Christians think they have “The Truth,” non-Christians think they have freedom. Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching… you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32)
Today we begin a new series entitled “Why Christianity is Hard to Swallow”. In this series we will be dealing with the five big issues that trouble folks the most about Christianity. These are the things that make Christianity hard to swallow.
I want to communicate what I want to accomplish and what I do not want to accomplish in the series. First, our mission here at MISSIODEI is Christ, Community, and Culture and in this series I want to focus our attention on Culture. Of course Christ & Community will be woven into our focused attention on Culture – but I want to especially focus our attention on the culture around us as we seek to understand, and to have compassion for, those in our culture who are lost or who are far from God. Those who have real questions. Real doubts. Those who think Christianity is simply too hard to swallow. I want our hearts to swell with compassion. In other words, this is not just an apologetical series, defending our faith against people who do not share our faith. Rather this is a seeker sensitive series, for lack of a better term. We want to be very sensitive to those who are seeking answers. We want to create a safe place, a comfortable environment where we can ask vulnerable and tough questions. My hope is that this series will open some doors of discussion with people in your network (oikos) who, I believe, would welcome an honest and frank discussion about some of these issues.
But here’s what I don’t want to accomplish with this series. I do not want to be the stereotypical Christian who has all the answers. Another words we should never give a .50¢ answer to a $50,000 question. When people ask a $50,000 question like, “Why would a good God allow people to go to hell?” We cannot answer that question with a 50¢ answer like, “Well… cuz the Bible says so!” or “Jesus talked about hell more than anyone.” That is not an answer to the question. And when we answer questions like that not only are we not giving a logical reasonable answer we completely knock them off any path that might have lead them to Christ. They will always respond by saying, “Well that’s not an answer and that’s exactly why I’ll never become a Christian because Christians obviously haven’t even thought it through.”
Never give a .50¢ answer to a $50,000 question! We need to recognize that these are indeed $50,000 questions. Let’s be honest. These are really really good questions. And the answers are not simple, or easy, or obvious. The answers, if there are any, are always complex. So my goal is not to say, “If you have a problem, Yo – I’ll solve it!” But rather, “Yeah, I have some problems with this stuff too, but I don’t think it should rob you of the fullness of life that Jesus offers to everyone who believes.
Now, that being said. I want to be clear that we do believe in Truth. So how do we communicate truth in the face of very difficult questions and in a culture that doesn’t believe in truth? That will be the focus of this first message. This will be the introduction to the series as we talk about truth.
Here is the great debate. The rub. The stink. Christians believe they have absolute truth. And they want to proselytize everyone to believe and obey their truth. But, non Christians (or everyone else in the world) believe that those people who claim to have absolute truth always undermine freedom. Christians and their “truth” hinder freedom in 2 ways:
1- They tend to oppress others (i.e. intolerant & harm other people’s freedoms)
2- They themselves are not really free because their stuffy religious system is full of rules.
And this is a big deal for the average person because the majority of folks in our culture believe that everyone should be free to determine their own truth. Truth is wrapped up in freedom. In fact, in 1992 the Supreme Court ruled in Planned Parenthood v. Casey:
“At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”
So there is the challenge we have before us. Lets look at the truth about truth. Then lets take a few minutes to look at the truth about freedom.
The Truth about Truth
Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38 ESV)
Did you hear Pilate’s question? That was a really good question. Pilate is not just being flippant. He is not saying, “Truth – whatever!” He is actually making a profound statement. “What is truth?” You see, “truth” was a buss word back them. Philosophers and stoics loved arguing and talking about “truth”. It really has always been then hot topic and, obviously, it still is today. Listen to this quote from Michel Foucault (pronounced: “fu-kou”) a french philosopher in the 1960’s. Foucault was heavily influenced by Fredrick Nietzsche, the German philosopher who is most famous for saying, “God is Dead.”
Truth is a thing of this world: it is produced only by virtue of multiple forms of constraint. And it includes regular effects of power.
