A couple of weeks ago I began reflecting upon truth as a core value. The subject is vast and deep with so many facets that the wisest could write (and have written) volumes on it and not exhaust its scope. I hope merely to examine this value in the light of our school’s mission to direct our students toward discipleship in thought, word, and deed. In this post, I am indebted to Arthur F. Holmes, long-time profession of philosophy at Wheaton College (1951-1994) and his small but thoughtful book, All Truth Is God’s Truth.
Why be concerned about truth?
As educators, we must take care to develop an understanding of and appreciation for truth in our students. It will not come naturally to our teachers, nor can we assume that all curricular materials at our disposal reflect an accurate view of truth based on eternal reality. Most importantly, our students will face a culture largely devoid of any desire for truth.
With the rise of post-modernism and existentialism as western norms, our culture has largely denied the existence of a world view based on truth. In fact, our culture no longer even believes in truth. Western thought is occupied with pragmatism, hedonism, and power structures to the exclusion of serious consideration for truth. Along with the loss of a focus on truth, we have denied the possibility of universal and changeless foundational propositions upon which to build systems of justice and ethics. And without truth, there is no unifying structure to philosophy, no way to relate truth and morality to the arts, politics, science, or business. “We are left with fragmented items devoid of any ultimate coherence” (Holmes, p. 7).
So we educators at Westlake lift a counter-cultural beacon of truth and shine it for our students to see.
Where is truth found?
Are Christians the only ones who can know truth? Is the Christian school the only place where truth is taught? Have the unconverted nothing to teach? Those are important considerations for parents and educators. On the one hand, if all intellectual activity outside the “Christian” sphere is patently false, devoid of truth, then a monastic approach to learning along with a very narrow curriculum would be essential. However, if truth is found equally in all educational institutions, and since we Americans already provide (and pay for) an expensive public school system, why would anyone waste their time and efforts in a duplication (often one considered inferior) simply to add theological instruction?
Central to this discussion is what we mean when we say that all truth is God’s truth, no matter where it is found. This is a distinctively theistic concept, one no longer embraced by most educators and certainly legally proscribed in public education. Nonetheless, it reflects eternal reality. The locus of all truth is not in man, not in a system, not even in a set of propositions; it is found solely and ultimately in God. As the Creator of all things and knowing all things, if anything is true, He knows it and can choose to reveal it. He is the One who said, “I the Lord do not change” (Malachi 3:6), so that the truth found in Him likewise does not change. It is universal. Furthermore, since He is one God, the truth found in Him represents a unity—all truth is related and unified in Him. This is the ultimate “theory of everything,” and it’s not a theory—it’s fact!
But can one deny this God-centered framework and still know truth? And can he teach truth, even to believers? Absolutely. God’s common grace gives to all men the ability to know truth, and whether they choose to recognize it or not, it is still God’s truth. Consider this from Clement of Alexandria:
Truth is one. . . . All, in my opinion, are illuminated by the dawn of Light. . . .The barbarian and Hellenic philosophy has torn off a fragment of eternal truth not from the mythology of Dionysus, but from the theology of the ever-living Word.
Or this from another church father, Justin Martyr: “Whatever things were rightly said among all men, are the property of us Christians.”
No doubt, truth at some level can be perceived by the natural man, sometimes to a high degree of understanding and facility. I recently watched “The Imitation Game,” a film about the brilliant mathematician Alan Turing, an admitted atheist but one possessed of an extraordinary grasp of logic. I am constantly amazed at the ingenuity and artistry of musicians, film makers, inventors, physicians, and computer developers, few of whom give God any credit or glory for their productivity. Yet we can and do learn from them. We can and should bring what we learn into captivity for Kingdom work. Each year, our professional support organization, the Association of Christian Schools International, brings in educators to speak to our teachers about how improve their classrooms, and some of those speakers are not professing Christians. Yes, we learn from them.
Man was created in the image of God, and that image included a wonderful capacity for knowing truth. That capacity, though twisted into selfish and distorted applications, was not destroyed by sin, for it depends upon God, not us, “so Paul declares than men can know something of the truth without being personally truthful (Romans 1:19-25). The most deluded pagan and the most untrustworthy scoundrel possess fragments of truth and might know a great deal more about many things in God’s creation (and even about Christian theology) than the finest saint” (Holmes, p. 35).
So, yes, a pagan can teach truthful things, and we should be willing to learn those truthful things. However, the problem comes when the truths are not connected to a biblical, God-centered unified world view. When the student in algebra raises his hand and asks (this always comes up), “Why are we studying this stuff,” his teacher can either point to a pragmatic goal (“to get a better job and be successful”) or help him see mathematics as a way of loving God and his fellow man. Now, that may not seem to be an important point in educational time, but repeated over and over again in every subject for the 15,000 hours of classroom instruction in K-12, and a world view is formed. The student will either see the unity of all truth in God and how it is to be used for His glory, or see little cohesion and purpose beyond the temporal. The one is prepared to sift truth taught by pagans later on in his life, while the other sees no connection between the God of his parents and the fragmentary truths he has been taught. The one is prepared to confront a broken world with eternal gospel truth, the other has simply acquired useful knowledge and skills to pursue existential success.
That is why we at Westlake see truth as far more than a collection of true and useful facts, skills, and understanding, but as a framework for relating all true things to an eternal world view. No one can teach in a metaphysical vacuum. The true facts we teach either support a true view of reality or a false one. A scientist will either admit the limitations of empiricism and submit himself and his science to the lordship of his Creator, or he will stubbornly, even arrogantly claim that all of reality can be explained entirely by natural causes without reference to a supernatural God. Both will deal with the same true facts and do excellent science with those facts. One will embrace a true world view, the other a false one. The same contrast can be made for artists, historians, sociologists, authors/poets, or any other field of human endeavor and consequent education. We desperately want our students to possess the knowledge and skills they will need, but within the context of the Bible’s metanarrative.
In no place does the Scripture deprecate the . . . pursuit of truth. The ‘wisdom of the world’ is not human knowledge per se, nor is it knowledge about the natural world. . . . But if all truth and wisdom depend ultimately on the personal fidelity of a self-revealing God, then the world that leaves God out is really not wise at all, but foolish (Holmes, p. 37).
If students do not grasp that concept, they will come to consider God and His revelation as foolish and will walk away from their parents’ faith.
That’s why we value truth.
Clement of Alexandria (153-217). The Stromata, Book I, Chapter 13. Trans. William Wilson. Retrieved from http://www.logoslibrary.org/clement/stromata/113.html.
Holmes, Arthur F. All Truth Is God’s Truth. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1977.
Justin Martyr. Second Apology, Chapter 13. Retrieved from http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/justinmartyr-secondapology.html.