Though the battle for “the truth” has raged throughout history, today that battle has shifted significantly, though subtly. The battle is no longer about the truth but about whether there is truth at all. Our times continue to deconstruct how we think we arrive at truth and what we ought to do with truth. The rebuff is about adjusting the nature of truth and how it should be lived out.
The world of human ideas is currently in a serious state of flux. In colleges and universities, intellectuals have admitted that the chain is broken and decided that the culprit is the absurdity of any quest for truth. The concept of truth is under heavy attack in the philosophical community, the academic world, and the realm of religion. The way people think about truth is being totally revamped and the vocabulary of human knowledge completely redefined. On almost every level of society, we are witnessing a wholesale overhaul in the way people think about reality or truth itself.
People are increasingly resisting the very idea of boundaries, generally regarding any distinctions as undesirable, perhaps even impossible. What they aspire to is a utopian world, free from all constraints. This direction and its rhythm mean that we may be abandoning truth.
Under this tendency, societies are inclined to secularism (death of religion) and relativism (death of truth) where people are described as “post-Christian.” Even places where there seems to be a great “Christian presence,” there is often little “Christian influence.” The age-old war against truth has moved right into the Christian community, and the church is evidently a battleground.
But a proper philosophical base for investigating the universe is ever pressing, and it will not cease. Only the biblical doctrine of Creation, God’s plan and purpose for created existence, provides that base. The challenge Christians face today is how best to wage this newest campaign of the old war. And I’m concerned that few in our churches are prepared for the fight.
The fall of humanity generated a context and successive connections that are laden with collective sin—endemic, structural, and embedded in history. Truth is given to us by God to set us free from this human predicament. But if truth is forsaken, then the individual’s spirituality is in confusion, which puts both the temporal and eternal at stake. If doctrine is skewed, then the mission of the church is hindered in regard to the message proclaimed, the motivation that drives preachers, and the methods they employ in ministry.
According to Romans 1:18–20, denial of the spiritual truths we know innately involves a deliberate and culpable unbelief. For those who wonder whether basic truths about God and his moral standards are really stamped on the human heart, ample proof can be found in the long history of human law and religion. To suppress this truth is to dishonor God, displace his glory, and incur his wrath.
The reality of God and his word remain objective, apart from our own opinions, preferences, and perceptions. And because God, who cannot lie, has revealed himself in Scripture, Christians may come to Scripture in full confidence of its veracity.
Truth is that which is consistent with the mind, will, character, glory, and being of God. It is the self-expression of God. And because the definition of truth flows from God, truth is theological. Therefore, God is the author, source, determiner, governor, arbiter, ultimate standard, and final judge of all truth.
Our God is the “God of truth” (Deut. 32:4; Ps. 31:5; Isa. 65:16); and when Jesus said of himself, “I am . . . the truth” (John 14:6), he was making a profound claim about his own deity. He was also making it clear that all truth must ultimately be defined in terms of God and his eternal glory. The relational reality of truth is a result of analyzing this truth, internalizing Christ, and making him personal.
By its nature, truth is also possessed, preserved, and shared within a community, as well as experienced in relational realities. Seen in its propositional sense, truth is about what is factual. In its relational sense, truth is experienced through a community dynamic. Growth in the truth toward maturity is God’s powerful activity in the community of faith that possesses and preserves truth (Eph. 4:13–14). In this way, truth has a historical lineage, traceable along the line of a faithful heritage, as its reality is affirmed by those who live in its experience at any time.
In our times, however, uncertainty seems increasingly to be preferred to God’s truth, breeding privatized religion and skepticism. Many feel that uncertainty is synonymous with humility, equating any assurance with arrogance. Right and wrong are thus redefined in terms of subjective feelings and personal preferences, fragmenting faith communities and enhancing an unhelpful pluralism that is contemptuous of Christ’s body—the church. Today’s thought trend has put everything back on the table to be debated and reexamined, since postmodernity challenges what was thought to be true. Thus the Bible is no longer considered as the compass for belief or morality, leaving a culture in which everyone should feel free to decide for themselves what is right and wrong.
But we are not meant to live lives of wavering confidence and vague beliefs. Christ promised fixed and settled knowledge of the truth. He promised that his true disciples “will know the truth, and the truth will make them free” (John 8:32).
We live in a time of unprecedented connectedness. The Internet, with its mainstream media and global economic strategies, has eroded cultural boundaries. The mobility of people and the movement of educational and commercial institutions have brought about a homogeneity leading to a truly globalized culture. At the heart of this culture are the core ideas that form its view of the world. And from a biblical point of analysis, these core ideas can be summed up in secularism, relativism, and tolerance. The following summary is taken from Ben Pierce’s March 2019 Lausanne Global Analysis article, “Connecting with the New Global Youth Culture: Jesus in an Age of Secularism, Relativism, and Tolerance” (https://www.lausanne.org/content/lga/2019-03/connecting-with-the-new-global-youth-culture):
Secularism is not the total absence of God, but rather the marginalization and privatization of spirituality. Former “Christian communities” are not consciously rejecting God per se; the Christian faith simply constitutes an increasingly smaller part of their communal life, yielding a post-God generation, especially among their young, without any religious affiliations. Not only has religion been relegated to the sidelines of societal relevance, but it also has become something strictly private.
Relativism is the second defining worldview of today’s secular culture. It is the idea that there is no transcendent truth and therefore no universal morality. Concepts such as right and wrong, justice and duty, are social constructs and ultimately illusory. With traditional ethics swept aside, relativism is an absolute pillar of today’s globalized culture. This new code has created a paradoxical moment in which all is tolerated except the intolerant and all included except the exclusive.
