What is Truth?

by Tony Denbok

During a series I taught recently on apologetics, one of the follow-up questions dealt with the subject of truth. They asked whether the definition of truth was important to the defense of the Christian faith and, if so, what is truth? We could spend a few weeks on this question, but I’ll do my best to answer satisfactorily.

Firstly, the definition of truth is vital to the defense of the Christian faith, as it is to any worldview. This question of truth is at the root of many of the disagreements taking place today and, in fact, throughout history. We can begin with a simple definition: truth is that which conforms to reality, fact or actuality. But this statement will often lead to more questions. What is reality? These word games are often played by the disingenuous and argumentative.

I like the approach that Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias took at a university Q and A. One member of the audience asked Ravi, “How do you know that I exist?” Ravi smartly replied, “And whom shall I say is asking?” Much of the debate over truth is simple semantics; and arguing over words. At the end of the day, each of us must live in the real world, a world where truth is objective, and not something arbitrary.
We can look at logic to help us to understand truth. For example, the law of non-contradiction tells us that contradictory statements cannot both be true in the same sense at the same time. I cannot be home, and not be home. One of those statements may be true, but not both at the same time. We can apply this principle to our discussions of faith.

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Our modern world has taken a position called cultural relativism –  the view that all beliefs, customs, and ethics are relative to the individual within his own social context. In other words, “right” and “wrong” are culture-specific; what is considered moral in one society may be considered immoral in another, and, since no universal standard of morality exists, no one has the right to judge another society’s customs.

The problem with this statement is that it’s not livable, and we judge people’s customs all the time. We speak of human rights and tell nations that they must respect them. Why? Why must China respect human rights when they believe that collective rights trump individual rights? Who are we to tell them that they are wrong? What of women’s rights? The rights of the child? Without a belief that there is such a thing as absolute truth – without a standard – we are all simply left shouting our opinions. 

Each of us believes in truth or we would make no factual statements. Otherwise we could never be believed. Part of our problem is that we have lost the ability to debate logically and thoughtfully. We say things like, that may be true for you, but it’s not for me. Like Winston Churchill said, “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.” But if truth is something real and concrete, it matters…

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