The truth that ninth commandment requires us to tell is not merely subjective, i.e., what is true for me but not necessarily for thee. No, the truth required by the ninth commandment, by our Lord Jesus, who is Truth, is objectively true. Jesus is not merely subjectively true for Christians who choose to believe in him in order to sleep through the night. It’s not “whatever gets you through the night.” The truth is what really is. Jesus really is the truth for everyone and everyone will be held to account for what they have done with him, whether they have believed him and believed in him. Those who have heard and rejected him shall give account to him who bore the wrath of God against sin for all his people.
The 2016–17 academic year has begun. It’s time for introductory and orientation lectures. Yesterday I was talking with the Ancient Church (patristics) class about the what history is or what historians do and why history is important. Americans, in particular, it seems to me, must be persuaded of the value of history. Henry Ford notoriously said that “history is bunk.” (Yes, he really said it. See here and here). We have a strong anti-historical and anti-intellectual bias. Traditionally, we are an industrious people but we tend to leave things like serious reading and thinking to other people. A significant percentage of Americans cannot tell one, e.g., who is the Speaker of the House (Paul Ryan), the constitutional order of succession, or how many members there are of the United States Senate. Labor Day is traditionally the time when Americans begin “paying attention,” as the pundits say, to the general election but apathy about civics runs deep. I have seen interviews where young people were unable to answer the question, “Where was the Vietnam War?” I kid you not. It is a little more difficult for people in other places and cultures to be so indifferent to the past. In some places ancient slights and insults are as vivid and real to people as they were they day they actually happened.
Amnesia has some advantages in American civic life. Apart from gang violence in Chicago, most American cities do not experience the sort of sectarian (factional) violence that are common place in some parts of the world. Nevertheless, To the degree that American Christians are influenced by the prevailing anti-intellectual, anti-historical culture we are cut off from our family history. Christianity is a corporation to which believers are grafted. It existed before us. We are given a name in baptism and receive an inheritance of two millennia of reflection on the Scriptures. Every one of us is influenced by that history, even we do not know it. We have inherited a way we read Scripture. We have inherited a way to think and speak about the faith. We have inherited a grammar, logic. and rhetoric of the faith. Either we will be intelligent about it or we will be ignorant of the reality that we are using someone else’s language, and, as it were, wearing hand-me-downs but it would be foolish to go about it hand-me-downs pretending that one has made them himself.
Another challenge that late-modern Christians face is the suspicion, deeply rooted among those under 40, that truth claims are really a cloaking device to camouflage attempts to manipulate and control others. It is not surprising that the children of the last two generations are suspicious about truth claims. The same thing happened during the industrial revolution, a century ago, in the early 20th century. Rapid social-economic change produces dislocation and older certainties are called into question and it’s natural for young people especially to think that everything must be called into question. Like the early 20th century, the world experienced a global conflict, though the current war on terror, though global, has taken relatively few lives. The vast majority of today’s young people are in little jeopardy since the war is being fought by the West, to the degree it is still being fought, by professional soldiers, marines, airmen, coastguardsmen, and marines rather than by draftees. Still, economic disruption, in our case, by the information economy, and war have produced similar outcomes, among them suspicion about truth claims.
Clearly there is truth and everyone knows it.