Posts tagged ‘Truth’

The Real Truth About Fake News


Recently, I came across a New York Times feature piece bemoaning the increase of what are deemed “fake news sites.”  These are websites that purport to share what which is newsworthy, but regularly play fast and loose with the facts, usually to further a particular political agenda.  For instance, days before the election, a news story from The Denver Guardian received hundreds of thousands of shares on social media:  “FBI AGENT SUSPECTED IN HILLARY EMAIL LEAKS FOUND DEAD IN APPARENT MURDER-SUICIDE.”  It sounded salacious – and terrifying.  There was only only problem:  it was completely fabricated.  For starters, The Denver Guardian did not exist before this year.  Moreover, the article contained misspellings and demonstrably untrue details, such as a reference to the “Walkerville Police Department” in Maryland.  Walkersville does not have a police department.  It should also be noted that no other noted news outlets picked up this story, which, if true, would have caused a stir among at least certain corners of the media.  Still, this article was shared more than half a million times on Facebook alone.

Of course, fake news is nothing new.  Tabloids have been around for a long time and have managed to prove very profitable precisely because they are more concerned with feeding readers titillating stories than true ones.  Indeed, each year, Oxford Dictionaries names a “word of the year.”  This year’s word is “post-truth,” because it seems “to capture the English-speaking public’s mood and preoccupations…where people lived through divisive, populist upheavals that often seemed to prize passion above all else – including facts.”

This particular surge of fake news fury seems to have been fueled not only by political passion, but, at least in part, by what many perceive to be the bias of traditional news outlets.  For example, the Pulitzer Prize winning website has been widely panned because, though it purports to check the truthfulness of what politicians say in public forums, it has been shown to rate what some politicians say – especially those who are more conservative – as “false” even though some of the statements in question could reasonably be considered as true.  In other words, a website that claims to be devoted to uncovering the truth has been shown to be, in some instances, clouding it.

Christians have long held the truth in high regard.  We do, after all, follow a man who not only claims to “tell the truth,” but actually to “be the truth.”  This is why it is so incumbent on us to watch what we say, what we write, what we teach, and, yes, what we post on social media.  We have not always been the best at the this.  For instance, have ever you heard it claimed that Christians divorce at the same rate as non-Christians? This may sound alarming.  But it shouldn’t be.  Because it’s not true.

One interesting trend in churches is that of fact-checking sermons.  Many folks will now Google a statistic that a pastor cites or a publicly available anecdote that a pastor shares to check whether or not it is true.  Can you imagine the damage done to the Christian witness if a pew-sitter finds that some of what a pastor is saying is not, in fact, true?

A willingness to be less than concerned with the truth can often be symptomatic of a deeper disease.  On the one hand, it can be symptomatic of an intellectual laziness.  With so many competing facts and figures floating around, sometimes it takes time to chase down what is accurate and what is not. Some people simply do not want to be bothered.  It’s easier to take the first thing you find and run with it.  But if you want to put in a little extra work to verify what you read, this terrific (and funny) article by Matt Masur offers some simple suggestions on how to fact check that Facebook post that raises your hackles.

A lack of concern with the truth can also be a symptom of a desperate desire to bolster a particular argument, even if that comes at the cost of the integrity of reality.  That is, whether it is posting a cagey news story on social media or citing a suspect statistic in a sermon, some people simply cannot resist the kind of “slam-dunk” affirmations these kinds of stories and statistics provide.  Unfortunately, once they are shown to be false, they can actually undermine the very argument they seek to make.

If we truly believe in whatever arguments we make, the truthful versions of these arguments ought to be persuasive enough.  If we don’t think they are, we don’t need a sensationalistic zinger to make our case.  We need different arguments.  After all, Jesus is quite clear that deceit comes from only one place – a place that is the antithesis of the kingdom of God.  The truth is enough.  So let’s stick with the truth, celebrate the truth, and traffic in the truth.

