We Know the Truth: To Renew Our Witness and Make Christianity Counter-Cultural Again, Part 2
We must make Christianity counter-cultural again. And most of us in the Church don’t even see how — even though it’s the most frequently repeated theme in the entire New Testament.
On Friday I explained why; now to talk about how, and this is it: We have got to take our stand as the people who know the truth. It’s the truth that’s true for everyone, whether they know it or not, whether they agree with it or not, whether they like it or not. And we know that truth.
But I know how some Christians will react: “Hey! Wait! We — we — we can’t say that! It would be so, so —”. I’ll finish the thought for you: It would be so counter-cultural. Which is exactly what we need.
Authentic, Saving, Freeing Truth
We don’t need it for the sake of being different. What I’m calling for here is true, authentic, saving Christianity.
I’ll never forget the moment a pair of friends shared the gospel with me, and I first trusted in Jesus Christ. A fog lifted from around me at that moment. I can’t avoid using the cliché, because it was real: The next morning the grass was greener and the sky was bluer. Most importantly, I was free! Free from guilt. Free in friendships, with people who loved me. Free to be who I was.
What my friends shared with me that night was truth — not because any of us wanted it to be, but because it just was — and still is.
But that was forty-some years ago, before “tolerance” came to mean “valuing every truth as equal to your own” — especially moral and religious “truth.” No one has a claim on any one real truth, the message goes. And that message has saturated our culture so thoroughly, even the Church has imbibed it.
I’ll finish the thought for you: It would be so counter-cultural.
The Truth That Sets Free
Which is where being counter-cultural comes in again. That famous phrase, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” — that’s just half the original thought. Do you know the rest? Jesus spoke it in John 8:31-32:
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
This wasn’t just any old “truth.” It was very specifically the truth that Jesus taught. Later on (John 14:6) —He even declared Himself the Truth — the only Truth. He verified His claim through His unique resurrection from the dead.
This wasn’t just any old “truth.” It was very specifically the truth that Jesus taught.
His truth is the truth. Other beliefs may (and do) contain pieces of the truth, but where they contradict God’s truth in Christ, they are wrong. They must be wrong, for truth cannot contradict itself.
There’s no reason the Church shouldn’t be confident in this.
Too many of us are too cautious, though — even some who know the truth. An associate pastor at a church I used to attend once made an intentionally provocative statement supporting gay leadership in that denomination. It was in his last sermon there; he was gone after that. (If you want a poor example of what I’m talking about, that was it.)
I was hoping for better from our senior pastor. I knew he held a solid biblical view on homosexuality in the Church. So I had lunch with him a day or two later. We agreed there must be some confusion in the church following the other pastor’s statement. So I suggested, “How about calling a meeting one night next week? Just say, ‘If anyone wonders about that or wants to talk about it, we’re going sit down for a conversation about it.'”
He answered, “Oh, I don’t know, Tom. I just don’t like debate.”
I understand him not preferring that. What I don’t get is his refusal to stand for his own convictions.
But he’s not the only one. A lifelong Christian missionary recently told my wife she won’t tell nonbelievers the straightforward truth on a certain difficult doctrine. “It might offend them,” she said
It takes courage to stand for the truth, against the lies of “tolerance.” Counter-cultural? Of course! That’s our calling, isn’t it?
We’ve learned it. We’ve experienced it. It’s real. It’s good. It’s true! Can we say so? Why not?
But wait! Aren’t we supposed to be humble? Isn’t it arrogant to say we know the truth? Yes, indeed, Christ calls us to be humble. But just as He calls us to counter-cultural confidence, He calls us to counter-cultural humility as well.
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The world says humility is never claiming to know the truth. Christ, in contrast, says humility is submitting to the truth we know. And really, which is more arrogant: To tell yourself you’ve got the power to create your own truth? Or to yield to the truth that God Himself has revealed?
Or as G.K. Chesterton wrote, “What we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. ” He goes on to explain,
A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert — himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt — the Divine Reason.
Which is more arrogant: To tell yourself you’ve got the power to create your own truth? Or to yield to the truth that God Himself has revealed?
Not only is there truth, but we can know it. Not just “believe” it, in the mistaken way many view “believing:” that it’s what you do when you don’t actually know. No, God has graciously revealed it, so we can actually know it.
Yet as I wrote last time that the world isn’t much impressed by our humanitarian works these days, they’re even less impressed if we simply tell them that we know. We’ve got to be ready to explain how we know, how we know it’s true, and even how we know it’s good that it’s true.
A Christian friend challenged me on this once. “What makes knowing so important?” he demanded. “God doesn’t grade us on what we know!” So I opened my computer Bible and did a search, and found that words related to know, study, teach and learn show up an average of two and one-half times in every chapter in the New Testament.
The most frequently repeated theme in the New Testament is knowing.
That’s a lot. It’s about 50 percent more frequent than words relating to faith or belief. And it’s double the number of words relating to love (love, compassion, caring and kindness). By that measure, the most frequently repeated theme in the New Testament is knowing.
Granted, I used a rough method of determining what the Bible counts as important. Certainly it means something, though. We’re fools if we ignore it.
Counter-Cultural Knowledge of the Truth
We are the ones who know the truth. The world calls that crazy. Arrogant. Bigoted. Wrong. From God’s perspective, though, it’s simply following His lead.
We know the truth that saves — which is why we’ve got to stand up for it, speaking it courageously in love, for the sake of all who need God’s rescue from death, His introduction to life, His path to follow toward what’s eternally true and eternally good.
Of course we’ve got to live in kindness. Of course we’ve got to continue in self-sacrificial acts of love. But as I wrote at on Friday, the world has learned to shrug that off, often by copying it. It’s no longer distinctive as it once was.
If we’re going to renew our witness, it’s going to have to be by going counter-cultural. And the first, best way to do that is by standing up as the ones who know the truth.
Tom Gilson is a senior editor with The Stream and the author of Critical Conversations: A Christian Parents’ Guide to Discussing Homosexuality with Teens (Kregel Publications, 2016). Follow him on Twitter: @TomGilsonAuthor.