Can We Still Speak of Truth in the Post-Truth Age?

Can We Still Speak of Truth in the Post-Truth Age?

Can We Still Speak of Truth in the Post-Truth Age?
George Hutcheson (1615-1674) ministered in Ayrshire and Edinburgh and was a noted bible expositor. Like many other ministers he was removed from his congregation in 1662 for refusing to conform to the rule of bishops.
9 Dec, 2016

It’s the word on everyone’s lips all of a sudden. “Post-truth” means “circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”.  It is not just an issue in politics; fake news is part of the problem too. No doubt gut feeling informs opinion more than many care to admit. Yet, when any opinion is cynically viewed as mere manipulative advertising in another dress – the world is undoubtedly in trouble. It is a question of trust and reality and therefore threatens the fabric of society. Where can we still find truth?

A post-truth indicates a step beyond the idea that everyone has their own truth to the notion that truth is irrelevant. In many ways it is a natural step for those who believe that the ultimate reality is random chance. If we truly arrive at a point in our culture where information serves only to reinforce what we feel it would be especially solemn. When the Bible speaks of such trends it calls them “strong delusion” in those who “received not the love of the truth” because they “had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:10-12). Of course this highlights that what we now call “post-truth” has always had currency.

For Christians, there is a danger that we become subtly influenced by a post-truth outlook. What does this look like? It means that our lifestyle is dictated by what feels best and our worship determined by our taste. Our message and convictions may be more influenced by how they make us feel, or the response of other people.

It’s time to remind ourselves that objective and absolute truth matters. Jesus said that He Himself was the Truth and that God’s Word is Truth (John 14:6; John 17:17). Truth has its source and guarantee in God. Truth is far bigger and more complex than many appreciate.

We still need to confront those to whom truth is an inconvenient irrelevance with reality. In many ways this is what took place when the Lord Jesus Christ stood before Pontius Pilate (John 18). As has been observed by others, Pilate himself was on trial. He dismisses any reference to the truth with “What is truth?” and walks away without requiring an answer (John 18:38). George Hutcheson comments on Christ’s example in opposing a “post-truth” mindset with steadfast declaration of the truth. This is an updated extract from his commentary on the gospel of John.

 

1. Christ Came into the World to Bear Witness to the Truth

Christ’s office at this time was, in part, to preach truth and avow it. He came to prove himself a king by making it successful and to confirm it by His suffering. More particularly, He came into the world to bear witness to the truth that He was a king and so He published the decree of Psalm 2:6- 7 and avowed it to death.

Everyone is sent into the world and employed by God for some purpose and service. They should bear this much in mind and labour to be faithful in their employment and trust despite all threats. Christ, as man and Mediator looks to the purpose for which He was born and the reason for which He “came into the world” (to “bear witness unto the truth”). He will here avow it in spite of all threats, even before Pilate.

 

2. Everyone that is of the Truth Hears Christ’s Voice

Christ prevents an objection against the truth of His doctrine and witness on the grounds that it is not well received. Only a few may receive His teaching in general or the truth that He is a king. He makes it clear that the fewness of those who receive it does not make the truth void. All who are of the truth (or born of God, begotten by the word of truth) and who love the truth and do not delight in lies will hear Him and embrace His doctrine and testimony.

 

3. Truth Must be Boldly Maintained

Truth ought to be boldly maintained and avowed when we are called to this. It does not matter however absurd it may seem to be in itself and how unpleasant it seems to others. Christ answers that Pilate says that He is a king, rightly gathering it from His words. This is a bold confession in what it asserts; yet modest in the way it is expressed. He does not respond with boasting and later makes it clarifies that He did this out of conscience and duty. He showed that courage and modesty must go together with owning the truth.

 

4. Persecution Presents an Opportunity for the Truth

By persecution the Lord gives His servants an opportunity to publish truth and make it known to the greatest of men. Possibly these men would not otherwise ever hear so much of it as is then spoken in their own hearing. Through Christ’s suffering Pilate comes to hear His teaching, especially concerning His kingdom. Besides this also, the very sufferings of Christians invite men to inquire after the doctrine for which they suffer, which probably otherwise they would not have taken any notice of (Philippians 1:12-13).

 

5. All Who Profess Christ Must Witness to the Truth

All professors of religion must bear witness to the truth or give a testimony to its worth. Partly, they do this by openly avowing it and suffering for it when called to do so in times of peril. Partly, they do this in their ordinary conduct by declaring truth in their personal capacities. This is done by subjecting their life, thoughts and reasonings to it. They magnify the truth in the face of their trials and discouragements. If we neglect this we will never prove resolute in suffering for the truth.