November 21, 2016 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right: The Sad Story of Rolling Stone


My mother used to tell me that two wrongs don’t make a right. Nowhere has this recently proven to be more true than in the case of a Rolling Stone cover article by Sabrina Erdely about the brutal gang rape of a young woman, identified only as Jackie, at the University of Virginia. The article received national attention for its gruesome detail, but aroused enough skepticism that an independent police investigation into Jackie’s story was launched. Ultimately, the investigators were unable to verify the details Jackie’s story as she described them them to Rolling Stone. Indeed, to some extent, her story appears to be misleading, if not out-and-out fabricated. Rolling Stone, embarrassed by their release of such a questionable article, commissioned the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism to conduct an investigation as to what went wrong with its reporting. How could the magazine be fooled into running a potentially false story? The investigators found that the article was:

…a story of journalistic failure that was avoidable. The failure encompassed reporting, editing, editorial supervision and fact-checking. The magazine set aside or rationalized as unnecessary essential practices of reporting that, if pursued, would likely have led the magazine’s editors to reconsider publishing Jackie’s narrative so prominently, if at all.[1]

The report continues:

The editors and Erdely have concluded that their main fault was to be too accommodating of Jackie because she described herself as the survivor of a terrible sexual assault. Social scientists, psychologists and trauma specialists who support rape survivors have impressed upon journalists the need to respect the autonomy of victims, to avoid re-traumatizing them and to understand that rape survivors are as reliable in their testimony as other crime victims. These insights clearly influenced Erdely, Woods and Dana. “Ultimately, we were too deferential to our rape victim; we honored too many of her requests in our reporting,” Woods said. “We should have been much tougher, and in not doing that, we maybe did her a disservice.”

This is a story of two wrongs. First, there is the societal ill of rape, which sadly happens way too often on college campuses, often without those who perpetrate the assault being appropriately disciplined. But second, there are also the journalistic lapses in judgment by Rolling Stone, who apparently was so desperate to tell a sensational story that they checked not only their good sense, but their common sense, at the door. When these two wrongs came together, they didn’t make anything right. Instead, they just made a mess.

In reality, there is probably a third wrong here – that of deceit. Insofar as Jackie fabricated, misrepresented, or embellished what happened to her, she did a grave disservice to victims of rape all over the world. If she did tell the truth, I pray that comes to light – and quickly – so that she and Rolling Stone can be exonerated. If she did not tell the truth, I pray she is moved to confess her lies and apologize. There’s plenty of real sexual horror in our world. We don’t need to make up more of it.

Sadly, this whole, sordid affair is nothing less than a bit of empirical evidence of the depths of humanity’s depravity. The horrible reality of rape; the drive of a magazine to be so titillating that it forgets to be truthful; the mysterious and twisted desire of a young lady to tell a horrific story that could be false – there is no shortage of human folly on display here.

One of Jackie’s friends, Ryan Duffin, in an interview with New York Magazine, explained that though he wants to believe Jackie’s story, he has finally decided, “It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not, because whether this one incident is true, there’s still a huge problem with sexual assault in the United States.”[2]

I would beg to differ. I think the truthfulness of Jackie’s story does matter. It matters because one sin can never be solved another sin. Rape cannot be solved by deceit. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

My prayer is that any remaining wrongs in this story come to light so they can be corrected, amended, and, ultimately, forgiven. For all that’s gone wrong with this story, that’s the only hope for something to come out of this that’s right.


[1] Sheila Coronel, Steve Koll, and Derek Kravitz, “Rolling Stone and UVA: The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism Report,” Rolling Stone (4.5.2015).

[2] Margaret Hartmann, “Everything We Know About the UVA Rape Case [Updated],” New York Magazine (4.6.15).

April 13, 2015 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Finding Our Place: Navigating Unionism and Sectarianism

Marburg ColloquyLast week, I was answering some questions for a friend who is studying to become a pastor. His professor had given him two questions for me to answer as part of assignment. One of the questions really struck me: Where do you think Lutheranism fits within the wider Christian community?

This is an important question. After all, for some, it is not evident that Lutheranism does fit within the wider Christian community – at least in a way that encourages engagement with and learning from that community. Last week, I watched with an aching heart as some of my Lutheran brothers in ministry harshly and sometimes sarcastically criticized some of my other Lutheran brothers for engaging with and learning from people outside of my Lutheran community. These criticisms reminded me of how important questions about where Lutherans fit in the Church with a capital “C” really are.

In order to explore these questions, I think it’s important to note the Lutheran identity at its best is a confessional Lutheran identity. The word “confessional” is rooted in the Greek word homologeo, which means, “to say the same thing.” To be a confessional Lutheran, then, means to say the same thing as Jesus and His Word. It means to be devoted to a clear and accurate declaration and explanation of the gospel and sacred Scripture, which, I should point out, can be found in our community’s confessional documents.

