Truth has become a precious commodity in the 21st century. With political spin, fake news, and outright deception in the media it is no wonder why a 2020 Gallup poll reported that nearly a third of those surveyed said they had “not very much” trust in the media (27%) and another third said they had none (33%). While this may apply to the media specifically, ministers have their fair share of troubles in the court of popular opinion. A 2018 survey indicated that clergy were the eighth-most-trusted profession in America—only slightly above journalists.
Understanding the Battle for Truth
Believers have waged a battle for truth for the last two thousand years. At first, evangelists struggled to preach God’s truth in a culture steeped in paganism. Christianity seemed to be an inexcusably exclusivist faith. Unfortunately, dissenters preaching a different gospel appeared soon after the church began to grow. Paul had to contend with such individuals, who undermined his work and posed a threat to the church (2 Cor. 11:12-15).
In time, Christianity conquered the Roman Empire and became the defining feature of Western culture. It governed the hearts and minds of thinkers for over a millennium. In the last few centuries, confidence in the Bible as a source of truth has eroded just as many other spiritual perspectives have gained prominence. Today, it seems we have come full circle. Like the typical ancient Roman, an average American might welcome a variety of spiritual viewpoints.
False teaching has helped hinder the Christian cause. Rather than opposing the gospel message outright, teachers have found innovative ways to create safe spaces for doctrinal error. The least inventive may simply hijack Scripture to promote beliefs that sound compatible to the undiscriminating listener. Liberation theologians rail against oppression. Prosperity preachers preach health and wealth. False prophets mesmerize their audiences with ridiculous prophecies that fail and are quickly forgotten.
Cleverer teachers have used theological terminology in various ways to undermine the truth. Some may use impressive language to give their ideas the appearance of scholarship, which they then contrast with a plain reading of Scripture. Predictably, those who prefer the simple truth are described as unenlightened and naïve. Others argue that believers should allow complex problems to remain complex. By doing so, they do not have to make any firm decisions concerning sound doctrine and can welcome different and perhaps even incompatible beliefs under the banner of tolerance.
The Exclusivity of Truth
Truth is whatever conforms to fact or reality. Outside of Christendom, our culture has adopted quite a different definition, which is little more than personal opinion. The veritable smorgasbord of “truths” in our world creates unease in some Christians who have been told that insisting upon the exclusivity of truth is arrogant and narrow-minded. Yet, we cannot get away from the fact that over five dozen times, the New Testament identifies the gospel with the definite article as “the truth.”
When the apostle Paul referred to the gospel, he called it “my gospel” instead of “my truth” (Rom. 2:16; 2 Tim. 2:8). He simply expressed the same sentiment that Jesus did, who did not teach that he was only one of many avenues to eternal life. Instead, he said things like, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). He also stated that only by abiding in his word could a person be his true disciple so that they would know—and be liberated by—the truth (John 8:21-32).
If Christ is indeed the only avenue to the Father, it is not unloving to say so any more than it is unloving to identify the only possible answer to a specific problem or offer the only known remedy to a particular illness. Indeed, the unloving thing would be to offer false hope by suggesting unsuccessful solutions that cannot save.
Proclaiming The Truth
Our lost and dying world desperately needs the gospel of Christ. To accomplish this mission, believers must proclaim the truth with several things in mind. First, we must speak boldly. Jesus told his disciples that they would meet resistance when preaching the gospel. Truth requires commitment, which could mean having to part ways with those who refuse to acknowledge it (Matt. 10:14). Jesus said that the truth is divisive, to the point that it would prompt others to persecute them and would potentially fracture even close family bonds (Matt. 10:26-39). He made truth a priority, even when he had a compassionate concern for others (Mark 10:21).
Second, believers cannot make compromises. Although Paul advised his fellow believers to be all things to all people (1 Cor. 9:22), we cannot negotiate the truth for any reason. We may hear the popular myth that Jesus never took a strong stand for truth, condemned or confronted anyone, or made another person feel uncomfortable. This view does not accord with Scripture. He rebuked the scribes and Pharisees, condemned the hypocrites, and corrected people who had improper motives. Paul did likewise, blasting the Galatians for accepting doctrinal error (Gal. 3:10) and rebuking Peter, who caved in to pressure in a moment of hypocritical weakness (Gal. 2:11-21).
Third, God’s people must speak the truth using both love and wisdom. Being unnecessarily caustic is not a sound strategy for communicating the gospel to a broken world. It makes hearers defensive and unwilling to listen. In an age when sharp insults and snappy comebacks are typical for interactions online, Christians must resist the urge to respond in kind and instead reply with disarmingly gracious answers (Prov. 15:1; Col. 4:6). God cannot be served if we let our passions get the best of us.
The mistaken belief that every person has his or her individual truth does no change the fact that only one truth exists amidst an ocean of pretenders. Our goal is to preach the gospel message so that all who hear us might have the opportunity to know and love their Creator.
Dewayne is a minister at the New York Ave. Church of Christ in Arlington, TX.