The Whole Truth: Why One-Sided Truths Are the Most Effective Way to Introduce Error

Since its inception, the church has been a community created by truth (Eph. 1:13; Col. 1:5) and engaged with confronting error. Both proactively and reactively, the church and its heralds of Scripture have been called to preach the truth of God’s Word and reject falsehood (see e.g., Titus 1:9). Yet, in every generation this calling has been compromised through half truths masquerading as whole truths which become untruths, as the late J. I. Packer once put it.

For this reason, Christians, and especially pastors, must be vigilant to defend the truth from half truths. On this point, A.A. Hodge insisted that the challenge of this duty stemmed from the many-sided nature of truth. Because we are one-sided people, who are both limited in our thinking, twisted in our desires, and easily deceived by our Enemy, we struggle to handle the many-sided nature of truth. Thus, we fall into error. 

Though he wrote nearly 150 years ago, his observation is worth considering, with the added reflection on ways that one-sided truths lead us into error. Here are his words, which come from the opening pages of his book, The Atonement. Below I will offer four ways that one-sided truths can derail us and lead us into temptation and error.

The human mind was formed for truth, and so constituted that only truth can exert permanent influence upon it. But the truth revealed in the Scriptures is so many-sided in its aspects, and so vast in its relations, and our habits of thought, because of sin, are so one-sided and narrow, that as a general fact, the mind of any Church in any single age fails to take in practically and sharply more than one side of a truth at a time, while other aspects and relations are either denied or neglected. A habit of unduly exalting any subordinate view of the truth at the expense of that which is more important, or of overlooking, on the other hand, some secondary aspect of it altogether, is certain after a time to lead to a reactionary tendency, in which that which has been too much exalted shall be brought low, and that which has been abased shall be exalted. This principle is abundantly illustrated throughout the entire history of theological speculation as in the ever-repeated oscillations between extremes of Sabellianism and Tritheism as to the Trinity, of Eutychianism [Jesus was fully divine, but not fully human] and Nestorianism [Jesus was two persons (one divine, one human) not one person with two natures] to the Person of Christ, and in the history of speculations on the doctrine of Redemption.

Every prominent heresy as to the nature of the Atonement, as the reader will find carefully acknowledged and defined in the following work, embraces and emphasizes on its positive side an important truth. The power, and hence the danger, of the heresy resides in that fact. But on the other hand, it is a heresy, and hence an evil to be resisted unto death, because it either puts a subordinate principle into the place of that which is central and fundamental, or because it puts one side of the truth for the whole, denying or ignoring all besides the fractional truth presented. It is plainly the policy as well as the duty of the defenders of the whole truth, not only to acknowledge the truth held on the side of their opponents, but to vindicate the rights of the perfect system as a whole, by demonstrating the true position and relation of the partial truth admitted in the larger system of truth denied. By these means we double the defences of orthodoxy, by bringing into contribution all that is true, and therefore all that is of force, in the apologies of error. (A. A Hodge, The Atonement, 17–18).

Acknowledging Hodge’s warning, what can we do to guard against one-sided (half-)truths? The singular answer is to continue to press into the truth of God and the whole counsel of God’s Word. At the same time, we should recognize common paths to error. And that is what I want to offer here—namely, four ways we might be led to affirm one-side of the truth without holding fast to the other sides of truth. As a result, we misshape the truth by ignoring or denying other aspects of truth, which makes the truth we hold persuasive but also pernicious. Only truth in full flower is, what Francis Schaeffer called, true truth. And true truth is what we must always pursue. To that end let us beware of the following habits of thought. Continue reading

Talking Like Jesus: Six Ways to Hold Out Truth in a Hostile World

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200In our day public speech about Jesus is becoming more and more costly. For instance, the state of Georgia has requested the sermons of Dr. Eric Walsh, a lay pastor and public health expert, who was fired from the Department of Public Health over (it seems) his religious beliefs. What is going on?

On the one hand, we are watching a sea change in our country. The religious liberty conferred on us by our founding fathers and established in the Bill of Rights is being taken away.  On the other hand, we are witnessing in our country what Jesus said would happen to his followers: we are hated by the world, because the world hates him.

In other words, American Christians are experiencing, for the first time in generations, what other disciples have experienced for centuries—verbal and even violent opposition to the truth of God’s Word. Such enemy fire makes speaking up for Christ difficult, if not dangerous. Yet, such resistance may also be the very means by which Christians can show what it means to follow Christ—bearing witness to Christ through our own afflictions. But to bear faithful witness, we need our minds to be renewed by God’s Word.

Learning from Jesus

The Gospel of John shows Jesus in constant conversation with the Pharisees whose anger towards him ultimately nailed him to a cross. As John records, they questioned him, debated him, and sought to arrest him long before they succeeded in ending his earthly ministry. Still, as the beloved disciple records, Jesus constantly responded with wisdom, grace, and truth. While John’s goal in presenting these dialogues is to testify that Jesus is the Christ whom we should trust and obey (John 20:31), his recordings also show us how Jesus spoke to those who accused and opposed us. If we are going to continue to bear witness for Christ amidst enemy fire, we must learn what such speech looks like.

If silence is not an option for a follower of Christ, and it is not (see Matthew 10:32–33; Acts 1:8), how can we learn to wear our cross and speak on his behalf with boldness and wisdom? If the gospel is our message, what is the manner in which we proclaim it? How does Scripture teach us and Jesus model for us such engagement with the world?

Those are questions we should be asking, and one place we find an answer is in John 7. Continue reading

On Religious Liberty and the Freedom to Worship

declaration

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
— Jeremiah 29:7 —

Today marks the 240th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence—a day that marks the birth of our nation and reminds us of the wonderful liberties we have in America. In celebration our family read that founding declaration this morning and praised God for placing us in this country.

At the same time, though, my praise is mixed with pain and petition.

America is not what it was when it was founded. In many wonderful ways the liberties that were not afforded to all men have been extended. But in other less admirable ways, the liberties constituent in the Declaration, Constitution, and Bill of Rights have devolved into a libertine version of hyper-individualism. (On this point listen Albert Mohler’s recent discussion with Yuval Levin). Whereas rights were once understood to be endowed by our creator, rights have become things which men can create or castrate as they—or the Supreme Court–wish.

One of the greatest differences the founders vision of liberty and today’s is found in the increasing distinction between the “freedom of worship” and the “freedom of religion.” The former is the freedom of personal belief and private religious assembly; the latter is the constitutional right—the very first right—which says in the Bill of Rights: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; . . .”

In our day, the change in language to “freedom of worship” is altering the understanding of this first amendment right, and with societal pressure Christians are being forced to mute their beliefs—especially with regards to marriage, sex, and lifestyle choices (a clever euphemism in and of itself). For that reason, on this day of liberty I am both grateful and grieved.

But perhaps, as a pastor, I am most concerned about the way some Christians and Christian leaders celebrate the Fourth of July without voicing any concern for these changes. Can we watch fireworks, grill hotdogs, and eat apple pie, assuming all is well? I think not. As Os Guiness (A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and America’ Future) and Eric Metaxas (If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of America’s Liberty) have observed, America’s liberty is under threat from within. And therefore, this holiday leads me in two directions regarding religious liberty and the freedom to worship. Continue reading