Seeking the Truth
Many people today seem to hold to the idea that all systems of belief are valid. To claim that one is right and another wrong is looked on as being closed-minded or even bigoted. On the other hand, virtually everyone of any religious persuasion is convinced that their belief system is true, while others are wrong. God says that He wants us to know the Truth, and Jesus said that he is the Truth. But there are many opinions about God and about Jesus. How is it possible to know what is true and what is not?
As I outlined in About the Author, I underwent several changes in religious affiliation over the years, each time discovering that what I had believed previously was wrong. I spent many of my adult years in a ministry that held certain beliefs to be true, but in recent years, many of those beliefs have been challenged. This is not a bad thing, however, as it has helped me to identify what is truth. Having grown up in a mainstream denomination, I remembered what it was like when I discovered that what I had believed almost since birth was not Biblically sound. For many years after that I was taught about discerning "truth" from "tradition." To my surprise, I had a similar "awakening" in recent years when I found that things I had held as "truth" over the past thirty years were just as much "traditions" as those in mainstream religion.
Then when I was asked to leave one particular group, after learning many aspects of the Kingdom of God as outlined on this site, I had to stop and consider: Which of the views I have held over the years, if any, was the right one? I had been a Christian of one type or another all my life. Perhaps that wasn't even the right way to go? People tend to believe what they are taught to believe from their youth. Was I a Christian just out of habit? Could I really articulate why I believed what I believed? This was particularly hard to face because at that point I wasn't even sure what I believed anymore.
I don't think I ever actually stopped believing there was a God, but I wasn't sure at all what I believed about Him. At that point I identified with the lyrics of "Cathy's Song" by Simon and Garfunkel, which went, "And so you see I have come to doubt / Everything I once held as true / I stand alone without beliefs / The only truth I know is you." The trouble is, I didn't even know who the "you" was in my case. I also identified with the verse in Paul Simon's song, "Slip Sliding Away" that went, "God only knows / God makes His plan / The information's unavailable to the mortal man." At this point I jokingly referred to myself as a Simonist.
This eventually worked in my favor, because it motivated me to search out rational beliefs which I could articulate reasons for believing. One of the things I came to realize was that in all my years in a supposed "Biblical research ministry" I had not honestly researched the Bible. When I thought I was "working the Word" I was in reality working the views and opinions of its founder. We were not encouraged to consider other viewpoints, much less question the established views of the group. I recently came across an interesting quote from Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom.
We were warned that considering other views would put us in danger of being deceived. We were even taught that Eve's first mistake in the Garden of Eden was to respond to the serpent's temptation by considering it. And yet when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, he didn't just refuse to respond, he countered the temptation with Scripture. I have since discovered that when you look at other beliefs and weigh them against your own, if your beliefs are sound they will stand up to such scrutiny. And if they are not they should be reconsidered anyway. But I had come to the place where I needed to reconsider whether there was a standard for truth, against which to weigh both my views and others.
I started by looking at the debate about evolution vs. creation. It is commonly assumed that creationists simply ignore sound logic and hard scientific evidence in favor of their previously held beliefs. When looking closely at the debate I was amazed to find how often the evolutionist side misrepresented what creationists believe. There are some instances where creationists misrepresent the evolutionary point of view, but not nearly as often. Helpful in this endeavor was the "debate" between two websites, TalkOrigins, a pro-evolution site, and TrueOrigin, which is pro-creation. TrueOrigin regularly posts links to rebuttals and arguments on TalkOrigins, and then responds to the rebuttals in kind. This way one can read what each side actually says, rather than what the opposition claims it says.
The most startling fact I discovered was that there is actually no "hard" evidence supporting evolution that cannot be used to support creation when viewed from a different perspective. It largely has to do with the frame of mind one starts with when examining the evidence. Evolutionists claim that creationism is not "true science" because it cannot be proven by experimenting and testing. However the same can be said for theories of evolution, since no one was there when it supposedly took place. The fact is, neither side can prove its position through testing and experimentation. So in the strictest definition, neither side is "true science."
[NOTE: This was written before doing further research that convinced me that evolution could be a tool that God used in His creation. See This Old Earth.]
After examining the arguments for and against evolution, it didn't take long to be convinced that the world had a designer. Once I reached that conclusion, I searched for something tangible about God that could be proved rationally. When I expressed my doubts about what I believed on a website message board, I was reminded of a very important fact. The thing that separates Christianity from all other religions is its claims that certain events actually took place in history, and one in particular, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, was the central point of all New Testament preaching. In fact it can truly be said that without the resurrection, there is no Christianity.
Other religions may make claims that are not "falsifiable" - that is, they cannot be proven false. For example, according to Hinduism, if you conduct yourself in a certain way, and do certain things to please the various gods, you will be reincarnated on a higher level. According to Buddhism, the goal of observing the teachings of Buddha is enlightenment, and ultimately to reach a state of Nirvana, which itself is difficult to precisely define. Many religions offer tenets that cannot in and of themselves be proven true or false. Christianity, on the other hand, makes the bold claim that Jesus Christ arose from the dead and was seen of many witnesses. This is a historical event that either happened or it didn't, regardless of whether I believe it. If it didn't, it could be proven false. Yet despite how easy it would have been to disprove it (simply produce the body) no one was ever able to disprove the resurrection.
