A question on truth …

Here’s a question that I receive quite often …

Dear Brian-
We met briefly the other night when you were … in Glasgow, Scotland. It was great to finally get to hear you in person…
Just a quick question that I wanted to ask you but didn’t get a chance to at the Q & A session after you spoke:
With the postmodern culture and shift in ideas becoming more and more widespread, we see an increase in popularity of the ideas of moral relativity and relative truth/ relativism. Alongside of this, we can see a growing trend in the belief that words have no meaning in themselves, it is just our cultural upbringing and connotations that give meaning to our words. How do we as followers of Jesus respond to the current cultural trends and yet still communicate the truth of the gospel to people? Is it just in our actions or what can we verbally communicate to people in this day and age?
Thanks so much for your time and I understand that you are busy and may not immediately get back to me.

Reply below the jump …

I’ve written quite a bit about this question in a few of my books – A New Kind of Christian would be a good start, and also the beginning of Everything Must Change. And the book I’m writing right now (title TBA) will deal with this in a lot more depth.
What strikes me in reading your question is that the conception of truth you’re assuming is right out of Plato. Obviously, Plato is brilliant and incredibly important in the history of human thought – and Christian theology, but I think it’s a mistake to assume that the Platonic view is the only Christian view. Interestingly, though, it is the only view that many Christians hold, and they consider a non-Platonic approach to truth to be unorthodox.
Platonic thought posits that there are eternal “essences” – ideal, absolute, changeless, conceptual realities – and that our words correspond with these eternal, absolute, unchanging, conceptual essences. In Greek philosophy, this view was held in tension with Aristotle’s contrasting vision – that reality is dynamic and changing, and that we do our best to put words on that reality. For Aristotle, the weight of reality lies with the stuff and happenings of life, rather than the words we put on the “data.”
In Christian history, you can see the pendulum swing toward Plato and back toward Aristotle. For example, Thomas Aquinas, the great medieval theologian, in some ways was using Aristotle (newly rediscovered through book exchanges with Muslims in Spain) to correct a Platonic “fever.” But I think there’s a lot more “Platonic fever” alive in Western Christianity today than many people realize, so we probably need another dose of Aquinas (and Aristotle).
So … one way to paraphrase your question (admitting many levels of simplification) would be to say, “How can we communicate the Platonic truth to Aristotelian people?” And my response would be, “I think one of the things we need to question is our pre-critical (i.e. unquestioned and assumed) commitment to a Platonic idea of truth.”
Now that probably makes little or no sense unless you have a little philosophical background, so on a practical level, I’d encourage you to read a short book I wrote about evangelism called “More Ready Than You Realize.” It explores a way of sharing our faith that integrates word and deed, explanation and example. A lot of people have told me the book has really helped them. Thanks again for your question!