YOU DETERMINE YOUR TRUTH

 


MYTH #2

YOU DETERMINE YOUR TRUTH

BACKTEETH BOYS

When I was in second grade, I got my first cavity. The dentist told me he had to put sealants on my teeth to make sure I didn’t get another one. I’d never undergone any kind of dental procedure before, so this was a big deal for me. I was nervous. To make me feel better, the hygienist told me that there would be invisible stickers on the sealants—of the Backstreet Boys.


That was all she had to say. I was literally the biggest BSB fan you’d ever met: I had at least three posters in my room, T-shirts, a nightgown, and all of their music. I’d turn off the lights in our family room, listen to their Millennium album, and cry—shed actual tears—thinking about the possibility that I might never get to meet them in person. I’d consider very seriously what I would wear to their concert—would I go for something fashionable to show how cute I was or a BSB shirt to prove I was a fan?


I couldn’t wait to get my Backstreet Boys sealants on. Even though the hygienist told me they were invisible, I thought that maybe if I looked really hard in the mirror, I’d be able to see them. I never did. But still, I knew they were there, and that was enough.


I am dead serious when I tell you it never, for one second, occurred to me that she was lying. For years—years!—I believed that there was some kind of special technology that enabled dentists to put transparent boy-band stickers on your teeth with your sealants. I’m not even sure when it hit me—maybe high school? It was like I woke up one morning ten years later and realized, “Oh my gosh. There were never stickers on my teeth!” I’d been suckered.


I wish I could say that that was the only absurd thing I’ve believed in my life. In sixth grade I took a picture of Jennifer Aniston circa Friends season ten to the hair stylist, convinced that if I just had side bangs, boys would like me. In tenth grade, I thought that my popularity would skyrocket the second I got my braces off.


But the hair stylist in sixth grade told me Jen’s haircut would make me look like I had a mullet, so I never got those perfect side bangs. In tenth grade I learned quickly that my coolness and my braces were completely uncorrelated.


Like me, you’ve been suckered by things that didn’t deliver on their promises of fulfillment at some point in your life. Whether it was the Backstreet Boys or S Club 7, side bangs or highlights, drinking or drugs—you’ve bought into things in your life that ultimately failed to live up to their hype. They were based on a false perception of reality, so they ended up disappointing you or hurting you in the long run.


As we get older, we don’t automatically grow out of the tendency to believe things that aren’t true; the lies we believe just become more complex and consequential. Our culture encourages us to defer to what’s true for us, even if it contradicts what is true—scientifically, biblically, historically, and so on. This manifests itself in a way we’ve already discussed—gender ideology, abortion, polyamory, just as examples. But exchanging “my truth” for the truth also affects the personal decisions we make and the relationships we build. The results are never good.

YOUR TRUTH WON’T SET YOU FREE

Chloe was a sophomore in college when she was brutally raped by a group of fraternity boys. The friends that came with her to the party had already gone home, and she was left alone, defenseless to their attacks. Traumatized by her experience, she spent the rest of her college career self-medicating with alcohol, sex, and drugs.


Though she managed to graduate on time, Chloe’s addiction was out of control. Her parents persuaded her to go to rehab, where she was diagnosed with and treated for PTSD. She was raised a Christian, but she’d pushed God away while she was trying to deal with the pain and shame associated with her rape. At rehab, she started reading her Bible again and committed to following Jesus. She promised herself that she would get clean and stay single for a season while she got her life together.


But as soon as Chloe left rehab, confusion and fear overwhelmed her. What was she going to do with her life? How would she know what direction God wanted her to go in? Would she ever find love?


She felt burdened by the pressure to be and do something worthwhile. Seeing friends on Instagram who were backpacking through Europe, she became inspired by the idea of self-discovery through travel. Even the prospect of exploring the world seemed cathartic. She started following Instagram accounts dedicated to wanderlust that inspired her to embark on her own journey. So two months after coming home from rehab, she pooled the few thousand dollars she had saved and left her family, her friends, and her small hometown in Texas with a one-way ticket to travel the world.


On social media, her life looked like a fairy tale. Her friends and followers praised her from afar for taking what appeared to be brave steps toward inner healing. It seemed to Chloe and to everyone watching that she was living “her truth.” Her truth was that she’d been hurt, gone down a dark path of self-destruction, and now was discovering her true self and declaring her worth by setting out on the adventure of her dreams.