They are also bound especially to bear witness to the kingdom of Christ. Christ Himself is the great Captain of these witnesses. He is the great preacher of truth, whose powerful sceptre as a King is the word of truth. He stands for maintaining the truth and particularly this truth, that he is a King over his own Church, to order its affairs thereof. Christ sealed this and all the truths of God by His blood. He declares this to be one of His great purposes and works in the world –  to “bear witness unto the truth”. He gives an example to all others in their personal capacities and an encouragement to all who follow His pattern. They have such a champion of truth, who still maintains it, though He does not come into the world in person any more, nor suffer any more.

 

6. The Truth is Still the Truth No Matter How Many Reject It

Although most of the world has little regard for Christ’s doctrine, it is still the very truth itself. All the lovers and friends of truth will own it. Those who do otherwise, expose their own estrangement from truth, and are indeed delighters in lies.

 

7. Suffering for the Truth is Foolish to the World

Pilate disdainfully enquires, “What is truth?” but abruptly breaks off the conversation with Christ. This teaches us that Christ and his followers may often seem great fools in their sufferings, as suffering for things of no moment in the esteem of men. The Lord often brings the godly to suffer for a very small hair and point of truth. Worldly men account it great folly for men to suffer for any divine truth. Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” implies this. He advances it, not so much to get a satisfactory answer (seeing he went out not waiting for an answer) but as testifying that he looked on truth (and particularly the truth that Christ now avowed) as a very trivial thing on which to endanger so much.

 

8. Pride is a Barrier to Seeking the Truth

A person’s own thinking and knowledge are such a great idol for them that they can hardly bear to be considered ignorant or esteem any truth to be excellent with which they are not acquainted. This also seems to have occasioned Pilate’s disdainful question, to which he will not stay for an answer. He could not endure to hear truth commended of which he and “the wise Romans” lacked knowledge (as he could gather from Christ’s last words).

 

9. God Can Use Those Who Despise the Truth for His Own Glory

The Lord can make use of, not only men’s natural conscience [Pilate’s natural conscience was convinced of Christ’s innocence] but even their atheistic disposition and contempt of truth and religion. He can do this, when it pleases Him, to bring about the good of those who suffer for the truth. He can make such men vindicate the innocence of those who suffer for God’s truth. In this way He teaches us to look much to Him since He can make use of everything as He pleases. It was Pilate’s contempt of what Christ preached of His kingdom and truth (in the beginning of the verse), which combines with his natural conscience to make him think nothing of the accusation and absolve Him of guilt. Paul was released due to the same reasons (Acts 18:12, 16).

 

Conclusion

Hutcheson draws many striking lessons from this passage to show that we must and can testify to the truth, even when it is dismissed and disdained. It is particularly noteworthy that God can even make use of such an attitude to truth for His own glory and to achieve His own purposes. The more that we see others despise the truth, the more we should embrace Christ as the truth. As Hutcheson comments on John 14:6:

Christ also is the truth, not only essentially in Himself and as the One from whom all truth comes, but more especially He is the truth as a way to His people, and a true way…in opposition to all the delusions and vanities of the world by which men think to attain happiness. These all draw people away from Christ, the true way, and they will prove a lie and not the truth.

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When Does Self-Esteem Go Too Far?

When Does Self-Esteem Go Too Far?

When Does Self-Esteem Go Too Far?
John Brown of Wamphray (1610-1679) was the Church of Scotland minister of Wamphray near Dumfries. One of the great theological writers in the later period of the Second Reformation, he wrote a large number of books and also pastored the Scots Church at Rotterdam.
10 Jun, 2016

Much of our culture centres around self-image. From this perspective low self-esteem is both a danger and a tragedy. For several decades psychologists have also believed that low self-esteem was the root cause of many personal and social problems. Popular Christian psychology is influenced by it to a significant extent. Building and maintaining self-esteem is thought to be a key priority. Yet some have called into question the narcissicism this encourages. Certainly, few ever ask what might be the dangers of excessive self-esteem. What does Scripture say?

There is an interesting expression in Romans 12:3 that no one should “think of himself more highly than he ought to think”; but rather “think soberly”. This certainly seems contrary to the self-esteem movement. Some have preferred to think of self-compassion rather than self-esteem. Few think about whether low self-esteem might arise from pride as much as high self-esteem. Thinking “soberly” of ourselves achieves the balance, The puritans spoke of three types of self-love: natural, carnal and gracious. Carnal self-love is excessive indulgence of the natural instinct of self-preservation. Gracious self-love find its happiness and chief good in God.  It seeks its own welfare in pursuing the higher ends of God’s glory rather than merely pleasing ourselves.

