Why we should live by biblical truth and authority

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Why we should live by biblical truth and authority

April 11, 2024 -

A Bible lays open in front of a sunrise. By Sergio Yoneda/stock.adobe.com

A Bible lays open in front of a sunrise. By Sergio Yoneda/stock.adobe.com

A Bible lays open in front of a sunrise. By Sergio Yoneda/stock.adobe.com

“Post-truth” was the Oxford Dictionaries “Word of the Year” for 2016, but if you’re like most people, you’re not entirely sure why.

You’ve seen people in the culture claim something to be “their truth,” from Oprah Winfrey’s encouragement to live “in alignment with your truth” to former Harvard President Claudine Gay’s apology after her congressional testimony that she had “failed to convey what is my truth.”

These days, people are exchanging “the” truth for “their” truth across the board. For example:

  • Abortion advocates label preborn children as “fetuses.” NPR, for example, claims: “Babies are not babies until they are born.” The reason is simple: ending the life of a fetus feels less abhorrent than ending the life of a baby.
  • Euthanasia advocates label assisted suicide as “death with dignity.”
  • Surgeries and chemicals that irrevocably change a person’s gender are called “gender-affirming care.”
  • Those who defend biblical marriage are labeled “homophobic” and castigated as bigots who are dangerous to society.

How did we get here?

Why should we reject cultural relativism for biblical authority?

How can we persuade others to do the same?


Note: This article complements episode 2 of “Being Christian in today’s culture,” a Denison Forum Podcast series.

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How we got here

“They hate him who reproves in the gate, and they abhor him who speaks the truth” (Amos 5:10).

The story of Western culture’s slide into subjective relativism is a long one. For introductions, I invite you to listen to my podcast on this subject, read my journal article describing this transformation, or consult Chapter 1 in my book, The Coming Tsunami.

For our purposes, it is sufficient to outline very briefly the stepping stones that brought us to this place in cultural history:

  • In response to the Protestant Reformation, Catholic mathematician René Descartes argued that truth is discovered through the unaided use of human reason.
  • John Locke and other British empiricists countered that truth is known through personal experience.
  • German philosopher Immanuel Kant bridged the two by claiming that our senses furnish the “raw data” which the mind organizes according to inherent categories, resulting in “knowledge.” However, according to Kant, you and I cannot know the “thing in itself,” only our experience of it. Your senses and mind are not mine, so there can be no such thing as “objective” truth. This assertion became foundational for Western culture from then to today.
  • “Postmodern” thinkers built on this foundation by claiming that all truth claims are impositions of personal power (Nietzsche and Foucault), reflections of our own minds (Schleiermacher), void of meaning outside the interpreter’s personal understanding (Gadamer and Derrida), and “true” only to the degree that they have practical value for particular people or communities (Rorty).

By now, you’re probably wondering what any of this has to do with you. You probably have not encountered any of these thinkers in your personal experience (unless you studied them in school along the way). But here’s the point: the ideas they introduced to Western culture through elite academic institutions have, over recent decades, filtered into popular culture and our everyday lives.

As we saw in our introductory chapter, ideas change the world. These ideas have now become conventional wisdom for much of America’s academic world and, therefore, for those trained in its worldview.

Just as we don’t need to know that Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web to go online, so we don’t need to know much about the pioneers of relativism to be heavily influenced by its denial of objective truth.

As Dr. Phil might ask, how is this working for us?

  • Has American society become more tolerant in recent years?
  • Are our politics more unifying and effective in advancing the common good?
  • Are our marriages stronger?
  • Are our personal lives happier and more meaningful?
  • Is our world more peaceful?

Thomas Jefferson observed, “Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.”

If we’re honest about ourselves and American society, we’ll admit that what we’re doing isn’t working. Then, with C. S. Lewis, we’ll agree: “Progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road.”

What is the “right road”?

Why we should believe in truth

“We hold these truths to be self-evident” (American Declaration of Independence).

You know everything we know in one of three ways: the rational, the practical, and the intuitive.

You do math rationally. You start your car practically (unless you’re an automotive engineer, in which case you start yours rationally.) You like people (or don’t like them) intuitively.

