When Truth is a Mistake

Socrates once said, “Sin is ignorance.” Meaning, if only people understood the “way things really are,” they wouldn’t do the wrong thing. We do bad things because we don’t know any better, we don’t know “the Truth.”

Now, Christians are often vocally opposed to Socrates’ statement. They say that sin is a heart problem, not a head problem. They point to Scriptures like James 2:19 that says “19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder” or to Matthew 4 where Satan himself quotes Scripture to Jesus. The point is well taken. It seems that even if we have the right information (that is, the “truth”), that doesn’t mean we act on it. Yes, the problem seems deeper than ignorance about facts.

And the opposite is also true. I was raised on inspiring stories about missionaries who only had 1 torn and faded page of the Bible yet were leading thousands to discipleship. In those stories the implicit message was clear: you don’t need all the correct information about God to be used by God.

Both of these seem to point to the reality that knowing the “Truth” is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for transformation. So my question is: why does the Church often hold “Truth” as the goal of Christian practice & witness? This again seems a great irony.

Our structures and rhythms seem to operate under the impression that the real problem in our world is a lack of accurate information about God. Our Sunday morning worship gatherings have their climactic moment in the delivery of accurate information about God. Our public debates on abortion, gun control, immigration, and gay rights revolve around batting information back and forth to each side, as though convincing people of my arguments is the best way to go about the problems we face. As Evangelicals, our “witnessing” to people is about delivering accurate information about God to another person. Christians on the progressive side seem to think that the real reason why people are leaving the Church is because of conservative theology. And conservative Christians seem to think that the real reason why people are leaving the Church is because of liberal theology.

Am I saying that truth isn’t important? Of course not. But I am saying that it’s not nearly as important as our structures and rhythms as a Church seem to make it. Yes, truth is important. But it’s not the goal. Yes, truth is helpful, but there’s more to it than just that. Often, “the truth about God” replaces God, becomes an idol that replaces God.

In my mind, we could learn a lot from the scientific community, learning to treat the truth as a means to a much greater goal. Scientists don’t care if their theory gets trumped by a better one. Why? Because the goal isn’t to find “the way things really are” as though that in itself will bring change, but to get as close to “the way things really are” as they need to in order to find a cure for this disease, help people eat healthier, live longer, etc. They use truth for some other purpose.

As such, sometimes we blow right past the opportunities we have to make disciples of Jesus, to build bridges between denominations of Christians, or to transform our communities, on our way to make sure people understand the truth, as though the understanding itself will make disciples or transform communities. My contention is that our obsession and idolization of truth leads to division, disunity, and arrogance, rather than unity, humility, and community. May we lay down the idol of truth and learn to trust the Truth.

9 responses to “When Truth is a Mistake

  1. I agree with what you are saying, this mentality was able to keep me in Christianity for a couple of extra years. Focusing on my actions, how I lived out the Gospel, and the truth of the beauty of self-sacrificial love and living in community. Christianity, especially the kind that creates a website like this, has more than a sufficient amount of truth to warrant action.

    The one problem came late at night or early in the morning. Prayer is the time that separates those who actually believe from those who do not (in my opinion). By this I mean that when the time comes to close your eyes alone and talk to God, the truth of belief comes out. I was fine living a “christian” life (as I interpreted Christianity), but it was all public and not private. A significant amount of my time was spent walking and talking like a Christian (not as a hypocrite, because I wouldn’t act like I was praying a lot or volunteer in public for prayer). The saying I would use for a good year was “I believe in Christianity, I just don’t believe Christianity”.

    So the worship of truth is definitely a problem, but its really really tough to pray to a God you do not believe in or put your faith in something you really do not think is there. I am not saying that you are advocating what I went through, or that what i have described follows from what you have written. This is just the thought that came to mind.

    • Wait until you “believe in it” but realize you can’t bring yourself to teach your child – that was my “ah ha” moment, not prayer. Same effect. Great lifestyle, difficult to teach as “real” to someone you love too much to lie to…

      • I mean I went along with most Christiany things until I realized I’d didn’t believe them enough to actually teach then to someone else – it worked for my on a lifestyle/basic mental assent level but falls apart when I hear it coming out of my lips to try to explain it to my child. It’s a “Rollins” thing where it has made me aware of the strangeness of my own beliefs as I view then through the eyes of the other (in this case, my blank slate of a child who will willingly believe most anything I tell her.) I struggle with the burden of not knowing what to tell her or not tell her because I know she will accept it at face value and that I am probably wrong.

    • Thanks for this Josh, very insightful. But I think that’s why I would say “truth” is important, since we have our beliefs, but truth isn’t the goal. My relationship with my wife requires that I believe she exists but it doesn’t equate to me knowing everything I can about her and making sure I know it all.

  2. Interesting… It made me think of a couple of things. First, Jesus on the cross, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do,” and later in John’s letter “If we say, ‘We are without sin,’ we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” It is also bringing that conversation that Jesus had with Pilate to mind: “What is truth?”. From what I can tell from your post, you believe that we should worry less about debating the intricacies and details and more about the love of God and neighbor as self. I agree with the part on Socrates as well. We can have the strongest mental powers but still be a mean person because another effect of sin is weakness. Mental strength does not have the power to overcome our will to sin. Only grace can give us the strength to overcome that which weakens and blinds us. Thanks for the post! Loved it!

  3. I’ve always believed the adage, “what you woo them with is what you win them to.” Being raised in a reformed, Calvinism-loving family and community (and being influenced by the Reformed Hall of Fame authors, and reading my Reformation Study Bible), it’s no surprise to me now that I fell in love with doctrine (what I would have called “Truth”) and found I was more in love with it than with Jesus. That’s the dangerous thing about doctrine/truth.

    Propoganda (a christian rapper) says “not one generation has found a good marriage between proper doctrine and action.” Preach it, brother.

    I also like to point out the woman at the well. She was used by God to influence and lead her entire village to salvation. And what was her platform? “Come hear about the man who knew everything I’ve done. Could he be the Messiah?” She wasn’t concerned with proper truth…she appeared to not even understand it herself. And there are many reformed preachers who would teach that she wasn’t even saved because she didn’t believe in the foundations!

    (p.s. I’m not against Calvinism/Reformed teaching, so don’t pick at that point. I just don’t like what it can turn people into – or what they tell themselves is the “logical” outcome of their beliefs. Like any “camp”, too much of it can be dangerous. I’m probably explaining it all wrong, hopefully you understand what I’m trying to say)

  4. I would add that not only is knowing absolute truth and making it the crux of our witness a wrong way of going about it, but knowing absolute truth is impossible to begin with. I believe that all of our understanding relies on our interpretation and our own presupposition. And although the Bible is perfectly adequate for the Christian life, it is not perfect or infallible. Kenton Sparks wrote an excellent book that supplements your train of thought. It’s called Sacred Word, Broken Word. You should check it out if you haven’t already.

    Thanks Jared. I very much appreciate your writing.

  5. Jesus is the Truth, as you (I think) imply in the last sentence. Everything else just gets in the way. If you know Jesus you know the Truth, and that Truth equips us for all good works. That being said, there are a lot of nasty ideas about God that get propagated, so I do see why there are arguments. Bad information on God’s character can drive people away from him. Of course, if the person talking about God knows the Truth (Christ) then that person probably isn’t talking about God outside of the frame of love.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s