Truth, the Universe, and You

By Douglas Groothuis and Elizabeth Johnston

Intellectual sobriety is rare. When pressed to think at all, many act like drunken sailors forced to take a philosophy quiz. Philosopher Harry Frankfurt called this, well, bullshit in his miniature best-selling book, On Bullshit. Page one says:

“One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share.”

He understands the bovine excrement metaphor to mean communication that does not care about truth. Liars have a greater concern to get reality right—and then to claim the opposite. To lie, as Mortimer Adler puts it in Six Great Ideas, is to “willfully misplace one’s ontological predicates.” That is, I know that X is P and I say that X is not-P. I deny what I should affirm. This is the work of the liar. Exponents of BS, however care not whether his ontological predicates match reality. He speaks and writes for other reasons. Impressing people, persuading people, deceiving people, and hearing himself talk are among them.

Truth seekers and truth tellers are neither deceivers nor BS artists.

One should never get over a concern for truth, since lies lurk everywhere. Believing the truth with wisdom allows us to navigate reality far better than heeding the counsel of lies and BS. A man who is true to the truth need seek no lies. He is disarmed and rearmed by reality and will not try to falsify it. Truth makes its demands, if we have ears to hear. Consider its inescapable demands.

  1. A statement is true if it corresponds with the reality it describes.

Example: God exists.

  1. A statement is false if it fails to correspond with the reality it describes.

Example: God does not exist.

  1. For a statement to be true, it must cohere with every other true statement in the universe. That is, no true statement can cohere with a false statement, since they contradict each other.

Consider an example.

S1: It is objectively wrong to murder.

Since it corresponds to reality, this assertion is true. Subjective preference and derivation from a sociological sample do not influence its veracity. Its truthfulness is inherent. Thus, consistency with every other accurate pronouncement is a must.

Meet Goober; he is a materialist. Actually, Goober is a muddled materialist. He correctly holds S1 to be true, but he also believes:

S2: Materialism is true.

Materialism is an all-encompassing worldview. Denying not only God’s existence—but also everything abstract or spiritual—it insists that only matter exists. Thus, materialism cannot supply a moral authority beyond the mere facts of chemistry, biology, and physics. Normative claims have no logical place within that paradigm—befuddled believers in a materialistic worldview notwithstanding. Therefore, S2 does not cohere with S1. What else must be true if S1 is true? Consider:

G1: God is the source of moral authority.

G1 is true because God is the personal and immaterial evaluator of all things. He defines the meaning of good and evil based upon the moral perfections of his character. Human beings possess intrinsic dignity and the right to life because they are created in God’s image. Murder transgresses this intrinsic dignity and the right to life. As a consequent, murder is morally wrong. Therefore, the following two assertions do not cohere:

S1: It is morally wrong to murder.

S2: Materialism is true.

This is because the following affirmation is true:

G1: God is the source of moral authority.

Therefore, the following two statements cohere:

S1: It is morally wrong to murder.

G1: God is the source of moral authority.

Lest one take this analysis to be laborious and obvious, the point is a sharp one: A proper mindset accepts only affirmations that cohere with one another. Anything one believes to be true must be in accord with any other true statement in the universe. Let us remember:

  1. God is one.
  2. Truth is one.
  3. All truth is God’s truth.
  4. Errors are many.

Therefore, the wise will eschew BS, endeavor to find the truth, and will not contradict it by lying. God is watching. All truth is his, although he shares it with all who pursue it. Jesus, Truth Incarnate, declares:

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened (Matthew 7:7-8).

 

 

5 Truths Billy Graham Taught Us

On Billy Graham

Gordon MacDonald, friend and Chancellor of Denver Seminary, mentioned to me that it is likely that few students at my school know much, if anything, about Billy Graham. It is for those not acquainted with the greatest evangelist of the twentieth century that I write these words.

Billy Graham knew his calling and stayed true to it in active ministry for over 60 years. He drew huge crowds through his crusades, a word we do not use today for mass evangelism. These events included congregational singing, celebrity testimonies, and preaching by Graham.

