Cultural division is a real phenomenon on our streets and our college campuses and it is only intensifying across our nation. Recent weeks of unrest only serve to reinforce this reality. Varying experts with varying facts seem to arrive at varying truth. These are the natural outcomes of a process that has been developing for decades.
I cannot remember a time when our national culture, our politics, our faith, and our dialogue have been more divided. And that is saying something since I’ve lived through civil rights upheaval, voting rights upheaval, the assassinations of political leaders, a number of wars, and campus and political upheaval in the 1960s and 70s.
Cultural division was very deep then. It is even deeper now. People on opposite sides of a topic used to be able to openly share their thoughts and walk away, disagreeing, but with respect and friendship intact. That is rare these days.
Also happening during those decades was the advent of post-modern thought in general – and the beginning of the redefinition of the word “truth.” It began on college campuses in the 60s and 70s. Over the years, some of those students became college and university professors and administrators. Now they serve as department heads, administrators, and high-level government policy makers. They have exerted immense influence over the process of critical thinking and problem-solving for a number of student generations now.
A brief pause is in order here. I am a product of public-school education, state universities, and Southern Baptist seminaries. I am married to a retired public-school teacher. We’ve always believed in a quality education for our children. We feel that Christians need to be actively involved in living out their faith in our schools and in our culture.
I’ve also admired those who have chosen to home-school or use private schools for their children’s education. Honestly, over the course of many years, I had to come to a place of self-awareness – to understand the role that post-modernism had in my own education. I had to re-think some things. Studying culture is one thing; studying scripture while studying culture is a completely different task.
Back to the subject – What is the “definition of truth?” When that question is posed to our culture today, it becomes a bit easier to understand where we find ourselves. For our culture today, “truth” is a relative concept and not a definite concept; it is dynamic (changeable) and not static (consistent).
Post-modernism, in general, argues that:
- Truth is always contingent on historical and social context rather than being absolute and universal.
- Truth is always partial rather than being complete and certain.
- There is no absolute truth. Truth is a relative “concept.” You have your truth and I have my truth. Both are valid.
- Facts are likewise a very pliable concept. Your facts may not match my facts. My facts are relevant to me – yours are not.
Scripture has taught us:
- “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” John 8:32 (NKJV)
- Jesus tells Thomas, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” John 14:6 (NKJV)
- There are so many more biblical insights into truth. These are a good sample. For Christians, truth is grounded in the Word of God as revealed in the life, death, resurrection, and teachings of Jesus.
Watching the news leaves us wondering if we are experiencing two parallel universes. They use the same words but with very different meanings. The answer is yes! The only thing they have in common is the “fact” that the other side has “their facts” all wrong. Their “truth” is not “really true.” Each universe uses their own facts to argue their own truth.
Sadly, no one is convinced. All are further entrenched. The “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:11-21) is hindered. So, how do we as believers move beyond this impasse?
I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes from Billy Graham: “It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict. It is God’s job to judge. It is my job to love.”
As tempting as it may be to “argue facts” or “argue truth,” maybe it is time to recommit ourselves to simply modeling Christ; to refocus on the stories of Jesus, the actions of Jesus, the teachings of Jesus, and the compassion of Jesus. Let’s study and model the truly unique ways that Jesus “confronted the truths of his day” with a combination of truth and grace.
Pick a gospel and pick a story. There were numerous times when Jesus could have chosen to argue with those who confronted him. It’s hard to find an occasion when Jesus chose that option. Rather, he responded with parables, searching questions, heavenly wisdom, and loving actions that challenged the expectations of both sinners and saints.
In the story of the “woman caught in adultery” (John 8), Jesus refuses to be drawn into the trap of the Pharisees. They wanted him to choose from among their options. He simply stops, gathers his thoughts, and decides to provide His option – not one of theirs. He speaks in a way that no one expected – not the Pharisees and not the woman. He challenges his accusers and he challenges the woman – truth and grace in action.
Let us adopt that model and allow God’s Spirit to do “the convicting” in people’s lives. I trust His truth and wisdom far more than my own. This approach makes a big difference with collegians; I commend it to us all.