When Being Right is More Important than the Truth

"God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:24

Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” John 8:31-32

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6

These are some of the most dangerous verses in the Bible, the reason is each of them reminds the Christian that our goal in life is to follow the truth. They speak about the fact that there is a knowable objective truth in this world, and that we are privileged to know that truth. As a principle the idea of objective truth is wonderful; the concept of truth allows us to to understand the world, a world devoid of truth is devoid of comprehension. All of our scientific breakthroughs are based on the assumption that there is knowable objective truth and we are able to comprehend it. The concept of truth is vital to society, it is agreed upon truths that help make society possible. We, as Christians, can make the claim to know truth, and we can make an even more radical claim. Our claim to truth is not simply in an intellectual sense but also in a relational sense, which provides us with the grounding for our lives. Yet, knowing the truth, particularly as an intellectual reality, can also be dangerous to our lives and the world we are trying to create. Such negative outcomes happen when “being right” becomes more important than the truth.

I have numerous opinions, some of these opinions are on topics I am a relative expert on and some of my opinions are more of a guess with little research behind them. Of course with each of my opinions I believe I am right- who will claim an opinion one thinks is wrong. But what can make me hard to deal with is when I confuse my opinion with the facts of a subject. There are times it is difficult for me to disentangle my opinions from real facts, particularly in areas where I lack expertise, because I do not understand how little I know. This is a natural tendency and we are all prone to fall into the trap and the trap becomes even more dangerous when we think that there are real stakes on the opinion, like for instance matters of worldview and the nature of life [One of the best articles I have read on this is this one by David Dunning We are All Confident Idiots]. The trouble with being human is that we know some truth and we use it to inform our opinions and it can be difficult to discern where the truth ends and our an unjustified opinions begins. While this is a natural human tendency, it is one that we must work to correct, especially Christians who make lofty claims about truth. It is especially important as we engage other Christians in the non-essentials of the faith.

The Bible and the experience of faith are important concerns for Christians, and so I expect Christians to have intelligent opinions on the Bible and theology. But what I have seen recently is that Christians are being lured into the increasingly tribalistic tendencies of our society and allowing our opinions to supplant the truth. The current trend in American society is to close ranks on our opinions and to create increasingly small tribes of the like-minded. Opinions are going to differ– we are human after all– and there will be multiple ways of interpreting data and facts. But we are becoming so divided that we are scarcely able to talk to those with differing opinions, and this mentality is pushing from politics into the church in alarming ways. Christians are becoming theologically more dogmatic in a way that is alienating Christians with differing though equally legitimate opinions. Whether it is the debates over sexuality, the role of women in ministry, abortion, or a myriad of issues within the wider evangelical culture we are letting our desire to be right override the need to follow the truth. Being right is about seeing my opinion drown out all others- being committed to the truth recognizes that even if I think my opinion on an issue is best, it does not encapsulate the whole truth.

The Truth is not an intellectual doctrine, the Truth is a person and all of our doctrines about God are no more than opinions which interpret or lead us to the Truth.

Read that quote carefully because what it means is that as a Christian nothing I believe is the absolute truth, what I believe leads to the truth. Taking this point seriously means that there is objective reality and truth out there but I must remember that my opinion on a subject does not necessarily encapsulate it. I know there will be some who read this and want to lampoon me by saying I am promoting relativism, that I am awash in postmodern thought which is intellectually bankrupt. But that is missing my point, rather I am saying that on many of these issues that are so dividing our society and our churches there is potential for disagreement within Christian belief and that those who do not see this are confusing their opinions with truth. We are driving needless wedges into the body of the Church because we are unwilling to deal with the simple facts “we know in part” and “we might be wrong”.

theology makes the young theologian vain and so kindles in him something thing like gnostic pride. The chief reason for this is that in us men truth and love are seldom combined.

Helmut Thielicke

The commitment to understand truth is a worthy endeavor, I have spent much of my life engaged in learning about God, the Bible, and the Church. But everything I learn increases the temptation to pride and an opportunity to actually walk further away from God despite knowing the right things. This is because knowing the truth was never the goal of the Christian. I will turn to that in my next post, but this is a call to remember that we need a healthy dose of humility and remember there are Christians who take the Bible seriously and come to differing conclusions.

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