The last five summers I’ve taught at a Reformation Conference for a church near my hometown in Ohio. Our relationship began at a youth camp in 1998 and developed due to similar theological and ministry convictions. I’ve taught through the Solas and the Reformers as well as through Edwards and The Religious Affections. Then, upon their request, I (enthusiastically) worked through the Five Points of Calvinism and two summers ago five more messages on the implications of Calvinism.
I went to lunch with some of the church leadership after the implications conference and they invited me back again to address the issue of truth, in particular truth and how it’s connected with Calvinism.
I knew exactly what they wanted. I knew what they wanted because the challenges they’ve faced are the same problems I’ve run into, the same sort of criticisms our small piece of the Evangelical pie usually encounter. We are the truth-loving, truth-talking bunch. David Wells wrote a book a few years ago titled, The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth-Lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World. We’re not the seeker sensitive types and we’re also not meeting in a warehouse with black ceilings wearing designer print t-shirts (with or without skulls on them).
We luv us some truth. We’re the book-reading, long-sermon listening, personal Bible-studying people. We like our theologians dead and our exegetical coffee black. We attend the churches we do because we ourselves have been, or know others who are, driven by emotion and the changing winds of cultural digestion. We don’t want that. Give us truth or we die. Without the truth, we will.
Strangely enough, we truth-lovers are not everyone’s cup of tea. Sure, we occasionally get into public clashes because we call homosexuals sinners. We more regularly encounter hostility from neighbors and co-workers who think our truth is good as long as we don’t say that it is true truth, that is, true for them, too. But what surprises us most, what disappoints and frustrates us the most, are those within our midst who express concern about our truth and tone, some of whom leave for other churches that “feel” more open or accepting or exciting. That’s what really upsets us, and it probably should, at least when we get the feeling that their feelings trump truth.
Ours is a “We love the truth and we don’t care how you feel about it” perspective. And, that’s partially true. It’s also not entirely true. We have feelings for your feelings. The truth is, we want you to have true feelings. Your feelings aren’t the problem, your feelings being wrong are the problem. That’s where truth comes in. But the truth also is, that’s not what always comes across.
I’m almost ahead of myself here, so let me step back and knock on a different door to the same house.
I’ve always thought that a person who acknowledges God’s sovereignty in salvation is in the best position to appreciate truth and to appreciate the fact that with truth comes authority. Calvinists have a mental category for truth because we have a category for authority. God controls history. God ordains salvation. God can and does whatever He pleases. He has authority. That is true.
But I’m afraid that is only partially true, depending on what we mean. I think a break in the line often happens right here. We truth-lovers are not being totally truthful about God, about His authority and, therefore, we are not totally truthful about truth. Ironic.
Failure to worship God with a true understanding of His sovereign authority upends marriages. It exasperates kids. It needlessly offends unbelievers. And it causes sheep to consider finding another fold. In our camp, much of this usually happens with a big “truth” button pinned on our chests.
We should examine our own work first. We may have higher grades than other students, meaning that we may have more accurate exegesis and systematic theology than other denominations or groups or churches, but the truth doesn’t work on a bell curve. We, the people of the Book, should be held up to the truth of the Book, striving to avoid false feelings of esteem that come from false comparisons.