Tolerance calls us to be open-minded, which seems noble on the surface. More sinister, however, is the claim that lies just beneath that call to open-mindedness. Every idea, belief, and view, it is alleged, is equal and should be respected by all people everywhere. But here is another paradox: demanding the tolerance of all views is not very tolerant.
Having capitulated to these, we often see a nominal devotion to biblical ideals, because the central propositions and bedrock convictions of biblical Christianity do not reconcile well with postmodernism’s contempt for clear, authoritative truth-claims. Timeless truths, such as we find in classical creeds handed to us by the church fathers, sound unsettling for a postmodernist. This rejection of orthodoxy implies loss of hunger and appetite for God’s truth, leading to a minimal quest for truth.
A personal “spirituality” in which everyone is free to create personal gods is the inclination—a spirituality with gods that pose no threat to sinful self-will since they make no demands, a spirituality that suits each sinner’s preferences. This fact underscores the true reason for every denial of truth (John 3:19–20). Sinners love their sin, so they flee from truth and light, denying that it even exists.
Contemporary thought is devising ways to rid human philosophy of any coherent notion of God’s truth. In fact, every generation has had its human philosophers who have sought to explain truth and account for human knowledge apart from God—and all who tried have ultimately failed to formulate a coherent, constant, and timeless actuality for belief and purpose.
Truth cannot mean anything without God, because it cannot be adequately explained, recognized, understood, or defined without God as the source. Since he alone is eternal and self-existent and he alone is the creator of all else, he is the fountain of all truth. Every attempt to define truth or to ponder the essence of truth without reference to God fails, because we are brought face-to-face with the requirement of a universal absolute—the eternal reality of a transcendent God.
Truth or true knowledge have no coherent significance apart from a fixed source—namely, God—because God embodies the very definition of truth. Every truth-claim apart from him is preposterous. The most fundamental moral distinctions cannot possibly have any true or constant meaning apart from God. That is precisely how the apostle Paul traced the relentless decline of human ideas in Romans 1:21–22. Forsaking a biblical definition of truth bears the inescapable result of unrighteousness.
If God’s truth is neglected, then there will be no faithful Christian witness. And yet, societies of the world are meant always to hear gospel demands, feel gospel influence, and enjoy gospel benefits. Caring for the brokenhearted and mending fences to restore people to God and reconcile them to one another is founded and propagated by God’s truth.
Just as it has always been through history, contending for truth in today’s world calls for a robust apologia. We live in an age that bombards us with a plurality of ideas, many of which are in diametrical opposition to the things of God. With postmodernism, the intellect is generally replaced by will, reason quieted by emotion, and morality assessed by relativism. Thus there is a need for believers in Christ to support and further ground fellow believers in their faith, against all opposing worldviews and philosophies (Col. 2:8). As Thomas Aquinas (1225–74) put it, “Faith does not destroy reason, but goes beyond it and perfects it.” The need is greater in our times for Christians to be completely able to defend their faith as coherently reasonable.
With this urgency, we hear the apostle Peter call for constant apologetics as part of Christian life (1 Pet. 3:15), and we recall the engagements of the apostle Paul as a skilled apologist (Acts 17:2–3). To be able to give a reasonable presentation of faith in Christ demonstrates that we know what we believe, why we believe it, how to share it with others, and how to defend it against lies and attacks.
Apologia remains at the heart of the Christian mission, because presenting Christ requires a reasonable, coherent, and tested offer among many alternative worldviews. Our times require believers in Christ to help to remove all intellectual stumbling blocks that inhibit conversion—believers who are fortified against personal doubts, growing steadily in deeper devotion (2 Cor. 10:5). Apologia is for all Christians at all times; our time is no different.
We can certainly know God and live by his truth. There has never been a time when the church had spiritual impact without confronting the culture. The only times the church has made any spiritual impact on the world is when the people of God have stood firmly, uncompromisingly, and boldly for the truth, proclaiming that truth with humility, love, and joy even amid the world’s hostility and the church’s unfaithfulness.
There are those who argue that since culture is constantly in flux, it is right and fitting for Christian theology also to be in a perpetual state of transition. They are convinced that every desire to gain a fixed and positive knowledge of any truth actually belongs to the collapsing categories of Enlightenment rationalism.
That is an appealing argument to the postmodern mind, but it is entirely at odds with what Scripture teaches when it says, “We have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). The constant flux may apply to some expressions as Christians, but it is dangerous to include in it the fundamentals that make us true Christians, because the obvious casualty of all this is any sure and certain knowledge of biblical truth.
There may be some things we do not yet see clearly, because our knowledge is not exhaustive (Rom. 8:24–25). But to suggest that there is nothing we can know with a true and settled confidence is far-fetched. The words of 1 John 2:20–21 apply in their true sense to every believer. Thus we need to be in a state of operational readiness—armed with the right weaponry and equipped with the right battle plan. In order to engage in the battle for truth, we must respond by seeking God in prayer and then step out through fear, take Holy Spirit–led risks, and boldly embrace and preach the cross.
In the battle for truth, we need to respond by developing authentic relationships, for only then can we be influential among those who know that we love and care. Isolation is often our enemy. We need to be part of culture while not being polluted by it. Only then can we gently challenge any presuppositions and demonstrate that, unlike secular humanism, our faith is internally consistent and corresponds with how we really experience life in Christ.
Dr. Julius D. Twongyeirwe is executive director of The Proclamation Task, a ministry committed to teaching the Bible to preachers in Uganda. In the pastorate for almost thirty years, he currently serves Berea Baptist Church in Kampala, Uganda.