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.”

The Truth Project, week 2: Philosophy and Ethics

18 September 2009

Before the beginning was Yahweh the Triune God, one God in three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, joined in mutual love, coequal and coeternal. Thus we understand that one and many, universals and particulars, are equally ultimate, and find their reconciliation in the Trinity.

In wisdom Yahweh spoke the world into existence. He is the knower and lover of all the creation, and all of it belongs to Him. On the first day of creation, Yahweh made light and darkness, night and day. On the corresponding day in the second half of the week—the fourth day—He made the heavenly lights to rule the earth: the sun for days and years, the moon for festival times, and the stars for signs; the sun to rule the day and the moon, the night.

On the sixth day, Yahweh made man after His image, according to His likeness, to know and love the creation, to rule over all the works of His hands. Thus man lives, and moves, and has his being not simply in the world, but in Yahweh, and He is not far from any of us.

Yahweh commanded man to express his rule through naming the animals, and from true recognition of the nature of each one Adam gave its name. In the world’s first poem he named his wife Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Thus man knows the creation because he is the image of Yahweh the creator and knower, because Yahweh made him to know the creation, and the creation to be known by him, that he may wisely rule over it.

Yahweh planted a garden and put our parents in it, and there He planted two trees: the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. He gave them every green herb to eat, and the fruit of every tree except the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Of that tree, Yahweh said, “In the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die.” Not content to rule as vassal king and queen of the earth under the sovereignty of Yahweh, our parents disobeyed, seeking to be like God themselves, following in the footsteps of the Serpent instead of following their Lord. Instead of life, they chose death, and God had promised, when they sinned, they died, and all their dominion with them. Cast out of the garden of God, the way back blocked by an angel with a flaming sword that turned every way, our parents went out into the world, still responsible to be the life-preserving king and queen of a planet now plunged into death and futility.

Through the generations of their offspring, mankind chose death again and again, becoming so corrupt that his every thought was only evil continually. But one man, righteous in his generations, found grace in the sight of Yahweh. Yahweh commanded this man Noah to build a boat, and in it he and his family were spared from the flood with which God destroyed the wicked world.

Leaving the ark and coming to a cleansed world, Noah and his family became a race of kings, founding civilization as we now know it. Again they chose death, and God confused their languages and scattered them family by family across the face of the earth. Not chastened, men turned still to worshipping animals, the stars, the sun and moon rather than Yahweh who created them.

From one such idolatrous family Yahweh graciously chose one man, Abram, and made a covenant to make him heir of the world, and bless the world through him. Though he was a wandering Aramean, God multiplied his descendants into a great nation and brought them from slavery in Egypt, through the waters of the Red Sea to Sinai to make a covenant with them. There they heard God’s voice from the mountain; there they heard the words of the covenant from Moses, all the commandments and offerings and festivals; there they said “All that the Lord has said, we will do!” Moses sprinkled them with the blood of the sacrifices to ratify the covenant there, but they shortly rebelled and God killed them in the wilderness. Moses instructed their children in all the Law of God, the covenant He had given them, and said “I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live.” They chose life, and received the blessings God had promised them. Future generations rebelled, and God raised up judges, kings and prophets to call the people to repentance. Some of these they heard, but most they persecuted, and many they killed. After a thousand years, God sent no more prophets, and for four hundred years God did not speak to His people.

The Mosaic festivals followed a lunar calendar, that is, they were ruled by the moon—which is to say that the old covenant was God’s grace given to His people to see them through the long, long night. At the very end of the night, a Star rose out of Jacob. John the forerunner cried out in the Judean wilderness, calling on Israel to prepare the way for the coming of her Lord. John called the faithful from their homes, their holy city, even from the Temple itself, to come into the wilderness and pass through water, a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. Among the throng of God’s people came John’s cousin Jesus, and at His baptism the Spirit descended on Him, and the Father spoke from heaven: “You are My Son, My Beloved; In You I am well pleased.” The Sun of Righteousness had begun to rise, with healing in His wings. The Light of the world shone in the darkness, and the darkness could not overwhelm it.

But men love darkness rather than light. As mankind has always suppressed the truth in unrighteousness, preferring a futile mind, a darkened heart and descent into the madness of idolatry rather than to worship and serve the Creator; as Israel unfailingly persecuted the prophets; so Jesus’ own people rejected Him and delivered Him over to be crucified.

