NEWS & EVENTS

Dordt College News

Soundings: True, correct, or just accurate?

June 24, 2014

I am convinced that Christians should be more precise when talking about truth. Is it true that “all truth is God’s truth”? And if so, what does that mean for the ways we lead, guide, and enable others? And how can one test the verity of what one knows? Many Christians, for example, are convinced that “God is in control,” but the only place in Scripture where it says “the whole world is under [his] control,” the “his” refers to “the evil one” (1 John 5:19)!

There are different ways of knowing, but knowledge, I believe, is only true if it helps develop Christ’s lordship of the world (rather than the devil’s) and pleases God. This implies that not everything that is accurate or correct is true.

Knowing that the temperature outside my window right now is 48° F is reliable in the sense of accurate. And I have no more reason to doubt the accuracy of Darwin’s observation that the barbarians of Tierra del Fuego valued their dogs more than they did their old women than I have cause to question the accuracy of his assertion that the feathered wing of a bird has a different construction than the membrane-covered wing of a bat. Or an entirely different kind of example: pitching a no-hitter, well and with precision—even in the context of exorbitant salaries and pretended fame—has everything to do with accurate know-how.

On the other hand, I believe that Archbishop Ussher’s 17th-century calculation that the ark touched down on Mount Ararat on 5 May 2348 B.C. was, however well-intended, “inaccurate.”

Knowledge can also be correct. A medical doctor who can read thermometers accurately and understands how temperature, white blood cells, and viral infections are interrelated has a correct understanding of his field. Likewise, some who do not know Christ can write good poetry, develop a sound investment strategy, or show insight into  environmental degradation.

I would not call Darwin’s claims about how dogs are valued in Tierra del Fuego or the difference between the wings of birds and bats correct, however, because when taken in their context we see that by highlighting certain accurate observations he is crafting a design-less theory that he believes holds for most everything that lives.

A different example: In his book The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman shares his surprise when told that the flattening process he describes in his book was actually first identified by Marx and Engels in 1848 in the Communist Manifesto. Friedman describes his “awe at how incisively Marx detailed [and foreshadowed] the forces that were flattening the world,” i.e., “the inexorable march of technology and capital to remove all barriers, boundaries, frictions, and restraints to global commerce” (202). Were I Friedman (which I definitely am not) and using the accurate, correct, true rubric that I am suggesting, I’d have to say Marx was “correct” in his prognosis, but fundamentally misguided when it came to the truth of the matter, because a proletarian revolution offers no hope.

Truth is hopeful and life-giving, disclosing God’s fidelity and his promise of shalom—a peace that passes understanding; a process of disclosure and sanctification into which we are called by the power of the Holy Spirit. True knowledge is aimed at changing the world, and not merely understanding it, for Christ’s sake. The coming of the kingdom of God has changed, is changing, and will change the world; a change over time in which human beings and other creatures will flourish.

I agree with Nick Wolterstorff that “the concept of shalom provides a way of fitting together justice and worship, evangelism and art, piety and rights… . They belong together as the content of what the biblical writers call the kingdom of God. Shalom is the content of God’s Reign” (Educating for Shalom, 124-134). This knowledge is, as Wolterstorff puts it, knowing shaped by a passion for the suffering and the wounded in the world; by one’s Christian vision of creaturely flourishing and social justice.

The bottom line is that the handle we have on facts and more-or-less complex states of affairs is defined by the context of the battle that Scripture discloses between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness. Our walking in the truth is not what it’s all about. We are called—with serviceable insights that are both accurate and correct—to pursue fidelity under the umbrella of God’s grace in every dimension of our lives, but our doing so is only possible because Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.


Dr. John Kok looks forward to continuing  his scholarly work in retirement.

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