Finding Truth: The Foreword
It’s not every day that an avowed atheist and devout hymn writer agree.
First, from famed atheist Richard Dawkins: “Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.”
Second, these words from the composer of a beloved hymn: “You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart.” Pastor and musician Alfred Ackley wrote the hymn “He Lives” when challenged by the question “Why should I worship a dead Jew?” His answer is that Jesus is not dead but is the resurrected Messiah. How does Ackley know? “He lives within my heart.”
What Dawkins condemns, Ackley approves. But note: both atheist and hymnist declare that “faith” is a matter of internal realities.
In contrast to this internalized definition of faith is the liberating call to “test everything” that infuses the Christian worldview and animates Finding Truth. In this vibrant mind-set, people are expected to think for themselves, question authority, examine evidence, and push for answers that make sense of our world.
The phrase “test everything” is in Paul’s letter to the young church in the cosmopolitan seaport city of Thessalonica in ancient Greece (1 Thess. 5:21). Paul is urging Christians to maintain a critical distance against claims to speak prophetically for God. After all, anybody can proclaim, “God gave me a vision,” but that doesn’t make it so.
The humane position, and the biblical position, is that individuals are under no obligation to affirm as true something they have not adequately examined. Moreover, if after careful examination, a claim is falsified by the evidence, it should be rejected.
There are no privileged truth claims under this theistic mobilization of mind, and that includes an affirmation as central to Christianity as the space-time resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile,” states 1 Corinthians 15:17. Some people may balk at the linkage of fact to commitment, but the dynamic worldview set forth in the biblical data welcomes the connection.
For example, when the skeptical disciple Thomas refused to conclude, apart from empirical evidence, that Jesus had risen physically from the dead, precisely that kind of information was presented to him (John 20:24–28). Thomas was not persuaded by looking inward to his heart, but by evaluating evidence in the external world. He then made a commitment on the basis of relevant facts, not because of a lack of facts and certainly not against them.
The same tough-minded realism is evident throughout the scriptural record. The Old Testament reports, for example, that in the exodus of the Hebrew people from Egypt, they were led by a “pillar of cloud” during the day and by a “pillar of fire” during the night (Exod. 13:21–22). These were public phenomena visible to the naked eye.
When the Hebrews reached the Red Sea, they crossed at a specific geographical point on dry land that just moments before was deep under water. This was a miraculous event that all the people of Israel observed and participated in. The return of the water, wiping out the pursuing Egyptian troops, was likewise an event open to observation (Exod. 14).
At Mount Sinai, the people of Israel saw the flashes of lightning and heard the clashes of thunder. They saw fire and heard its crackle; they saw smoke and smelled it too. They felt the trembling of the mountain, a trembling that could have been measured by a modern seismograph. This is the empirical context in which the Hebrews listened to the audible voice of God as he communicated the Ten Commandments to Moses (Exod. 19; Deut. 4:9–13).
As we turn to the New Testament record, the shepherds of Bethlehem were able to check out for themselves the real-world truth of what angels said about the birth of a baby not far away -- not merely a subjective vision but a flesh-and-blood infant in a real manger. “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing,” they said. Later, the shepherds returned to their fields “glorifying and praising God.” Why? Because what they found was just “as it had been told them” (Luke 2:15–20).
When John the Baptist was in prison and facing capital punishment, he sent followers to ask if Jesus really was the Messiah. Jesus’s response was to adduce publicly observable miracles that lined up with previously given biblical indicators on how to identify the coming Messiah. “Tell John what you hear and see,” Jesus said. “The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them” (Matt. 11:2–5). Because these events were public, their status as facts could be confirmed by friend and foe alike.
When the Jewish religious leaders were outraged over Jesus’s claim to forgive sins, he did not appeal to the “heart” or make a bare claim to divinity. Instead he provided physical evidence: “‘That you may know that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins’ -- he said to the paralytic -- ‘I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.’ And he rose and immediately picked up his bed” (Mark 2:10–12).
These robust responses are typical of Jesus. His ministry was a public work of question and answer and give and take. He set forth propositions that can be considered and discussed, and he invited people to observe public miracles that confirmed his claims in the here and now.
It is true that not every person in Jesus’s own day would have observed every miracle he performed, heard every sermon he delivered, or encountered the physically raised Jesus of Nazareth. Nevertheless, whether in his day or in ours, the total body of his actions and communications evinces an attitude of openness to examination so that people, then and now, are welcomed to explore and investigate.
It is against this historical backdrop that Paul argued that the events grounding the Christian worldview were not “done in a corner” (Acts 26:25–26). Shepherds, kings, doctors, and tax collectors could all check out the facts that are central to the Christian message. What is being communicated is an accurate description of reality, not a belief system about it.
