What theory of truth should a Bible-believing Christian accept?

Investigation in progress
Investigation in progress

I was just thinking to myself this week about why I keep running into people who identify as Christians who are open and unrepentant about habitual sin. Now, I’m not perfect, but you don’t see me out there in public saying that the Bible is wrong. I would not claim that some behavior that was condemned by all previous generations of Christians is suddenly ok.

So, I thought and thought and thought about it, and here is what I came up with. Somehow, people have come to a view of Christianity that tells them that Christianity is not something that is true about the universe out there. Instead, Christianity is “true” in the sense that it “works for them”.

So they aren’t saying that God actually exists or that Jesus actually rose from the dead, because they don’t know if those things are objectively true. They’re just saying that they like some Christian words and behaviors because those things make them feel good. Christianity is not something they could defend as objectively true to any non-Christian using reason and evidence. They like how the idea of a loving God makes them feel. Or maybe they like invoking the idea of “do not judge” when someone questions their destructive choices or immorality. But they don’t actually submit to these ideas as “true” in the same way that they take the instructions on a medicine bottle as true.

Here’s a post by Aaron Brake at Stand to Reason, that explains three different views of truth. He calls the view that I talked about the “pragmatic view of truth”. He says that the pragmatic view is that things are true if they “work” for the individual. So, in the case of my Christians-who-deny-Jesus-as-Lord, these people pick and choose things that work for them out of Christianity, e.g. – the love of God, the “do not judge” fragment, the women taken in adultery, etc. But they leave out the moral obligations that Christians have believed for thousands of years, e.g. – no sex before marriage, marriage is between a man and woman for life, divorce is pretty much always unjustified, and adultery is never OK under any circumstances.

Here is the view of truth that he thinks is best:

Finally, there is the correspondence theory of truth: truth is when an idea, belief, or statement matches (or corresponds with) the way the world actually is (reality).

This may rightly be labeled the “common sense” view of truth. While not taught explicitly in Scripture, it is assumed throughout both the Old and New Testaments. The correspondence theory of truth states that an idea, belief, or statement is true if it matches, or corresponds with, reality. In this sense, reality is the truth-maker, and the idea, belief, or statement is the truth-bearer. When the truth-bearer (an idea) matches the truth-maker (reality), they are said to stand in an “appropriate correspondence relationship,” and truth obtains.

Consider the following statements:

  1. Donald Trump is the current President of the United States.
  2. The city of Los Angeles is located in California.
  3. Elective abortion kills an innocent human being.

Are these statements true? They are if, in fact, they match reality. Statement number 1 is true if, in reality, Donald Trump is the current President of the United States. Statement 2 is true if, in fact, the city of Los Angeles is located in California. And statement 3 is true if elective abortion really does kill an innocent human being. Easy enough, right? Aristotle put it this way:

To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true; so that he who says anything that it is, or that it is not, will say either what is true or what is false.

A Case for Correspondence

Christian philosopher J.P. Moreland notes two main arguments which have been advanced in favor of the correspondence theory of truth: the descriptive and the dialectical.

The descriptive argument simply presents specific cases that help illustrate the concept of truth. For example, in Moreland’s bookstore case, an individual named Joe has the thought “Richard Swinburne’s book The Evolution of the Soul is in the bookstore.” When Joe enters the bookstore and sees the book, he actually experiences truth, a correspondence relation between his thought and reality. Again, this is the “common sense” definition of truth since it is the view we all presuppose in our daily actions and speech; i.e., everyone assumes the correspondence theory of truth when reading a medicine label or dialing a phone number.

That theory of truth is the normal theory of truth, and it’s the one used in the Bible, e.g. – Elijah on Mount Carmel, Jesus calling his resurrection the Sign of Jonah. If the Bible teaches something, then that teaching is true, because it conforms to the way the world really is. Objective reality makes the Bible’s statements true or false. It’s true whether people like it or not.

Here’s what I suspect is true of all the liberal Christians that I’ve met. None of them will have looked into things like the existence of God or the resurrection to see if they are objectively true. They’ll not even be interested in lifting a finger to study in order to find out whether those things are true. If they evangelize, they’ll tell stories about their own life experiences and feelings, and try to “sell” Christianity based on felt needs being met. They’ll not waste a second on studying the laws of logic, or science or history in order to demonstrate Christian claims as true – especially the ones that don’t “ring true” to them.

It makes me think of that post that I wrote about John Searle and his suspicion about why people become postmodern relativists. He thinks it’s so that they can deny reality if reality constrains their will to pursue happiness. I’ve actually seen this when people break all the rules in their selfish pursuit of happiness, and then when it all explodes in their face, they claim that life is unpredictable, and it wasn’t their fault. The rejection of the correspondence theory of truth is – I think – rooted in this desire to dismiss anything that could act as a brake on their hedonism. They don’t care that you can produce studies after studies showing that fatherlessness is bad for children. If God didn’t give them a husband, then they are perfectly justified in having children through a sperm donor, and raising the fatherless child with welfare money. The simplest way out of your Bible verses and fatherlessness studies is for them to say that doing wrong “works for them” and so it’s “true for them”.

