In the modern world of "facts" we have the idea that we can obtain the truth simply by following the right method persistently.
We think of "facts" as treasure to be discovered that is buried in the dirt of data about the real world. When anything interesting is found, a community of experts determines its true intrinsic value.
Beliefs, on the other hand, are like objects that have only personal, sentimental value. No one else wants the plaster casting of your child's handprints. But to you, it is precious.
This seems so obvious that it is beyond dispute.
The only problem is that it is entirely wrong.
There is no "truth" without personal risk. We cannot avoid the vulnerability of faith.
We have on the one hand the ideal, or shall I call it the illusion, of a kind of objectivity which is not possible, of a kind of knowledge of what we call the "facts" which involves no personal commitment, no risk of being wrong, something which we have merely to accept without question; and on the other hand a range of beliefs which are purely subjective, which are, as we say, "true for me," are "what I feel," but which are a matter of personal and private choice.
Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, p. 23
Yet many live in the illusion that they are "playing it safe." They think of themselves as people who operate purely by reason. They refuse to put their trust in anything that cannot be "proven" true.
Christians claim to know the truth.
This is not a private truth. It is true for all people in all times and in all places.
Unfortunately, Christians have tried to "prove" this truth by using the techniques of the "hard" sciences. There are several problems with this approach.
- It assumes the false distinction between "facts" and "beliefs." This way of thinking is so deeply ingrained that it seems impossible to question it. In fact, most people would ask, "How else could we possibly prove anything?"
- It requires the eternal truth to submit to the latest fashion of intellectual consensus, a consensus that is based upon the reigning system of unproven assumptions.
- It confuses the existence of absolute truth with the perfect apprehension of that absolute truth.
- It creates a false choice between absolute certainty and total ambiguity.
- It tries to remove the personal commitment necessary to accept any truth, a commitment that is especially necessary to know the truth of the One who is himself Truth.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we have been given a sacred trust.
Something radically new has been given, something which cannot be derived from rational reflection on the experiences available to all people. It is a new fact, to be received in faith as a gift of grace. And what is thus given claims to be the truth, not just a possible opinion. It is the rock which must either become the foundation of all knowing and doing, or else the stone on which one stumbles and falls to disaster. Those who, through no wit or wisdom or godliness of their own, have been entrusted with this message can in no way demonstrate its truth on the basis of some other alleged certainties: they can only live by it and announce it. It is something given, dogma, calling for the assent of faith.
Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, p. 6
We cannot prove that this message is the truth. Any attempt to do so distorts the message itself.
If the congregation is to function effectively as a community of truth, its manner of speaking the truth must not be aligned to the techniques of modem propaganda, but must have the modesty, the sobriety, and the realism which are proper to a disciple of Jesus.
Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, p. 229
We can "only" proclaim this truth in humility and vulnerability.
We can never claim that either our understanding or our action is absolutely right. We have no way of proving that we are right. That kind of proof belongs only to the end. As part of the community that shares in the struggle, we open ourselves continually to Scripture, always in company with our fellow disciples of this and former ages in the context of the struggle for obedience; and we constantly find in it fresh insights into the character and purpose of the one who is "rendered" for us in its pages.
Lesslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks, p. 60
This is the mission of God: To proclaim and to live the truth of the Gospel.
"Helping You Become the Person God Created You to Be"