Friday, March 27, 2009

What Is Truth? An Introductory Study

In John 18:38, Pilate asks Jesus a simple yet extremely profound question, “what is truth?” One can almost hear a tone of sarcasm in Pilate’s voice as he utters forth this infamous question. It is almost as if Pilate questions whether or not truth exists. Throughout history many philosophers have offered various perspectives on the nature and knowability of truth. Many in our current postmodern culture question whether absolute truth exists and/or deny that it can be known.

Unfortunately many Christian young people have been spoiled by the culture’s current mantra which alleges that truth is relative to the individual and that absolute truth does not exist. In his book, The Last Christian Generation, author Josh McDowell cites the results from a recent survey in which 81% of teenagers said they believe “that all truth is relative to the individual and his/her circumstances.”(1) While most observers of modern culture would not find these statics overly surprising, the response offered by churched young people to same question is quite disturbing. McDowell reports that 70% of Christian young people believe that there is no absolute moral truth.(2) In short, our Christian young people, indeed some grace young people, are being adversely affected by the world system. Mr. McDowell’s commentary on the situation is both instructive and accurate, when he writes “they (Christian young people) have adopted the view that moral truth is not true for them until they choose to believe it. They believe that the act of believing makes things true. And then, once they believe, those things will be true for them only until they choose to believe something else. As soon as something more appealing comes along among they are likely to begin believing that—whether or not it’s Biblical.”(3)

For those of you who may be tempted to view McDowell’s thoughts as an overstatement, rest assured they are not. As a Christian educator in a public school, my heart has been broken numerous times upon listening to young people who call themselves Christians say things like, “Christianity is true because I believe it is” or “other religion can be true as long as they are sincerely believed.” Grace teens are not immune from this confusion and any thought to the contrary is near-sighted and ought to be guarded against. Just because young people are taught Pauline Mid-Acts dispensationalism does not ensure that they are equipped to withstand the unrelenting attack of the adversary upon the notion of absolute truth. In fact, keeping the second or third generation grace believer in the doctrine is a major problem that merits further discussion.

Americans are fickle when it comes to the issue of truth. On the one hand we demand the truth from our spouses, children, bosses, doctors, bankers, stock brokers, lawyers, and politicians. One need only look at the recent public outrage over the bonuses paid to AIG executives or the hatred directed at hedge fund scam artist Bernie Madoff for proof of mans demands to be told the truth. People expect to be told the truth when reading a reference book, pill bottle, road sign, food label, or watching a news story. In fact, Americans demand the truth in every facet of our lives that affects our money, relationships, safety, or health.(4)

Why is it then when it comes to religion and morality all of a sudden truth is relative? Why do people demand the truth in everything but morality and religion? Why does one say, “That’s true for you but not for me,” when discussing morality or religion, when they would never accept such nonsense when talking to their banker about their money market account or a doctor about their health? Most people’s rejection of moral or religious absolutes is volitional rather than intellectual. Consequently, many have swallowed self-defeating truth claims in their attempt to escape being held accountable to any moral standards or religious doctrines.

Simply stated, relativism is the belief that absolute truth does not exist. Relativists will often say things like “there is no such thing as truth.” Statements such as this are self-defeating; that is they fail to meet their own standards. If one says, “there is no such thing as absolute truth,” are they not making an absolute statement? In other words, the statement, “there is no such thing as absolute truth,” claims to be absolutely true. Comparatively speaking this is like writing, “This sentence is not in English.” Clearly such a statement must be false since it was written in English. The sooner grace believers learn how to recognize self-defeating statements, turn them against our opponents, and teach our young people to follow suit, the more powerful we will be as ambassadors for the message of Grace.