But reality looked different. Chloe got involved with a new guy in every town she visited—usually ending up having sex with them. They offered both adventure and security on her winding road of self-discovery. But they all left her high and dry after a few weeks, leaving her feeling used and ashamed.


She was in Paris when she realized her period was late. She took a pregnancy test. It was positive. Then another. Positive again. She couldn’t believe it. She was pregnant and totally alone. This time, she had nowhere to run.


Chloe knew she needed to go home. She needed a safe place and support to raise her baby. So she packed her bags and booked the next flight to Texas. She gave birth to her son eight months later.


Now, Chloe loves being a mom, but she regrets the road she took to motherhood. It took becoming unexpectedly pregnant for her to see just how much “her truth” had deceived her. She did everything her friends, favorite authors, motivational speakers, travel bloggers, and Instagram influencers told her she should do to heal her past hurts: embark on a journey to self-discovery, follow her heart, “rumble with her story,” indulge her whims, pursue her lust and wanderlust. By giving in and letting go, she thought, she’d finally be happy.


She pursued “her truth” and found that it only led to a dead end. Her travels did nothing to heal the shame and pain she still felt from being raped in college. She did everything she wanted for the months that she explored the world, and yet she left each city feeling more unfulfilled than before. In an effort to “find herself,” she got lost.


Chloe’s story shows us that we’re not enough to come up with our own truths. Our thoughts confuse us. Our intuition is often wrong. Our feelings deceive us. Our desires can be misplaced. And if we put ourselves on the throne of our own lives, deeming ourselves our own arbiter of truth, our heart, thoughts, intuition, feelings, and desires are all we have to lead us. We’re stuck looking to ourselves for insight that just isn’t there. On our own, we don’t know where we’re going. To reiterate: we’d make terrible gods.


Bestselling author and motivational speaker Brené Brown writes in her book Braving the Wilderness: “The truth about who we are lives in our hearts.”


This mentality explains the “why” behind the persistence of so many people to constantly follow their hearts and pursue constant introspection. They’re looking for the truth they’ve been told by the world of self-healing and self-love that is buried there, deep within.


Through various catharses—traveling, new relationships, meditation, therapy—we search for this truth that will finally reveal to us our identity and worth. We try the Eat, Pray, Love– type method and hope that our adventures, whimsy, and self-evaluation will help us uncover past trauma or confront old mistakes.


We take a journey much like Chloe’s—searching the world for her deep and hidden “truth” somewhere within. But what we find is that even when we’ve followed our hearts and wrestled with our pasts, we’re still hungry for more. We still don’t feel healed or complete.


I found this out for myself. I pursued “my truth” during that season in college when I was addicted to drinking, hooking up, and bingeing/purging. In an effort to feel better about myself in the face of heartbreak and rejection, I tried to build a new life based on a new value system. That value system was composed entirely of what made me feel good in the moment.


I was tired of being sad, of wallowing in self-pity, and fretting over my future, so the instant gratification that comes with getting drunk and the ego boost from superficial flings were attractive to me. I’d lost a relationship that hadn’t just defined who I was then, but also who I thought I’d be in the future. I’d been the girl in a serious relationship who was going to get married right after college, and then suddenly I wasn’t. As my plans crumbled, I struggled to know who I was.


It didn’t help that I had shingles the night he broke up with me. You know shingles as the rash your grandmother and her nursing home friends had last winter. I had it at twenty-one. Shingles produces a rash that forms clusters of red, painful, itchy blisters and usually shows up on your back or side. Not for me! Mine stretched across my neck and face. It was terrible. It was ugly and painful. Needless to say, when my boyfriend showed up to “talk” one night, I looked and felt like a miserable mess.


As uncomfortable as it is to admit, I think part of my motivation for my weight loss was wanting to somehow make up for how unattractive and unwanted I felt in that moment. I thought that if I was skinnier, I’d be more lovable. The attention I got from guys as a freshly single girl affirmed that mentality. The alcohol was just a numbing agent so I wouldn’t have to deal with it all. Similar to Chloe, I didn’t want to admit what was really going on, so I masked it.


