By Foothills DS Dennis W. Miller.
America and the United Methodist Church have become a battleground of ideologies. Crusading armies of thought continuously clash over a variety of philosophies, ethics, and principles. The question, “Is there truth?” or “What is truth?” is one of the most poignant questions of our age. Is there a “Divine Absolute” or are we simply bobbing in a sea of cultural, moral and spiritual relativism?
My inquiry is not a new one. The question, “Is there truth?” was asked at one of the crucial points of the New Testament. Historian Will Durant, writing about this event, called this the “great moment in human history” when Christ met Caesar. In John 18, Jesus is in Pilate’s interrogation room. The issue: Jesus’ claim of divine kingship. “Are you the King of the Jews?” Listen to His Majesty’s response. “You say correctly I am a king. For this cause I was born into the world to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice” (John 18:37). Hearing this Pilate said cynically, “What is truth?”
To Pilate, all truth was relative. In his Roman political mind, truth was whatever the majority demanded or whatever helped advance his own personal power and political goals. The question remains today, “Is there truth? It’s the great question of the skeptics. Yet, Jesus was not saying, “It’s true I am a good moral example. It’s true I am a religious leader in a diverse arena of religions.” Or even, “It’s true I am the Son of God.” He was saying something much more profound. He was saying, “I am the Truth.”
Jesus was not politically correct then, nor would He be today. According to a 2016 Barna Research study, the view of absolute truth is held by only 35% of the American population. Our culture has been sucked into the value system of relativism and situational ethics, as a large segment of the mainline Church has embraced progressive revelation and theological pluralism. We have become cynical exactly like Pilate, “Is there truth?” “Naw, there is no truth!”
In holding to a position of relativism, however, one is committing intellectual suicide. Philosopher Michael Horner has written, “If ethics were culturally relative, one could not condemn as immoral what another culture approves, even if that is racism, infanticide, or wholesale genocide. In taking relativism to its logical conclusion, you would then have to deduce that the Nuremberg war trials were a farce! Yet, all decent and rational people know that the detestable crimes of the Nazis against innocent Jews were undoubtedly immoral. Hideous injustices, such as rape, incest, apartheid, racism, (etc.) are always wrong no matter majority vote or Supreme Court decision!" Antithetically, the reality that God is good is not conditional.
Truth is the truth whether we are willing to submit to its authority or not. It’s found fully in the incarnate Word of God: The Lord Jesus Christ. (John 1:14). Often opponents are quick to dismiss the reality of divine absolutes by pointing to erroneous truth claims the Church has made throughout history. Yet, if God is wholly independent of creation, then our limitless awareness or historical misunderstandings do not alter Divine reality. As a disciple of Jesus, it is not that I personally possess full knowledge of absolute truth on all matters on faith and practice, but the more I know Jesus, the more I can understand the heart of God.
As a United Methodist church leader, it is my earnest prayer that God will raise up a group of counter-cultural clergy and laity who are willing to stand for the Truth of God. Whatever happened to the prophetic pulpit? Jesus said, “Thy word is truth” (John 17:17). The apostle Paul exhorts Christians to “buckle the belt of truth around your waist” (Ephesians 6:14) and to take up the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). Praise God, it’s not a butter-knife! Let us therefore “speak the truth in love,” not as Bible-bigots, but Bible believers! Not haughty in spirit, but humble, broken, and poured out. Let us compassionately, yet unashamedly, lead women and men to the truth of Jesus.
Amazingly, the ironic thing about Pilate’s question was that his answer stood before him. The Anointed One, Jesus Christ, was truth manifested in the flesh! (John 14:6). Today in a world that says, “Go with the flow”, Jesus says “Follow Me.” In doing so, we once again hear the voice of our Master calling, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” (John 8:32). Does anybody want to be free?