Searching for Truth in “The Truth Project” — Lesson 1: Veritology — What Is Truth?

In the first The Truth Project (hereafter, TTP) session, Dr. Del Tackett asked the question, “What is truth?”  Under my breath, I whispered, “An accurate understanding of reality.”  Ten minutes later, after a montage of various definitions from a rotating cast of interviewees, Dr. Tackett revealed, using Webster’s 1828 definition, what he believed to be the correct answer:  “Conforming to fact or reality.”  It was then that I knew Dr. Tackett had just painted himself into a corner.  While I wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Tackett’s assessment of what Jesus’ mission was (“to testify to the truth”; cf. John 18:37) as well as the definition of truth (“conforming to fact or reality”), I found myself, time and time again, calling him out for obscuring the very thing which he attempts to defend in TTP.

One method Dr. Tackett used (consciously or unconsciously only God knows) to obscure the truth from his audience was prefacing much of what he said with the phrase “Most scholars believe …”  To be sure, Dr. Tackett made a number of points, theological or otherwise, with which I agreed.  However, more often than not, the phrase was, when compared to the much larger body of Christian theology, a demonstrably false statement.  It may be an accurate statement amongst those who share Dr. Tackett’s particular theology, which is decidedly not “most scholars,” but his all-too-casual use of the phrase only served to ruin his credibility in my eyes.  When one is executing a “truth project,” I’d venture to say that it’s best not to say things like that.

At the end of the session, I asked the small group, “Why do you believe the Bible is true?”  One individual, formally trained in theology, was taken aback by the question and laughed aloud, “Because the Bible says it’s the Word of God!”  I looked at him and said, “That proves absolutely nothing.  The Book of Mormon makes the same claim for itself.  So does the Qur’an, even more explicitly than the Bible does.”  (I almost added, “Don’t make the Bible a self-licking ice cream cone,” but I thought better of it.)

I followed up with a challenge for everyone to really reflect and think about why they believe the Bible is true.  In other words, how can it be demonstrated to be true?  Are there objective criteria by which we can measure the truthfulness of the Scriptures?  What if, in the process of using these objective criteria, we discover that the Bible contains scientific or historical error?  Should we be suspect of the entire Bible’s veracity, as most Evangelicals claim?  For the sake of argument, let’s assume there is a single, solitary historical inaccuracy in the Bible.  Does that error, then, invalidate the accuracy of the rest of Scripture?  Is the entire thing to be rejected and thrown out based on a single wrong date?  A wrong census number?  A wrong name?  My answer was, of course not.  Others in the group weren’t too keen on that answer.

When I first jotted down these observations on Facebook, one friend of mine, more thoughtful than the “because the Bible says so” individual, used a certain line of logic to prove the truth of the Bible, namely apologist Norman Geisler’s “The 12 Points That Show Christianity Is True”:

  1. Truth about reality is knowable.
  2. The opposite of true is false.
  3. It is true that the theistic God exists.
  4. If God exists, then miracles are possible.
  5. Miracles can be used to confirm a message from God (i.e., as an act of God to confirm a word from God).
  6. The New Testament is historically reliable.
  7. The New Testament says Jesus claimed to be God.
  8. Jesus’ claim to be God was miraculously confirmed by: (a) His fulfillment of many prophecies about Himself; (b) His sinless and miraculous life; (c) His prediction and accomplishment of His resurrection.
  9. Therefore, Jesus is God.
  10. Whatever Jesus (who is God) teaches is true.
  11. Jesus taught that the Bible is the Word of God.
  12. Therefore, it is true that the Bible is the Word of God (and anything opposed to it is false).
Does anyone else see what’s wrong with this list?  I have no problems with points 1 and 2.  However, I can’t help but be skeptical about the use of point 3 in this line of logic.  It’s quite presumptive, no?  Or is there some scientific proof of God’s existence of which I’m unaware?  Don’t misunderstand me:  I am a theist, and a Christian at that.  But you won’t catch me using the “fact” of God’s existence as a linchpin in any argument, especially with skeptics or atheists. 