In nut shell, Foucault is saying that all truth claims are actually power plays. It is a way to be in control. So, when someone makes an absolute claim to truth – he is actually making those claims in order to control others and to give himself power. Foucault and Nietzsche would scrutinize all truth claims. If someone said, “Everyone should care for the poor.” They would ask, “Are you really that altruistic? Do you really care for the poor, or are you just trying to make yourself look good and everyone else look bad, so you’ll be over them in some way?”
Now think about that for a moment. Don’t dismiss it too quickly, because think that Christians might naturally want to dismiss that – because we make a lot of absolute claims. So don’t dismiss it too quickly. I think it might actually be true. I mean, I’m pretty sure I have seen evidence of that in the church. Surely you have too. Now don’t miss-quote me and say that Mike is follower of Nietzsche. You see, I think they make a good point because Jesus actually said the exact same thing. That’s right, Nietzsche and Jesus actually agree on some things.
“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But … they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.” Matthew 23:1-2
Jesus sounds like Foucault and Nietzsche when he says about the Pharisees, “Your truth claims are ways of getting power, justifying yourself, justifying your group, and controlling God and others.” Timothy Keller says,
“When Foucault and Nietzsche and Jesus all agree it must be true.” Timothy Keller
So, what is the truth about truth? Well, even though Foucault and Nietzsche and Jesus can show how truth claims can indeed be power plays, it can’t really be true that all truth claims must always be power plays because that in itself is a truth claim… and, when you think about it, it is the ultimate power play. It’s pure genius – actually. By making an absolute statement about all absolute statements they have just set themselves over all truth. Now they can control all other truth claims! Wow!
But, if Foucault and Nietzsche say, “Don’t listen to any truth claims,” well – that is a truth claim and you shouldn’t listen to it. C. S. Lewis explains why this cant work. He says,
“But you cannot go on ‘explaining away’ for ever: you will find that you have explained explanation itself away. You cannot go on ‘seeing through’ things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. It is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden beyond it is opaque. How if you saw through the garden too? If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see.”
So what is the truth about truth? Well, I’d say the truth about truth is that it is much more complicated than we might have imagined. Truth is not as easy to hold onto or control as some might think. I have more to say about that, but let’s first turn our attention to freedom.
the truth about freedom
As I mentioned earlier, the majorative view in our culture is that freedom be definition must mean that we are free to establish our own truth. Therefore, absolute truth is the enemy of freedom. Or to say it more bluntly, Christian truth robs people of freedom and oppresses.
“Some people argue that Christianity, with its rules and exclusive truth claims, is repressive to both individuals and communities because it divides communities rather than unites them and because it diminishes our humanity by robbing us of our freedom to determine our own path. How would you respond?”
Just as truth is more complicated than you imagined, the truth about freedom is that it too is much more complicated than you might think.
“People think that what it means to be truly human is to be free to choose their own path, that what liberates humanity is to be free of restraints that dictate how we should live. But in many ways this idea (that freedom is the absence of restraints) misses the complexity of what freedom is.” Timothy Keller.
Keller offers a few great examples that help explain the complexity of freedom. I want to share those now. We will look at dieting, at fish, and at the movie “I, Robot”.
First, freedom does not mean you get to eat whatever you want. You know that? It seems like true freedom means not being restricted. But that can’t be true. If you eat whatever you want, then you will get fat, slow, tired, disease, maybe a heart attack. Then, you will not have the freedom to run, work, play, or live. So you see, real freedom requires some restraint. There is no such thing as unrestrained freedom.
Take a fish for example. The fish does not have the freedom to do whatever he wants. He can’t live on land. He has ultimate freedom in the sea but he is also restricted to the sea. If he wanted to exert his freedom by jumping onto the beach. Well, he will loss the freedom to swim, play, eat, breath or live because he will die.
So freedom is not the absence of restrictions, but… it is also the absence of restrictions. I mean – clearly, freedom at some level, must mean freedom from restrictions. One could take their diet too far and be so restrictive to not be free to enjoy the delicacies of a triple bacon cheese burger with loaded fries. Amen? I mean that’s no freedom. So… freedom is not the absence of restrictions, and it is not the presence of restrictions. You see, it’s complicated – and that’s because it is rooted in what truth is. The truth sets you free.
