[Jesus] said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”Matthew 16:15 (ESV)
One day Jesus instructed his disciples with a general question: “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” When they answered in general and through the eyes of others, he asked for more specifics: “Who do YOU say that I am?” He put them on the spot, and as was Peter’s tendency, he answered (correctly) for them all.
Saying something is always a little bit intimidating. There is a colloquialism: “It is better to be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and prove it,” and a proverb (17:28): “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” Saying something in writing is even more intimidating. I write things that I disagree with 24 hours later– that’s why we proofread. If writing makes an exact man, then it also reveals the soul of that man. Writing and speaking is intimidating because it puts you on record, and permanently so.
Yet saying something is at the core of Christian confession. Even the word “confession” means “to say the same thing as.” When we confess our sin, we “say the same thing” about our sin that God does. When we confess our faith, we “say the same thing” that we hold in our hearts. The crime of a false confession is constructing a duplicity where our hearts hold one thought while our lips proclaim another. Most every soul bristles at such hypocrisy. “Hypocrisy” means to “answer from under,” as in a theatrical mask. Hypocrisy is not “falling short of your own standard, but play-acting—the presentation of a falsehood in the name of truth. It is galling.
Christians believe, teach, and confess something very specific about Jesus. We believe, teach, and confess that God reconciled Himself to mankind through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is “special revelation,” the gracious revealing of truth by God through His Word. You can reason your way to a lot of thoughts, even to monotheism and the hopelessness of self-justification, but you can’t reason your way to the gospel.
Beyond that specific work of Christ, Christians believe, teach, and confess certain realities about the world and everything in it. This is “natural revelation,” and much of it is accessible not just through Scripture but also apart from it. You don’t have to be a Christian or even a theist to understand and benefit from certain concepts. For example, truth exists and corresponds to reality. Something is, or is not; there is no middle state of being. Reality is rooted in the object (the thing observed) rather than the subject (the one observing). There are males and females. Gravity… is a thing—something you neglect at your own peril.
The interplay between truths naturally and scripturally derived is significant: What good does it do to confess the truth of Jesus Christ if at the same time you believe—or live as if you believed—that the concept of truth itself doesn’t exist? Or what if you believe that truth exists, but as a construct, or the product of society rather than as an objective reality? In that event does “Christ Jesus died for sinners” even make any sense? Or if your worldview is poisoned by pragmatism (“the end justifies the means”) in such a way that you bend the truth to get your way, why should anybody ever listen to you when you talk about Jesus? On another level, is sanity even possible if one views the world as something other than the way it really is? Paraphrasing Nancy Pearcey in Total Truth, the purpose of a worldview is to explain the world, not to explain it away.
Our society has more or less jettisoned any practical application of objective truth. One particular method of arriving at “truth” has saturated our society: Truth is a synthesis of competing or complementary ideas, thus existing as a societal construct rather than a correspondence to reality. In this thinking, you don’t analyze an idea as “A or not A,” but “if someone says A and someone says C, then the truth must be someplace in between, like B.”
In this setting truth isn’t something to believe, teach, and confess, but to arrive at. The appeal isn’t to reality but acceptance. Argument and debate are removed, and truth is determined by the majority (or a sufficiently armed minority). When argument and debate are removed from a society, all that remains is coercion and deceit.
The near-ubiquitous “Secular Creed” yard sign makes the point* in all its various iterations:
- Black lives matter
- Love is love
- Women’s rights are for everyone
- Science is real
- We are all immigrants
These aren’t really assertions (statements) or arguments (reasons to hold those assertions), but taunts or parries: “Don’t you dare contradict what I say.” The dueling yard sign approach isn’t helpful, but your neighbor isn’t exactly inviting you over for conversation.** Christians simply cannot engage in this level of societal discourse. We believe, teach, and confess what is true. We do not negotiate, intimidate, coerce, or manipulate. We believe, teach, and confess, sacrificially serving our neighbor, begging them to be reconciled to Christ.
Finding truth in opposition rather than confession is a dangerous practice. “My enemy’s enemy is my friend” makes strange bedfellows and leads to any number of errors. I love history, and one question that used to haunt me was “how could Hitler have happened?” One of the main reasons Hitler happened was that he was anti-Bolshevik, and how bad could someone be if he was against the red communist threat of Marx and Lenin? As it turns out, one can be anti-Bolshevik and quite bad, all at the same time. Political spectrums are not lines but circles; if you run far enough from one evil excess you will embrace that evil excess under another name.*** It is this kind of thinking that has led many Christians to embrace all kinds of error just because “well at least they get [insert subject here] right.”
One reason people are slow to say something is “strategic ambiguity,” the ability to live and lead as a chameleon, blending into one’s current environment. We see the advantage of strategic ambiguity during election seasons. Why say something when you can attack and vilify your opponent by riffing on what he has said or done—or something you manufacture about what he has said or done? And if you never SAY anything or DO anything, there is less for others to oppose. Bad actors past and present exploit this ambiguity. Nothing good ever comes from it. Great leaders tell the truth as they serve others; much more so for the Christian, whose very creed is based on the truth of God’s Word.
We need to say something. What, then, should we say? Perhaps the question should be “what do I want to be known for?” A Christian could be known for much—some particular ability or accomplishment, some natural talent, some great work that helps another—but at the heart of a Christian is Christ. What we say reveals who we are, and for the Christian, the goal should be to reveal whose we are. We belong to Christ, and our words proclaim the praise of our Savior.
If we were to put it in a yard sign, maybe it would look like this:
In this house we believe in God, the father almighty, maker of heaven and earth;
And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord;
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary;
suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried;
He descended into hell;
the third day he rose again from the dead;
he ascended into heaven, and is seated on the right hand off God the father almighty;
from where he shall come to judge the living and the dead.
And we believe in the Holy Spirit;
the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints;
The forgiveness of sins;
The resurrection of the body;
And the life everlasting. Amen.
It might be a bit much for a sign, but it is the truth. It is what we believe. And it is good, because God is good, and God is good to us. This is what we believe, and—more often than not—we have to say it.
*The excellent book The Secular Creed by Rebecca McLaughlin is a quick, helpful read.
**If you would get the chance, though, I’d start with several questions:
- I agree that black lives matter. What do you mean by that?
- What is love, and how does that definition differ from unrestrained sexual lust?
- What is a woman?
- What is science? What does science have to say about metaphysics, ethics, or the nature of science itself? (correct answer: “nothing”)
- My forefathers came to America as immigrants, so I agree. What is it about immigrants that makes them valuable to you? (humans created in the image of God and redeemed by the blood of Jesus)
***The Gene Edward Veith book Modern Fascism is a fascinating read on the subject.
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