There are other weak links within these 12 points that require one to make certain assumptions; for example, point 6 (the New Testament is historically reliable).  Unfortunately, accuracy in the recording of certain historical facts (e.g., that Herod was king during the birth of Jesus) says nothing about whether the acts of Jesus really occurred.  In fact, a document can certainly appear to be securely grounded in history, giving the illusion of historicity; just think of modern works of historical fiction that place a completely untrue account within the wrappings of a genuine place and time.  (Even the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Babylonian version of Noah’s Flood, rings “truer” in its conversations and in its descriptions of the ark’s construction than does the biblical account.)  Don’t get me wrong:  I believe that the Gospel accounts are reliable testimonies to the words and acts of Jesus Christ, but there is, in the end, no proof of Jesus’ acts that can be examined under a microscope.  Even the resurrection of Jesus, which I believe to have occurred, cannot be definitively proven.  They are, like all historical events, trusted and assumed to have occurred based on the weight of certain lines of evidence, not “proofs.”

Countering my challenge, a friend of mine on Facebook asked me, “Why do you believe the Bible is true?  [Answer the question] as if it were being asked of you by God himself.”  Honestly, I can’t answer that question because, in my case, the line of questioning is wrong.  For one thing, I don’t believe the Bible is without error.  Point in fact: the Bible possesses and declares an ancient Near Eastern conception of the physical cosmos and how it came into being.  In fact, the Bible is replete with examples of its three-tiered cosmos paradigm in both the Old and New Testaments.  Most Christians don’t even realize it.  Why?  Because their heliocentric paradigm, informed by the findings of modern science, was foisted upon them prior to a serious reading of the Scriptures.  As a result, what they read as phenomenological or poetic language was, to the ancient Hebrews, a scientific depiction of reality!

But I digress.  To me, the Gospel accounts are convincing enough that I believe them to be historically trustworthy.  In concert with my (admittedly subjective) experiences with the living Word and the Holy Spirit, I believe that the New Testament can be relied upon to accurately portray who and what Jesus is claimed to be by those who encountered him.  I don’t require an inerrant document to convince me of who Jesus is and what he did.  Reliable human testimony should be enough to convince, just as reliable human testimony is used every day in our court systems to convince juries of the truth.  Just as was done throughout the early Church, which did not possess any New Testament writings for several decades following Jesus’ ascension.

My final words to the small group were that I hoped each individual would dig deeper into the question of what the foundation of his or her faith really is.  If his faith is based on fiction or faulty reasoning, that is a serious problem.  She may have arrived at the correct destination, but only a fool would walk 24,901.55 miles to reach a goal that was, in truth, one step behind her.

16 Comments

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16 Responses to Searching for Truth in “The Truth Project” — Lesson 1: Veritology — What Is Truth?

  1. Mike,

    Well said! I'm so glad you are posting again (long form!). I've been reading some of you FB dialogs, but unless I go to FB several times a day (I do not) many posts slip by unnoticed.

    Thanks to the well-ordered nature of TTP (we can say that for it, at least), your running commentary forces you to follow a disciplined progression of thought, starting right out with how we can know anything is true. It is what I have been thinking about a lot lately. And you address the subject very well. I have become convinced that a meaningful, viable faith must begin not with the Bible, but with nature, with observable phenomena, with what we know about the created order. From there, we can make a number of reasonable assumptions which lead us right to Jesus. For those of us raised on pabulum Christianity, it is difficult to shed our own presumptions and start out with a clear slate. But the effort is well worth it.

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Based on my own experience, I would say that most Christians hold onto Biblical inerrancy out of fear. Consciously or not, many believers hold a domino train concept of the Bible. If one part is knocked over (proven untrue), then they suppose that the rest will topple. Having that fear, though, makes light of the Holy Spirit's ability to give you discernment.
    Too many people have become accustomed to having others delve into the Scriptures for them. I would venture to say that the average Christian (myself included) is not a deep thinker when it comes to matters of faith.

  3. Anonymous

    I admire your empiric approach and you say that, to you, the Biblical accounts are convincing enough to be reliably accurate.Then you say that the New Testament can be relied upon to accurately portray who and what Jesus is and what He did by those who encountered him. Similiar to reliable testimony we use in our court system.

    But of course the New testament was not written by those who encountered him, but by those who wrote decades later.The empiric question that should be ask is how accurate is this original human testimony that was more than likely handed down for decades by word of mouth.