He was blessed with a commanding, but not imposing, presence. He had a strong voice, was good looking, and later wore his hair a bit long. All this added to his distinctive presence. He preached the biblical gospel in every message and around the world. I encourage you to watch some of them online. You may be moved to get saved again (or for the first time).

Graham ended every service with an altar call, asking those who wanted to “receive Christ” to come forward to pray with workers at the front of the stage. Thousands and thousands did so over decades. These services were often televised nationally. I remember seeing part of one in my home in Anchorage, Alaska, sometime in the 1960’s. Sadly, my father did not want to watch much of it.

Graham did much more than preach, however. He led an organization with integrity: The Billy Graham Evangelistic Society. It publishes a magazine called Decision, produces films, and uses every available venue to preach the Gospel. I recently received an evangelistic card in the mail written by Franklin Graham, Graham’s son. I gave it to an acquaintance at a pub. I hope he read it.

A number of books were written by Graham, the most noteworthy, perhaps, was Peace with God. I gave his book, How to be Born Again, to a good friend of our families back in about 1977.

While he never strayed from his vocation as an evangelist, early in his career, Graham took a stand against Communism, because it was godless. (He later preached in The Soviet Union.) He supported the Civil Rights movement and was friends with Martin Luther King Jr. He also supported the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Understood more broadly, Graham was at the heart of Evangelicalism in the middle to late twentieth century. He and Dr. Carl F. H. Henry founded Christianity Today. Henry was one of his theological advisers. Graham’s winsomeness helped Evangelicalism emerge from a narrower Fundamentalism. He spent pastoral time with every president from Truman to Obama.

Graham lived out his ministry almost entirely without scandal. The worst of it was when he was recorded speaking of the Jews having a monopoly on Hollywood. He apologized and deeply regretted it. To my mind, the remark is not even anti-Semitic. I think it was only derogatory.

Graham was above reproach. Later in life, he regretted not spending more time with his family, pursuing more education, and not studying the Bible more. But, who lives to an old age without some regrets?

In her book, To Me, It’s Wonderful, Ethel Waters recounts her attendance at a Graham rally. Miss Waters was a successful jazz singer who was committed to Christ, but not involved much in the church. But she attended the crusade day-after-day and deepened her Christian commitment. She would later sing at these events and testify to the saving power of Christ. Her signature song was “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” a reference to Jesus’ teaching about not worrying in Matthew 6:25-27.

What can Billy Graham teach us?

  1. We must never forget or underestimate the power of the gospel. We must stay true to it. Explain it. Proclaim it. Defend it. Apply it. Graham did.
  2. We should be above reproach, never cut corners, and never play around with sin. The greater the influence we have, the worse the fall.
  3. We should find our calling and stay true to it. The church is called to evangelize, but some are better at it than others. I am more of an apologist than an evangelist, but I try to keep the gospel at the center of my work.
  4. We should capitalize on every opportunity, use every venue, and employ every means to speak the truth in love about our God of truth and love.
  5. Like Billy Graham, we should stay humble. Despite his fame, he never sought the spotlight simply to increase his celebrity. His remarkable success did not go to his head. Whatever our successes, may they never make us proud.

Prayer

God of the harvest,
we pause and remember a great man of God,
remembering his virtues and his achievements,
all of which came from the Holy Spirit of truth.

Lord, may we be like him as he was like Christ.
In Jesus’ saving name,
Amen.

Gravity and Levity

Meaning demands wisdom and wisdom demands truth. Life is short and we need discernment to separate the wheat from the chaff, the ephemeral from the eternal. If our priorities are off, our lives will rot. The philosopher and scientist Blaise Pascal knew this:

Man’s sensitivity to the little things and insensitivity to the greatest are the signs of a strange disorder.