When engaging the Christian community at large, this devotion to the gospel and Scripture means two things. First, it means that Lutherans eschew unionism. Unionists are those who conceal differences between Christian communities and pretend that all – or most all – Christians say the same thing about Jesus and His Word. At the same time confessional Lutheranism guards against unionism, however, it also stands against sectarianism. In other words, though Lutherans do not paper over differences between their confession of faith the confessions of other Christian communities, they also celebrate and affirm areas of agreement. Thus, Lutherans are very much a part of the wider Christian community, for they share many of the same theological commitments.

The most famous historical test case for the kind of confessional Lutheranism that abjures both unionism and sectarianism came in 1529 when Martin Luther and Huldrych Zwingli met at Marburg to discuss areas of agreement and disagreement between their two reforming movements. At Marburg, they discovered they agreed on fourteen articles of faith spanning from the nature of the Trinity to justification by faith to the role of governing authorities. But they could not agree on one point: the character of Christ’s presence in the Lord’s Supper. The dispute was formally summarized like this:

We all believe and hold concerning the Supper of our dear Lord Jesus Christ that both kinds should be used according to the institution by Christ; also that the mass is not a work with which one can secure grace for someone else, whether he is dead or alive; also that the Sacrament of the Altar is a sacrament of the true body and blood of Jesus Christ and that the spiritual partaking of the same body and blood is especially necessary for every Christian. Similarly, that the use of the sacrament, like the word, has been given and ordained by God Almighty in order that weak consciences may thereby be excited to faith by the Holy Spirit. And although at this time, we have not reached an agreement as to whether the true body and blood of Christ are bodily present in the bread and wine, nevertheless, each side should show Christian love to the other side insofar as conscience will permit, and both sides should diligently pray to Almighty God that through His Spirit He might confirm us in the right understanding. Amen.[1]

This is a masterful statement. Luther and Zwingli carefully avoid unionism by clearly, winsomely, concernedly, and lovingly explaining where they disagree, but are also in no way sectarian, for they commit themselves to “show Christian love” and “diligently pray to Almighty God that through His Spirit He might confirm us in the right understanding.” In other words, they unreservedly confess their positions while humbly asking the Lord to show them if and where they could be out of step with His Word. Here is confessional Lutheranism at its finest.

In a culture where truth is often either relegated to relativity or regarded as unimportant, confessional Lutheranism has not only much to say, but a time-tested strategy to offer. The ability to stand up for truth against error while also standing with the truth wherever it can be found is sorely needed not only in the Church, but in our world. So, as a confessional Lutheran, I will continue to be honest about areas of disagreement. But I will also never forget to look for areas of agreement. Finally, I will pray that those areas of agreement would continue to increase among others and myself until we all agree with Jesus. For agreeing with Him is what matters most.


[1] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, vol. 38, J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, eds. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971), 88–89.

September 29, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

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

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.

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

Sermon Extra – Lingering Lies

Last month, Scientific American published the results of a study conducted by psychologists at the University of Western Australia.  In this study, researchers asked college students to read an account of a bus accident involving some elderly passengers.  The students were subsequently told that, in reality, the passengers were not elderly but were part of a college hockey team.  Later, the psychologists told some of the students to be vigilant about getting this story straight when they were asked questions about it and were warned about what is called “the continued influence of misinformation,” which describes our propensity to remember and be influenced by information we first hear in a story, even if that information is later updated or corrected.   In spite of this warning, however, some students continued to stubbornly cling to the lie that the people in the bus accident were elderly.  For example, when the students were asked whether or not the passengers had a difficult time exiting the bus because they were frail, many students responded that they did, citing their advanced age.  Ullrich Ecker, one of the psychologists conducting the study, commented, “Even if you understand, remember, and believe the retractions, the misinformation will still affect your inferences.”[1]

Lies linger.  That is the upshot of this story.  This is why the words you use and the truth you tell is so important.  One of Jesus’ favorite sayings is, very simply, “I tell you the truth…” (e.g., Matthew 5:18, Mark 3:28, Luke 9:27, John 3:5).  Jesus wants no part in telling lingering lies.

This past weekend in worship, I spoke about the importance of choosing your words wisely.  In Proverbs 17 and 18, Solomon gives us four tips for choosing our words wisely.  First, we must choose our words slowly.  Words quickly spoken, especially in anger, later lead to regret.  Think before you speak!  Second, we must choose our words with counsel.  In other words, we need to be willing to receive guidance and even correction from others in our words so that we learn how to choose our words better with time.  Third, we must choose our words charitably.  Especially when a person is not around, we must be very careful how we speak about them so that we do not malign their character.  Finally, we must choose our words truthfully, for dishonestly leads only to disaster.

In a world that stretches, fudges, and hedges the truth, we are called to be truth tellers.  After all, we do not want our lies to linger in the lives and hearts of others.   The good news, however, is that the lies of this world, though they may linger, will not ultimately last.  Solomon says, “Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment” (Proverbs 12:19).  Compared to the truth of God, lingering lies are only a flash in the pan.  The truth will finally carry the day.  And God’s truth will endure forever.  So align yourself with that which lasts!

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[1] Valerie Ross, “Lingering Lies: The Persistent Influence of Misinformation,” Scientific American (July 18, 2011).

August 1, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

“There’s Truth In That Thar Text”

This past Wednesday, I had the pleasure of leading our terrific Concordia youth in a discussion on Philosophical Relativism using Focus on the Family’s “The Truth Project.”  Philosophical Relativism is the skeptical stance that the truth of a proposition lies only in that proposition’s interpreter.  In other words, “Truth,” with its offensively bombastic capital “T,” is not and cannot be external to an interpreter.  It resides only within the individual.

The ascendency of philosophical relativism has birthed many a methodological cousin, one of which is the unfortunate “Reader Response Criticism,” still practiced in English classes across this country and trumpeted by some teachers and professors as if it’s the Holy Grail of hermeneutics.  Reader Response Criticism focuses on the reader of a text and his or her response to that text rather than the text itself, stridently eschewing any notion that the text itself could contain or, in its more radical forms, would even bother to try to communicate, meaning to its reader.

Sadly, this kind of methodology has been used not just on standard fare English class texts like Moby Dick or Catcher in the Rye, it has also been used on the Holy Scriptures.  Indeed, the proliferation of downright weird readings and interpretations of Biblical texts which have long since drifted away from their socio-historical and theological moorings find their moorings, at least in part, in the Reader Response methodology.  This is dangerous both because it fails to take God’s Word seriously as divinely revealed Truth and because it leads us astray from the Gospel, the very message our salvation.  That is, such a methodology not only leads us down the path to interpretive idiosyncrasy and “weirdness,” it leads us down a path to damnation because it makes us, rather than God, Truth’s creator and arbitrator.  This is serious business.

It is with this in mind that I wanted to share with you a quote from Francis Watson.  In his book Text and Truth:  Redefining Biblical Theology, he offers a trenchant rebuke of Philosophical Relativism in general and Reader Response Criticism in specific:

A Christian faith concerned to retain its own coherence cannot for a moment accept that the biblical texts (individually and as a whole) lack a single determinant meaning, that their meanings are created by their readers, or that theological interpretations must see themselves as non-privileged participants in an open-ended, pluralistic conversation.  Such a hermeneutic assumes that those texts are like any other “classic” texts:  self-contained artifacts, handed down to us through the somewhat haphazard process of tradition, bearing with them a cultural authority that has now lost much of its normative force, yet challenging the interpreter to help ensure that they will at least remain readable, and continue to be read. (97)

According to Watson, the problem with Reader Response Criticism is that it calls us to “save the Bible,” as it were, making it relevant by means of our own responses to it, lest it quickly fade into the recesses of history as some antiquated and rotting curious cultural artifact.  The difficulty with such a stance is that the Bible is in no need of saving.  Rather, the Bible is inspired of God so that we might be saved.

In the 1840’s, M.F. Stevenson, then the assayer of the Dahlonega Mint in Dahlonega, Georgia, was working hard to keep his boom town from going bust as more and more people were moving west to join in the California Gold Rush of 1849.  He sought to persuade his town’s residents that Georgia still had its own share of gold to be mined.  “There’s gold in them thar hills,” he told his miners.

Like in the hills of Georgia, we, as Christians, ought to believe, “There’s Truth in that thar text.”  The Bible contains and reveals its Truth apart from any single reader, though it must be believed by its readers to be efficacious for their salvation.  The Truth of Scripture is not dependent on its readers.  As readers of Scripture, then, it is our calling to responsibly and carefully mine Scripture’s Truth and rejoice that God has pleasured to reveal to us His Truth.

“There’s Truth in that thar text.”  I hope you’ll read and believe that Truth today.  After all, it’s God’s Truth of eternal life for you.

May 7, 2010 at 8:21 am Leave a comment

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