However, I did not personally see the empty tomb or the risen Christ. This brought me to the consideration of how reliable the witnesses of his resurrection are. I read many treatises not only of those who believed, but of those who gave reasons for not believing, and even from some who had once believed but had been "convinced" otherwise and no longer believed in Jesus or the Bible. To make a long story short, there was no hard evidence that disproved the reliability of the witnesses, or the historical validity of Jesus Christ and his life, death, and especially his resurrection. The best that the skeptics have been able to come up with is reasons why they don't believe what the Bible says, which amount to little more than questioning tradition without any evidence to the contrary.
For example, many skeptics hold that the four gospels were not written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, respectively. They refer to the fact that the names are not given as the writers within the texts themselves, and for the first couple of centuries did not have the titles they now have. However, this could be regarded as an argument from silence, and does not take into account the fact that the four documents were long regarded as being written by the men whose names they now bear. If the names were simply guessed at in order to make the documents more credible, why would the names of Mark and Luke, who were not apostles and not big players in the drama, have been assigned? And how would the documents have gained acceptance in the first place if they were known to be anonymous at the time?
The various arguments made by skeptics usually involve the unfortunately valid charge that most Christians do not critically examine the source of their faith. This does not mean that a closer examination of the faith proves it false, however. I have found that there is greater evidence for the reliability of the Scriptures and the claims of Christianity than for anything else that one could base one's life on. But to fairly examine it, one must read both sides of the story. Consider what the skeptics say, but don't just accept it without seeing how legitimate believers respond to the criticism.
To discuss the specific points is beyond the scope of this writing, and such a limited space would not do it justice. Others have done admirable work in this field, and rather than try to cover it all in a short writing which would over-simplify, I would refer the reader to a few good references. In print, I particularly liked Josh McDowell's Evidence That Demands A Verdict (Nelson, 1999) and Lee Strobel's The Case For Christ (Zondervan, 1998), both of which are available on Amazon.com, among other places. On line, I found Glenn Miller's A Christian ThinkTank and J. P. Holding's Tekton Apologetics Ministries to be very good sources on the reliability of the Scriptures and the validity of Christianity in general, although I don't agree with them on some of their doctrinal issues.
Having made up my mind that the Bible was indeed the source of truth, there was still the question of which of the many interpretations of Scripture was correct. It should not surprise anyone that there are many equally sincere teachers who present viewpoints that seem to be equally valid. Jesus warned that there would be false teachers.
We are also warned of this in several of the epistles (Ephesians 4:14; I Timothy 4:1; II Timothy 3:13; II Peter 2:1). Jude even writes, in verse 3 of his epistle, that it would be necessary to "earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints." The lying signs and wonders that will characterize the coming wicked one will be able to deceive some people, "...because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie" (II Thessalonians 2:10-11).
Jesus told us that many would say to him, "Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?" However he will tell them to depart, for he never knew them (Matthew 7:22-23). If it is possible to be so deceived, how can we avoid such deception? In short, how do we know what's right? After all, for a time in my youth I believed that Jesus was God, that the dead were in heaven, and that I had to be good if I wanted to go there myself. But while I learned the truth about many of those things, in recent years I discovered that I had never been taught the one thing that even a cursory reading of the Gospels shows was the heart of all that our Lord Jesus taught: The Good News of the coming Kingdom of God.
I also discovered that a number of other cherished beliefs could not be proven from the Bible. As I went through a re-evaluation process, I began to wonder how anyone could be "sure" of what they believed, since many equally sincere believers were as convinced as I had been that they were right. Many believers refer to I John 2:26-27, which says that we don't need anyone to teach us, because the holy spirit teaches us the truth. But how many different groups and/or individuals have you heard who claim that the holy spirit taught them things, and yet they frequently contradict each other? Surely they can't all be teaching the truth.
Just as the written Scriptures can be misunderstood, so an inner "leading" that we might experience could be our own minds and not the work of God's spirit. And I Timothy 4:1 even refers to "seducing spirits and doctrines of devils." If a Bible teacher claims to have gotten special revelation, or special anointing, or some kind of special understanding from God that others do not have, that teacher should be suspect. While the holy spirit can teach us things, we are also exhorted to try every spirit (I John 4:1-3) and to prove all things, holding fast to the good (I Thessalonians 5:21). In addition we are given the example of the Bereans in Acts 17:11, "These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so." We are to prove and try these spiritual "leadings" - whether our own or those of a teacher - by comparing them with the Scriptures.
We learn God's Word by the working of His spirit, and we verify the spirit with the Scriptures. The two work together as a kind of "checks and balances" so that we can know the truth. I used to avoid reading entire passages of the Bible because I would notice something that did not fit with the system of theology that I'd been taught. But no system of theology can contradict what is clear in the written Word. God's spirit and His word work together to give us understanding. Either one without the other is not sufficient.
