How do truth and belief relate? The question may be more important than you realize.
One of the milestones in my life was 1969 in L’Abri, Switzerland. Marilyn and I were studying with the Schaeffers. We were living in the home of Udo and Debbie (Schaeffer) Middelmann. One Sunday evening Udo said to me “You know, Christianity is true even if you do not believe it!” These words were a shock to me. In church, in my discipleship program, and in seminary, I had been taught that Christianity was true precisely because I believed it.
After two sleepless nights, I realized what Udo was saying. Christianity is true, even if no one in the world believed it. It is true because God exists! It is true to reality! It was at that moment that I realized that I had a “born again” heart, but my mind had never been born again. I had the mind of an atheistic materialist. If there is no God, there is no truth. All things (including morals and beauty, for example) are relative. Your truth is whatever you choose to believe.
In the Christian pilgrimage, justification is to be followed by sanctification. In the same way, once I truly grasped what Udo was saying , I entered into a process of sanctifying my mind by becoming a lifelong learner and seeking to bring every thought captive to Christ.
Yet very recently, I came to see how deeply relativism is still embedded in my own thinking. Relativism is very seductive. The challenge this time came from our friend, Rick Pearcey. Rick is editor of The Pearcey Report and the man who wrote the foreword to Emancipating the World. In recent correspondence, Rick wrote a gentle but pointed reminder. He had been reading through the Disciple Nations Alliance core documents, including our Core Beliefs. Rick wrote:
To help communicate that the discipling of nations proceeds on the basis of knowable and verifiable truth and not mere “religion” or “belief,” DNA may want to consider recasting the “Seven Core Beliefs” as “Seven Core Principles” or “Seven Core Truths.” Something like this could model for others an avoidance of the secularist trap and the merely Greek Commission, while at the same time expressing anew the Biblical emphasis that Christianity is a reality-oriented commitment of the whole person to knowable, verifiable truth about God, man, and the cosmos. The world of empirical fact, in unity with the totality and wholeness of truth, belongs to Christ.
Truth is rooted in reality, not in the subjective experience. We see this in the Biblical concept of truth.
The Hebrew word for truth אֱמֶת (ʾěměṯ): faithfulness, reliability, trustworthiness, i.e., a state or condition of being dependable and loyal to a person or standard; true, certain, sure, i.e., that which conforms to reality, and thus certain not to be false.
The Greek word for truth is ἀλήθεια (alētheia) – truth, i.e., that which is in accord with what really happens, facts that correspond to a reality, whether historical (in the time/space continuum) or an eternal reality not limited to historical fact.
Note that both OT and NT concepts of truth are rooted in the hard facts of reality. This stands in stark contrast to modern and post-modern relativism- where people make up truth as they go along.
Similarly, what does the word faith mean? Do we believe despite the evidence (i.e. do we take a “leap of faith”) or because of the evidence? Our trust in God is not a subjective matter (e.g. “our beliefs”) but rather an objective matter of conviction based on the evidence.
We see this in both the Old and New Testaments concepts of faith.
The Hebrew word for faith is אֱמֶת (ʾěměṯ): faithfulness, reliability, trustworthiness, i.e., a state or condition of being dependable and loyal to a person or standard; true, certain, sure, i.e., that which conforms to reality, and thus certain not to be false.
The Greek word for faith is πίστις (pistis): what can be believed, a state of certainty with regard to belief; trust, believe to a complete trust; trustworthiness, the state of complete dependability.
Clearly, faith according to the Bible is exercised not despite the evidence, but because of the evidence. We believe because there is sufficient evidence to ground our faith. It is putting one’s trust in that which is true, that which is real. Rick wrote further:
Trust in God is not a matter of subjective “belief” in Old or New Testament “stories” or “narratives” “of faith.” Rather … Biblical trust concerns a commitment of the whole person on the basis of “good and sufficient” reasons and evidence concerning a God who is really there.
Because of this reminder, we are changing the Disciple Nations core documents from “Seven Core Beliefs” to “Seven Core Truths.” Rick, thank you for your gentle but clear admonition! Thank you for seeing again the seductiveness of relativism. As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another (Proverbs 27:17)!
– Darrow Miller