What is Truth?

In the current culture, people are asking questions like that a lot lately. The philosophical construct where truth is thought to be flexible, changeable and situational is generally summed up under the expression “post-modernism.” That view of life is an admission that the philosophy called “modernism” didn’t work. It is also an attempt to solve all the problems of life that modernism was unable to address. The answer, according to post-modernism, is to scrap everything from all of the old systems, including the concept of absolute truth. They say that since nothing else has worked, we need a whole new way of thinking in which everyone seeks his own flexible, situational “truth.”

As post-modernism has become popular, broader Christianity has not escaped its influence. The effect on people who call themselves Christians is perhaps best seen in the Emergent Church movement. Particularly noteworthy is this movement’s stated objective of interpreting the Bible by using the “hermeneutics of humility.” (Hermeneutics means “the science of interpretation”). The idea behind the hermeneutics of humility is that truth is too high for us, that it would be arrogant to presume to be able to know something so high and lofty. Proponents of this view claim that it is better just to explore—but never to come to any hard and fast conclusions regarding truth. They say we must leave room for differences between people and for the situations people face. To them, truth cannot be known—and may change anyway.

Post-modern thinking includes significant changes from ideas that were generally popular a few years ago. As a result, post-modernism seems to be very new. There are new labels, new people, and new attempts to address the problems of life. Yet Solomon told us that there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Post-modern is just one more old lie, repackaged for a new generation. In reality, there is nothing new at all about the form of philosophy called post-modernism. Such ideas have been around for many centuries.

Scripture gives us one very clear example of this same thinking from almost 20 centuries ago. Jesus was on trial before Pilate. In that setting, he declared his divine purpose to Pilate by saying, “For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice” (John 18:37).

From that verse, it is clear that Jesus believed truth could be known, that it was uniform for the whole world, and that it will never change at all. Since he had already declared himself to be the truth (John 14:6), and since as God he cannot change (Malachi 3:6), truth necessarily must also be unchanging. He said he came to testify to the truth and that certain people will respond to it.

As Jesus graciously declared his purpose to Pilate, he was flatly rejected by Pilate based on Pilate’s view of truth. Pilate believed that truth could not be known. John 18:38 says, “Pilate said to Him, ‘What is truth?’ And when he had said this, he went out again…” Had he been asking in order to get an answer, he would have waited for the answer instead of walking away. He was flatly rejecting Jesus’ proclamation of truth that can be known.

Pilate had reached conclusions about truth that prevented him from believing Jesus. Without repenting of his way of thinking, Pilate could not come to genuine, saving faith. His view of truth put him completely at odds with God. He preferred his own wits, his own ability to interpret life, his own perceptions and conclusions. He would not tolerate the idea of objective truth that comes from outside of this world and instructs those in the world. He had no patience for truth to which all the world must adjust. He did not believe anything outside of his own mind could be as beneficial as what he already had within him.

Standing before the King of kings and hearing of God’s eternal purpose for the salvation of souls in Jesus Christ, Pilate brushed it all aside and continued to look for answers within himself. As a result of his human philosophy regarding truth, Pilate turned away from the only hope.

Had post-modernism been more popular as a religious movement in his day, Pilate would have been the perfect candidate. He already had the same philosophy. He already had exactly the same way of thinking. All that was lacking was a little religious activity and Pilate could have been as “Emergent” as anyone. What he could not be was genuinely Christian. Without a willingness to bow to absolute truth, he was doomed.

Post-modernism is simply a further decline in a system of human philosophy that has always been hopeless. In attempting to solve the problems of life without looking to God for objective answers, people only seal their own condemnation. Jesus is still the only solution to human problems. As he said himself, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:6). That is about as “absolute” as it can get.