I ate lunch yesterday with Doug Wilson which is always a treat and something we chatted about got me all worked up. I know he already posted something somewhat related to what follows here, but for whatever it’s worth, here’s some more, coming from a slightly different angle.
So… truth is a person. Truth is not merely an idea, a thought, an abstraction. Truth implies a relationship, is relational — true knowledge is a lot more like making love than syncing your itunes to your iphone. Or so I and others have said any number of times. And in so far as arrogant, idolatrous man seeks to tame and bottle truth like it can come under their dominion, as though it is a pile of sentences cowering in the corner under the threats of philosophers and politicians, as though ideas are skinny junior high boys and we can just keep blowing our whistles willy-nilly while they run the lines at the end of basketball practice — we need this push back, we need to assert that Truth is a person. It is not a dusty book that is safe behind glass, safe and lifeless on a shelf. Words are potent. Language carries worlds. Truth is alive because Truth connects to Fundamental Reality, to the One in Whom all things cohere and find their being.
Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus is the Word of the Father, become Flesh, for the life of the world. Jesus is God’s Living Truth, and His Spirit is untamable, blowing wherever He pleases. If you try to bottle this it will blow up in your face.
But the last thing in the world we want to do is end up in a worse place. We can’t just say “truth is a person” and shove back against the autonomous rationalists and think that we will somehow magically land in a better place. Sure, saying that Jesus is the truth is a great start, but we need to consider carefully what we are and are not saying otherwise we will back away from the mountain lion right into the path of a mother bear and her cubs. Jesus said something one time about a house swept clean of one demon.
The whole point of rationalism is the supremacy of man. If truth is under man’s rule, then truth must ultimately bend the knee to serve us. Man reigns supreme. And if we think certain races are inferior, we can exterminate them. We determine what male and female is. We are masters of our own fate. We will engineer our salvation with missiles and microchips and morning after pills.
But Christians are not the only ones disenfranchised by this power play. Other God-haters also scoff at this. They scoff at this not because they love Jesus, but because somebody else got there first. They wanted to be the first on the slide at recess, and when the other philosophers got there first, they curl out their bottom lips and go frump on the monkey bars. But a few minutes later it occurs to them that slides are for weenies and geeks. Monkey bars are really where it’s at. And then they start a new peer reviewed journal for the monkey bar club. Something like that has happened with modernism and postmodernism. The modernists got all the glitz and glamour for a while on the slide of rationalism, and now the pomos are having their moment in the spotlight on the monkey bars of linguistic monkeyshines.
Now, hear me carefully: I’m using such flattering descriptions not because I don’t think there was anything helpful in all the works of the many philosophers that have in various ways been part of these conversations. No, it’s just that this is a blog post, and it’s more fun this way.
But here’s the point I’m trying to make: simply saying that truth is a person does not insulate us from the pitfalls of new forms of humanism. Modernism and rationalism bequeath certain forms of humanism, pinning truth to a poster board like it was a butterfly for your science fair project. But believe it or not: there are more ways to worship man than one. Granted, the PoMo route may initially seem more subtle, it’s no more pious for all that. To say that truth is a person, truth is personal, truth is a sentence that brings with it worlds, echoing through contexts and pretexts and connotations and denotations and interpretations — runs every bit as much a risk of giving God the New York salute and exalting the hubris of man.
And here’s how it does it: by never actually arriving at truth. Tricky, right? When truth is a person, truth cannot be bound, truth cannot be tamed. But we need to be very careful to explain what we mean by this. If we are not careful, we are actually (whether consciously or not) asserting that truth is not true. Since Scripture is our supreme authority, Jesus certainly means something true by asserting that He is the Truth. He is the image of the invisible God; He is the Eternal Word of the Father. In Him all things cohere and have their existence. All truth is His truth. All truth submits to His rule. All truth points back to Him exhaustively and consistently — whether we realize it or not. But for truth to be a person we are not saying that truth is unknowable. We are not saying that truth is vague, muddled, uncertain, changeable, shifting. We are not merely asserting that truth is out there. Are we saying that truth is complex, multifaceted, profound, deep? Yes, in some ways. Are we saying that true knowledge always implies a certain kind of love, a certain kind of relationship to the world and others? Yes, certainly. But the entire reason the gospel points us to Jesus as the truth is to assure us of the certainty of who God is, the certainty of His love, the certainty of our salvation — Jesus is the true revelation of the true God. He is not the veiling of God, the muddling of our salvation, the darkening of the world. He is the unveiling, the clarifying, the light of the world.