The denial of objective truth so in vogue today fails on all three counts.

  • Rationally, to claim that there is no such thing as objective truth is to make an objective truth claim. We’re saying in effect: All truth is uncertain, and I’m certain of it.
  • Practically, living in a world without objective truth is implausible if not impossible. We cannot drive safely without traffic laws and speed limits. We need our doctors to give us medical facts, not personal opinions. Maps fail without a true north; even having this discussion is impossible if we will not agree on the objective meaning of the words we use.
  • Intuitively, we want to live in a world that’s ordered. When the future feels chaotic and random, our levels of anxiety and discouragement escalate. Many who seek to end their lives say their lives have no purpose.

This is why humans across nearly all of human history have posited objective norms and laws by which to order their lives and world. Democratic republics do so through governmental systems and leaders supported by the citizens. Autocracies and theocracies do so through rulers whose dictates are enforced across their nations.

While we have argued strenuously—and often gone to war—over which systems and rulers are best, no one claimed that there was no such thing as “best.” Prior to the Civil War, the South horrifically defended slavery as a states’ rights issue, but few in the North saw this as simply Southerners’ “truth.” Al Qaeda saw 9/11 as a defense of Islam required by the Qur’an, but no one in America conceded this as the jihadists’ “truth.”

Those who tolerate all truth claims as personal and subjective will inevitably fall victim to those who do not, to those who impose their values and agendas on their “tolerant” neighbors. For example, in “Why I Am Not A Pacifist,” C. S. Lewis wrote:

Only liberal societies tolerate Pacifists. In the liberal society, the number of Pacifists will either be large enough to cripple the state as a belligerent, or not. If not, you have done nothing. If it is large enough, then you have handed over the state which does tolerate Pacifists to its totalitarian neighbor who does not. Pacifism of this kind is taking the straight road to a world in which there will be no Pacifists.

Why we should live by biblical authority

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it,

but because by it I see everything else” (C. S. Lewis).

The Bible says of itself: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17). The authors of Scripture “spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). The prophet proclaimed, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8).

But you would expect a book claiming divine inspiration to make such assertions. Muslims believe the same about the Qur’an, as do Buddhists and Hindus about their sacred writings.

Here’s the difference:

  • Archaeological evidence consistently and unanimously affirms the historical accuracy of biblical narratives.
  • Fulfilled prophecies clearly and consistently demonstrate the divine origin of biblical predictions.
  • Ancient biblical manuscripts are the most numerous and best-attested of any book in history.
  • Biblical narratives are remarkably and appropriately consistent with one another.

(For much more, see my extensive website article, “Why Believe the Bible?”)

In addition, we have the evidence of millions of changed lives over twenty centuries. My own life is an example: reading the word of God over the last five decades has profoundly changed my worldview and continues to direct my life every day. I hope you have a similar story from your engagements with biblical truth.

What will happen if we continue to reject biblical authority

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12).

If America continues to reject biblical truth, the consequences for our society will be even more severe in the coming years:

  • Millions more lives lost to abortion and euthanasia
  • People with gender confusion choosing life-altering surgeries and chemicals that are irreversible and often make their mental health even worse
  • More children and teenagers lured into LGBTQ ideology and lifestyles
  • An escalating plague of pornography now using AI-created deepfake videos and immersive technologies
  • Rising mortality from increasing drug and alcohol abuse
  • Mass shootings and school violence
  • An epidemic of deaths from suicide, especially among our teenagers and young adults
  • A continuing breakdown of marriage and family as polygamy is normalized and legalized
  • Even deeper social divisions as our society splits further into partisan tribes who consider their political opponents to be dangerous to America

All of this is the consequence of refusing to live by God’s word and will for us. As C. S. Lewis observed:

A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on himself. He himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other.

As I stated in the previous chapter, I believe our nation is experiencing the first phase of divine judgment: God is withholding his hand of blessing and protection from us. A holy God must judge sin. A loving father cannot condone that which harms his children.

As a result, let us make this imperative our mission:

“Contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints”(Jude 3).

Then Jude’s prayer can become our reality:

To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever (vv. 24–25).

Amen.

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