What Adventists Get Wrong About Truth
There is something Adventists get totally wrong about truth.
But before I tell you what it is, I want to lay the foundation.
The word appears 99 times in the New Testament. A few times here and a few times there. But there is one author that is obsessed with the word truth. Matthew mentions the word once, Mark twice, Luke four times and John? Yeah… he mentions it 22 times.
22! That’s a lot by comparison.
So what does this have to do with what Adventists get wrong about truth? Keep reading. It will all come together soon.
The first time John uses the word truth in his book. It reads:
John says “we saw his glory”. Now John is making a play on words here. He is going back to Moses where God tells him “I will show you my glory, but only a glimpse of my backside because no one can see my face and live.” Well here is God now, John declares, dwelling among us in tangible human flesh and guess what? We saw him. We saw his glory.
But John goes further than that. In 1 John 1:1 he adds, “What was from the beginning (Jesus), what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands...”
We didn’t just see him. We touched him.
Now this is strange. It’s strange because John is obsessed with truth and yet his picture of truth is quite different from what many of us imagine. According to John, truth is not a list of ideas, ideological constructs or abstract philosophies. Truth, John says, is something you can see and something you can touch.
Correction. Truth, John says, is someone you can see and someone you can touch.
So I ask again, what is truth? And what do Adventists get wrong about it?
We live in a culture today that no longer values truth. But before I explore that, allow me to briefly describe the three main ways human beings have historically related to the concept of truth.
The first is what some refer to as the pre-modern conception of truth. I visited a lady one time in New Jersey. She was an alcoholic. A lot of problems in her life. She was not a church goer. She was not a Bible reader. She was not a Christian at all. And as soon as I told her I was a pastor she gave me this look and said, “I just got chills running through my body”. And what she meant was, “Oh my goodness I can’t believe I am in the presence of a man of God.”
We talked about God and the Bible and she was super receptive even though she was not a believer. This lady falls into the category that we call pre-modern. Even though she is not a believer, she assumes that truth is real and that the main source of truth is God and his word. This used to be the dominant way in the west. The priest, the pastor, the preacher - they have truth.
But with the influence of the enlightenment and the scientific revolution the world began to change. It moved from the pre-modern era into the modern era. People now believed that truth is real but it’s not the Bible or the preacher that has it. Its the laboratory and scientist. And the advancement of science promised to bring about a new Utopian era. But then science gave us the atomic bomb and the bloodiest century in history. And so the culture lost its faith in science.
There then emerged what is known as the post-modern era. The era we currently live in. And the post-modern era can be summarised like this: the church promised us truth and brought us war and horror. Science promised us truth and brought us more war and horror. Therefore, the conclusion is that there is no such thing as truth. Truth does not exist.
Now this is the cultural milieu that we find ourselves in. People no longer assume the Bible is trust-worthy, or the church, or even the scientist. There is no such thing as truth. The best we can do is live as honestly as possible and create our own individual reality. And if you tell me that your reality is more true than my reality then that is offensive because there is no such thing as an absolutely true reality that applies to everyone.
Now this is a problem for us Adventists because we love truth. So how can we communicate the truth that we love to a culture that denies the very existence of truth?
I believe it’s not some fanciful or new theory that we need. Rather, I believe that the answer is ancient. It’s found in John’s conception of what truth actually is. So let’s go back to John.
John describes Jesus as full of truth. But notice the pattern here. Jesus was not a philosopher. He was not an academic. And he was not a lecturer. Jesus was full of truth, John says, but instead of predicating this declaration on Jesus’ supposed ideological constructs, John predicates it on Jesus’ presence. In other words, the evidence for Jesus being full of truth is not his PhD, it’s his dwelling with us. And if that isn’t enough, John quotes Jesus in John 14:6 saying, “I am the way, the truth…”
We saw him. We touched him. He was full of truth. But more, he is the truth.
Now this is challenging on so many levels. It challenges the post-modern by declaring that there is such a thing as absolute truth. But it does it in a very interesting way that challenges the church as well. I tried really hard to find the right way to express what truth is according to John and here is the best I could do:
Truth is not merely academic, Truth is personal. Truth is not merely ideological, Truth is dynamic. Truth is not merely information, Truth is friendship. Truth is not mere facts, Truth is acts of kindness. Truth is not an it, Truth is a him. A baby boy is born in a stable because truth is not in ivory towers. Truth is flesh and bone.
And that baby boy grows up. He is full of truth and he is truth. And the truth befriends drunkards. And the truth eats meals with thieves and prostitutes. And the truth blesses little children. And the truth washes feet like a servant. And the truth comforts widows and orphans, social outcasts and failures. Because the truth is not an it. The truth is a He.
Today, the culture doesn't trust the church because the church claims that it has the truth, but does not live the truth. It preaches of God’s love but does not love its neighbourhood. It proclaims Gods justice but does not defend the weak and the poor. It sings about the bread of life, but it doesn't feed the hungry. It celebrates the living water, but it does not alleviate humanities thirst.
Sometimes people will tell me, “Marcos all this meeting people’s needs and nurturing friendship and community is not important. The truth is all that matters.” And I feel my heart break just a little. It breaks because these are sincere people who say this. People who love the truth. But people who, in all their love for truth still don’t know what truth truly is. If truth was merely information then yes, forget the greeters, forget community and friendship, forget social events. Let’s just make a plan to ambush our neighbours with as much information as possible. But if truth is more than information. If truth is a verb not just a noun, if truth is a person, not just a thing, if truth is relationship not just a textbook then we need to do more than just communicate information. And when we love one another, when we care for one another, when we serve one another we are proclaiming truth.
St. Francis of Assisi once said,
This is what Adventists get wrong about truth. We treat truth like data when in reality, it is a person. We communicate truth in doctrinal statements when in reality, it is most powerfully communicated in acts of love. All of a sudden we have to rethink evangelism. It’s not just Adventists shoving information into people’s skulls. Its Adventists serving, and caring and incarnating with others. Because when you love someone, when you smile at someone, when you care for someone you proclaim truth. Because truth is relational. Which is why God didn’t just send a lecturer from heaven. He sent a friend of sinners. A person. Not a thing. A relationship. Not a manuscript.
In that manger that we celebrate on Christmas lays a baby boy, and he is truth. And that baby boy grew to be a man who declared I am the truth. And because of that declaration his enemies conspired for his death. Hours before his crucifixion, this Jesus stands before the most powerful man in his region. Pontius Pilate. And Pilate wants to know, what kind of King is this Jesus? So he asks him, you are a king? And Jesus replies,
In other words Pilate, I am a king. Not a political king. Not a military king. A truth king. I am a king who has come into the world to proclaim truth. But then he adds, “everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.” Why? Because you cannot separate truth and Jesus. They are one and the same - intertwined so tightly that to claim truth and reject Jesus is to believe a lie.
If you preach the Sabbath without Jesus, its not truth. If you preach Daniel and Revelation without Jesus, its not truth. If you preach any of the doctrinal statements of scripture without Jesus call it anything you want, just don’t call it truth. Truth is found in the person of Jesus. And when he said, “whoever is of the truth hears my voice” he was reaffirming that truth is more than multiple choice answers in an exam. Truth is Jesus.
Pilate missed the point.
Verse 38: Pilate answered him, “What is truth?”
And then he left.
Pilate missed it. He missed the point. The religious people missed it too. Will we?
Ellen White once wrote these words,
Why? Why would there be 100 conversions to the truth where there is now only one? Are we not now proclaiming the doctrines? Are we not teaching the true theology? Yes. But it’s not enough. Truth is more than right belief, it is right action. And when we live out the truth in kindness and courtesy it draws the world to Christ. Because truth is not just what you preach, truth is a helping hand, a gentle touch, a needed hug. Ellen goes on,
What is truth?
It is more than a list of ideas. Truth is a person. And today he declares, “by this will all men know that you are my disciples. If you love one another.” Not “if you preach the Sabbath” - although the Sabbath is true. Not “if you publish studies on the sanctuary” although that is also true. But by this will all men know - if you love one another.
As you look forward to a Christmas season and a new year, I want to invite you to proclaim truth. Not just information but kindness, acts of love and a warm spirit. Because it is that act of incarnation - that doing of life with others - that truth is most effectively proclaimed to a post-modern world.