Related to this point is the fact that the law of non contradiction is the flip side of the law of identity and the law of the excluded middle. John cannot be a human and not a human at the same time and in the same way. Likewise, the statement about John’s humanity is either true or not true and not something else. But the ability to judge the law of non-contradiction or the excluded middle rests on our ability to identify reality. Is there such a thing as “John”? Is there such a thing as “human”? Can we verify that John can in fact be identified with this thing called human? Or are these words so multifaceted, carrying with them cultural assumptions, worlds of thought, symbols of fear and power and sexual repression, such that at the end of the day, we aren’t really sure what “John” is referring to, much less “human” and so what we come up with is a vast labyrinth of associations and speculations and resonances?
Let me give one more example: I am someone who has been blessed by the resurgence of trinitarian studies, both deep theological meditations on the doctrine of the Trinity as well as the growing popular and devotional material on the centrality of trinitarianism to Christian life. And in so far as we are insisting that we are not Mormons or Muslims or vague zombies of the American civil religion, this is all simply wonderful. We worship the Triune God: the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and His Holy Spirit as the one true God. This is no vague divine being, no vague religious warm feelings. This is a very particular God that implies a very particular story, a very particular kind of salvation — people made in the image of this God resemble this story and hunger for this salvation. This kind of particularity is exhilarating and freeing.
But one of the things we must be careful not to say is that God is three in the same way that God is one. God is not, strictly speaking, three and one at the very same time and in the same exact way. That would be a contradiction, nonsense, irrational. No, the orthodox, Nicene faith was solidified by countless conversations, letters, books, sermons clarifying that God is one with regard to His being, His substance, His will, and this One God exists as three persons. God is one God in three persons; three persons in one God. Of course contemplating this God, searching these deep things of God is the ultimate treasure, the ultimate goal of eternity, and we are assured that we will need all eternity for the task. But as we begin this search, the solid ground laid down by our fathers in the faith includes careful definitions, careful identifications. I’m not saying that none of their identifications could ever use improving — but the primary point is that what they labored to explain and defend from the Bible was the coherence and revelation of this God. It was the point of the controversies, it was the point of the councils, the point of excommunications and banishments and all the struggle. There was truth to defend. The fathers did not shrug and say, ‘well, what do you mean by being?’, ‘what do you mean by person?’ A postmodernist couldn’t write a creed if their life depended on it — though it hasn’t stopped them from trying.
But what is this refusal to make distinctions, to define our terms carefully, this refusal to identify the world carefully, to speak the revealed truth of God whether in creation or in Scripture? It’s humanistic arrogance. It’s a refusal to submit in humility to God the King of the universe. To squint and shrug and feign ignorance as though we were finding figures in the clouds is every bit a power play as the worst modernistic megalomania. We could multiply examples where lacking careful distinctions in the name of poetry, in the name of symbolism, in the name of mystery — we wave our hands and smile slyly — and insist that truth is a person. Truth has contradictions, truth isn’t actually coherent, truth shifts and changes because God is infinite and complex and personal. Right, which at some point amounts to a denial of truth. This is why it’s worth fighting for the clarity of saving, sovereign grace, the promises of the covenants, and the objectivity of the sacraments.
Last point, and I’ll close here: Jesus said that He came so that we might know the truth, and in knowing the truth people would be set free. The way that truth frees, not to put too fine a point on it, is by being true. That may sound redundant — but in this context, it really isn’t. Truth is a person, but Truth is a person that you can know. Truth is a person you can touch. Truth touches down, and it goes all the way down because it coheres in Jesus. To know truth is to be connect by the Spirit of Jesus to the God of the universe. Or to change the image, arriving at truth is like touching down in a plane, like climbing down a tree and feeling your foot finally press into the good, firm earth, the way Felix Baumgartner must have felt after his supersonic free fall from 128,000 feet above the earth’s surface. Truth comforts because it is the Terra Firma. It sets free precisely because it is sure, stable, relieving, welcoming, home.
Yes, truth is a person, but we know this Person precisely by knowing the Truth. It was this knowledge that John was expounding to his readers; it was this Truth that Paul had proclaimed. It was by this sure word that people have for centuries met the True Word and come home to grace.