With His death Jesus purchased the nations for Himself, and all who believe Him are redeemed by His blood, given everlasting life. He was buried, and while still dead proclaimed His victory to the imprisoned demons, but the Father would not leave His soul in Hades. On the third day, He rose from the dead, and in due course ascended to the right hand of the Father, and has sat down on the throne of God, the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle made by Yahweh Himself. There Jesus has entered as our High Priestly forerunner, and we follow behind Him to worship. Following His example, we shine as lights in the world, earthen vessels full of glory, knowing that the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining. We endure our present sufferings with our eyes on Him, knowing that as He was vindicated, so we will also be vindicated, and as He has ascended to rule, so also we will ascend to rule at the coming of His Kingdom, each one rewarded according to his works. Then the righteous will shine forth like the sun, and Jesus will sit on David’s throne to judge the world and all in it.

Even in the Kingdom, there will be rebellion, and in due course, judgment. At long last, the books will be opened, and the dead, both small and great, will be judged according to their works. This world will be destroyed as in the days of Noah the world was destroyed, and Yahweh will make all things new. In that day, evil will be permanently quarantined in the lake of fire, the second death. In that day, the dwelling place of God will be with men, and we will live eternally with no sun to rule the day, because Jesus Himself, the Light of the world, will rule in never-ending day.

What is Truth? (The Truth Project, week 1)

10 September 2009

A local church here is taking its people through The Truth Project, a small-group series on Christian worldview by Focus on the Family. It’s hosted/taught by Del Tackett, whose formative influences in this area include the likes of David Noebel (of Summit Ministries fame) and Francis Schaeffer. I and a number of my congregants have been graciously permitted to tag along, and we’re  having a blast.

Since I am also teaching Narrative Foundation with Rocky Mountain this year, it seemed appropriate — and good exercise for me — to offer an NF-style brief treatment of each week’s subject in turn.  I’m in the midst of hunting for work, and can’t guarantee that I’ll be able to see it all the way through.  These things take some time.  But for as long as I can, I’ll be putting one of these up every week through the end of the series.  So without further ado…

What is Truth?

In the beginning, the worlds were framed by the Word of Yahweh, and to this day they are upheld by the Word of His power.  When Yahweh spoke, everything came into being just as He commanded it to be, and Yahweh named it…until the third day, when He continued speaking the creation into existence, but ceased to name the things that He made.  When Yahweh made Man, He set him over the world, to have dominion over it, and gave man the responsibility to name truly, acting as Yahweh’s image in the world.  Initially, man performed this task well.  Yahweh also set a tree in the midst of the garden and told Man the truth about it; but the serpent lied to our parents, and they departed from the truth and believed the lie that they could become as God through disobedience.

Yahweh had told them they would die if they disobeyed, and He did as He said: Man and all his dominion was subjected to death and futility.  But Yahweh also promised that one day a Man, a son of Eve, would crush the Serpent, and they anxiously awaited the birth of Eve’s son.

Eve’s first son was Cain, and rather than clinging to the truth he made war on it, preferring murder to repentance.  Cain was a harbinger of things to come, and the rebellion eventually spread through Eve’s many descendants so that all the vast human family was at war with Yahweh, except for one man, Noah.  Yahweh said that He would not strive with man forever, and in due time He acted, saving Noah and his family and destroying that world with a flood.

In the new world, Yahweh gave Noah and his family the responsibilities Adam had, and further responsibility as well.   But human nature had not changed, and they turned again to the lie, and worshiped the creature rather than the Creator, turning away to a variety of idols.  Worship of Yahweh once again became a rarity.

Yahweh reached into that idolatrous world and called out one man, Abram.  Yahweh promised Abram — and confirmed it with an oath — that He would be a blessing to the world, become a great nation, and inherit the land of Canaan from the Nile to the Euphrates.  Abraham lived in that land of idolaters as a wandering nomad, building altars to Yahweh everywhere he went, beacons of truth in a land given over to lies.  Abraham’s son Isaac continued his father’s work, as did his son Jacob in turn.  But Jacob was a mixed blessing to his neighbors, and his idolatrous sons did not stand for truth, but were a curse to those around them.  They even turned on one of their own, their brother Joseph, and sold him into slavery in Egypt.  There Joseph became a blessing to his masters, and Yahweh eventually exalted him to a station second only to Pharoah.  When Yahweh brought famine in Canaan, the family moved to Egypt, where, through Joseph, a place for them was provided.  Upon arrival, Jacob blessed Pharaoh, and his sons took over the care of Pharaoh’s flocks and herds, and once again became a blessing to their neighbors.