In their book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek present the following seven truths about truth:

  • Truth is discovered, not invented. It exists independent of anyone’s knowledge of it. (Gravity existed prior to Newton)
  • Truth is transcultural; if something is true, it is true for all people, in all places, at all times. (2+2=4)
  • Truth is unchanging even though our beliefs about truth change. (The earth is round
  • Beliefs cannot change a fact, no matter how sincerely they are held.
  • Truth is not affected by the attitude of the one professing it.
  • All truths are absolute truths. Even truths that appear relative are really absolute
  • Truth is that which corresponds to its referent.(5)

On the strength of these seven points, it is easy to see why Geisler and Turek concluded “that contrary beliefs are possible, but that contrary truths are not possible.” In short, we can believe everything is true but we cannot make everything true.(6)

In John 17:17, Jesus indirectly answers Pilate’s question about truth. Jesus states, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” The bottom line here is that absolute truth does exist and the Bible claims to be the sole source of this truth. In other words, the word of God and the truth are synonymous with each other. Even II Timothy 2:15, a favorite verse of Mid-Acts dispensationalists, touches on this important issue. While the entire Bible is true, the portion of the truth which is applicable and in force today can only be discerned through rightly dividing the word of truth. In conclusion, consider the following statement--while most religions have some beliefs that are true, not all religions’ beliefs can be true because they teach opposites. So it is with the word of truth. The word of truth teaches opposites that need to be distinguished and divided from each other in order for the big picture to come into focus. A solid defense of absolute truth is crucial to Mid-Acts theology.

1)Josh McDowell, The Last Christian Generation (Holiday, FL: Green Key Book, 2006), 45.
2)Ibid., 45.
3)Ibid., 42.
4)Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek. I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), 36.
5)Ibid., 37-38.

6)Ibid., 39.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Logic of Grace

Please consider the titles of the following books and pamphlets written by grace authors, Things That Differ, Distinctions That Matter, Parallel Not Identical, Are There Contradictions in the Bible? Questions and Answers About Dispensationalism. As their titles imply, all of these books argue that there are differences in the Bible that need to be recognized if the Bible is going to be properly understood. How does one ascertain that there are passages of Scripture that contradict each other? The answer is quite simple, through the application of the laws of logic. Logic is based upon four undeniable principles or laws that there is no getting around.

In the previous post dated March 5, 2009, it was asserted that philosophy possesses an interesting conundrum for the believer, since it is both unavoidable and dangerous. The goal of the current posting is three-fold: 1) to familiarize the reader with the four basic laws of rational thought, 2) to demonstrate that Mid-Acts Dispensationalists use these laws when presenting their doctrinal positions, and 3) to attempt to prove that the Mid-Acts position is the only logically tenable conclusion. The methodology of dispensational Bible study is intimately entwined with the laws of logic. Proponents of right division have often argued that it is simply by observing the distinctions that God has placed within His word that one can understand God in God's way. Statements like these are meaningless unless there is a way to ascertain differences in the way God has dealt with humanity throughout time.

If one defines theology as "a rational discourse about God," then all theology, dispensational or otherwise is built upon the elementary laws of logic.(1) "If logic is a necessary precondition of all thought, then it must also be necessary for all thought about God."(2) Logic is supported by four undeniable principles. These laws are self-evident as well as self-explanatory, there is no way around them. In order to deny them, one must assume the very principles one seeks to disprove. In other words, any attempt to falsify these laws would require that one assert the very principle one is attempting to deny.

In philosophy these are known as first principles and are considered the foundation of all knowledge. Without them nothing could be known.(3) These include the following:
  • The Principle of Existence--Being Is (B is)--The fact that I exist is undeniable for I would have to exist in order to deny my existence.(4)
  • The Principle of Identity--Being is Being (B is B)--A thing must be identical to itself. If it were not then it would not be itself. Theologically, if this law of were not binding, one could not say that God is God (G is G).(5)

