Archives For Truth

OverpassCan a Christian learn from non-Christians? Can you enjoy a painting by an atheist artist? Can you see life more clearly by listening to secular music?

Whatever your stated views on these questions, we all do this all the time. The reality we all experience is that non-Christians have solid insights and an eye for beauty from which we frequently benefit.

Look no further than your morning commute. Your car was designed, built, and sold to you by a team of people, many (most? all?) of whom profess no faith in Christ. The roads and bridges you drive to work every day follow the same pattern. If non-Christians had no ability to perceive truth about God’s world, you couldn’t get to work in the morning.

We take this for granted, yet we rarely consider it theologically. It would make the most sense if those whose hearts and minds have been transformed by the Spirit of God saw God’s truth most clearly in all aspects of life. That seems to be in the indication of verses like 1 Cor. 2:14, Rom. 1:21, and 2 Tim. 3:7.

But John Calvin insisted that we ought to learn from and appreciate the insights and skills of non-Christians. This is a bit surprising, given his emphasis on human depravity. But the knowledge and abilities of unbelievers, Calvin confidently asserts, are gifts they received from the Spirit:

“Whenever we come upon these matters [skill and understanding] in secular writers, let that admirable light of truth shining in them teach us that the mind of man, though fallen and perverted from its wholeness, is nevertheless clothed and ornamented with God’s excellent gifts. If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole fountain of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise it wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to dishonor the Spirit of God. For by holding the gifts of the Spirit in slight esteem, we contemn [deride, demean, blaspheme] and reproach the Spirit himself.”[1]

Did you catch that? Not only do we need to acknowledge that non-Christians have “that admirable light of truth shining in them,” but had better be careful to heed and appreciate their insights lest we demean the Spirit. Those are strong words. He says again:

“We cannot read the writings of the ancients on these subjects [law, philosophy, medicine, and math] without great admiration. We marvel at them because we are compelled to recognize how preeminent they are. But shall we count anything praiseworthy or noble without recognizing at the same time that it comes from God? Let us be ashamed of such ingratitude, into which not even the pagan poets fell, for they confessed that the gods had invented philosophy, laws, and all useful arts.”[2]

John MayerIf the Spirit is the source of the engineer’s knowledge and skill, the artist’s aesthetic sensibilities and prophetic voice, and the philosopher’s quest for and apprehension of the truth, then we had better admire what we see, receive, and learn from non-Christians. If we fail to rejoice in the beauty and truth created and taught by non-Christians, then Calvin tells us to be ashamed of our ungrateful selves. The “pagans” don’t even demean the Spirit in this way because they see a divine source behind these good things.

So when you listen to the music of John Mayer, ride in a BMW, fly in an elevator to the top floor of a skyscraper, or float through the air in a 747, are you led to worship? If not, you demean the Spirit of God, from whom all of God’s good and perfect gifts flow. Don’t be an ingrate. Glorify God for all of the truth and beauty that his Spirit has brought into this world from all sides.


[1] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. 1, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1960) section 2.2.15, 273-274.

[2] Ibid., 274.

The truth of Christianity is worth defending. Francis Schaeffer, Nancy Pearcey, and others have sounded a warning call, alerting us to the reality that Christians often don’t see their faith as logical, defensible, or even true. Our modern society has told us that if it can’t be proven scientifically, then it’s not true. Christians have a poor track record in responding to this type of bullying. We have effectively said, “Okay fine. Christianity is not literally true. But it’s true in my life, and it gives me hope and meaning.”

This is a ridiculous statement, but it needs to be made: If Christianity is true, then it’s true. Schaeffer even felt the need to coin the term “true truth” because Christians had grown so accustomed to seeing the truth of their faith as secondary, as illogical, as basically made up.

But if God really made this world, everything in it, and everything about it, then doesn’t it make sense that he could accurately describe the world he made? So when the Bible says something as though it’s true, we should expect that thing to be true in the real world. When God says that people are sinful, for example, we should be able to look at the people around us and see that what God says is true. When God says that he created a world that is beautiful and expertly crafted, we should be able to look at the world and see that truth confirmed. When God says that sin is destructive, well, you get the picture.