Growing in Egypt as in a womb, Jacob’s family became a mighty nation.  For fear of them, a later Pharaoh reduced them to slavery and brought upon Egypt Yahweh’s curse, as He had said to their father Abraham, “I will bless him who blesses you, and him who curses you I will curse.”  Yahweh destroyed Egypt and gave her wealth to Israel, bringing the new nation out of Egypt and into the wilderness with a mighty hand.  Through the scorching desert, Yahweh gave them water and food, and brought them to His holy mountain to worship and enter into covenant with Him.

Even as Moses was on the mountain receiving the covenant, Israel was building an idol for themselves, a golden calf, and began to worship it instead of Yahweh.  So Yahweh sent Moses down to rebuke and punish them, and when they had been chastened, Yahweh entered into covenant with them, and they swore, saying “All Yahweh has said, we will do.”  But they were a hardhearted and faithless people, and when they disobeyed Yahweh slaughtered them by the millions.  Of that perverse generation, only two — Joshua and Caleb – obeyed, and thus survived Yahweh’s judgment.  But the next generation believed Yahweh’s promises, and were a nation of heroes.  Through faith they received the land that was promised them, and Yahweh Himself fought beside them.  After a lengthy campaign, Yahweh gave them rest from all their enemies, as He had promised.

Subsequent generations again and again would fall away from worshipping Yahweh and turn aside to idols.  Each time Yahweh would give them into the hand of an oppressor and they would return to Him in desperation, only to defect again after He rescued them.  Again and again Yahweh’s messengers appealed to them: “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts,” but they would not hear.  At length Yahweh spoke by the prophet Jeremiah, promising the harshest lesson yet to befall the nation: they would be carried away into Babylon for seventy years of captivity. After being restored to the promised land, they worshipped no more pagan idols, but Yahweh alone, and devoted themselves to studying the Scriptures He gave them.

The nation grew into a greater maturity than it had ever known before, but their sinful desires found outlet through twisting the truths in the Scriptures to justify and legalize their wickedness.  Thus the nation, outwardly devoted to the worship of Yahweh, became a mixture of good people who loved and worshipped Yahweh, and evil people who offered the right sacrifices, said the right prayers and sang the right songs, but their worship was a lie, because they did not know Him.

Out of that nation John the Baptist called those who loved Yahweh to be baptized and prepare for the Messiah, and into that nation Jesus came: the Word of Yahweh made flesh, the Truth in bodily form, the Son of Eve for which God’s people waited.  All those who learned the truth from the Father recognized Jesus, because He was the Truth sent from the Father, but the nation as a whole did not recognize Him.  Not knowing the Father, they killed His Son with lawless hands, but by allowing them to do this, Jesus purchased the nations with His blood and crushed the Serpent forever.   Yahweh vindicated His Son, raising Him from the dead, and after a season of ministry, brought him to heaven to sit at His right hand, until His enemies are made His footstool, a promise for which we eagerly pray: “Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Before He left, he spoke to his disciples, saying “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Therefore go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to do all that I commanded you, and know that I am always with you, even to the end of the world.”

They obeyed, taking the truth to the ends of the earth, and many were killed, as Jesus was, for telling the truth.  Others received the truth with joy, and we are among them.  In our turn we offer our testimony of the truth, knowing that we will be treated as harshly as they were.  We accept this temporary resistance because we know that all authority has been given to the Son.  The time will come when the Father mocks those who rebel against Him and subdues the world to His Son, and every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.

Then we will be glad to have stood for the truth, and we will rejoice for those who have received it from us, because the Truth will sit on David’s throne forever; at last, everyone will know that Truth is not a what, but a who, and His name is Jesus.  Then the nations will stream to Zion, and the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as water covers the seas.