Finding truth is not a futile pursuit!
These last few months, at Darrow Miller and Friends we have been writing on issues related to the “post truth” culture that we now inhabit. We have sought to make a distinction between truth and narrative, between the subjective and the objective. Richard Pearcey’s foreword to his wife Nancy Pearcey’s book Finding Truth is a must read for those who understand that we live in the real world, not a world of illusion, the product of our own imagination. Rick’s is a powerful piece which we present here in the next two postings of DM&F.
Finding Truth: The Foreword
by J. Richard Pearcey (about JRP)
It’s not every day that an avowed atheist and devout hymn writer agree.
First, from famed atheist Richard Dawkins: “Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.”
Second, these words from the composer of a beloved hymn: “You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart.” Pastor and musician Alfred Ackley wrote the hymn “He Lives” when challenged by the question “Why should I worship a dead Jew?” His answer is that Jesus is not dead but is the resurrected Messiah. How does Ackley know? “He lives within my heart.”
What Dawkins condemns, Ackley approves. But note: both atheist and hymnist declare that “faith” is a matter of internal realities.
In contrast to this internalized definition of faith is the liberating call to “test everything” that infuses the Christian worldview and animates Finding Truth. In this vibrant mind-set, people are expected to think for themselves, question authority, examine evidence, and push for answers that make sense of our world.
The phrase “test everything” is in Paul’s letter to the young church in the cosmopolitan seaport city of Thessalonica in ancient Greece (1 Thess. 5:21). Paul is urging Christians to maintain a critical distance against claims to speak prophetically for God. After all, anybody can proclaim, “God gave me a vision,” but that doesn’t make it so.
The humane position, and the biblical position, is that individuals are under no obligation to affirm as true something they have not adequately examined. Moreover, if after careful examination, a claim is falsified by the evidence, it should be rejected.
There are no privileged truth claims under this theistic mobilization of mind, and that includes an affirmation as central to Christianity as the space-time resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile,” states 1 Corinthians 15:17. Some people may balk at the linkage of fact to commitment, but the dynamic worldview set forth in the biblical data welcomes the connection.
For example, when the skeptical disciple Thomas refused to conclude, apart from empirical evidence, that Jesus had risen physically from the dead, precisely that kind of information was presented to him (John 20:24–28). Thomas was not persuaded by looking inward to his heart, but by evaluating evidence in the external world. He then made a commitment on the basis of relevant facts, not because of a lack of facts and certainly not against them.
The same tough-minded realism is evident throughout the scriptural record. The Old Testament reports, for example, that in the exodus of the Hebrew people from Egypt, they were led by a “pillar of cloud” during the day and by a “pillar of fire” during the night (Exod. 13:21–22). These were public phenomena visible to the naked eye.
When the Hebrews reached the Red Sea, they crossed at a specific geographical point on dry land that just moments before was deep under water. This was a miraculous event that all the people of Israel observed and participated in. The return of the water, wiping out the pursuing Egyptian troops, was likewise an event open to observation (Exod. 14).
At Mount Sinai, the people of Israel saw the flashes of lightning and heard the clashes of thunder. They saw fire and heard its crackle; they saw smoke and smelled it too. They felt the trembling of the mountain, a trembling that could have been measured by a modern seismograph. This is the empirical context in which the Hebrews listened to the audible voice of God as he communicated the Ten Commandments to Moses (Exod. 19; Deut. 4:9–13).
Finding truth in the New Testament
As we turn to the New Testament record, the shepherds of Bethlehem were able to check out for themselves the real-world truth of what angels said about the birth of a baby not far away — not merely a subjective vision but a flesh-and-blood infant in a real manger. “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing,” they said. Later, the shepherds returned to their fields “glorifying and praising God.” Why? Because what they found was just “as it had been told them” (Luke 2:15–20).
When John the Baptist was in prison and facing capital punishment, he sent followers to ask if Jesus really was the Messiah. Jesus’s response was to adduce publicly observable miracles that lined up with previously given biblical indicators on how to identify the coming Messiah. “Tell John what you hear and see,” Jesus said. “The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them” (Matt. 11:2–5). Because these events were public, their status as facts could be confirmed by friend and foe alike.
When the Jewish religious leaders were outraged over Jesus’s claim to forgive sins, he did not appeal to the “heart” or make a bare claim to divinity. Instead he provided physical evidence: “‘That you may know that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins’ — he said to the paralytic — ‘I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.’ And he rose and immediately picked up his bed” (Mark 2:10–12).
These robust responses are typical of Jesus. His ministry was a public work of question and answer and give and take. He set forth propositions that can be considered and discussed, and he invited people to observe public miracles that confirmed his claims in the here and now.
It is true that not every person in Jesus’s own day would have observed every miracle he performed, heard every sermon he delivered, or encountered the physically raised Jesus of Nazareth. Nevertheless, whether in his day or in ours, the total body of his actions and communications evinces an attitude of openness to examination so that people, then and now, are welcomed to explore and investigate.
It is against this historical backdrop that Paul argued that the events grounding the Christian worldview were not “done in a corner” (Acts 26:25–26). Shepherds, kings, doctors, and tax collectors could all check out the facts that are central to the Christian message. What is being communicated is an accurate description of reality, not a belief system about it.
This reality orientation is the positive intellectual climate in which the core propositions and events of the gospel live and breathe. It is a mentality in which people are liberated by verifiable truth to challenge tradition, question power, and fight for life and healing against death and decay.
- Rick Pearcey
… to be continued
Rick’s article was first posted at Nancy Pearcey.