The well-known and popular, contemporary theory about truth is that there is no such thing except in a narrowly defined way. If I understand it correctly, post-modernist theory maintains that absolute truth does not exist and that any truth claim is only a point of view. Truth can not be attained. It is beyond us or does not exist at all. Post-modernism asserts that while sense experience and logic can bring us to some certainty, philosophy, ethics, and theology can not. Thus, it is possible to believe truth exists in a narrow sense. But, on the big questions of life and its meaning we are wandering in the wilderness.
Christian faith, then, is a point of view, not truth. The post-modernist would answer Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” (John 19: 38) with “It doesn’t exist.” But, the fact is that Christian teaching assumes that its claims are true. Truth is not truth when regarded only as a perspective. To defend truth, we must not only assert what believe, but explain what we believe. We are asking others to join us in the worship of the Triune God. We are under necessity to tell the truth because of Jesus’ command to go to all people announcing the reality of the kingdom of heaven. Only in the end, only teleologically, will absolute certainty be attained in the presence of God.
Jesus does not answer Pilate’s question. But, the irony in this passage from John is that truth stands before Pilate in the person of Jesus Christ. The greatest truth is that God exists and that Jesus Christ is the Son of the Father. Without this assumption, we cannot begin to make a defense and witness to Christ. So we boldly make it. This does not mean that we are prohibited from closely examining the tenets of our faith. But, it does mean that to be effective witnesses we must end up asserting that Christ is truth and the particular doctrines of “the rule of faith”(as expressed in our creeds) are all true.
If we retreat from this position, we can only describe the faith, not prescribe it. Unlike wisdom who proclaims herself in public (Proverbs 1), we would refrain from calling people to believe in the wisdom of God, Jesus Christ; because, our own doubts would be overwhelming. We would reject Jesus’ call because of the strength of philosophical scepticism. All Christians at times doubt, but add a persistence of philosophical scepticism, and we would probably be overcome.
Scepticism has a long history beginning with the Greeks. In Western philosophy David Hume and his philosophical descendants have blazed the path of scepticism. As Christians, we are compelled to reject this point of view. We need to make effective arguments for truth and our ability to establish it, not beyond a shadow of a doubt, but with sufficient certainty for our task and faith. This does not mean we know everything about God and the world. Even if our race lasts for aeons more, we shall never find out all that is hidden including God Himself.
When we confess the creed in worship, we are proclaiming that certain things are objectively true. No post-modernist would be satisfied with this perspective, believing that such confidence is illusion. So be it!
In our defense of the faith we must provide, more or less depending on the situation, a rationale for what we believe. It can take the form of logical defense of the doctrine of God, existentialist theory that investigates the situation of humans in their existence in the world, ontology, epistemology, and so on. Of course, most of us are not equipped to provide such an intellectual defense, but in the Christian community there dwell thinkers that can provide us with this. As the apologists of the early Christian centuries bequeathed to their own time and our time intellectual and spiritual insight and defense of the faith, so they do today along with others who succeeded them.
Let the debate go on. We are not bereft of recourse to the great Christian tradition in theology, ethics, counsel, philosophy, liturgics, historical science, and so on.
If we are unable to answer an atheist/secularist/logical positivist, we need to do our homework by consulting books and people and get back to the sceptics, if such an effort is required for effective witness and defense of the faith.
Michael G. Tavella
January 16, 2020