This reality orientation is the positive intellectual climate in which the core propositions and events of the gospel live and breathe. It is a mentality in which people are liberated by verifiable truth to challenge tradition, question power, and fight for life and healing against death and decay.
Despite this auspicious heritage, many of our contemporaries find solace in what Francis Schaeffer describes as an “escape from reason.” They accept polite society’s dumbed-down redefinition of faith as something totally privatized -- that is, a commitment so private and so personal that evaluation and evidence are irrelevant.
This is a far cry from the holistic respect for information that characterizes a biblical worldview. Scripture nowhere encourages the notion that “faith” equals commitment quarantined from evidence or isolated from the mind -- the “will to avoid knowing what is true,” as the philosopher Nietzsche put it his work The Antichrist.
To accurately reflect the biblical emphasis, we must acknowledge that a falsified “faith” is quite properly a lost faith. It is a futile faith and therefore not worth keeping. But this sharp challenge cuts in a positive way as well.
For we must also say that a confirmed faith, or better, a well-grounded trust, is well worth embracing by the whole person. In fact, the word “trust,” rather than the now-privatized words “faith” or “belief,” better captures the understanding of commitment set forth in the Bible. The New Testament Greek word often translated as “believe” is more accurately rendered as “trust” (from the word pistis, “trust” or “believe,” rooted in the word peitho, “I persuade”). The biblical attitude is one of persuasion, a will to verify and know what is true and to respond accordingly.
Mark Twain once described faith as “believing what you know ain’t so.” But that definition of faith “ain’t so,” at least among those who operate on the biblical insistence to live an examined life. This approach expresses a profound respect for the human being as a person made in the image of a knowable God who affirms the mind as good and who embraces this world as a rightful arena in which to evaluate truth claims.
Into this setting Finding Truth arrives, a timely, strategic, and principled call to transcend mere belief and privatized “faith” in order to identify truth that merits trust. You may be a student or a worker, a professor or an officeholder, an artist or a scientist -- all who engage this book will find encouragement to think humanely and critically about possible answers to ultimate questions. You will be invited to consider how verifiable historic Christianity incisively and rightly answers the great questions of life, “outperforms all other worldviews,” and “fulfills humanity’s highest hopes and ideals,” as Nancy Pearcey states in this book.
Finding Truth sets forth a set of key strategic principles by which to evaluate the authenticity of any worldview, whether encountered in the classroom, at the office, in the news, or on the street. In this book you will be equipped to critically examine secularism and other idols of our day as they are advanced in the garb of politics, science, entertainment, or religion.
You will also see doctrines of atheism and materialism put to the test, to assess whether they stand up under critical thinking. And you will explore faiths such as relativism and postmodernism, to consider whether they merit the informed trust of the human being.
The stakes are high. Finding Truth argues that no secular worldview adequately accounts for the phenomena of man and the cosmos -- what we know of human nature and physical nature. For these worldviews see only a slice of reality and then try to direct human beings into measuring themselves by that narrow slice and living accordingly. Materialists thereby deny the reality of mind (while they use their minds to advance materialism), determinists deny the reality of human choice (while they choose determinism), and relativists deny the fact of right and wrong (while they judge you if you disagree).
These unfortunate theories do more harm than good. They undercut mind and reasoning, choice and freedom, truth and moral ideals. Inevitably, then, people who place their trust in such solutions begin to order their lives in ways that are less than humane. Likewise, cultures in the grip of inadequate worldviews begin to actualize societies that are less than humane. Ideologues may advance their idols under politically correct banners of tolerance, diversity, and fairness, but the actual impact is regress, not progress, fragmentation, not wholeness. People are crushed. The human being necessarily revolts against gods that fail.
For many journeying through the twenty-first century, losing “faith” and saying good-bye to empty answers may be key to finding livable solutions to the great questions of life. Finding Truth articulates a rationale and a strategy to critically evaluate the possible answers to the big questions of life and to seek solutions that reconnect our deepest longings with our highest aspirations. Offered here is a humanizing unity of fact and meaning that open-minded people can consider and discuss, test and examine, and then actualize with integrity across the whole of life. This is good-bye to privatized religion and hello to a knowable and verifiable God. It is holistic trust grounded in the facts of life.
A wise traveler who goes off course retraces his steps to get back on track. So let there be no doubt among atheists, hymnists, and others on the journey of life: To be human is to write, to compose, to create, and to dream. So is to think, to test, and to know why. Now in Finding Truth you have a guide to help show the way.
J. Richard Pearcey is editor and
publisher of The Pearcey Report.