Let me explain. We can not be free until we know the truth and that truth will give us the right restrictions. Which means truth does restrict. But if those restrictions are true and right – they will bring freedom. That is why Jesus says,
“If you hold to my teaching … you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32)
So, you must first find the truth of who you are. Now, I know that sounds very postmodern but hear me out. In the movie I, Robot the main character’s name is Sonny. He is a robot. He was designed, by his programmer, to do a certain task and he accomplished that task. He fulfilled his purpose. But then, at the end of the movie, he expresses to Will Smith (or Detective Spooner):
Sonny: Now that I have fulfilled my purpose, I don’t know what to do.
Detective Spooner: I guess you’ll have to find your way like the rest of us, Sonny…That’s what it means to be free.
That statement is a clear and accurate picture of what post-modern culture views about freedom. Freedom is being able to find your own truth. “If there is a design program, a set of divine directives from your maker that you have to comply with – then that will make you a robot. Rules are dehumanizing” (Keller) That is how our culture sees freedom and truth. If you have no design program and no purpose then you free.”
But – and please hear this – Sonny’s position is a clear and accurate picture of the Christian view. We believe that freedom comes from knowing the truth about who we are and what we were designed for. If we don’t know who we are, and if we must aimlessly try to figure out the meaning of life, that will not be freedom to us. That feels like being lost, and being lost feels like slavery to your lostness. Freedom means knowing and grasping the truth of who you are.
So I’ll ask the question again. What is the truth? What is our truth? What is it that we must know so, like the fish, we can submit to that and be truly free? We must ask, as Pilate asked, “What is the truth? What is the meaning of life?”
JESUS IS TRUTH AND FREEDOM
Even though this may sound simple and trite (though I’ll assure you it is not), the answer to that question is the same as it always is here at MISSIODEI – JESUS! Jesus is the truth. Let me show you something.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1 & 14)
I mentioned earlier that the word “truth” was a buzz word in the ancient world. They were looking for the truth. The meaning of all life. Well, that is why John, the author of this passage, uses the word “word”. I know – that word “word” seems strange to us but it was very clear to the Greek audience it was written for. The Greek word is “logos”, and that is also a very heavy word. Logos is a technical philosophical term – connected to this idea of truth. From the term logos we get “logic” or “reason”. When philosophers wrestled with truth and logos they were asking, “What is our truth. What is the reason for life. What were we made for? The fish clearly was designed for water, and when he is in the water, he experiences freedom. What is our logos. What were we made for? What is our truth.”
John says, look there is an absolute truth, but it’s not a set of directives that we have to comply with, it is a person. There is an absolute truth, and its not abstract. It’s not a set of truth claims, or principles, or rules. It’s not abstract, it’s a person. So you see, truth is not a dehumanizing set of commands – it is a human. Keller says,
“If the truth is a set of commands that is dehumanizing. But if it is a person it is liberating.”
This is why folks think Christianity is stifling and dehumanizing. They think it is a set of rules. And that is our fault because we have made it about rules for so very long. But Christianity actually does the opposite. It is liberating and deeply personal and humanizing. Jesus is the truth. That is what we were made for, here is our purpose, here is the meaning of life – it is Jesus. To know Jesus, to love him, to serve him, to surrender to him. Then you will have freedom.
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. (John 14:6)
To conclude, I want to tell you why you can trust Jesus. I know that it feels like that if you were to become a Christian it would mean surrendering your freedom. To give your life to Jesus feels like… well… giving your life. I want to remind it is, in fact, the opposite. It really means finding your life and experiencing true freedom. But I know it still feels that way and that is scary.
So I want to tell why you can trust Jesus to be the truth and the reason for your life. Because – you see – Jesus went out of his way to show you that you can trust him. Jesus restricted and surrendered his own freedoms for you. He left heaven, did not see equality with God a thing to cling to but willingly gave his life, for you. He became a slave to death. HE became a slave to the cross in order to set us free. God surrendered his freedom, so that you could know that you can trust him.
Jesus says, “I’ll give my life to you, won’t you trust me and give your life to me. I promise you will find the truth, and meaning, and ultimate freedom.”