“My truth” during this season was that I deserved to feel good about myself. I’d spent nearly three years prioritizing a boyfriend, and now it was time to focus on me. I was entitled to have fun and let loose, and I was even convinced that doing so might be healing for me. I could be free from the expectations he had for me that I couldn’t meet and just be myself—authentic. If I wasn’t enough for him, I told myself, that’s fine. I can be enough for myself. And I’ll prove it by doing exactly what I wanted, when I wanted.


If you’d been an outside observer of this version of college Allie, you might have thought I was living my best life. I was working out, making new friends, going on dates, and attending parties on the weekends. I was still managing to do well in my classes, and I was even chosen to deliver the student speech at our graduation ceremony. You might have thought I’d come into my own, as if I’d finally found myself. You probably would have assumed I’d gotten over my heartache and moved on.


But I was broken. Almost every time I drank too much, I became a crying mess. Once I let my guard down, it was obvious I wasn’t okay. My sadness over the breakup was compounded by the guilt I felt for drinking too much or hooking up with another guy. Before that semester, people knew me as a girl who led Bible studies and served as chaplain for our sorority. I’d let that go in favor of “doing me.” In other words, I was worshipping the god of self.


We know where that got me—to a counselor’s office hearing my eating disorder was going to be fatal if I didn’t stop. Because I wanted to be enough on my own, I’d replaced God and his truth as the center of my universe with myself, proclaiming my own sovereignty over right and wrong, good and bad. Without realizing it, I was a card-carrying member of the Cult of Self-Affirmation, prioritizing my authenticity and autonomy above all else.


What I learned the hard way was that if I really wanted a path that leads to peace, I needed a standard outside myself to tell me what’s true and good. That standard is God.


In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis argues for the existence of a universal moral law that all human beings, regardless of culture, inherently aim to follow. Without it, we have no right to feel outrage toward horrors like slavery or the Holocaust. But we do. That’s because there is a sense of morality embedded in each of us, given to us by a Moral Lawgiver. Without a Moral Lawgiver, there is no moral law. With no transcendent moral law or lawgiver, we are all our own gods, and no one can say who’s right and who’s wrong. This puts our lives into a tailspin of chaos.


I was a beneficiary of this chaos—and I didn’t have to be. When we first broke up, I was afraid to go to God with my sadness, because I knew he probably wouldn’t give me a quick fix. Being obedient to him would mean not getting drunk, not hooking up with guys, and not hurting my body with unhealthy eating habits, which were all methods to numb my pain. Letting these things go and instead turning to the Lord would mean I actually had to feel the hurt, and I didn’t want to do that.


But what I realized months later is that the pain I would have felt if I’d walked with God in those first aching days would have been far better than the pain and shame and regret I felt after months of going my own way. Time spent worshipping the God of Scripture is never time wasted, but time spent worshipping the god of self is.


I didn’t start healing from heartache until I stopped submitting to my own standards for right and wrong, which were based on what felt good, and submitted to God’s standards for right and wrong, which are based on what is good. God’s truth is what we use to determine what’s true and what’s not, not ourselves. Because while our feelings change and mislead us, God’s Word never will.


Here’s what we need to recognize: “our truth” is usually Satan’s lie. What feels true to us in the moment may not be true, good, or trustworthy at all. While it’s true that we have experiences and trauma that shape us, these things don’t equate to moral truths. They just happened. And maybe they were significant, and maybe they taught us something. But in order to know whether these lessons we learned are truths worth building our lives on, we have to compare them to the standard of truth, God’s Word.


We are not enough to decide the truth, but God is. This is good news! Because the me who once believed the Backstreet Boys were plastered on my molars, the me who has chased after all kinds of damaging myths and lies in an effort to find fulfillment, isn’t equipped now to be the determinant of truth. And you aren’t either. It’s a burden none of us is strong enough to bear, and we don’t have to.


But in order to replace our truth with God’s truth, we first have to know what it is.

MEOLOGY

Thankfully, as Christians, we don’t have to guess at God’s definitions of right and wrong. He tells us in the Bible, which is inerrant, infallible, and sufficient for instruction.


I grew up going to church and attended a Christian school. When I was little, everyone I knew who was my age had the same Bible: the NIV New Adventure Bible. It was awesome. Real-life application, historical tidbits, memory verse suggestions, a pink and purple cover. I found my copy in my old closet the other day, and I opened it to find most pages completely soaked in pink and green highlighter, the margins filled with drawings of cats, some menorah sketches in the book of Numbers, and lots of random segments cut out for who knows what reason.


As little as my seven-year-old self understood the Bible, I’m grateful for the time my teachers and parents took in helping us learn it. Studying God’s Word is necessary for Christians to form their worldviews and establish their moral compasses, and yet, tragically, many Americans who identify as Christians don’t know their Bibles. They consequently hold to a faith that’s a mixture of God’s truth and their own truth.


Every two years Ligonier Ministries conducts a survey to gauge American evangelical Christians’ theological understanding. The 2018 study reveals deep misunderstandings among self-identified evangelicals about the person of Jesus, sin, and salvation.


Perhaps the most troubling part of the study was the respondents’ perception of truth. Thirty-two percent of respondents agreed with this statement: “Religious belief is a matter of personal opinion; it is not about objective truth.” Additionally, 51 percent agree that God accepts the worship of all religions, not just Christianity. This means a large portion of Christians in the United States claim a set of beliefs that they’re not confident is true.


The good news is that for many Christians, the intentions are good. They want to study the Bible, but they don’t know how. The Bible can be overwhelming, complex, and confusing. So instead of reading it closely, many Christians opt to read devotionals or listen to sermons that they feel are easier to understand and are more applicable to their lives.


The problem is that many devotionals are oversimplified, and even the best sermons don’t offer the wisdom the Bible does. Furthermore, many popular devotional authors and preachers today simply don’t teach the Bible. Instead, they preach what I call meology—or me-centered theology. Rather than teaching what Scripture means and what it says about God, they highlight what Scripture means to us and what it says about us. Meology seeks to comfort at the expense of conviction. This results in readers who are both misinformed and uninformed about the nature of God. The consequence is people who are unsure of the truth he offers.


Two of the most popular forms of meology today are found in the prosperity gospel and in what I call hipster Jesus Christianity. Prosperity teachers like Joel Osteen, Paula White, Kenneth Copeland, and others preach messages that guarantee God’s material and monetary gifts in exchange for faith. Osteen describes his job as “helping people sleep at night,” rather than making people feel “ashamed.” Paula White, spiritual adviser to President Trump, declared on TBN in 2007 that “anyone who tells you to deny yourself is from Satan” (Jesus said that). Kenneth Copeland preaches that Jesus “won financial prosperity” on the cross. In the name of comfort and hope, health-and-wealth preachers offer a powerless gospel. While this doctrine scratches “itching ears,” it doesn’t save (2 Timothy 4:3), because it’s not true. While God may choose to bless us with health and wealth for his glory, he doesn’t guarantee them. Instead, he assures us that we will suffer for his sake. He promises persecution, not promotions (Matthew 10:16).


The prosperity gospel exchanges God’s truth of promised hardship for our “truth” of entitlement to an easy life or overflowing bank account. It views God as a genie aroused by “naming it and claiming it.” But Job 1:21 tells us that God both gives and takes, and that either way, his name is to be praised. Our “truth” is that we want God’s stuff. The truth is that God has given us something better than stuff—himself.


If we view Scripture through the lens of the prosperity gospel, we see the biblical narrative centered on us and what God can do for us, rather than on God, what he’s done for us through Christ, and how we can serve him. This is the danger of meology: it misses the truth. And when we miss the truth of Christianity we lose everything: salvation, joy, sanctification, intimacy with God. Our very souls are at stake when we exchange God’s truth for ours.


On the other side of the meology coin is Hipster Jesus Christianity. Hipster Jesus is a go-with-the-flow kind of guy whose highest priority is our happiness. He’s not big on institutionalized religion, doesn’t care about sin, and just wants us to feel good about ourselves. According to Hipster Jesus, the only wrong is saying that there’s wrong.


Glennon Doyle, known for her popular blog Momastery, represents Hipster Jesus Christianity. She wrote the 2017 bestselling book Love Warrior, about fighting for her marriage, with her husband. Her life changed when she met U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team player Abby Wambach, with whom she quickly fell in love. Doyle later left her husband and married Wambach.


Now Doyle encourages women to follow her brand of authenticity. When asked how, as a Christian, she justifies her divorce and remarriage to a woman, she said, “I don’t spend my precious time and energy justifying myself to anybody. That sounds exhausting. The most revolutionary thing a woman can do is not explain herself!” She claims that the Bible is indifferent toward same-sex marriage and monogamy, and that to think it did teach about these practices would be to “rub up against what I know about the God of love.”


