November 21, 2011
Christians, Church and Truth
We had a very interesting discussion this AM at church in our “post-Service discussion group” (not “Sunday School”). The question was “What is Truth and how do we talk about it?” We did the typical Christian thing, which is to talk about how Jesus is the Truth and what that means. I don’t mean to sound dismissive because “capital T truth” discussions are really important. But the topic took an interesting turn that went beyond philosophical and theological truth discussion.
We started talking about “the truth of the matter” kind of truth. In other words, truth in the practical world. That is unfortunately something we Christians don’t really spend too much time discussing. And yet, as we thought about it, we realized that two very important themes in the gospels tied into this: Jesus’ polemic against hypocrisy and his criticism of vows (“let your yes be yes and your no be no”).
The sorts of examples we discussed were: How Christian evangelists, who are excited enough about “capital T truth” to share with others are well known for exaggerating reports of “souls won” as a result of their ministries. Anyone working in Christian missions know this, and it’s embarrassing. I had the thought that we might find ourselves defending the theological/philosophical importance of truth versus relativism and then turn around and treat “the truth of the matter” in a way that is indistinguishable from the relativism we so eloquently critique. How many people were “saved”? Well, it depends on who you talk to.
Another one is how in many churches the need is felt to color everything rosy. Real problems don’t get discussed and aired like they ought to be; or you are not allowed to make certain observations. Or, the effectiveness of a program can be exaggerated. I particularly dislike self-adulating descriptors of churches, like “A place where miracles happen” or “Making passionate disciples” or “The church for people who hate church” (yes, that last one also implies a certain arrogance and self promotion).
We throw these words out as if just by saying them we were creating reality. Meanwhile reality is raising its hand quietly in the back of the classroom saying, politely but insistently, “Excuse me….” I’ll venture to say that sometimes “the truth of the matter” is more important than “capital T truth.”