    Using your court system analogy, it would be like our court system relying on testimony by someone who was not even alive during the 'crime' and who got their information by word of mouth over a time period of decades.All court systems that I know of would say " Testimony not allowed ! "

    Brian

  4. Brian,

    But of course the New testament was not written by those who encountered him, but by those who wrote decades later.

    And your evidence for this is … ? :D

  5. Brian,

    Read 1 John 1. There, John talks about seeing, touching, experiencing Jesus first hand.

    Paul readily admits to having no encounter with the incarnate Jesus, but please note that when he presents his most important defense of the Christian faith (1 Corinthians 15), he appeals to the testimony of 500 people who saw Jesus after his resurrection, and he adds the significant declaration "many of whom are still alive." He was quite obviously baiting the skeptic: "If you don't believe me, you can still go check out the first hand testimony of several hundred eye-witnesses."

    I think such declarations hold up to the "court system analogy"

    Of course, you can choose to dismiss the entire N.T. But to claim that it is unreliable on its face because it lacks first hand eye-witness testimony is unfounded.

  6. AMW

    I'm enjoying the series, Mike. One request, which you may feel free to ignore: when referring to Del Tackett, I think you should omit the term "Dr." or put it in quotation marks. He essentially holds a vanity degree from a little-known university.

    A quick scan through his bio on the Truth Project's website reveals that he has a "D.M." from Colorado Technical University. The only degree on the university's website that matches those initials is Doctor of Management. I have no idea how that degree entitles him to being called "Dr." Del Tackett in discussions of philosophy, economics, political science, theology, history, etc., etc.

    Frankly, the man strikes me as a fake, and his degree strikes me as an unspoken argument from authority (which would be in line with his "most scholars agree" motiff).

  7. Anonymous

    Mike and Cliff,

    Correct me if I am wrong, but I thought that in Galatians that Paul said " not by man and neither through man" did he get his revelation, but he got it from Jesus Christ himself.

    Couldn't one take that to mean that these so called testimonies can't be trusted or used for one to accept Christ ?

    Also about the 500 people Paul said that Jesus appeared before.Do we know if Paul met and interviewed all these people?That in itself would be pretty tough in those days to track them all down individually and listen to each story.Did Paul here it from others who said that they knew of these 500 individuals.The truth -or the veracity of Paul meeting and talking to al 500 should be questioned in my meager mind. Brian

  8. AMW,

    Thanks for the head's up. I'll adjust accordingly. :D

  9. Just saying

    And your evidence for this is …

    They knew how to write, unlike 99% of the population and certainly unlike fisherman and peasants. They wrote in Greek instead of Aramaic. They were often unfamiliar with Palestinian geography. They were using a common source, (whoever wrote Mark) and when Mark did not supply the stories their versions varied widely (and often had no details in common, such as the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke). The actual authors didn't even bother to identify themselves as eye witnesses or even who they were; that came later through Christian tradition, most of which is entirely abandoned as false by protestants.

  10. Here's an interesting link on a "Christian Biblical Errancy Debate" forum.

    What's most interesting is the first comment following the "reprint" of this blog post. Anyone a gambling man? ;-)

  11. I disagree with both yours and Tackett's assertion that Jesus came to tell the truth. That is the case of taking one scripture verse and making a theology from it. The Bible is a complex work of many divergent forms of literature, and to take one verse and make such a claim is not good theology. Most of Christendom throughout the ages has held to the assertion that Jesus came to be the Savior, the Lamb of God, not to tell the truth. The majority of the Gospels are dedicated to the crucifixion and resurrection, not the telling of the truth. The Passover points to the Lamb of God, not the telling of the truth. The Babylonian captivity points to the need of the Savior, not the need for truth. The suffering servant in the writings of Isaiah point to the crucifixion, not to the telling of the truth. Those who need truth are those who want to use it as a hammer to beat up on their political and ideological enemies, which I would assert is the purpose of the Truth Project.

  12. Heather,

    Too many people have become accustomed to having others delve into the Scriptures for them. I would venture to say that the average Christian (myself included) is not a deep thinker when it comes to matters of faith.