The first step in recognizing the truth from the Bible is simply to read it. As much as possible try to avoid injecting any preconceived ideas into it. I know this is sometimes difficult, but it is necessary in order to recognize the truth. The theological term for this is exegesis which means to get out of the Scriptures the intended meaning. It is the opposite of eisegesis which means to read into the Scriptures an assumed meaning. When you read a section and think "This means such and such," ask yourself, "How do I know that?" If you can't point to specific sections of Scripture that unequivocally state the concept you are thinking of, you need to take a step back and reconsider. Only if it is a clear, unequivocal truth, can you then apply that understanding to another related passage of Scripture.
As I have pointed out before, all the passages of Scripture that deal with a particular subject must be considered together in order to get the whole picture. There was a technique which ancient rabbis used to understand the Scriptures. They called it Gezara Shawa which literally means "analogy." Passages which have similar words or phrases are to call each other to mind, and link the sections in which they occur. One section adds understanding to the other, and taken as a whole, you would have the broader scope of God's Word, or God's mind, regarding the subject in question.
The most important example is that of the Kingdom of God. God promised that a descendent of David would sit on his throne, and it would be God's throne. The Prophets spoke at length about the coming judgment and the ultimate righteous rule of the Messiah to come. Jesus spoke of this same subject and called it the Kingdom of God or Kingdom of Heaven. This term can be traced throughout the New Testament and also linked with related terms from the Old Testament. All in all, the Gospel of the Kingdom of God is the most prominent subject throughout the entire Bible.
This is not the specially anointed revelation of a select chosen teacher. This is a truth that has been observed by Bible scholars and everyday Bible readers for hundreds of years. For proof of this, just look at the list of quotes on the Quotes page. Once you begin to see this over-arching theme, when you consider other subjects in the Bible, they are often greatly clarified when considered in light of the overall subject of the Kingdom of God.
This subject is what Jesus always spoke of, and he said his words are spirit and life. His Words in fact are the key to eternal life (John 3:34; 6:63; 12:47-48; 14:23; 15:7; I Timothy 6:3-4). But I found that the system of Biblical interpretation I had held to for many years actually separated Jesus from his words, by claiming that his words were addressed to a different administration, or to Israel only, and not Christians. This view seemed to fit at the time because it was like a filter through which I was viewing the Bible. It was only when I critically examined that filter that I realized I had been starting with a false premise that is not explicitly stated in Scripture, and then reading that preconceived idea back into the Bible.
It is sometimes necessary to re-evaluate one's beliefs, and test them against the standard of God's Word. But it requires diligent searching for, and love of, the truth. We cannot be content to rely on what we have "always believed" even if it sounds good. Nor can we trust the words of a teacher just because he is from the same background as ourselves. If our current beliefs do not stand up to closer scrutiny in light of the Bible, then those beliefs should be re-evaluated, and changed where necessary.
But how would we know whether it stands up to closer scrutiny if we don't know what other viewpoints exist about a given subject? In the past we were discouraged from looking at or considering other points of view. But without considering other viewpoints, how would we ever have learned anything new? Does anyone have a monopoly on the truth? Anthony Buzzard wrote the following in his book, The Amazing Aims and Claims of Jesus:
We were also taught to distrust theologians and Bible scholars. But while there may be some who merely intellectualize and don't truly believe the Bible, not all of them are guilty of that. We would be wise to consider what various theologians have said - not uncritically, but weighing them against the Scriptures themselves. If many of them universally agree on something, there may be a good reason for it (though not always). On the other hand, if two equally esteemed teachers hold opposing views on something, I would look at both sides and consider who presents the better case. Rather than being ignorant of opposing views it is healthy to see both sides. Nine times out of ten it is relatively easy to see where there is a fault in the reasoning of one side, while the other side fits better with Scripture.
But no one knows it all, and I have learned that is acceptable to say "I don't know" rather than hazard a guess if I really don't have the answer to something. The most crucial doctrines in the Bible are quite clear and present themselves without ambiguity, such as the unity of God, the mortality of man and unconscious state of the dead, the identity and purpose of Jesus the Messiah, and what is necessary in order to have eternal life. Throughout the history of the church, there have always been small groups of people who held to the beliefs presented on this site. These are not new, unheard of doctrines. Such doctrines are unfamiliar to "average" church-goers only because they accept what is taught in their churches without questioning, and without realizing there are other views in existence.
It's easy to criticize such thinking, but even believers in the coming Kingdom can fall into the habit of holding onto certain "traditions" rather than seeking the truth. Do we latch onto certain ideas that are not as solidly supported by Scriptures, and in fact could be understood in more than one way, to the end that we cause division? Do we see the Kingdom as merely our ultimate destination but still focus primarily on this life? Have we allowed the notion of "power" and "abundance" in this life to overshadow the great truths of the Coming Age? Are there other doctrines which we hold to out of habit, rather than examining them to see if they are indeed Scriptural? If we are to "earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints" it is vital that we understand what that faith was and is. We can never assume we know. We must continue to seek after the truth, for only then will we avoid being deceived, and learn to make our words sound like those of our Lord and Savior.