Finding Meaning and Clarity in a Post-Truth World
WHO: Abdu Murray, North American director of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and a scholar in residence at the Josh McDowell Institute of Oklahoma Wesleyan University.
HE SAYS: “Integrity is the currency of truth. Courage is its backbone. When we adopt both, and perhaps only then, can the church wear Jesus’ coat well for all to see.”
THE BIG IDEA: Saving Truth provides arguments from a Christian perspective for the foundations of truth and how those foundations apply to sexuality, identity, morality, and spirituality.
In an effort to raise the alarm among Christians about the post-truth culture we live in, the author begins by defining what exactly this culture looks like, from both the individual and the church’s point of view.
In the next grouping of chapters, Abdu presents strong arguments for clarity about freedom, human dignity, sexuality, gender, identity, science and faith, and religious pluralism.
He then concludes with a chapter titled “The Son Through Fog,” which shows how Jesus is both the truth and connection we need.
”The more post-truth spreads, the more desperately we need to know who can provide us with clarity.”
A CONVERSATION WITH ABDU MURRAY
How can pastors best encourage congregations that are standing for truth but find themselves accused of being intolerant?
This is a critical question. Ironically, intolerance has become a scarlet letter, a brand meant to shut out opinions instead of tolerating differences. But I think there is hope that pastors can share with those in their spiritual care.
First, pastors can remind their congregations to expect opposition to the Christian message and that the opposition will get very personal, very quickly. This isn’t really a new phenomenon. It’s been happening to Christians since the birth of the church. It happened in Jesus’ earthly ministry and in the lives of the apostles and disciples. But why did it happen and why is it happening now? Because the Christian message isn’t a “bumper sticker” kind of message. It is deep, it is convicting. The fact that the broader culture opposes the gospel tells us that our message is not boring. It isn’t mere background noise. The larger culture takes it seriously enough to oppose. Although the methods of opposition have changed, the fact of opposition is as old as the church itself. Christians today can learn from Christians of the past.
Second, pastors can model what it means to stand for truth but to be compassionate in doing so. In 1 Peter 3:15-16, Peter tells us to “honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” Peter wrote that passage to encourage Christians who are suffering slander and other oppression for the gospel. And he tells us that even in such a time, we are to offer hope, without compromise, but with gentleness and respect in such a way that leaves us with a clear conscience. I, along with members of the RZIM team, often speak in venues that are hostile to the gospel. But we’ve seen hearts and minds touched and changed when the truth is offered compassionately while without compromise. It isn’t easy to do and the temptation to engage in a quarrel is strong. But with God’s help, we can do it. I know that’s true because I’ve seen it again and again.
Third, pastors can equip their congregations to be able to defend the Christian faith with reason, facts, and evidence. When Christians are confident that they can meet the charge of intolerance with reasoned arguments given in gentle ways, they are more likely to stand for truth and make a difference. In it’s truest sense, tolerance means the ability of something to withstand stress (think of car parts having tolerances to heat or vibration). Today, it’s been misused to mean “celebration” or “affirmation” of something different. But if we are equipped to handle differences well, we can point out that tolerance is about giving people the dignity of disagreeing with them. That means we take them seriously. I’ve seen pastors do amazing work weaving this kind of apologetics into their sermons and small group curricula to bolster the confidence of those in their care. When the church is equipped, the church is effective.
Unpack what it means to be uncompromising yet inviting.
This is the real challenge in sharing the Christian faith in today’s world. I look to the apostle Paul’s words in Col. 4:5-6 where he urges us to “walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” One could write an entire book just on these two verses alone. But what he’s telling us is that as we wisely listen to people and what they care about, we can adapt how we present the uncompromised truth to address a person’s particular concerns. It’s one thing to know the truth and to use it as a machete. It’s another thing to have the truth and present it as a banquet feast, the aroma of which makes outsiders want to have a seat.
When we do that, we can find handholds for the gospel to not only validate another person’s struggle for answers, but also resolve the struggle for that particular person. The truth is the truth and our circumstances don’t change it. But a person’s circumstances may change how we present that truth. That’s why Paul says that we ought to know how to answer “each person.” Christians aren’t in the business of answering questions or objections. We’re in the business of answering people. Questions and objections don’t need answers, but people do. When we keep that in mind, that behind every question there is a questioner, we can be uncompromising on the truth but inviting in how we offer it to the world around us.
You write “in Christ truth and personal feelings converge.” What does that look like?
Today’s post-truth culture doesn’t deny that truth exists, it simply elevates personal feelings and preferences over the truth. Propositional truths like “Jesus rose from the dead to prove that he’s our savior” are ignored by the post-truth culture if such truths happen to conflict with our personal feelings or preferences. We won’t really acknowledge a truth claim unless we think that it’s somehow relevant to our personal feelings. What is the result? We try to fill and fulfill our lives with things, experiences, and the like. But material gain isn’t really personal. Getting drunk on the weekends or having one-night stands isn’t personal. And none of those things are “true,” they’re only facsimiles. In other words, in a post-truth culture that values personal feelings over truth, we look for fulfillment in things that are neither true nor personal.
But Jesus made the stark claim to the be the way, the truth, and the life. He is the very incarnation of truth. The truth is that we are valuable beings made in God’s image, that we’ve gone astray and ruined our relationship with God, but God has intervened in human affairs by personally coming to earth in human form, dying a death we deserve, to restore a relationship with him that we don’t deserve. Jesus’s incarnation, his cross, and his resurrection show us that we have infinite value. We no longer need to see if the truth is relevant to our feelings. The historically verifiable truth is that we are relevant to God. Our personal need for fulfillment and the truth of God’s love are found in the person of Christ.