Josh Harris, who was a significant figure in evangelicalism in the 1990s and 2000s, was also lured by the Hipster Jesus trend. He wrote a book about courtship called I Kissed Dating Goodbye in 1997 that became central to purity culture within the church. Harris pastored a church in Maryland while raising his children alongside his wife. In 2019, he announced that he and his wife would be getting a divorce. Days later he shared a post announcing that he is no longer a Christian and issued an apology to the LGBTQ community for “standing against marriage equality” and for not “affirming [them] and [their] place in the church.”


Of course the Bible is clear on the issue of sexuality. The definition of marriage as between a man and a woman is rooted in creation and reiterated in the New Testament as representative of Christ and the church and is therefore reflective of the Gospel. It’s not just based on a couple of verses some people have deemed irrelevant. God’s definition of marriage has both physical and spiritual significance—Gospel significance.


This reality is missable only if we insist upon putting our truth over the truth. This is the core problem with the theology of Hipster Jesus Christianity—not that its proponents often deny biblical authority on sexuality, but that it denies biblical authority period. This so often leads to a denunciation of Christianity altogether in exchange for a form of agnosticism. It’s impossible to simultaneously submit to the God of Scripture and the god of self.


Neither the prosperity gospel nor Hipster Jesus Christianity have much to say about sin, because meology—like the Cult of Self-Affirmation—is concerned with temporary happiness rather than lasting holiness. Meology of any kind looks nothing like Jesus’s teachings.


The one, true Jesus cares so much about our sin that he endured a gruesome death on a cross to save us from it. On earth he healed and he comforted, but he also called those he encountered to repentance (Matthew 4:17).


Jesus defined sin as not just what we do outwardly, but also as what we think and feel on the inside. He said it’s not enough that we don’t commit adultery; we also shouldn’t lust. He said it’s not enough not to kill someone; we shouldn’t even hate them. Jesus raised the standard of goodness to another level, insisting that we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us rather than retaliate. It’s a righteousness only possible through him.


The prosperity gospel and Hipster Jesus Christianity are self-worship disguised as genuine faith. They focus on what we think we deserve rather than who God is. They obscure the true Gospel in exchange for a message that appeals to our natural self-centeredness. As John Piper says of the prosperity gospel, they are doctrines that “clothe the eternal gospel of Christ in the garments of worldliness.”


Meology leads not only to the theological confusion we see reflected in the Ligonier study, but also to faithlessness.


Our aim in studying the Bible is to know God. In learning his character and his truth, our view of ourselves and of the world are consequently shaped. Scripture provides a firm, unchangeable foundation for our lives that secular self-help and “Christian” meology don’t and can’t.


That means reading our Bibles is crucial in differentiating between our truth, which leads to confusion, and the truth, which leads to life, joy, and peace.


But the question stands: How do we read the Bible? There are lots of good resources on this, but I’ll give you my advice: get a good study Bible. I love the ESV Study Bible. Start in the book of John. You can read it fast or slow, by chapter or verse by verse. Try to answer these questions when you read (see box):

You’re not going to understand everything. I don’t. That’s okay. Pray for wisdom—something God promises to give to those who ask (James 1:5). Trust that you are going to the sole source of truth.


Jesus said that he is “the way, and the truth, and the life” and that “no one comes to the Father except through” him (John 14:6). John 1:14 describes Jesus as “full of grace and truth.” Jesus tells us in John 8:30‒32, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Jesus asks God the Father in John 17:17 to “sanctify” his people “in truth,” because “your word is truth.” How awesome to know the source of truth isn’t somewhere “out there” or buried deep within us. It’s in Jesus, who has made himself available to us.


If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of studying Scripture, that’s okay. The good news is that you don’t have to pursue truth alone.

TAKE ME TO CHURCH

My husband and I spent way too long in the first few years of our marriage church shopping, looking for the place that met all our qualifications: dynamic pastor, lots of young people in our life stage, good small-group structure, and trendy-but-not-too-trendy worship leaders. Eventually, though, we got tired of the search. We started slipping into the habit of listening to a sermon podcast or watching a service online on Sundays rather than going through the trouble of trying out a new church.


