There are many kinds of truth.
This opening statement may cause rejoicing in the hearts of the many relativists who now populate western society. However, the statement is not meant to encourage relativism, but proper thought—and, of course, those two things really don’t go together.
It is utterly amazing that relativism has taken such a hold on western society, whose clear Christian origins speak so plainly of the truth of God, which ought to permeate all of life. I guess it is understandable on the personal level. It certainly creates a certain amount of warm fuzziness, as I am, at least, affirmed for my opinions (“Whatever you believe, that is fine”). Of course, to be affirmed is not the same thing as being truly valued. But, hey, let’s not press too deeply.
Okay, so it makes us feel good to hear from the relativist that ‘there are many kinds of truth’, and so even my (whacky?) ideas are legitimate. That is, it makes us feel good—until we learn that our doctor takes the same attitude to his medicine, or the city engineer has taken the same attitude to his bridge-building: “There is no right way to treat cancer. I feel we should try meditation.” “There is no correct way to build a bridge. Why don’t we use chewing gum?”.
There are certainly plenty of opinions in the world, but they don’t all match reality. And anyway, it is completely illogical to suggest that the ‘many kinds of truth’ can all be correct, even when they are diametrically opposed to one another. Despite the postmodernist contempt for ‘Greek thought’, the nose-on-your-face kind of truth in this ancient ‘law of non-contradiction’ should be plain, even to the naked emperor.
Among the most recent assaults on the Christian gospel, we have a bunch of people who have been termed the ‘New Atheists’. (To call anything ‘new’ gains a hearing in a consumer society, even if there is nothing really new in it. How many ways are there to say “There is no God”?)
Christians have been responding to such attacks since before Christianity (Psalm 14:1: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”). But as we yawn and respond to this latest wave, it is handy to remember that there are many kinds of truth. That is, if we want to know the truth of a statement (or philosophy, or movement), we can ask about its truth from several points of view.
- Does it correspond to reality? Did Jesus exist? Did Jesus become big news? Did Jesus die on a cross? Did Jesus rise from the dead? The answers here are either yes, or no.
- Does it cohere? That is, is there a way in which all the aspects of Christianity actually fit together to tell a unified, harmonious whole? The answer here is to tell the story.
- Does it prove true personally? Are there people across time and cultures who testify to hearing the voice of their shepherd, and following him out of a deep conviction that this is the true and right way for all to go? The answer here is to listen to people’s testimony.
- Is it pragmatically true—that is, does it work? Does the Christian gospel take people through the hard times in a way other philosophies of life fail to do? Does it help people face the hardest time as they face the grave? The answer here is to stand by the bedsides of the sick and dying.
- Is it productively true? Once the Christian world view is accepted, does it generate science, art, society, politics, education, healthcare, and so on, of a very different kind? The answer here is to know a bit about history.
There are many kinds of truth. Whichever kind we pick on, the Christian gospel comes up pretty well. But more of that anon.