Before Pascal, Saint Augustine wrote of love’s disease. As fallen creatures, we too often make our love for God partial and our love of things total. We are flippant about eternity and serious about triviality. Why attend church when we could stay home and watch a football game? Why read the Bible when we can play video games? Why give to a pro-life organization when we can take another cruise?

To live a meaningful life of wisdom based on truth, we need to distinguish gravity from levity. In a way, all of life is grave, since it is lived before the face of God in the few years we are given under the sun. The Bible speaks in one voice on this. Moses writes:

Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:12).

The Apostle Paul exhorts us:

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is (Ephesians 5:15-17).James writes:

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-15).

Life is suffused with divine meaning. We should learn seize the day in light of eternity. The wise separate gravity from levity.

By gravity, I mean the things of moment, of importance, of significance. When a deadly or debilitating disease hits a loved one, this is grave. When a corrupt and corrupting politician undermines the foundation of a great nation, this is grave. Even the humor that ridicules this travesty can be serious, and dictators hate humor used against them. As A.W. Tozer wrote in “The Use and Abuse of Humor”:

Dictators and fanatics have no sense of humor. Hitler never knew how funny he looked, nor did Mussolini know how ridiculous he sounded as he solemnly mouthed his bombastic phrases.

Consider Charles Chaplin’s masterpiece, “The Great Dictator” (1940). This film does not make light of political evil; it creatively derides it. We should watch it today and apply it as fitting.

By levity, I mean things of little concern. They are frivolous, trite. Someone recently told me she reads romance novels because they are light. None of them will win a Pulitzer Prize, nor will any of them be in print fifty years hence. Few will be reread. Perhaps a romance novel functions as a literary hot tub—it relaxes and poses no challenges. Levity bids one to read romance novels at the expense of the Bible or great literature or contemporary books. Levity embraces trivia as meaningful or at least as a preferred distraction.

While the best humor is intelligent and instructive, much humor is trivial or worse. As Tozer warned:

Humor is one thing, but frivolity is quite another. Cultivation of a spirit that can take nothing seriously is one of the great curses of society, and within the church it has worked to prevent much spiritual blessing that otherwise would have descended upon us. We have all met those people who will not be serious. They meet everything with a laugh and a funny remark. This is bad enough in the world, but positively intolerable among Christians.

The fall of humanity turns everything upside down. We errant mortals obsess on trivia and ignore tragedy; we fixate on the frivolous and forbid the serious. What can be done?

Holy Scripture is the antidote for the malady confusing gravity and levity. It gives us wisdom and sobriety in all things:

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Hebrews 4:12-13).

Consider the Jesus found in our four Gospels.

We know that the Son of Man dined and talked with the down and out. For this, he was accused of being a glutton and a drunk. He was neither. He was enjoying himself with others who needed to hear his teachings. There must have been laughter. Since Jesus was the perfect human, he had a jolting sense of humor. But his life lacked levity in the way I define it. Jesus was always doing his Father’s work. He knew when to laugh. He knew when to cry. As John wrote, “Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did” (1 John 2:16). Hebrews tell us: “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

A prig cannot laugh. Stuffed shirts never burst their buttons in hilarity. There is a time to laugh. But there is no time to slough off what should be taken on. There is no time to push aside a cross we are meant to bear. And there is no time to take seriously what ought to be taken lightly.

 

 

The Dangerous Lies of False Prophets: Lessons from the Prophet Micah


The Bible is not a romantic or utopian book. Sweet talk is absent (except The Song of Songs). Because of the fall and the perennial and perpetual presence of sin, men and women lie to deceive themselves and to deceive others. Worse yet, people lie in the name of God. Untruth sweetly drips from dirty mouths; their deceitful hearts lead them on the wide path that leads to destruction.

These are hard words, even impolite or impolitic. But without hard, true, and necessary words, untruths are left to breed, infest, and infect the church and the world.

Micah, the true prophet of the living God, knew the power of lies; he knew the pleasing form that lies can take when cloaked in religious talk and dress. The Book of Micah begins:

The word of the Lord that came to Micah of Moresheth during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah—the vision he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem.