But we were both convicted by the fact we both knew: this is not what church is about. It’s not about us or what we get from it. Churches are to exist in local communities to encourage and instruct Christians in God’s Word, to meet the needs of fellow believers, and to equip members to share the Gospel and serve their neighbors and the “least of these.” The hours we spend in church should be defined by self-forgetfulness, not self-fulfillment.


That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t enjoy our pastor’s sermons or the style of worship, but it does mean there may never be a church that checks all of your boxes. There may be many characteristics that make a good church, but the most important one is this: the Gospel—the biblical truth about sin, salvation through Jesus, and sanctification—is preached.


Why does this take precedence over what kinds of missions the church is a part of or how well run the children’s ministry is? Because without the Gospel as the driving force of all a church does, mission trips are just Instagram opportunities, and the children’s ministry is just glorified day care. The Gospel is the core reason churches exist, and it’s to define all that we as Christians do.


A pastor who preaches the Gospel will be one who bases his sermons not on his opinion, but on the Word of God. A pastor can only preach correctly about sin, sanctification, and salvation by basing his teaching on the Bible. His sermons will be steeped in the wisdom of the Bible. They won’t sound like a motivational speaker or a self-help guru. They might be entertaining and dynamic, but no matter the charisma of the preacher, the message will be centered on God’s Word.


A good question to ask when listening to preachers is: Is he providing context and pointing us to Christ, or is he extracting verses to fit a predetermined message and pointing us to ourselves?


For example, a pastor who teaches the story of David and Goliath as a metaphor for Christians slaying their giants isn’t pointing his congregants to God. We are not David in this story—Jesus is. Heslayed the ultimate giant—sin and death—when he died on the cross for our transgressions and rose again three days later. As Sinclair Ferguson states in his book, Preaching the Gospel from the New Testament: “Jesus is the true and better David, whose victory becomes his people’s victory, though they never lifted a stone to accomplish it themselves.”


And how much better a message is that—that we’re not our own heroes, but God is? This is the privilege of being a Christian: shaking off the pressure of being our own gods and instead relying on the Savior, who is steadfast and sure.


Biblical theology gives us solid ground where meology offers sinking sand. Any pastor whose sermons glorify and coddle his congregants rather than point them to God, his glory, and his Gospel is doing an eternal disservice to his congregants, and it’s not a church we need to be a part of. A healthy, thriving church will base all they say and do on Scripture, and the good news of Jesus’s death and resurrection will be at the center of their sermons, ministries, and local and global mission work.


Many churches’ exchange of biblically sound preaching for motivational talks with Bible verses sprinkled in is a huge reason why, as the Ligonier study cited, so many self-identified Christians are theologically confused, exchanging real truth for personal truth. If we’re not taught God’s character and will from the shepherds of our churches, we’ll turn to social media, to influencers both spiritual and secular, to politicians, to our friends, and to ourselves to help us shape our worldviews. This leaves us with a contradictory and unstable meology that will inevitably lead to living a life contradictory to the one God has called us to live: holy, joyful, helpful, and truthful.


Isn’t it a relief to know we don’t have to see every country, kiss every guy, and take every turn on the road of self-discovery to find truth? It’s available to us in God himself, whose wisdom Christians have access to through Christ. Our truth is both elusive and unsatisfying. God’s truth is present and sustaining. While the world tells us our truths are somehow simultaneously within us and “out there,” God gives us real truth in himself here and now.


As available as God’s truth is, though, understanding it is a lifelong process.

A TRAJECTORY TOWARD TRUTH

Thankfully, God gives us grace for the journey. When I first became a Christian, I consumed all kinds of sermons and books that weren’t biblically sound. While I read C. S. Lewis, I also read books by Rob Bell, who has since come out as a Universalist, believing all people are ultimately destined for heaven. I listened to Joel Osteen regularly, not recognizing that his promise of health and wealth is unbiblical. I had a form of meology that was reflective of a girl who didn’t know her Bible. Only through God’s patience, study, and time have I learned how to let the Bible inform my theology. And I’ve got a long way to go yet.


The Holy Spirit guides us, convicts us, molds us, and moves us—though usually not all at once. A person led by Christ should be on a trajectory toward truth, which means we don’t know everything now that we’ll know in a year. There will be sins we’re unaware of today that we may be repenting next week. There is selfishness we’re clinging to today that we will be asked to relinquish tomorrow.


