In our postmodern world, the notion of truth as conveying what is factually accurate and trustworthy has come under considerable pressure. The idea of truth has become subjective. The pragmatic credo of many is that whatever works for me is true.
Postmodernism does not like to hear of absolute truth. To meet the challenge of changing conceptions of truth, the Evangelical Theological Society organized its 2004 Annual Meeting under the theme “What is Truth?” The four plenary addresses that came out of those meetings have now been made available in print. There is much to learn and reflect on in this book.
In the first chapter, Andreas Kostenberger examines Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” within the context of the gospel of John and the entire Scripture.
In the process he underlines some of the biblical perspectives on truth such as that truth is embodied in the person and work of Christ (John 14:6) and in his ongoing work in the world today. Kostenberger’s careful exegesis and his stressing that the truth is the gospel of salvation which is found only in Jesus is a necessary and welcome emphasis in an age that derides absolutes.
Next, R. Albert Mohler addresses the issue from a cultural perspective. After showing how our culture dislikes absolutes and struggles with the loss of objective meaning, he underlines how Christians should be deeply concerned about the challenge postmodernism presents. However, he also sees reason for hope. Postmodernism is inwardly contradictory as it too needs a firm beginning point which is not subject to doubt.
Furthermore, postmodernism is not sustainable since no one can live without some understanding of truth as corresponding to reality. Mohler correctly asserts that the way out of the dilemmas brought about by postmodernism is to recognize and understand that God has revealed Himself to us in the Bible. He has spoken to us in language we can understand and we can have confidence that what He says is true.
The Bible is God’s speaking to us. We can never fathom God’s truth in an exhaustive way but we accept that divine revelation is the source of all truth. Although postmodernism urges us to doubt, we must never affirm less than what is asserted in the creeds, confessions, and doctrinal statements of the church. Mohler ends his paper with a call to meet the challenge of our culture with a solid reaffirmation of biblical truth.
J.P. Moreland approaches the topic of the nature of truth as a philosopher. His refutation of postmodernism is tightly argued and strongly worded because the burden of what is at stake rightly weighs heavily upon him. His arguments are not easily overturned. He concludes with a call to arms, especially for those called to be teachers and scholars to serve the church and indeed also the unbelieving world. We are to defend and impart truth and knowledge of it.
He warns that “not only are postmodern views of truth and knowledge confused, but postmodernism is an immoral and cowardly viewpoint that people who love truth and knowledge, especially disciples of the Lord Jesus, should do everything they can to heal” (p. 76).
The fourth address entitled “Lost in Interpretation? Truth, Scripture, and Hermeneutics” is by Kevin J. Vanhoozer. It is a fitting climax to the book since it is an excellent and patient grappling with the issues of truth that reading the Bible in postmodern times evokes. He draws no hasty, cheap conclusions but carefully distinguishes the issues at stake.
He clearly shows, for example, the limitations of simply relying on the idea of inerrancy to describe the authority of Scripture. His desire to rehabilitate the usage of the term infallibility is commendable. Although one may quibble about the way some issues are expressed or formulated, reading his discussion is most stimulating and rewarding.
Due to the nature of the case, it will of course not be the last word. The debate on the proper way to interpret Scripture will continue, but those who have read this contribution (and his other writings) will be better equipped to meet the current challenges.
The editor concludes this worthwhile volume with an appropriate epilogue which pulls together the major themes of the book.
Author: Andreas Kostenberger
Publishing data: Wheaton Illisnois: Crossway, 2005
Format: Paperback, 173 pages
Republished with permission from Clarion, Volume 56:4 (16-February-2007)