Thursday, November 04, 2010

What is Truth?

Pontius Pilate, in his fascinating conversation with Jesus of Nazareth, asked Jesus if he were a king. Jesus said, "For this purpose i was born and for this purpose I have come into the world--to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice." Pilate said to him, "What is truth?" (John 18:37-38).

This conversation stops me in my tracks. Pilate asked a great question, and interestingly enough, John does not give Jesus' reply. He leaves the question dangling in the air, echoing down the millennia until it reaches us. I can still hear Pilate ask it. He was so close to truth that it was literally staring him in the face.

For several centuries, Christianity has enjoyed a hegemony on truth in the West. Western civilization was shaped by the Bible, Christendom enforced the Bible onto the populace to the point where unbelievers and deviants were persecuted. For good and for ill, the Bible was used and abused to force conformity amongst the Western populace.

That is, until the rise of the Anabaptists and Mennonites and others like them. They rebelled against the "church-state" paradigm. They believed that conversion could not come by the government or the sword, but only by grace through faith in the gospel. Eventually, persecution led many of them to the New World. There, Baptists would eventually be instrumental in insuring the separation of Church and State and the freedom of religion for all people, even freedom to worship the devil.

Believe it or not, that grand and great dream laid down by the early American Republic has had a major impact upon truth. As the early Baptists suspected, if given the chance to freely worship the devil, some people would. And some would be Buddhists, and some would be Hindus, and some would be Moonies, and some would be atheists altogether. Being a Baptist myself, I am altogether delighted that they have the freedom to be as wrong as they please.

For the first couple of centuries, the people of the United States spoke Bible, as did their ancestors in Europe. I do not mean that all the people in the United States were Christian; I would never argue that. However, it is apparent that they all filtered their understanding of life, predominantly, through a Biblically colored lens.

Take Thomas Jefferson as an example. He was, from what I can tell, a Christian heretic par excellence. He famously cut out the miraculous parts of the Bible, leaving in all the laws and the moral code and the ethical teachings of Jesus. It seems that he admired the teachings of Jesus. Such would have been the attitude of many in that day: the default lens for interpreting right from wrong was a Biblical one. One can hardly read a novel or or thinker who wrote from the beginning of the republic until the early 1950's who wasn't profoundly aware of Biblical traditions of right and wrong, and even the moral stories* that the Bible contains.

Now, things are on different. Christianity does not enjoy the hegemony it once did. That's not to say that its influence isn't strong and felt. It surely is. However, there is a much greater competition of ideas out there in the market. Some are compltely foreign to a Biblical worldview. Jefferson did away with the miracles. Post-Modern America has ditched most of the Christian ethic.

This brings me back around to Pilate and his question to Jesus: What is truth? I think for many, Pilate's original question may even assume too much. Instead, the question of the day might be, "Is there such a thing as Truth?"

I believe that there is Truth that is objective, real, and unchanging. I believe that Truth is embodied in the person of Jesus Christ. The challenge for Christians is now, as it has always been, is to take the gospel, the story and teachings of Jesus, and put them into the market place of ideas. The gospel is a narrative without parallel. The beauty of Jesus is without rival. He is a teacher without equal. If Christians would just see that He is the message, we could be a far more winsome and compelling people.

No comments: