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Truth is ‘always good,’ he says, underscoring call for community

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–Truth is “a great conundrum” in contemporary culture: “We neither value it, nor sustain it, nor would we know quite where to find it if we believed it was something of value.”
How, then, Stan Gaede asked, are Christians to live in world that has forgotten how to find truth?
Gaede, provost at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, Calif., underscored the importance of Christians faithfully pursuing, studying and living truth, during a two-day lectureship at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Gaede, who spoke March 31-April 1 at the Kansas City, Mo., campus, formerly was provost at Gordon College, Wenham, Mass., and is the author of several books, including “When Tolerance Is No Virtue” (InterVarsity, 1995).
To substantiate his point regarding the modern loss of truth, Gaede chronicled the differing sources of truth throughout history. In the Middle Ages, he asserted, tradition and the church informed individuals as to what was true. The Reformation challenged this notion and declared that truth was to be found only in the revelation of God as recorded in Scripture, which may or may not be carried by tradition. This affirmation was in turn replaced by the Enlightenment belief that all truth — including the truthfulness of Scripture — could be discovered through rational analysis.
It ultimately proved impossible, however, to rationally determine truths which could not at some level be doubted, Gaede said. Faced with this reality, Enlightenment thinking eventually collapsed under the weight of its own unsustainable claims, leaving in its wake a postmodern society where truth is either lost or determined only according to the perspective of one’s own political, tribal, class or gender group.
“There is no consensus on what is true, or good or right in the modern academy,” Gaede said. “We have lost our place to stand.”
Contributing to this problem of truth, Gaede said, is the absence of community structures in contemporary society. Historically, individuals learn, guard and are held accountable for truth within the context of communities. Yet modern technology has brought a level of mobility that has virtually destroyed community networks, Gaede said.
“Our confidence in the truth and our ability to live according to the truth is highly dependent on the kind of relationships in which we are involved. In short, our understanding and appreciation of the truth is rooted in community,” he said. “The problem is that in our culture, community is increasingly defunct. We have relationships, but few of them are durable and long-lasting.”
Christians willing to counter this trend by valuing, pursuing and living out truth in their daily lives may pose a threat to those who have come to fear truth after seeing leaders, religious and otherwise, who have given lip service to truth while committing evil, Gaede said.
While admitting the very real existence of such abuses, he maintained that the truth itself “is always good.”
“Truth never results in evil. It is not possible to be overly committed to the truth, to love the truth too much, to pursue the truth too thoroughly,” Gaede said.
“Those who do evil in the name of truth are not following the truth. Those who let truth go to their heads do not understand the truth. Those who are overly confident of the truth they know have not yet learned truth’s deepest secrets.”
The pursuit of truth must begin with a commitment to think before acting, instead of acting blindly and thinking only when the results become uncomfortable, Gaede said.
“We moderns by inclination are not serious thinkers,” Gaede lamented. “We Christians, on the other hand, have no choice. The One we follow calls himself the Way, the Truth and the Light. To be a Christian is to care deeply about truth. We live in the light, not in the darkness.”
Gaede offered several challenges to believers who would engage in a wholehearted pursuit of truth.
Become a diligent student of the truth, he counseled. “We must become the students of our age,” he said of Christians. “We must become the most careful thinkers. We must become the most diligent scholars. Because if we don’t do it, who will? If we don’t make this our number one agenda, what hope do we have of knowing and living the truth of Christ?
“How do we become good students? Through a lot of hard work. No one begins life as a student. Sloth and scholarship are at opposite ends of the continuum, and we begin our lives in the sea of sloth.”
Live a life of faithfulness engendered by the truth, which is the basis of truth-preserving community, Gaede continued.
“If I could emphasize one value for this age above any other, it would be the value of faithfulness,” he said. “If I had to decry one sin of this age more than any other, it would be the sin of infidelity. We are harlots on every front. We are not true to friends or lovers. We do not keep our word in public or in private. We are not loyal in relationships on the job or off, in the home or in the marketplace, in the bedroom or in the public square. We are a generation of harlots, especially to our God.”
Becoming a people of faithfulness will mean taking the truth seriously, Gaede said, especially the truth that God hears the commitments we make even if no one else does. Christians who are unfaithful declare the death of God more loudly than an atheist, he said, because they act as if what they cannot see does not matter or does not exist.
Ultimately, Christians should be a people who love God not just with their heart alone, or with their mind alone, or with their strength alone, but with all three equally.
“Those who genuinely love the Lord do so with heart and head and hands,” Gaede said. “There is absolutely no room in the Christian community for division on these aspects of life, and I think the evidence is fairly clear that when any of these dimensions of the Christian life is missing, something wrong is happening, and something disastrous is likely to take place in the days ahead.
“At this point in time, we need a thoroughly Christian world view, one that does not reflect the cacophony around us, but reflects the teachings of Christ. ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.’ That is my plea to you this morning, and I think it is the cry of our Lord.”
Gaede concluded by offering to truth-seekers practical suggestions developed in the context of his own life, marriage and family. First, he suggested that families give up watching television because of its uncontrolled content, its ability to keep children from their homework and its dulling effect on the mind. He suggested instead that families plan to eat together and to read together in order to develop a sense of community, a common narrative and a shared set of ideas. Finally, he counseled believers to find a local church and commit to it even if it is less than perfect — a difficult notion among Christians who often choose a church on the basis of a self-serving, consumer mentality.
“Resisting this trend will require something unusual. It will require a commitment to people, not to performance,” Gaede concluded. “It will require an entirely new way of thinking about church, a new way that is old as the hills. Church will need to become a place to serve, not to take; a place to love, not just feel loved; a place to hear things that are hard and demanding, not just a place to receive warm feelings and be comfortable. And all that will require a commitment of the heart to Christ and his church that plays itself out in the daily life of the parishioner.”
Midwestern hosted Gaede through the seminary’s two-day C.W. Scudder “School of the Prophets” Memorial Lectureship in Christian Ethics, which focuses on the biblical basis for dealing with contemporary social challenges and ethical issues. The lectureship was inaugurated in 1991 as a memorial to the late C.W. Scudder, vice president for internal affairs, senior professor of Christian ethics and vice president emeritus at the seminary, 1975-91.

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  • Clinton Wolf