By Dix Winston
A pastor, a college professor, and a boy scout were flying together on a small plane when the pilot had a heart attack and died. Since none of them could fly the plane and it was headed down, they began looking for parachutes. They only found two. This created a moral dilemma: which two would jump to safety, and which one would ride the plane down to a certain death?
The college professor announced that since he was the world’s smartest man, he should take one of the parachutes. He then strapped one on his back and jumped out of the plane.
The pastor looked at the young scout, and told him he knew that when he died he would go to heaven. So the pastor insisted that the young man take the remaining chute and jump to safety.
The scout said that would not be necessary since the world’s smartest man just jumped out of the plane with his scout backpack!
All of us must jump out of the plane called life at some point. No one gets out of this life alive (apart from the Rapture). Therefore, a prudent individual will be certain of what her or she jumping out of this life with. Christianity claims to be a reliable “chute” in which to jump out of this life and land safely in the next. But is this merely wishful thinking, or is there a reason to believe it so?
Any experienced skydiver will “check the chute” before leaving the ground. I want to invite you to “check the chute” called Christianity with me.
Stumbling Over Truth
More than sixty years ago, Winston Churchill quipped, “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.”1 That statement was made in a time when the concept of truth was not challenged. People then believed that some things were true, and therefore the opposite of that was false.
Almost twenty years ago, Professor Allen Bloom documented not only the dismissal of truth but also the death of truth on the college campus.
There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says they believe, that truth is relative. If this belief is put to the test, one can count on the students’ reaction: they will be uncomprehending. That anyone should regard the proposition as not selfevident astonishes them, as though he were calling into question 2+2=4.2
This relative view of truth is no small matter. As Francis Beckwith observes,
When truth dies, all of its subspecies, such as ethics perish with it. If truth cannot be known then the concept of moral truth becomes incoherent. Ethics become relative, right and wrong a matter of individual opinion. This may seem a moral victory, but ultimately rings hollow.3
Truly our culture is experiencing a breakdown of the rational and moral immune system, rendering our society weak and susceptible to all manner of insane and immoral practices.4
As serious as this virus is for our culture’s temporal future, it has even graver consequences for an individual’s eternal destiny. For if there is no truth, then nothing meaningful can be said about the life to come or if there is even one. But if there is truth to be discovered, not created, then one has the potential of being certain about not only how to live life here, but where her or she might spend his or her eternal life.
Truth: A Definition
There is much confusion surrounding the nature of truth. The following illustration from Os Guiness points out three differing approaches or views of truth. Three baseball umpires debate their different philosophies of umpiring…
“There’s balls and there’s strikes.” Says the first, “and I call them the way they are.”
“No!” exclaims the second umpire. “That’s arrogant. There’s balls and strikes and I call them the way I see them.”
“That’s no better,” says the third. “Why beat around the bush? Why not be realistic about what we do? There’s balls and strikes and they ain’t nothing til I call them.”
As Guiness explains:
The first umpire represents the traditional view of truth—objective, independent of the mind of the knower, and there to be discovered. The second umpire speaks for moderate relativism—truth “as each person sees it” according to his or her perspective and interpretation. And the third umpire bluntly expresses the radically relativist, or postmodern, “truth” is not there to be discovered; it is for each of us to create for ourselves.5
Only the first umpire represents a proper or accurate view of truth. He calls them the way they are. That is truth, because truth is what corresponds to its referent. Truth about reality is what corresponds to the way things really are. Truth is telling it like it is. There is a reality, and truth accurately expresses it. This has been called the correspondence view of truth.
As Norman Geisler explains, there are at least four reasons for adopting this view:
First, non-correspondence views are self-defeating. For example, the claim that “the non-correspondence view of truth” implies that this view corresponds to reality. If so, then the non-correspondence view cannot even express itself without using the correspondence view of truth.
Second, even lies are impossible without a correspondence view of truth. If one’s statements need not correspond to the facts in order to be true, then any factually incorrect statement could be true. If this is the case, then even lies become impossible, for if any statement is compatible with any given state of affairs, then all statements can be true and none false.
Third, without correspondence there could be no such thing as truth or falsity. In order to know something is true as opposed to something that is false, there must be a real difference between things and the statements about the things. But this real difference between thought and things is precisely what is entailed in a correspondence view of truth.
Fourth, factual communication would break down without a correspondence view of truth. Factual communication depends on informative statements, but informative statements must be factually true (that is, they must correspond to the facts) in order to inform one correctly…6
So truth is that which corresponds to reality.
For instance, if I were to say there is a three-headed green monster under my bed, that statement would be true if there is a three-headed green monster under my bed. Or if I was to say I live in Colorado, that would only be true if indeed I had my full-time residence in Colorado. In a similar manner, if I were to say I was seven feet tall, that would not be true since I am less then six feet tall. So something is true if it corresponds to its referent.
Now that we have defined truth, we must examine three critical aspects or propositions concerning truth.
