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”.

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

    1. Yes. I don’t think people can accept Christianity as it really is if their focus is on feelings. Christianity is not a me-centered religion. If a person’s assumption at the outset is that everything that exists must exist for them, they’ll never accept Christianity at face value. Unfortunately, progressive policies have led a generation of young people to pre-suppose Christianity is false because of the feelings they have about it. If it doesn’t make them happy, then it must be false.

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      1. That is an excellent point, WK.

        The question I ask on the sidewalk to people who don’t like me “protesting” abortion is this: “If they were taking Black people into that building against their will and whipping them, and it was 100% legal, would you stand out here and protest THAT with me?”

        Black or white, male or female, atheist or “Christian,” I have heard only 1 “yes” (and many “no’s”) to that question in the last 3 years.

        Think we live in a depraved and narcissistic culture?!?

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  1. A good resource for this topic can be found in Norman Geisler’s The Big Book of Christian Apologetics and is much too long to post here. He explains though that the Correspondance Theory of Truth, that which corresponds to its referent, he writes;

    “What Truth Is. Correspondence with reality. Truth is what corresponds to its referent. Truth about reality is what corresponds to the way things really are. Truth is “telling it like it is.” This correspondence applies to abstract realities as well as to actual ones. There are mathematical truths. There are also truths about ideas. In each case, there is an object and truth accurately expresses it.”

    He also explains what truth is not;
    Truth is not “what works.”
    Truth is not “that which coheres.”
    Truth is not “that which was intended.”
    Truth is not “what is comprehensive.”
    Truth is not “what is existentially relevant.”
    Truth is not “what feels good.”

    Again, this was a long entry in the book, took 7 pages of a Word document when I copied and pasted it. This book is an awesome resource for the Christian as well as the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology by Dr. William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland.

    Yes, this was a plug for both volumes…

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