    I'd say that profound statement speaks volumes. Maybe you're a deeper thinker than you believe yourself to be. ;-)

  13. @Brian:

    Ah! Finally! A free Saturday to catch up on 6 months' worth of comments!

    Correct me if I am wrong, but I thought that in Galatians that Paul said "not by man and neither through man" did he get his revelation, but he got it from Jesus Christ himself. Couldn't one take that to mean that these so called testimonies can't be trusted or used for one to accept Christ?

    Firstly, Paul's testimony (if it is genuinely his) should be granted some weight, especially considering that he, during the early years of the Church, persecuted Christians. Then, suddenly, he's preaching Christ.

    If you read the book of Acts, you'll find that, when he arrives in Jerusalem after his conversion, he's met with suspicion by those who knew Christ face-to-face. Only after the original Apostles meet with him and listen to his testimony does he become a force in the development of Christianity. I find it difficult to believe that the Apostles would accept such a man or his teachings unless his testimony had a certain measure of "gravitas" to it.

    Also about the 500 people Paul said that Jesus appeared before. Do we know if Paul met and interviewed all these people?

    I don't recall the Bible mentioning that Paul ever met these 500 people (but it's not unreasonable to believe he spoke to a fair number of them), but why would Paul need to consult them if he believed to have encountered the risen Christ in person?

    **************
    @Justsaying:

    They knew how to write, unlike 99% of the population and certainly unlike fisherman and peasants. They wrote in Greek instead of Aramaic.

    It was common in those days for unschooled individuals to utilize a ghost writer, so the language barrier isn't such a tough obstacle to scale.

    They were often unfamiliar with Palestinian geography.

    I'm not a big fan of Christian apologist J. P. Holding (for various reasons I won't go into here), but I do respect a good amount of his research. Please check out this link.

    They were using a common source, (whoever wrote Mark) and when Mark did not supply the stories their versions varied widely (and often had no details in common, such as the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke).

    I recognize this fact and don't find that it poses any problem to the general historical reliability of the Gospels. Just because eyewitness testimonies to a disaster don't align 100% does not affect the historicity of the disaster.

    The actual authors didn't even bother to identify themselves as eye witnesses or even who they were

    Should they have to?

    that came later through Christian tradition, most of which is entirely abandoned as false by protestants.

    Can you elaborate here? I'm not following your argument.

  14. @Bruce:

    I disagree with both yours and Tackett's assertion that Jesus came to tell the truth.

    If you accept the Gospel of John as a reliable testimony to the words of Christ, your disagreement is not with me or Del Tackett. It's with the author of John's gospel.

    That is the case of taking one scripture verse and making a theology from it.

    I'm not constructing an entire theology from that verse, and I don't think Del Tackett is either.

    Most of Christendom throughout the ages has held to the assertion that Jesus came to be the Savior, the Lamb of God, not to tell the truth.

    What if the truth was that Jesus came to be the Savior, the Lamb of God? The truth entails much more than you're asserting in this particular case.

    If I may be so bold here, it appears to me from the logic of your arguments that you're trying to create an argument for the sake of arguing.

    Those who need truth are those who want to use it as a hammer to beat up on their political and ideological enemies, which I would assert is the purpose of the Truth Project.

    Does believing that one possesses truth necessarily require that one use that truth as a political or ideological tool? Surely not! I do agree, however, with the second half of your assertion.

  15. JR

    I would argue that Norman Geisler doesn’t think for a moment that his 12 points would convince a non-Christian. He is simply making 12 statements that he believes he can defend — it is the framework of his argument not the content.

    The Truth Project is not designed to convince skeptics, it is designed to educate people who’ve already subscribed to a certain viewpoint–the conservative evangelical viewpoint. Dell Tackett uses are fair bit of short-hand. When he says “most scholars” he is not misleading his audience — they would understand this to mean “most scholars whose opinion you would value” – in otherwise, “most conservative evangelical scholars.”

    This is quite common, and if you don’t do this kind of thing when you’re teaching you end up wasting inordinate amounts of time explaining concepts everyone already assumes.

  16. Pingback: Saul Alinsky Was RIGHT In The Liberal’s Book He Dedicated To Lucifer: Christians Need To Start Living Up To The Book Of Rules | Start Thinking Right

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