Three Propositions About Truth
1. Truth is logical. What I mean by this is truth conforms to the laws of logic. These “Laws” form the very basis of all rational thought. They are also referred to as “First Principles.”7 One of those principles is called the “law of non-contradiction.”
The law of non-contradiction says, “A cannot be non-A.” I can illustrate this principle with the following statement: all pens write blue; this pen writes black. Now either one of those statements is true, or both of those statements are false, but both cannot be true in the same way and at the same time.
First principles or self-evident principles are undeniable. “For example, the principle of non-contradiction cannot be denied without using it in the very denial. The statement: ‘Opposites cannot be true’ assumes that the opposite of that statement cannot be true.”8
However people still ignorantly violate these principles. For instance, I was talking to a friend and made the following statement: “Either Christianity is true, or Buddhism is true, but both cannot be true in the same way at the same time.” He responded, “You cannot be that logical when it comes to spiritual issues.” I pointed out to him that he had used logic to disavow logic.
A children’s story aptly illustrates this principle. It is a dialogue in Winnie the Pooh when he came upon Rabbit’s house.
So he bent down, put his head into the hole, and called out: “Is anybody home?”
There was a sudden scuffling noise from inside the hole, and then silence.
“What I said was, ‘Is anybody home?’” called out Pooh very loudly.
“No!” said a voice; and then added, “You needn’t shout so loud. I heard you the first time.”
“Bother!” said Pooh. “Isn’t there anybody here at all?”
Winnie-the-Pooh took his head out of the hole, and thought for a little, and he thought to himself, “There must be somebody there, because somebody must have said ‘Nobody.’”9
This proposition is important not only to fairy tales but also spiritual truths. For instance, either God exists, or He does not exist. He cannot both exist and not exist. Or either the Bible is true, or it is false. Or there is life after death, or there is not life or existence after death.
But aren’t some things true for some people but not for others? Or true at some times but not others? No, for truth is universal—that is, it applies to all people at all times.
2. Truth is universal. Today you often hear the following: “That may have been true for them, but it is not true for us.” Or, “That may be true for you, but it is not true for me.” Or, “different strokes for different folks.” People mistakenly think truth is determined by the individual or is limited by time.
I was speaking with a friend and made the following statement: “If something is true for me then it is true for you.” He disagreed, offering the following common situation as a rebuttal. He said that if you came over to his house this evening and asked his wife if she was cold, she would say she was. But if you were to ask him if he were cold, he would say no, in fact he was hot. So it is both hot and cold. Or is it?
I told him it was both cold and hot in his house, but truth was still universal. He must identify the referent in order to be accurate. It was universally true that his wife felt cold, and it was universally true that he felt hot. It all depended upon the referent.
While some might think truth is determined geographically, others think it is determined chronologically. In other words, what might have been true a hundred years ago is no longer true today. For instance, centuries ago people believed the earth was flat when we know today that the earth is spherical. But the earth has always been spherical. It was universally true centuries ago that the earth was spherical. One’s perception does not determine truth.
Today, people dismiss Biblical miracles, even though the Bible records them, because they think there must have been natural explanations for them. And people dismiss Biblical morality, even though the Bible reveals it, because today we are more enlightened and liberated.
3. Truth is Knowable. The final proposition about truth is that it is knowable. There are some today who would claim you couldn’t know anything to be true. This is skepticism. And as Winifried Corduan has explained, skepticism is a position that cannot be rationally maintained.
Skepticism states that one cannot know anything. Does the person who makes that statement know it or not? If the skeptic thinks that skepticism is true, then it is false. The skeptic argues that we can know at least one thing, namely, that skepticism is true. If the skeptic does not claim that skepticism is true, he or she is not saying anything meaningful.10
There are some who would say you couldn’t know if there is a God, or if the Bible is reliable, or if miracles are possible. But in making these statements they establish certain spiritual truths: namely you cannot know if there is a God, or if the Bible is reliable, or if miracles are possible.
At some point the skeptics must admit that they know something, and if they know something, then truth is knowable.
So we can know the following: truth corresponds to reality. And truth is logical, universal, and knowable.
Dix Winston is senior pastor of Crosspoint Community Church in Centennial, CO. He has a D.Min. in apologetics from Southern Evangelical Seminary.
1. Howard Hendricks and Bob Philips, Values and Virtues (Portland, OR: Multnomah Books, 1997), 255.
2. Alan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1987), 25.
3. Francis J. Beckwith and Gregory Koukl, Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), 20.
4. Norman L. Geisler, Christian Apologetics [cassette tape] (Charlotte, NC: Southern Evangelical Seminary, 2000).
5. Os Guinness, Time for Truth: Living Free in a World of Lies, Hype, and Spin (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 12.
6. Norman L. Geisler, “Why I Believe Truth is Real and Knowable,” Why I Am a Christian, ed. Norman L. Geisler and Paul K. Hoffman (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2001), 34.
7. Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 250.
9. A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh (New York: Dutton, 1961), 91.
10. Winfried Corduan, Reasonable Faith: Basic Christian Apologetics (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1993), 36.