  • The Principle of Noncontradiction--Being Is Not Nonbeing (B is Not Non-B)--Being cannot be nonbeing, for they are direct opposites, and opposites cannot be the same.(6) Without this law, one could not say that God is not non-God (G is not non-G). "Thus, God could be the devil or whatever is anti-God."(7)
  • The Principle of Excluded Middle--Either Being or Nonbeing (Either B or Non-B)--"Since being and nonbeing are opposites, and opposites cannot be the same, nothing can hide in the cracks between being and nonbeing. The only choices are being and nonbeing."(8) Theologically speaking, if the law of excluded middle did not exist there would have no way to discern whether it was God or not God we were speaking about. It is clearly absurd if when we were using the term God it could refer to both God and not God.(9)

These four laws, along with the laws of valid inference, whereby a conclusion can be properly drawn from given premises, form the basis for all theological discourse. As stated earlier, these principles are self-evident because any attempt to deny them requires one to assert that which one is attempting to disprove. Consider the following examples: "I think that I cannot think," "I know that I cannot know," or "I reason that I cannot reason." In each of these examples one is doing precisely what he or she claims is impossible. Similarly, without the law of noncontradiction, one would have no way to distinguish between statements that were true and false.

Pauline Dispensationalists utilize these laws routinely when presenting their unique doctrinal positions. Proponents of the Mid-Acts position often stress the following theological distinctions as elemental. The laws of Noncontradiction and Excluded Middle are unavoidable when distinguishing between: prophecy and mystery, earthly and heavenly programs, Israel and the Body of Christ, or law and grace. Simply stated, when you have two things that are different, they both cannot be the same. Consider the following example:

  • Acts 3:21--Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.
  • Romans 16:25--Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began,

The principles of Noncontradiction and Excluded Middle, necessitate that one acknowledge there is a difference between that which was spoken since the world began and that which was kept secret since he world began. Likewise, it would be totally illogical for someone to assert that the divergent instructions regarding circumcision found in Genesis 17:9-14 and Galatians 5:6 were in fact the same. While Genesis 17 was binding upon the people to whom it was given, it is impossible for both sets of instructions to be binding today because they teach opposites. Circumcision cannot be both required and not required as an ordinance upon the same people at the same time. Many more examples could be cited to prove the overall point that rightly dividing the word of truth is impossible without utilizing the four basic laws of logic.

Consequently, one is forced to conclude that Mid-Acts Dispensationalists utilize logic and philosophical argumentation when formulating and articulating their theological positions. It is the point of view of this author that instead of running from this conclusion, as some have done in the past, efforts should be made to present the Mid-Acts position for what it is, the only theological position that is not contrary to reason. Think about it for a moment. Virtually every other system of Biblical interpretation glosses over or flat-out denies that there are contradictions in the Bible that need to be recognized. The result is a theology which makes the untenable assertion that passages which plainly contradict each other are in fact the same.

Acts 2 or Acts 28 dispensationalists may attempt to cry foul on this conclusion, but there are details of those positions that defy logic. For the Acts 2 position to be correct, prophecy would have to become a mystery. Moreover, how can the last days of prophecy be the beginning of the Body of Christ? Similar problems exist for supporters of the Acts 28 position. Paul writes to the Corinthians about the Body of Christ prior to penning the Prison Epistles in Acts 28. If the Body of Christ did not begin until Acts 28, one is left with the bizarre conclusion that there were members in the Body of Christ before it began.

If sound reasoning is important to your belief system, look no further than the Pauline position. Mid-Acts Dispensationalism is the only theological viewpoint that consistently applies the fundamental laws of logic. It is time for the supporters of the Mid-Acts position to acknowledge and stand for the rational roots of our viewpoint.


1)Norman L. Geisler, Come Let Us Reason: An Introduction to Logical Thinking, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1990), 15-16.

2) Ibid., 16.

3) Norman L. Geisler. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1999), 250.

4) Ibid., 250.

5) Norman L. Geisler. Systematic Theology: Volume One. (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2002), 82.

6) Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, 250.

7) Geisler, Systematic Theology: Volume One, 81.

8) Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christan Apologetics, 251.

