Truth Project 1: Veritology (What is Truth?)

There has been an unusually slow trickle of posts lately, for which I do not apologize. Real-life obligations trump blogligations for me, and there has been a lot going on in real life lately. But that said, let me try to catch up on this Truth Project review thing.

On March 4 we watched the first Truth Project DVD at our church, and then split up into small groups to discuss it. My group was one of the smaller ones, with about eight people in it, with two more to join us when they return from out of town.

The first DVD is called “Veritology: What is Truth?” Veritology is not a word that can be found in the dictionary; it’s a combination of the Latin word for truth, “veritas,” and the suffix “-ology” The viewer is introduced to Del Tackett, the presenter, who delivers the lesson in a lecture-style format in front of a group of students.

The point of this “tour,” as Tackett calls it – the whole series – is to “gaze upon the face of God.” Tackett is not interested in the participant filling up his or her notebook with useful stuff, but wants total transformation for the viewer. He wants us to see Christianity as an all-encompassing worldview – a way of seeing all of life.

After giving a brief introduction, Tackett asks his students why Jesus came into the world. After answering “no” to several suggestions (“to redeem us,” “to fulfill prophecies,” “to save the world,” etc.), he refers us to John 18:37, where Jesus says to Pontius Pilate, “For this reason I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” Tackett then proceeds to show how important truth is to Jesus and to the biblical writers by pointing out several verses in which “truth” is mentioned. A few examples are John 1:17 (“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ”), John 14:6 (“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'”) and I Timothy 2:3-4 (“This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”).

Tackett then asks how people react to the truth, and the answer is that often they “turn aside to myths,” (2 Tim. 4:4), “suppress the truth” (Rom. 1:18), “distort the truth” (Acts 20:30) and “exchange the truth of God for a lie” (Rom. 1:25). Jesus said that he came to testify to the truth when he was on trial. The real trial, Tackett says, is truth vs. lie. There is a “cosmic battle” between truth and reality, on the one side, and lies and illusions on the other. Sin is deceitful (Rom. 7:11; 2 Thess. 2:10; Eph. 4:22; Heb. 3:13) and takes people captive (2 Tim. 2:24-26). There is a battle between truth and lies, and Tackett calls this a “battle of worldviews.” Today’s world is still struggling to answer Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” – and this question, according to Tackett, could well be the most important question that we and our culture must answer.

Tackett then enlists the help of Ravi Zacharias, Os Guinness and R.C. Sproul to define truth. He also enlists the help of the 1828 edition of Webster’s Dictionary, which defines truth as “conformity to fact or reality.” He alters this slightly to say that truth IS reality. By contrast, insanity is losing touch with reality and believing that lies are real. We all suffer, Tackett says, from common insanity: losing touch with reality. Our actions, Tackett says, reflect what we believe to be really real, and often we don’t act on what we profess to be real. The question Tackett leaves us with is, “Do you believe that what you believe is really real?”

Positively, I thought that first, the DVD is extraordinarily well-presented. Focus on the Family has done a great job in packaging this product. Tackett is a winsome, likable presenter, and you get the sense in this first tour that he deeply cares for people, both Christians and non-Christians.

Second, I think that Tackett presents his case very well. He relies heavily on Scripture for his discussion of truth, which is important when dealing with Christians, the intended audience. He frames the conflict that we face in our own lives, of truth vs. lie and reality vs. illusion, in a compelling way. Most of what Tackett says I don’t have any problem with at all.

However, there are a few things about the first tour that rubbed me the wrong way. First, one of the earliest slides that Tackett presents is a compass. On the four ends of the compass are: Truth to the north, God to the east, Social Order to the south, and Man to the west. I found myself chafing against the idea that Truth is due north – it’s what we use to orient ourselves – and God is at another point of the compass.

Second, I wasn’t sure I liked how Tackett responded to the suggestions of his students on why Jesus came into the world. I don’t think he was trying to be mean or dismissive, but nevertheless it came across that way. Perhaps, I thought when I watched it, this is because it is not really a classroom. Or rather, it is and it isn’t. It is a classroom, but it is also a recorded DVD lesson, and I’m sure Tackett had to move along with the lesson in order to keep it snappy and interesting. I’d like to think that if it really were a classroom, he would have come off as being less dismissive.

Third, Tackett says that

the truth claims of God are consistent and logical. They make sense. They work. And even in a fallen world, when we follow them, they lead to peace and prosperity and happiness.

I think that following Jesus is the best thing we humans can do, but I would question whether this inevitably leads to “peace and prosperity and happiness.” It doesn’t seem to me that Jesus promised peace and prosperity and happiness in this world. If anything, he promised persecution to his followers (John 15:20, 16:33).

