I remember when I was in college, in “Theory of Rhetoric” class, my professor put a chair in front of the room and asked us, “What is this?”

“A chair,” was the obvious answer.

“Ahh,” she said with a tinge of haughtiness, “that’s what our culture calls it, but what if another culture calls it something else? Is it a chair because we think it is or because our culture says it is so?”

Suddenly, she put truth on trial. Is it objective or subjective? Is it absolute or created? Or an even deeper question: Does truth start with us, or does it start with God?

These may be the most important questions all of us must ask and answer. What we believe about truth has everything to do with how we live our lives as individuals, as communities, as nations. Many moral questions before us in the western world—gay marriage, abortion on demand, religious freedom—come down to what we believe about this topic. This current election is raising some very fundamental questions about what we believe. Truth is on trial and has been for a long time.

These are not new questions. Pontius Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” Socrates, Plato, Epicurus, and a plethora of philosophers have wrestled with this question for millennia.

There are really only three grids to determine what we believe to be true.

You
French philosopher René Descartes once said, “I think, therefore I am.” This is how many determine what is true. Whatever I think and feel must be true. I am the final authority on truth. It is not unlike throwing a dart on the wall and wherever it lands, drawing a bullseye around it. Laws like gravity ought to help us understand that sincere belief does not negate certain death regardless of how intensely certain we were of its absence.

Culture
The idea here is that truth is relative to culture and created by culture. It’s called “cultural relativism” or “humanism.” The view is that truth is determined by our social environment and it is unethical and immoral to impose your “truth” on another person or culture’s “truth.” Tolerance is the chief virtue of such a society, meaning that one must capitulate to the idea that all beliefs are equal. Morality is subjective and absolutes are treated with hostility. One who believes such a worldview, however, must harmonize their tolerance with abominations like Hitler’s Germany, for cultural relativism must concede that 1940 Germany merely lived out their “truth.”

A Higher Authority
This view says that truth does not start with me. It is not created by culture. There is a Higher Authority that determines truth to Whom we all must give an account. Such truth is often found in what are considered to be divinely-inspired documents like Islam’s Koran, Mormonism’s Book of Mormon, or Christianity’s Bible. As a Christ follower, I do not believe I can embrace biblical Christianity and claim a truth outside of what the Bible teaches. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6). He said, “And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand” (Matthew 7:26). 1 John 1:6 says, “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” God determines what is right and wrong, what is truth and falsehood. It doesn’t mean I have to like it, but I cannot change it, because truth doesn’t start with me. It is such a claim that enrages many against Christians, or any religious person for that matter who claims that truth starts with a Higher Authority.

It is because of these truth grids that we have so many morality wars in our culture. It is also these grids that start many battles in the Church. There are many that approach their Christian faith through the eyes of their feelings, or through a dysfunctional culture of misguided local church. Many have only experienced a counterfeit Christianity, as something given to them in the name of Christ harmed them like legalism or false teaching. In one church, their tradition may claim that wearing skinny jeans and drinking a glass of beer is akin to sexual sin; in another church, what version of the Bible you read or whether or not you speak in tongues may make you an insider or outsider. But the gospel of grace calls us to the center—to Christ, the Truth.

My encouragement? Seek the truth as it is revealed in the gospel. The facts surrounding the validity of the Bible and the life of Jesus ought to awaken our hearts to pursue truth. God has been kind to us, given us his Word, and invites all of us to experience his love and grace. In the end, what we find is that the fruit of his Spirit in our lives is to love even the most hostile of our enemies. This truth doesn’t hate, doesn’t attack, doesn’t abuse, but shines brightly to those lost in the forest of subjectivism.

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