Hear, you peoples, all of you,
listen, earth and all who live in it,
that the Sovereign Lord may bear witness against you,
the Lord from his holy temple (1:1-2).

Micah then faithfully proclaims hard and true words to God’s rebellious people. They will be judged for their sins. Micah weeps and wails, howls, and moans in lament for his beloved people.

Because of this I will weep and wail;
I will go about barefoot and naked.
I will howl like a jackal
and moan like an owl.
For Samaria’s plague is incurable;
it has spread to Judah.
It has reached the very gate of my people,
even to Jerusalem itself (1:8-9).

He faced facts that made his heart fail. The truth could not be swept aside by positive thinking or creative visualization or by claiming a promise God never made.

Yet in the face of religious and national crisis, those of Judah and Jerusalem turn to “the pillow prophets” (as David Wilkerson called them)—the prophets of the lie whose words flatter and sooth a bad conscience:

“Do not prophesy,” their prophets say.
“Do not prophesy about these things;
disgrace will not overtake us.”
You descendants of Jacob, should it be said,
“Does the Lord become impatient?
Does he do such things?”

“Do not my words do good
to the one whose ways are upright?
Lately my people have risen up
like an enemy.
You strip off the rich robe
from those who pass by without a care,
like men returning from battle.
You drive the women of my people
from their pleasant homes.
You take away my blessing
from their children forever.
Get up, go away!
For this is not your resting place,
because it is defiled,
it is ruined, beyond all remedy.
If a liar and deceiver comes and says,
‘I will prophesy for you plenty of wine and beer,’
that would be just the prophet for this people! (2:6-11).

These prognosticators turn to the occult, which God condemns. The occult is the practice of contacting and using the spiritual world in ways that reject the God of the Bible. God’s people were warned:

When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord; because of these same detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you. You must be blameless before the Lord your God (Deuteronomy 18:9-14).

God brings judgment on those who want power and knowledge apart from what he has revealed through his prophets.

I will destroy your witchcraft
and you will no longer cast spells.
I will destroy your idols
and your sacred stones from among you;
you will no longer bow down
to the work of your hands.
I will uproot from among you your Asherah poles
when I demolish your cities.
I will take vengeance in anger and wrath
on the nations that have not obeyed me (12-15).

The false prophets wanted nothing of negativity and doom. They cover their ears at the voice of God’s mouthpiece. The people of Samaria and Jerusalem took the god of their imagination to be the one true God of the Covenant. But that Covenant threated punishment for disobedience as well as blessing for obedience (Deuteronomy 8:28). With their cities under judgment, their lives hanging by a thread, and their children about to be cursed beyond cure, they preferred prophesies about plenteous wine and bear. They would not imbibe. God declares of the pillow prophets:

The seers will be ashamed
and the diviners disgraced.
They will all cover their faces
because there is no answer from God (3:7).

Lies fail in the end. Liars reap shame. Truth triumphs; but we are caught in between the truth and the lie, stretched in both directions. What, then, can be done?

Micah offers hope founded on truth—the truth of God himself. The book speaks of the restoration of God’s people in the near and long-term future. The key to individual repentance and renewal is to heed God and live in his presence and according to his commands and promises. Micah sums this up memorably:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God (6:8).

God has made known what is good and what opposes his well. We are without excuse.

Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint;
but blessed is the one who heeds wisdom’s instruction (Proverbs 29:17).

The knowledge of God and his ways is not optional; it is mandatory. How can we stand in the truth, stand for the truth, and stand against false prophets?

This cannot be done on the cheap. Liars can be persuasive. They may be starter than you are. To be lazy concerning truth means that you will become deceived and a deceiver. As Blaise Pascal wrote in Pensées:

Truth is so obscure in these times, and falsehood so established, that, unless we love the truth, we cannot know it.

Paul warned us:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will (Romans 12:1-2; see also 1 John 2:15-17).