So because God’s truth is true, I believe the Christian has a responsibility to defend that truth to those who call it a lie. This doesn’t mean that the Christian life is about winning arguments, but we shouldn’t just roll over every time someone says that the Bible is obviously untrue.

Tim Keller talks about “defeater beliefs.” Every non-Christian holds defeater beliefs, which are basically little things that people believe that allow them to see Christianity as “clearly untrue.” For example, start talking about the Bible to a non-Christian, and you’ll probably hear something to the effect of, “Everyone knows the Bible has been changed over the years” or “The Bible contains a lot of errors, so it’s not reliable.” These are defeater beliefs, and they allow a person to excuse himself from seriously considering the claims of Christianity.

Keller says that we should deconstruct these defeater beliefs as a means of removing obstacles to the gospel. So we argue back, explaining that the Bible is, in fact, reliable; and if we are able to deconstruct this belief, the person has to choose to wrestle with the claims of Christianity or pull out another defeater belief to cling to.

By the way, defending the faith in this manner will require studying—work—on your part. But God’s truth is worth it. Christianity is true in every sense of the term, and there are answers out there for every question that you might encounter. We should never be afraid of honest questions, and we can have the confidence that God’s truth holds up under intense scrutiny, though we will all encounter situations where we have to say, “I don’t know, I’ll have to look into that.”

Paul calls us to destroy those lofty opinions that get raised against God and his truth:

“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…”(2 Corinthians 10:3-6)

For tomorrow: why we can’t argue people to Christ.

Why should Christians care about the arts? The two reasons I have already given are that art cannot be avoided, so we should think critically about it, and that the arts serve as a cultural barometer. In this post I will add a third reason: The arts allow us to test God’s truth in the real world.

God’s truth applies to every area of our existence. What God says about Himself, about humanity, and about the world He created holds true when tested against the experiences of our daily lives.

Unfortunately, few Christians intentionally take God’s truth with them into their daily lives. We have been taught to think that “religious truth” (if we can even justify calling it truth) can make us feel happy, fulfilled, and hopeful, but it shouldn’t be literally applied in the real world.

But if the Bible conveys God’s truth, and if we live in a world that was designed and created by the same God who wrote the Bible, why should we think that His truth doesn’t apply to the world He made? It absolutely does. So when Jeremiah tells us that men have wicked hearts, we should expect to be able to walk outside and find that truth confirmed. And we do. When Ecclesiastes tells us that the search for meaning apart from God is futile, we should expect to find real people coming to this same conclusion. And we do.

Rembrandt: "The Artist in His Studio" (1629)

Rembrandt: “The Artist in His Studio” (1629)

Interaction with the arts gives us an excellent opportunity to test God’s truth in these ways. Nowhere does mankind bear his soul and express his struggles, desires, hopes, and fears as openly as in the arts. Mankind grapples with his existence in the arts. By engaging with the arts, we take the truth that God has revealed and learn how it applies to the things that human beings think about, create, and admire.

Grant Horner says:

“We must evaluate, critique, and discern our way through all the elements of this fallen world. To do anything less than this is to dishonor God by ignoring the blessings of his wisdom, to waste the opportunities for learning and discernment he has given us, and finally to lose part of the opportunity we have to be salty in this bland and dying age.” (Meaning at the Movies, 79)

Rather than taking the Bible and hiding out in our spiritual bunkers, we should actively engage the artistic creations of the people around us:

“I contend that Scripture does not call us to evacuate ourselves entirely from the pagan culture that surrounds us, but to use our wise and prudent interaction with that culture to help us grow in our appreciation of God’s grace toward us, to see that what God says about fallen mankind is in fact absolutely accurate (even as found in pagan works), and to better equip us for interaction with the many human beings who do not yet know him.” (Horner, 26)

As Christians, we have every reason to walk fearlessly amidst the cultural productions of our age, knowing that God’s word gives us a foundation and a framework for understanding why people wrestle with their existence in the arts and how the gospel provides the true answers that these artists are searching for (this will be the subject of my next post).