seven views of truth

tonight, whilst doing some “light” reading, i came across these seven things that people tend to mean when they speak of “truth”:

1. Reality – Sometimes, we use truth to mean “what’s out there,” or “what’s really, really, real.”

2. A human perception of reality – Sometimes we use the term to mean how an individual human or group of humans perceive what’s really out there. For example, in court, when a person swears to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, we understand only God could fulfill that promise, unless we defined truth to mean “an honest and full accounting of what you perceived.”

3. Knowledge about reality – Clearly, there’s always some degree of difference between #2 and #1 above, and when we weave our perceptions into coherent, conscious generalizations and call those generalizations knowledge, the difference isn’t erased. In other words, reality as seen and known by our infinite and wonderful God is always fuller and to some degree different than reality as seen and known by limited, situated humans. Scripture affirms this, reminding us that we know only in part.

4. Statements or propositions about reality – When we take our knowledge, which arises in the context of our imperfect perceptions about what’s really out there, and then we share that knowledge with others in statements, we have to admit we add new layers of imprecision – through the wonderful but sometimes imprecise interplay of encoded, sent, received, and interpreted symbols we call language. Human statements clearly do some justice to the realities they describe, but if even half of my critique of your column (an attempt to make true statements about reality, I don’t doubt) is valid, you have to admit that our very best attempts to make true statements about reality still aren’t perfect. For example, do you believe, looking back, that all the statements in your column were perfectly, completely, absolutely, objectively true? If you give anything less than an unqualified “yes,” you are being sensitive to the same concerns postmodern people have about these matters.

5. Moral or ethical judgments – The situation becomes even more complex when our statements are judgments about moral or ethical behavior. Even for those of use who claim to know God and have faith in the Bible: we need to look back over our own history and realize that just as there are disastrous consequences to claiming there is no such thing as legitimate moral judgment, there are also disastrous consequences to claiming that we have unquestionably legitimate moral judgment. Our ancestors judged slavery as morally justified, and brought in Scripture to enforce their point; we now judge slavery wrong, also using Scripture. Are we so naïve to think that all our judgments are finally right, just because we quote the Bible?

6. A belief system or world view – I think that the concept of world view is very powerful. And for that reason, it can be very dangerous. For example, I suspect that for many religious broadcasters and writers, “The Christian World View” means “The Modern Western Christian World View” or “The Calvinist Systematic Theology” or “A Syncretism of Christian Theology and Conservative Republican Politics,” but neither they nor their listeners realize it. Anyway, there’s a lot of mystique and fog around the term. Adding the words “The” and “Christian” in front of a worldview doesn’t guarantee this worldview is now 100% in synch with #1 above, but it sure can give that impression to unreflective people reading a column in Christianity Today, especially if they’re already feeling intimidated and afraid by all the changes in our world, and are hoping for reassurance.

7. A feeling of certainty – When some people use the word truth, I think they mean a feeling of certainty, security, and rest that means they no longer have to think or ask questions. In other words, truth means “case closed.” This exemption from further thought is something we all desire at times, I think, especially after a long hard day of reading a column in CT and criticizing it (and then criticizing the critique). But one only has to talk to a person hospitalized for psychosis to realize that a feeling of certainty can have very little in common with #1 above!

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