9) Geisler, Systematic Theology: Volume One, 82.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Believer and Philosophy

In Colossians 2:8, the Apostle Paul issues the following warning concerning the dangers of philosophy: "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ." According to Webster's 1828 Dictionary, the word "beware" carries the following meanings: "to restrain or guard one's self from. Hence, to regard with caution; to restrain one's self from anything that may be dangerous, injurious or improper; to avoid; to take care; followed by or before the thing that is to be avoided." Consequently, there can be little doubt that Paul viewed philosophy as a discipline that possessed the capacity to spoil, or ruin the believer who over indulge in its study. Paul's usage of the military term "spoil," which means to carry off as booty, or to carry one off as a captive or slave, indicates the stern nature of Paul's warning with regard to philosophy.(1)

Many believers have taken this verse as a complete prohibition against engaging in any type of philosophical study. Others have understood the verse to be speaking about the specific philosophy of Gnogoticism that had begun penetrating the thinking of some of the saints in Colosse. Regardless of one's personal position, there is no doubt that philosophy needs to be respected for its potential spoiling capacity. Paul's knowledge of Epicurean and Stoic Philosophy, including his ability to quote their own poets in Acts 17, indicates that it is possible for believers to engage in philosophical pursuits without being spoiled by them.

In their book, Introduction to Philosophy: A Christian Perspective, Norman L. Geisler and Paul D. Feinberg argue that philosophy can contribute to the understanding of one's faith. Geisler and Feinberg assert, "Christianity can stand up to the intellectual challenges mounted against it. The result of such a challenge should not be the loss of faith, but the priceless possession of a well-reasoned and mature faith."(2) When one considers the number of disciplines that are impacted by philosophical inquiry, it becomes apparent that even Mid-Acts Dispensationalists utilize aspects of philosophical argumentation when supporting doctrinal positions. Ethics, Social and Political Philosophy, Asthetics, Logic, Philosophy of Religion, Philosophy of History, Philosophy of Science, Epistemology, and Metaphysics, are all subjects that are impacted by philosophical study.(3)

Theology, whether it be Dispensational, Systematic, Covenant, or Historical, cannot make any assertions without utilizing the laws of logic. Believers who claim, "logic does not apply to God," defeat their own argument because they use logic in making such as statement. Therefore, logic is unavoidable. Grace Believers cannot argue that Covenant or Charismatic Theology is wrong without utilizing the laws of rational thinking because the basis of all logic is that some statements are true and others are false.(4) At this point, some might raise the following objection, "using logic puts logic before God." Believers need to make a distinction between the order of being, and the order of knowing. "In the order of being. God is first; but in the order of knowing, logic leads us to all knowledge of God. God is the basis of all logic (in the order of being), but logic is the basis of all knowledge of God (in the order of knowing)."(5) Without God, nothing could have existence. Logic comes from God not God from logic.

In the end, believers cannot escape engaging in philosophical thinking; however, we are still warned not be spoiled by it. In Romans One, mankind corrupted the knowledge of God and became fools, by professing themsleves to be wise. In 1 Corinthians 1:22, Paul writes, "For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:" The Greek's attitude toward wisdom is demonstrated in Acts 17:21 where Luke comments that the sole passion of the Athenians was "either to tell, or to hear some new thing." Herein lies the problem with an unchecked affection for philosophy-- it pampers the flesh and entices the mind. Human wisdom seeks to utilize logic to explain the existence of all things without acknowledging the source of the very logic it extolls as the source of all truth and reality. 1 Corinthians 1:21 teaches that God in his wisdom created a situation whereby man by his own ability to reason could never know God.

For believers philosophy is both a necessity and an ever present danger. When one finds oneself elevating human reason and viewpoint above the word of God rightly divided, should run for the nearest mental exit, to escape being ensnared and spoiled by vain deceit!

1) Strong's Concordance
2) Geisler, Norman. and Paul D. Feinberg. Introduction to Philosophy: A Christian Perspective (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1990), 23.
3) Ibid., 23-37.
4) Geisler, Norman. and Ronald M. Brooks. Come Let Us Reason: An Introduction to Logical Thinking. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989), 15-16.
5) Ibid., 17.