John Brown of Wamphray draws many interesting observations (many relating to pride in ministers) from this verse in his exposition of the book of Romans. The following are a selection:

 

1. Self-esteem goes too far when it Hinders Growth in Grace

Pride and conceitedness in the gifts we have received is a major hindrance to growth in grace and in holiness. It provokes God to leave us to ourselves because of the pride of our hearts. He does this so that we may find by experience how little strength we have to acquire anything and may learn to be humble in the future. This is clear from the connection with the former verses, where he had been pressing them to holiness (Romans 12:1-2). He begins verse 3 with the exhortation that they should not think too highly of themselves with the word “for” to make this connection.

 

2. Self-esteem goes too far when it Strengthens Pride

The innate corruption of pride within our heart is so strong that it is hard to root it out once we give room to this evil.  This weed is so natural to us that if we allow it to grow up even in that garden where there are flowers planted by God’s we cannot get rid of it easily. This is clear from the many arguments which the apostle uses to dissuade them from it. “I say” (at the beginning of the verse) is an authoritative way of saying, “I command”.

 

3. Self-esteem goes too far when we Congratulate Ourselves

We have no abilities or gifts except what we have received and must acknowledge God as the giver. Our natural corruption is so great, however, that we are ready to abuse the best gifts of God.  We grow proud of them and boast as if we needed to thank no one except ourselves for them. We are ready to be puffed up as if we had more ability than we have and could do more than we can and as if there were no one like us. We even see this in those in Church office whom Paul rebukes here.

 

4. Self-esteem goes too far when we Think We Have All the Answers

However small God’s gifts may be, we should not undervalue them since we are less than the least of all His mercies. Rather we are to give God due acknowledgement and hearty thanks for them. Thus, it is a heinous sin when those to whom God has given abilities and gifts swell with pride as if there were no one equal to them. This is particularly so when they think that they alone have unique gifts to search out new and strange doctrines and interpretations never heard of before (1 Timothy  6:3-4).They presume to dive into the secrets of the Lord and things that do not tend to edify. They neglect truths that are more necessary and obvious and are diverted from their ordinary calling and employment: This is the sin from which he dissuades them i.e. thinking more highly of themselves than they ought to think.

 

5. Self-esteem goes too far when it Prevents True Self-Knowledge

This sin is heinous in making a man a manifest and notorious liar. It also tends to make a man into a fool that does not know himself. He does not know how he ought to behave towards others. This should scare away Christians (especially the servants of the Lord) from this delusional sin of thinking more highly of themselves than they ought to do.

 

6. Self-esteem goes too far when we Fail to Have Modest Thoughts of Ourselves

Whatever gifts or graces the Lord is pleased to bestow on us, we should strive to have low thoughts of ourselves. We must remember our many infirmities and how unworthy we are of God’s gifts. We should be content in our minds with the measure he has given, knowing it is of His mercy and free love that we get any measure at all. We must pursue what tends to humble and edify rather than questions that cause strife. Thus he exhorts them to “think soberly”.

 

7. Self-esteem goes too far when it Implies that God is Unfair

Those who have conceited thoughts of themselves implicitly charge God with injustice in that He has bestowed fewer abilities on them than they believe they deserve. Beside this, they are guilty of heinous ingratitude in not acknowledging God’s goodness but rather are displeased because they have not been given more. The only wise God distributes freely as He pleases not according to what anyone deserves. This should keep people from conceited thoughts of themselves and undervaluing others. To scare them away from this sin he tells them that it is God who distributes to everyone “the measure of faith”. No one can get more than what God is pleased to give.

 

8. Self-esteem goes too far when it Fails to Depend on God

Every good gift comes down from above and is not the fruit of any man’s work or efforts (though God often blesses faithful effort with gifts). Considering this properly should keep us far from boasting and thinking of ourselves beyond what we ought. Failure to look to the original source of those gifts makes men swell with such great conceit of themselves as if there were none equal to them.  Paul reminds them that it is the Lord that these gifts come from. It is called “the measure of faith” or the knowledge of God through faith in Christ. It is the knowledge of the truth revealed by the Spirit in and by the word, and therefore called “the ministration of the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:7) or “the gift of Christ” (Ephesians 4:7). We cannot attain these without help from God.

 

9. Self-esteem goes too far when it Fails to Acknowledge our Shortcomings

No one, however gifted, has achieved perfection in these gifts. However much he has received, he has only received a measure and a certain proportion. Considering this should lay low the peacock feathers of those who are ready to be puffed up with a vain conceit of themselves and their abilities.  Others also have a proportion (not everything) according to “the measure of faith”.

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