13 thoughts on “What theory of truth should a Bible-believing Christian accept?”

  1. Someone on another post, earlier this week or late last week, likened the current state of the Protestant church as this, and I thought it was well fitting:

    Judges 17:6 In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.

    When your truth about scripture is different from my truth about scripture, which is different than someone else’s truth about scripture the scripture has no power, it becomes a blob of everything and means nothing. That is where Western Christianity seems to be right now. Not that the word of God has no power, it always has power, but when people interpret it to stand for nothing they can’t make it stand for anything objective and good.

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    1. In my case, I was very happy to get some reliable information about God and the design of the universe out of the Bible. I certainly couldn’t rely on my parents, friends, teachers, etc. when I was young for wisdom. They either didn’t know or didn’t care. I’m not sure why people insist on having veto power over the Bible. I think they should be happy to get some true boundaries so they can make good decisions and have accurate expectations about the Creator’s intentions. Life is confusing enough already. Especially these days where reliable guidance is hard to get. If I had a penny for everyone who looked back on their childhood and wished someone had told them better information, I’d be rich.

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      1. I think your assuming people want boundaries when they really don’t. They want the perception of boundaries so they can feel good about themselves and look good to others, but they also want control over said boundaries so if they need to go outside of them for a reason they can make slight adjustments so as not to offend their sense of morality. Abortion is a perfect example. Most Christians will extol the horrors of abortion but have “fine tuning” on exactly where the line is that suddenly makes abortion acceptable. A loose woman getting knocked up by random me: Abortion bad, make better choices. A young girl raped by a thug: Abortion not great, but acceptable because the baby will remind the girl of the awful assault. Doesn’t matter that its murder and that the bible says murder is wrong, there has to be the ability to move the boundaries. Thus modern Christians can always be “following the word of God” without feeling convicted that they aren’t.

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  2. This is fascinating to me… the post modern relativist part especially… I was just addressing it yesterday about how the arguments they are beginning to use are kind of like a dog chasing it’s own tail, there’s no end and there’s no winning with their logic. It’s all selfish, self-based, me first, nothing to do with actual Christianity spiritualism… thanks for sharing this

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  3. The correspondence view of truth is the only one. Despite the many protestations, it has no competition. Any view of truth that does not correspond to reality is unreliable, unverifiable, and self defeating.

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  4. I’m one of those who believe it is objectively true, and I have always been a science guy (BS in chemistry and physics). I don’t believe that God owes me anything or is my “pal”. I am ashamed of my sins, but don’t know how to stop them.

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    1. Grace allows us to overcome sin. As a Christian we should want to become more like Christ and means leaving behind sins. It is a gradual process. A true Christian isn’t under worry or condemnation for each time they sin. That was covered in salvation.

      But we want to take our faith seriously and actively strive to be more Christ like. We set aside sin because they inhibit us from our true potential. It is not just because things take us to hell but things make us waste our time.

      We only have so many years on earth to serve God and do his work while we live if we waste years on useless things. Give bad witnesses through living carnal or look past those in need because it will take away from our fun times. Then we waste away this time, even though to a Christian the true life will be realized after death and all that we thought mattered in this life is of no significance.

      Don’t go against what God said in the Bible, so we can get maximum impact to help others and to not drag others away from God.

      I also find it curious people quote judge no lest ye be judged. Taking it out of context and setting.

      Then they omit that soon we find the phrase. Go and sin no more…

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      1. Right, the last part of the sentence is usually conveniently left out. I’d bet that many people don’t even realize there is a rest of the sentence. However while we’re on the subject, what does that mean to “go and sin no more”? That isn’t humanly possible. Or was Jesus referring to her specific sin?

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        1. Hey Robert,
          I take Jesus to mean when he says, “go and sin no more” to refer to the woman’s adulterous life/actions. This doesn’t mean that other sins are no big deal but the specific sin of adultery needed to be addressed and it was by having a transforming encounter with Jesus when he extended mercy to her.
          Now is it possible to never sin again given this “go and sin no more” command? No, I don’t think that’s possible (see Romans 7). But there’s a huge difference between the “sin doesn’t matter” approach to the Christian life which ends up turning the grace of God into a license to sin and the “deny yourself take up your cross daily and follow me” approach. The former doesn’t truly understand that sin separates us from God and cheapens the sacrifice of Christ while the latter understands and appreciates that sacrifice and seeks to live accordingly. You could sum up the whole thing by what Peter said in 1 Peter 2:11-12. How you go about doing that is explored by our friend Francis Schaeffer in his book I mentioned earlier.

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    2. @ Robert What. I highly recommend “True Spirituality” by Francis Schaeffer. I also agree with the comments made by others about the need for God’s transforming grace after conversion. If you are subtly referring to pornography addiction (which is a current crisis in both the church and society) I highly recommend “Finally Free” by Heath Lambert.

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  5. The main text if judge not lest your be judged is the beatitudes in Matt, 7. The focus there is saying don’t judge other than to realize that by the measure you judge others you will be judged too. Also to worry about our problems first so we can help people take care of their own.

    Again it is saying to take care of our problems then we can help others. No license to sin is handed out by the Bible

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