ABC Extra – I Didn’t Invent The Truth And Neither Did You

September 19, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The former anchor of World News Tonight, the late Peter Jennings, once said, “There is no one absolutely essential truth for all people…Every time I look at a coin, I instinctively want to look at the other side.”[1]  This statement, proffered by a prominent and well-respected news anchor encapsulates for many the truth about the truth.  A truth, according to many, resides ultimately in the minds and hearts of those who believe it and cannot be universalized or externalized to all people in all places in all times.  This position on truth is popularly known as post-modernism.  To quote the famed French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard’s definition of post-modernism, “Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodern as incredulity toward metanarratives.”[2]  In other words, a grand, unifying, universally true narrative that gives meaning to life, such as we find in the Bible, is not possible in post-modern thinking, nor is it desirable.  Everyone has their own personal narratives – their own personal truths.

With the onset of the new millennium, this take on truth has thankfully waned.  In some ways, its ebbing was inevitable, for its central tenant is internally incoherent.  When Peter Jennings claims, “There is no one absolutely essential truth for all people,” one almost wants to chide him with a friendly chuckle and ask, “So is the fact that there is no one absolutely essential truth for all people an absolutely essential truth for all people?”  One cannot escape the fact that post-modernity’s claim against universal truth is itself a claim of a universal truth!  In addition to being internally incoherent, this stance against universal truth is also impossibly impractical.  It is a stance that cannot be argued for because there is no essential truth over which to argue!  Thus, people who hold this view are finally left with nothing to say and no position for which they can persuasively argue because their position, by its very nature, must be contextualized ad infinitum into extinction.

Even though the absurdity of the popular version of post-modern position on truth has been well documented, this does not stop many from using the “no universal truth” argument against those with whom they simply do not care to have a discussion.  “Well, that truth may work for you,” a common cop out goes, “but it doesn’t mean it works for me.  You have your truth.  I have mine.”  Rather than presenting a well-reasoned rebuttal to a point with which one disagrees, this statement retreats into an ad hominem excuse for whatever one might think or however one might act.

From a Christian perspective, the problem with the “personal truths” of post-modernity is their insufferable self-centeredness and arrogance.  To think that one individual could be the arbiter, holder, or creator of truth, even if only for themselves, should make even the proudest person wince at least a little.  In this regard, post-modernity seems to be a tragically logical consequence of the rugged individualism for which Americans are so famous.  Furthermore, to deny people a “metanarrative,” or a grand story, into which they can fit makes life awfully grim.  After all, for all of post-modernity’s incredulity toward metanarratives, metanarratives remind us that we are part of something bigger than ourselves.  As Christians, we believe that we are part of a broad, sweeping story of redemption and love, revealed unambiguously for us in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  This is the truth Christians believe and confess!  Finally, post-modernity is a direct affront to the Gospel because while the Gospel always and only looks outward to Jesus for the truth of salvation, post-modernism can only look inward for personal opinions.

Truth is bigger than you.  Truth is outside of you.  Truth is given to you by Christ and revealed by Holy Scripture.  And happily, you will find that, believing the truth of the Gospel, this truth will work for you because Christ will be working in you, even unto salvation.  No personal truths needed.

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[1] Peter Jennings, “In Peter Jennings’ Own Words” (8.8.05).

[2] Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, trans. G. Bennington and B. Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), xxiv.

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