Truth Project 3: Anthropology (Who is Man?)

This week, Del looks at the question of who man is, and weighs the answer Christians give against the answer secularists give. The answers given to this question directly affect the question of why there is evil. Del claims that Christians have a lot of answers to this question whereas the world does not.

First Del looks at the biblical view of man (meaning both men and women), saying that it teaches man is both body and spirit, created in the image of God. The Bible also says that man has fallen from his original state by rebelling against God. There is a “cosmic battle” within man, between who we were meant to be and who we are. What man needs, then, is divine grace and redemption. God must save us.

By contrast, our culture assumes that man is purely physical, is the product of impersonal forces, and is basically good. His need is not for redemption (since he is good, there is no need to be redeemed), but self-actualization.

Del examines the implications of this philosophy, and concludes that since it is dependent on impersonal physical forces alone, it leads to a lack of free will and a lack of ultimate meaning in life. It also leads to a lack of differentiation between humans and animals. He quotes Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) as saying, “A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.”

These differences play out in how people on each side view evil. For the person with a biblical worldview, evil comes from man’s fallen nature. For the secularist, evil does not come from human nature but from society and culture. According to Del, the question must then be asked, “Who makes society? Isn’t it human beings?” In the end, if man is basically good, there is no way to explain why evil exists. Then the question to the secularist can be pressed even further: “Why does evil bother you?” “Why do you feel bad about evil?” “Isn’t evil, as you describe it, simply the natural outworking of the evolutionary process?”

Del closes with an interview with Theodore Dalrymple, who wrote a book called Life at the Bottom which chronicles the sad results of lives oriented around fulfilling our desires and putting ourselves at the center of our existence. Dalrymple states, “You don’t need to find yourself; you need to lose yourself.”

In my view, this is the strongest “tour” so far. Del makes some very good points about the logical conclusions of a secular or naturalist view of humans, and illustrates a good evangelistic technique in pressing the secularist to come to terms with the deterministic, and frankly hopeless, conclusions of his or her philosophy. For the Christians in the audience, it represents a challenge to orient our lives with God at the center rather than our own selves and desires.

Truth Project 2: Philosophy and Ethics (Says Who?)

The second tour in the Truth Project examines Philosophy and Ethics. Del (in my review of the first tour, I called the presenter by his last name, Tackett, but I’m thinking that is a tad impersonal) starts out with a couple of Bible verses, one of them being Colossians 2:8: “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy.” One example of a hollow and deceptive philosophy, says Del, is Carl Sagan’s popular Cosmos series. In it, Sagan says that “The Cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.” This statement assumes there is nothing outside the physical universe – what Del calls the “Cosmic Cube,” or “the box.”

Del argues that modern philosophy has taken God out of the equation in its search for reality, and is therefore bound to fail. The philosophical “holy grail,” says Del, is the Universals, but all that we can directly observe are particulars. Del says that in secular philosophy, there is a gap between the tradition of Plato (which focuses on ideals, or universals) and the tradition of Aristotle (which focuses on particulars). Secular philosophy begins with particulars and tries to move to universals, which is not possible when you only look inside the box. God’s approach, according to Del, is to begin with universals (accessible through revelation) and move to particulars.

The implications of naturalistic philosophy, because of its limitation, are that there can be no gods or purposive forces, no ultimate foundation for ethics, no free will, no life after death, and no ultimate meaning in life. The problem with Christians in America, says Del, is that we have been taken captive by this philosophy and don’t have a biblical worldview. The solution is that, according to Romans 12:2, we should be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

Overall, I liked this tour. It set forth the issues clearly and simply and issued a clarion call for Christians to not be deceived by hollow and deceptive philosophy but be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Also, I think that it gives us a great starting place when dialoguing with people who have a naturalistic worldview. If secular philosophy leads inevitably to a loss of meaning and an inability to have an ultimate foundation for ethics, then a good place to start dialogue would be to push philosophical naturalists to accept the implications of naturalism. All too often, philosophical naturalists “cheat” in order to give their lives meaning. That is, they borrow ideas from Christianity that are not consistent with their stated worldview.

I think, however, that Del misses an opportunity in this tour to show his audience how to interact with a secular philosopher. He tells the story of a freshman philosophy class that he was in at Kansas State where the professor told him, “You don’t have any way of knowing that the chair you’re sitting on is really real.” Instead of telling his audience how to start a conversation with someone like that, Del dismisses that statement by merely saying, “How foolish!” Instead of being dismissive, he would have served his audience (and any non-Christians they come in contact with) better by speaking with them about how to open a dialogue about the important things of life with someone who has been influenced by deceptive philosophy.

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.

The Truth Project Review

Beginning later this month, my church will be going through a 12-lesson DVD curriculum put out by Focus on the Family called The Truth Project. During the first six weeks (those that take place during Lent), we will gather on Wednesdays to have dinner together, watch one of the lessons, and then discuss it afterwards in small groups. After a two-week break around Holy Week and Easter, we’ll pick back up again, except some of the small groups will move to homes instead of everyone getting together at the church.

I’m very excited about this. I have not gone through the curriculum with a group, but I have watched all of the DVDs and think that overall it is a very well-done curriculum. It is designed to help Christians have a Christian worldview, to transform them into people who follow Christ in all of life, and I hope that this will be the effect in our church.

While this is going on at church, I’m going to be reviewing each lesson on this blog. I looked around the Internet and couldn’t find a good review of the whole curriculum, so I hope to provide that here. Overall, as I said, I think it is very well done, but I don’t agree with everything in it, and I plan on making note of those things that I think could have been done better or those things that I think could cause problems in the long run. I don’t want to do this in order to gripe at Focus on the Family or the people behind the Truth Project, because as I mentioned, I think this is a very good curriculum overall. I just hope to provide some good critical reflection on it. After all, this series seems designed to help Christians think critically, and so I will approach it with a critical eye – not to tear down, but in hopes of building up.

Update: I’m going to put links here to my reviews of each individual lesson.

1: Veritology (What is Truth?)

2: Philosophy and Ethics (Says Who?)

3: Anthropology (Who is Man?)

4: Theology (Who is God?)

5: Science (What is True?)

6: History (Whose Story?)

7: Sociology (The Divine Imprint)

8: Unio Mystica (Am I Alone?)

9: The State (Whose Law?)

10: The American Experiment (Stepping Stones) – Summary

10: The American Experiment (Stepping Stones) – My Thoughts

11: Labor (Created to Create)

12: Community (God Cares, Do I?)