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Parson to Person: Three tests that can prove the truth

Posted: June 12, 2009 12:01 a.m.
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Last week I mentioned in my article that my job was simply to present truth — what you do with it is up to you. But, like Pontius Pilate, many respond scornfully, "What is Truth?" For Pilate that wasn’t a sincere question of an inquirer looking for truth; it was the statement of a cynic who doubted that there could be any truth.

One of my favorite illustrations comes from one of my favorite speakers. Ravi Zacharias. Brilliant man. Dr. Zacharias relates how he was in discussion with a university professor who was bent on disproving the concept of objective or absolute truth. This professor was arguing from the philosophical position that there is a "both-and" line of reasoning (prevalent in the East) and not merely the "either-or" approach of the West. Using this approach this professor’s ultimate goal was demonstrate the error of Christianity in its concept that there is an absolute truth.

The university professor spent hours arguing his point, drawing diagrams, making statements that were indefensible, but never-the-less held to with tenacity, all aimed at denouncing the Christian claim that truth is both knowable and objective/absolute. He argued vociferously that the error of the Christian world view was its failure to recognize that truth doesn’t have to be "either, or" but can be also "both-and." In other words he was arguing that truth was fluid and in fact two opposite ideas could indeed both be true.

Satisfied that he had made his point, he sat back, looked at Dr. Zacharias, and thinking he had won the day, smugly asked, "So what do you have to say to that Dr. Zacharias?" To which Dr. Zacharias replied, "I only have one question for you. It seems that you are telling me that as I approach this concept of ‘truth’ I either use the "both-and" approach, or I use nothing at all?" The University Professor responded, "Well, the ‘either or’ does seem to present itself doesn’t it?" And Dr. Zacharias replied, "I have news for you. Even in India we look both ways before crossing the street, because it is either me or the bus, not both-and."

What is truth? I think there are three philosophical tests we can safely use as we try to determine truth. First is the test of logical consistency: does the statement make sense? For example, the claim that there is no absolute truth is a self defeating, logically inconsistent statement. If there is no absolute truth, than you cannot be sure that what you just expressed is true; it might not be. If your statement is held to be true, then you’ve just invalidated your argument because we are arguing that there is an absolute sense in which there can be no absolute truth.

Second, does it fit with all the known facts? Some statements sound great by themselves but have no factual basis. A current day inconsistency for instance is the statement that Jesus was a good teacher but not the son of God. This statement may sound plausible, but it doesn’t fit with the facts. Those who claim this actually can only do so by violating both the first and second tests for truth. They violate the first by not realizing that if Jesus claimed to be God (and he did) and he was not God, then he was a liar and, therefore, could not be a good teacher. They violate the second by choosing to cut and paste Scripture. What they like they accept, but what they dislike they simply discard — very poor scholarship indeed.

The third and final test for truth is, does it work in life? This final test is more subjective than the first two, but never-the-less has to be considered. A student can argue all he wants that 2 plus 2 equals 3, but that will not work in life. On the other hand a student may know that 2 plus 2 equals 4, but it will never matter unless he applies it in life. You may know that Jesus is the son of God, but have you applied it?

The thing that separates the Christian religion from all other religions is that it is set in history and, therefore, can either be verified or falsified. If the writers of the New Testament, for instance, were making up a new religion, they would have never claimed a physical resurrection (too easy to disprove); they would have only claimed a spiritual resurrection (which couldn’t be investigated). The Apostle Peter puts it best, "We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty," (2 Peter 1:16, NIV).

Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. He can be heard on the radio on WMVV 90.7 (FM) at 8:30 p.m. Thursday nights.

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