the group, drop me a note through my contact form.

If that day/time doesn’t work for you, a second section is a possibility — again, drop me a note through my contact form.

News: Devotional Apologetics Online Seminar

12 October 2008

Apologetics is devotional, worshipful, and radically sanctifying…

…if it’s done properly.

Most Christians find that statement surprising.  Christians tend to respond to challenges to their faith by succumbing to one of two temptations.  On the one hand, the gung-ho debaters among us seize on the opportunity to score a few points on the forces of unbelief, and there are some serious temptations that go with that.  These folks, however, are only a tiny minority — and even they wouldn’t normally describe their experience as devotional and worshipful.

Then there’s everyone else — those who dread a serious challenge to their faith.  These are the people who get past the local freethinkers’ society table at the county fair by walking fast and not making eye contact, who respond to Jehovah’s Witnesses at the door by pretending that nobody’s home, who retreat from serious discussion with a skeptical friend by saying “I don’t know how I know it’s true — I Read the rest of this entry »

Two Books for a More Robust Bibliology

7 September 2008

“The site is not the source.” In bodywork, this maxim means that where the client feels pain is probably not the location of the real problem. Back pain can be the result of an ankle injury that didn’t heal completely; pain in the elbow can come from chronic tension in the neck, and so on.

The same holds true in theology. We feel the pinch in a lot of areas lately, and we usually set about defending at the site — the place where we feel the pinch.

The Bible suggests a different approach. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” If we’re hungry, eating is not the only, or even the first, solution. The first thing is to go back to God’s Word.

The Battle Belongs to the Lord by K. Scott Oliphint makes this line of thought explicit in the field of apologetics. When pressed by various Read the rest of this entry »

Further News on the Apologetics Seminar

15 July 2008

It seemed appropriate to add a little more about the nature of my approach to apologetics, since what we’ll be doing is a little uncommon.

My basic orientation on apologetics is that it’s all of a piece with theology, evangelism, and culture. Having a gleefully Christian take on everything from anchovy migration patterns to Zulu cooking is an integral part of defending the faith, not to mention a very persuasive witness in itself. Of course, no one person can know about everything, so learning how to construct a Christian approach to the subject at hand is terribly important.

Read the rest of this entry »

Apologetics Seminar

13 July 2008

A local church here has agreed to host a four-week series on apologetics, taught by yours truly and starting this coming Friday (18 July), 7-9 pm in Orange, CA. Sorry about the short notice; we just got the details nailed down Friday night.

I’m titling the series “Biblical Apologetics for Busy Believers.” A rough, and tentative, outline follows:

Session 1: Start with God (Genesis 1-3) — All thinking must start with God, and the nature of God’s claims is such that no one can be neutral. A Christian must always begin with this understanding; to fail to start everything with God’s revelation is to make the same mistake that Eve made in the Garden of Eden. (As an example, we’ll consider a Christian response to the claim that there’s no good historical evidence for Jesus.)

Session 2: Without Excuse (Romans 1) — Unbelief has no excuse whatsoever; the unbeliever really does know the Christian God. To the extent that he refuses to acknowledge the triune God of the Bible, his Read the rest of this entry »

Basic Resources for Apologetics: An Overview

13 July 2008

If you’re looking for encyclopedic, facts-and-figures resources, there’s a ton of them on the market, and Josh McDowell’s material is still some of the best. A recent publication, Evidence for Christianity, combines and updates the evidential material from a number of previous works, and that’s the one I’d recommend, if you haven’t already got a few of McDowell’s works on the shelf.

Facts and figures are important, but in this post I want to address resources for how you use them. McDowell was never the best source for this — he’s more of the “make a bigger pile” school of thought. Until very recently, all the really good basic instruction on how to use the facts was on audio, but there wasn’t a book that did the job effectively and accessibly. Gary DeMar at American Vision has changed all that by transcribing and editing a series of talks Greg Bahnsen did for high school and college students back in the early nineties. The resulting book, Pushing the Antithesis: The Apologetic Methodology of Greg L. Bahnsen, is a gem. It’s accessible, relatively simple, and it has study questions at the end of each chapter. It’s also a little spendy, but it’s worth it. Bahnsen’s other basic book, Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith, is cheaper, but it’s a set of course syllabi edited together by Robert Booth. It’s much denser, and because the material was designed to be accompanied by live instruction, it’s much harder to plow through without help. Thanks to Pushing the Antithesis, the necessary help is now available in print.

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The Weight of Glory

6 June 2008

The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing…to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. Read the rest of this entry »