A Christian offers herself as a “living sacrifice” by setting her mind on heavenly things, the things of God (Colossians 3:1-2). Ultimate reference for us is not the fallen world but the risen Christ. To build up one’s faith in the truth of God, one needs godly priorities.

Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ (Romans 10:17).

If you want to unmask and confront false prophets, false teachings, and false Bibles, then take heed to the living and active word of God (Hebrews 4:12). Without the standard, you cannot discern the counterfeit. Read the Bible regularly; attend a Bible-believing and teaching church; meditate and memorize passage of holy writ. Take other things out of your life to make space for truth.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us (Hebrews 12:1).

Let truth guide and shape your emotions. Hebrews exhorts those who were underachievers in the truth in this way:

We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil (Hebrew 5:11-14).

Until the end, false prophets will speak enticing words of error in the name of God, the Bible, truth, love, and goodness. The people of God must be discerning. “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5:11; see also Proverbs 1:10).


For more on how the Old Testament prophets speak today, see Francis Schaeffer, Death in the City and Abraham Heschel, The Prophets.

Undermining Truth in God’s Name

Undermining Christian mission is a constant threat, on the horizon and already in the midst of churches, seminaries, and Christian organizations. Our call, our sacred duty and privilege, is to proclaim, explain, defend, and apply the truth of the one true and living God, and to endeavor to do this in every area of life and thought. As Francis Schaeffer so often affirmed, “The Lordship of Christ covers all of life and covers all of life equally.”

Seminaries can undermine their very reason for being—making known the truth of God. If so, they deserve a millstone around their necks, not a crown on their heads. One assured way of deconstructing the mission of God is to deny propositional truth and knowledge as belief aptly supported by reasoning and evidence.

Just today I listened to the concerns of a student at a seminary—not my own—who was told that the theories of George Lindbeck should be embraced. The truth-decaying, knowledge-undermining philosophy of postmodernism (or post-liberalism) is welcomed and dissent is not allowed. Truth Decay, my 2000 jeremiad and apologetic, takes this on, but let me reiterate.

Professor Lindbeck and his followers (such as the late Stanley Grenz) deny that the affirmations of Scripture are true in the sense of matching objective reality. Scripture gives us the rules for shaping the church. It cannot speak beyond that as to mind-independent states of affairs. This view is theologically deadly; it is funereal in tone, if popular among benighted advocates.

First, this view commits the fallacy of false dichotomy, which is, perhaps, the most commonly practiced fallacy today. Yes, the Bible tells us how to live for God: Love God and neighbor according to biblical revelation and godly character. Rules are required. But rules are only worth following if they work with the grain of the universe and cohere with the mind of God. Christ calls me to serve “the least of these” because as we do, we serve Christ himself. The rule is tied to the reality, the objective, Christological state of affairs.

Second, all sixty-six books of Holy Scripture affirm a propositional and correspondence account of truth. A proposition is what an indicative statement means. Statements can be read or affirmed in various languages because they share propositional content. I often have my students say aloud “Jesus is Lord” in as many languages as they can. Despite the differences in words and sounds, they mean the same thing (however slight the difference in nuance). A proposition stakes out the facts—either rightly or wrongly. Yahweh is the true God. Baal is not. Jesus is the way. Buddha is not. If a proposition corresponds to the reality it describes, then it is true. This is the metaphysics of truth, what truth is. Without this understanding, Christians can only talk to themselves—and not make much sense of it either.

Third, the mission of God is to reveal the truth of God so that it is known and obeyed (Matthew 28:18-20). For this, we need knowledge, not mere belief. A truth claim can only be knowledge in a person if that claim matches reality (Jesus is Lord) and if one has adequate justification for that claim (the claims and credentials of Christ).

I address all this is great detail in Truth Decay and Christian Apologetics. For now, I exhort all my readers to not be blown by every wind of doctrine, but to be firmly rooted in the truth of Scripture. Truth is nothing to play with; revelation is nothing to reject through shoddy thinking.