Post-truth: even in the Church?
Published: 29 August 2017 (GMT+10)
‘Post-truth’ was declared by the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) to be their 2016 international word of the year. It is defined as, “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”. This, of course, is really a continuation of post-modernism which denies the existence of truth as an objective, absolute reality.
The word (or term) post-truth came to the fore in a year of political theatre in which the media and politicians all over the world—in their pursuit of a particular personal or communal cause—increasingly made claims and denials which were patently false, even to their acolytes, and yet the untruthfulness was mostly ignored by their supporters. People’s choice of narrative is driven increasingly by emotion, ideology, agenda and pragmatism rather than by truth. Media articles, commenting on the OED’s recognition of ‘post-truth’, defined the term as describing a world in which the notion of truth has become unimportant or irrelevant in the pursuit of a particular outcome.
Unfortunately, even in the Church, of whom Jesus stated that “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32), the truth is often made subservient to the pursuit of other goals: church growth, academic respectability, dissemination of the Gospel and so on. As worthy as some of these goals may be, unless “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27) is taught where and when appropriate, those goals can become hollow shells, devoid of propositional content and meaning.
Truth subverted by worldly philosophy
Of course, in a world increasingly and deliberately framed by philosophical naturalism—the belief that matter and/or natural laws are all that ever was, is, will be, or allowed to be—this process of downplaying truth is inevitable. Matter may emit photons, quarks, Higgs bosons and other sub-atomic particles, but it cannot emit truth, or even the concept of absolute truth. And unless we as Christians “stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth” (Ephesians 6:14) which is God’s Word, the church will also succumb to this process of subversion of truth.
Cosmological, geological and biological evolution are all inseparably part and parcel of the origins story of naturalism that today is the ‘established religious philosophy’ of the world. Philip Johnson, in his follow-up book to the ground-breaking Darwin on Trial, argued that this grip on society of the naturalistic worldview, would inevitably lead to Reason in the Balance.1
Increasingly it seems that the world is unbalanced and the scales are tipped overwhelmingly toward post-reason, post-rationality, and post-truth. The arbitrary ‘rule’ that naturalism and materialism must account for all of reality—as imposed by secular ‘science’, the media and education—is totally contradictory to the experience and observation common to all mankind (Romans 1:19-20). For this reason, the attempt to impose naturalistic interpretations on everything inevitably leads to a subjugation of reason. Scripture emphatically states that people, “who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” of creation (Romans 1:18), become “futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts … darkened” (Romans 1:21).
Truth compromised in the churches
Often, we see well-meaning Christian leaders and theologians, who believe they have found the solution by replacing evolution with what amounts to a kind of ‘theolution’, accepting evolution but making it a partly supernatural rather than a purely natural process. Yet, they are setting the Church up to lose its God-given role as “a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). In order to ‘make the fit’, they have to resort to the avoidance of the plain and natural meaning of words and concepts, engaging in prevarication, manipulation and redefining of the Scriptures. TRUTH goes up the chimney, having been consumed on the altar of experience, respectability, or apparent ‘results’.
Let me illustrate this. On the website of a well-known and influential church in South Africa, in a section dealing with the ‘hard’ questions that people commonly have, two of the questions listed are: “What about evolution?” and “Why is there suffering and death in the world?” Dealing with the latter question, an orthodox Christian answer is given, specifically to the issue of natural evil in the world—that earthquakes, tsunamis, “thorns and thistles” and disease are the consequence of Adam’s sin. However, inconsistently, the former question is answered by positing that evolution and the Bible can both be true! This is achieved by making the opening chapters of Genesis mainly “parabolic”; in other words, just fables to teach us some principle about God and man.
Well, if the general theory of evolution2 is true, even if set in motion or directed by God, then earthquakes, floods, thorns, cancer, carnivory and disease—affecting animals and human-like creatures (Neandertals, H. erectus etc.)—existed millions of years before any possible date for Adam and his sin. They are all exhibited in the rock and fossil record which, by evolutionary assumptions, is often dated at millions to hundreds of millions of years old.
So, in this example, we have two church documents that completely contradict each other when dealing with the existence of natural evil. Evolution implies that, far from suffering and death being the consequence of Adam’s sin, natural evil caused Adam’s sin. Who could blame Adam for rebelling against a God who put him in a lousy world of death and suffering and then called it “very good”? (Genesis 1:31)
A Christian’s mind divided?
No wonder that even many Christians are increasingly living an upper storey/lower storey dichotomy of existence.3 That is, an upper storey of feelings, emotions and religious ‘truths’ and lower storey of facts and actions.
This process of truth-erosion is not inevitable. I can identify with the testimony of millions of other Biblical believers throughout history, of a practical and intellectual life transformed by a coherent ‘theory of everything’ (including spiritual, emotional, moral, doctrinal and scientific things) that a plain, natural reading of the Bible provides—a framework of a perfect creation, marred and scarred by sin, but promised a perfect restoration though the shed blood, physical death and physical resurrection of the Creator Himself, the eternally begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ.
And we can all play a part in that true ‘enlightenment’ by sharing CMI resources and information with pastors, teachers, pupils, friends, family and colleagues that the Lord has brought into our lives. Such a worldview is the only basis for “true TRUTH”,4 and the truth sets us free (John 8:32).
References and notes
- Johnson, P. E. Reason in the Balance: The Case Against Naturalism in Science, Law and Education, 1998. Return to text.
- Hydrogen-to-molecules-to-all life forms and matter by random or purposeful processes (theistic evolution, progressive creation etc.) over billions of years. Return to text.
- A concept brilliantly explained by Francis Schaeffer in a number of his books. But even he seems to have failed to recognise the enormous role that an accommodation of naturalism into Biblical interpretation has played in this process. He was willing to entertain some such compromise himself. Return to text.
- See ref. 3. Return to text.