Fourth, he states in the course of his lecture, “We think that postmodernism is so new. It’s not new at all! It’s the same old lie!” The problem that I have with this is that he has not given any indication of what he means when he says “postmodernism.” Making statements like this one, without defining terms, is bound to generate misunderstanding. I suspect that when Tackett says “postmodernism,” he means “relativism.” There are problems with equating postmodernism with relativism, but it would be helpful if he would at least make clear what he means.

Finally, I agree with Tackett that truth is important, and I know that Jesus said he came into the world to testify to the truth, but I think that Tackett’s definition of truth has some problems. For one thing, the word “objective” kept creeping into his presentation. This threw up a red flag because I think the notion of objective access to truth and knowledge is a distinctively modern approach that is no more compatible with Christianity than its opposite: total subjectivity. Of course, when he uses the word “objective,” it is possible that he simply means “independent of the knower.” I would agree with this definition, though I think it would be best to leave out the word “objective” altogether. Overall, he is not clear what he means when he uses the word “objective,” and so I must caution against the idea of an objective knower. Tackett seems to be saying that there are only two choices when it comes to epistemology: objectivity or subjectivity. Instead, I would have appreciated it if Tackett had explored the third way of critical realism, which is a much more promising view of epistemology.

Ravi Zacharias, in the course of the tour, defined truth as “that which affirms propositionally the nature of reality as it is.” This definition has problems both because truth is not exclusively propositional (I would say that the Bible is true, but it only partially consists of propositional statements), and humans should be humble about our access to reality as it is. Sin, after all, has affected our rational faculties and darkened our understanding. God says in Isaiah 55:9 that “as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Truth may well be conformity to fact or reality (or, as Tackett re-words the definition, simply “reality”), but then the question must be asked: which one of us has objective, exhaustive access to reality? I think that while Christians can have confidence that the Christian story is true, and that what God has told us about himself is true, grasping after the ideal of knowing objectively, of having a “God’s eye view,” will lead us right back into the dead end of modernity. It looks to me like Tackett is dealing with the problems he sees with postmodernity by trying to lead his audience back into modernity, which has its own problems.

Even though Jesus said that he came into the world to testify to the truth, he also said that HE was the truth (Jn 14:6). Instead of focusing on exclusively propositional truth, I think it is time we stopped overlooking the personal dimension: Jesus himself is the truth.

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5 thoughts on “Truth Project 1: Veritology (What is Truth?)

  1. bolderdash June 7, 2009 / 11:28 am

    Reality is twofold: mysterious and distinctive. I understand what you are saying. It is not a question of reviving modernity, but sensibility.

    Some things remain mysterious, although palatable can be assented to, like the concepts of the resurrection or the trinity. But they are not propositionally ascertainable. And by the same token, objective truth is distinct, precise and largely undebatable, regardless of religious persuasion. The trick is knowing where and when each of the two types of knowledge and truth is correctly being applied, argued or claimed.

    The lie is assenting to either types of knowledge incorrectly. We need reason and we need to experience certain truths. Christ used parables and propositional statements whenever however it was necessary. At times he spoke with no words but with only action, which ultimately lead to his death.

    The human tendency is to lay claims to one or the other at the expense of the other.

    Assenting to certain mysteries requires faith and trust on our part. Assenting to certain hard facts and bare truths requires good reason and inquiry. Both are important, and one depends upon the other.

    I have a heart and a mind. The present culture is embracing the heart and rejecting the works of the mind. There is a good reason for this. Modernity alone has no appeal to the heart. Our job is not make another appeal for the mind, but to appeal to people’s hearts and minds.

    gilles turnsite.word.press

  2. Jackie Bauma January 11, 2010 / 6:36 am

    I found your words informative. Our church has just started this series….the pastor leading…this week will be lesson 2. I did not attend lesson 1.
    What I find troubling in your report as well as what I hear from many in church is the lack of divine honoring of the Holy Spirit who is the Spirit of Truth, who leads and guides us. I do not believe real truth can be attained any other way. I believe there are many good people who believe they have found truth in whatever, but unless we are completely committed to followng Jesus and follow under the total guidance of the Holy Spirit in us……….we will lean to our own understanding of ‘truth’….and what a conglomeration we become.

  3. Catherine June 8, 2010 / 9:23 am

    I just started this series last night with my small group. I’ve been skeptical, ever since I heard the name of the program. It’s still this guy’s interpretation of the truth, you know? It was slickly done but I wasn’t convinced by what he had to say. I agree with your point of Dr. Tackett using vague terms without defining them. The overwhelming feeling I got was that if I didn’t agree with the “truth,” then Satan had gotten ahold of me. So, yeah, I’m interested to see how the next 11 weeks go …

    • elliot June 10, 2010 / 5:37 am

      Catherine,

      Thanks for visiting. I hope that my reviews of each session are useful to you. I wrote most of them over a year ago, but they still get comments, so I’m glad that people are finding them. I’ve tried not to be too harsh in my reviews, because I really do think Del’s heart is in the right place. But as you will see, I think some sessions are more helpful than others. And some are downright unhelpful.

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