Are Christians as arrogant as our reputation indicates in some quarters? We must be! We think our way is the one way to God, right? How could we possibly think that?!
Actually, we can’t. We shouldn’t, anyway. (Don’t worry, you’ll see what I mean in a moment.)
Last week when I first brought up the question I said it had two sides. Side One is the truth/fact side: Could it possibly be true that there’s just one way to God, and that it’s Christianity? That’s the one I worked with in last week’s article and on Facebook live a few days later. Side Two is the attitude side: How can Christians be so arrogant? What gives us the right to think we hold the only truth?
Again, we don’t think we hold the only way. Or we shouldn’t, anyway. It’s really, really rude.
Now, I get that there are some really rude Christians. I’ve written at least one article here at The Stream critiquing that attitude. But that’s not what Christian truth is about; not in the least. It’s even wide of the mark — in today’s language, that is — to say “we hold the truth.” There’s a much better, wiser, more accurate way to say what we mean.
What Does It Mean These Days to “Hold a Truth”?
Before I get there, though, I have to dwell a moment on what it means to hold a truth. It used to be that “holding a truth” was synonymous with “holding something to be true,” i.e., believing that it was true, and being right about its truth. Holding a falsehood could never be the same as holding a truth, after all.
But that view of truth has changed over the past generation or so; not in every domain — everyone still “holds the truth” that a circle’s area equals π times the square of its radius, or that a flu shot is generally better for you than a dose of strychnine — but particularly for religion and morality. In those two areas, to “hold a truth” has a rather more literal connotation: We hold it like it’s our very own.
Let me explain what I mean by that. Typically in today’s world, people develop their own religious and moral truths. They gather it in from various sources: their upbringing, their friends, their teachers and of course the entertainment and other media they’ve soaked themselves in. No two people ever end up with the same package; what each person collects is always uniquely tailored to their own experiences, desires and needs. It’s their truth; their own truth; and since it’s theirs, they have every right to hold it as their own.
Now if holding a truth means something like that, then no one should be so arrogant as to say their truth is the truth for everyone. Not even Christians. How could anyone begin to know their personal truth is also the best personal truth for someone else? How could they even dream of holding the best possible truth for everyone? Are you talking “rude”? That’s rude.
Stacking That Up Against God’s Truth
And it’s exactly not what Christianity claims about truth. When we say Christianity is the truth, we mean something a whole lot bigger than any little “truth” we could have gathered together for ourselves. We mean that there really is a God who really created the universe and all of us, who really loves us all, and who really invites us all to relationship with Him — but on His terms, not ours.
He defines ultimate reality. Stack any individual’s personal truth up against His, and guess who wins? His truth has the huge advantage of being the way things actually are, from an infinite, eternal, omniscient Creator’s perspective.
As for ways to reach Him, remember He’s the One who takes the initiative to invite us into relationship, so He can set the rules. There’s nothing strange about that, you know. If you invite me to your home, you can set the rules, too: What time to come, whether I should slip my shoes off at the door, what time dinner is going to be served and what we’re going to eat. In the same way, God’s invitation is His initiative. He gets to decide; and if He wants to set the same terms for everyone, He has that right, too.
As for truth, His invitation comes with true information that’s true for everyone. It’s not all truth, obviously. No one — least of all Christians — thinks they hold all the truth. But since God took a truth-telling initiative toward us, we can at least know some of it. It’s not the whole truth but it’s true truth; not based on anyone’s opinion, but on reality as God Himself defines it.
There is Indeed One Way to God, But It Isn’t Our Way, It’s His
And that approach to truth is a lot different from picking and choosing “truths” to fit us. (I have to start using scare quotes now, because our own “truths” are often not true at all.) In the end, too, this approach is the very opposite of arrogant. For which is more presumptuous: To build your own “truth” about reality, or to seek out truth that’s there whether you know it or not? The one way controls the “truth,” the other yields to the truth. The one way lords itself over the “truth,” the other way humbly submits to it.
God’s truth isn’t our truth. It’s way too huge for us to “hold” in any manner. Christians instead seek to let it rule over us. We don’t control it, we bow the knee to it; especially as it’s presented in the Person of Jesus Christ, who is “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6).
That’s why I opened this article the way I did. The way we follow isn’t our way, it’s God’s way. The truth we follow isn’t our truth, it’s God’s. We don’t hold the truth; the Truth holds us.
Learning To Explain the Truth About Truth
Now, a word to my fellow believers if I may: Did you notice I took several steps getting to an answer here? That’s because there’s some translation needed in this conversation. When we say our truth is true for everyone, we’re certain to be misunderstood unless we take time with it. We’ve got to explain that we don’t mean it the way others probably think we mean it. We have to do the work of that translation for them.
And this generation’s individually-centered view of “truth” is so ingrained, we’re not likely to break through in just a moment’s time. It’s not easy for them to really hear what we’re saying; that we’re talking about a God-centered view of truth instead. So it’s going to take some patience on our part. Unless we take time to explain it clearly, they’re going to hear us saying that Christianity is our personal truth, just like their own religious view is their own personal truth. Which is something we never mean to say.
There are some who will never get it. They’ll always complain that we’re arrogant. They’d probably tell God Himself He’s arrogant. We can’t help that.
But let’s help what we can help, okay? For those among us who may actually be arrogant, it’s time to remember it’s not your truth. For all of us, we need to develop the skill of explaining Whose it is.
Tom Gilson is a senior editor with The Stream and the author of A Christian Mind: Thoughts on Life and Truth in Jesus Christ. Follow him on Twitter: @TomGilsonAuthor.