Throughout our lives, through the power of the Holy Spirit, wisdom of God’s Word, and the equipping of the church, we are to work “to reach the stature of the fullness of Christ,” becoming more like him in every season (Ephesians 4:13). This doesn’t mean our path will be a straight line from A to B, but it does mean our lives should mean our path is paved by truth—God’s truth, not ours.


Our adherence to God’s truth doesn’t just influence how we read the Bible or what churches we choose; it also affects how we decide right and wrong in general.


In exploring this, we’re about to wade into some deeper (and more controversial) waters. Track with me as we dive into how the “my truth” mentality has infected culture and politics.

CANCELED

Following God means embracing a love not for our own truth but for objective truth. We look to the Bible as the steady standard of right and wrong. Without a belief in God as the final moral authority, people are left to their own devices to determine good versus bad. And if, as the Cult of Self-Affirmation dictates, we are all our own gods, who’s to say whose moral code is enforceable? As you can tell, this kind of moral subjectivism sounds like confusion and chaos. That’s because it is. Cue: cancel culture.


In February 2019, eighteen-time Grand Slam tennis champion Martina Navratilova wrote a piece for The Sunday Times that landed her in what she later described as a “hornets’ nest” of controversy.


In the article she argued that it was “cheating” that “hundreds of athletes who have changed gender by declaration and limited hormone treatment have already achieved honors as women that were beyond their capabilities as men.” The transactivist group Trans Actual labeled these comments “transphobic” and tweeted their disagreement with the article. Navratilova, a lesbian, was then quickly dropped by Athlete Ally, a group that advocates for LGBTQ athletes and that had previously supported her. The Twitter outrage mob condemned her as a hateful bigot.


Of course, by any logical standard, Navratilova is right. What we learned in sixth grade biology hasn’t changed, even if cultural standards have. Men have greater bone density than women, higher aerobic and anaerobic capacity, more muscle mass, and are, in general, more aggressive than women, even when hormone treatments that decrease testosterone slightly diminish these characteristics. This gives most men who identify as women an advantage over biological women in athletic competitions.


This is proven by the International Olympic Committee’s own standards for transathletes. Though women who identify as men can engage in men’s competitions without restriction, men who declare themselves women must prove that their testosterone levels have been below a certain point for twelve months before competing. If there were no significant physical differences between men and women, no rules regarding transathletes would be necessary. But there are. The rule is an attempt to minimize a biological gap between men and women that can never be fully closed.


Navratilova knows the athletic advantage men have firsthand. In 1992, she played Jimmy Connors in a pay-per-view show in Las Vegas. Connors was allowed only one serve, and Navratilova could hit into the doubles alleys. Still, Connors won 7‒5, 6‒2. In 1998, German tennis player Karsten Braasch (ranked 203 in the world) played a match against each Williams sister and won soundly against both. Serena Williams herself remarked in 2013 that if she were up against a player like Andy Murray, she’d “lose 6‒0, 6‒0, in five to six minutes.”


None of these factors are considered, however, in the realm of Cancel Culture. “Canceled” is what happens to you when the court of public opinion (held primarily on Twitter) decides that something you’ve said or done at any time in your life is unacceptable by today’s social and moral standards. Cancelers call for boycotts of your shows or products, demand that you be fired from your place of employment, command that you be deplatformed from social media and the apps that host your content, target your advertisers, and pressure organizations associated with you to disavow you. They take no prisoners.


Cancel Culture is the perfect depiction of how the secular world does morality without absolute truth: the boundaries of righteousness are ever changing based on the latest social whim. Because there’s no objective standard of right and wrong, people’s feelings are all we can base morality on. That means the group with the most cultural sway is typically in charge. What was acceptable yesterday, then, won’t be acceptable tomorrow, and so on.


Sometimes people are canceled for the right reasons. Consider Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood producer and accused serial sexual assaulter. In 2017, journalists at The New York Times uncovered three decades of substantial allegations of sexual misconduct that included offering movie roles to actresses in exchange for sex. Ronan Farrow reported for The New Yorker that thirteen women had accused Weinstein of sexual assault or harassment, and three women accused him of rape. Since these allegations surfaced, more than eighty women have claimed to be victims of Weinstein’s predation.


The outcry against Weinstein was immediate and catalytic. The scandal catapulted the celebrity-led #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, which focused mostly on women sharing stories of harassment or assault. Since 2017, a number of prominent figures have stepped forward and revealed their experiences with sexual abuse. The rage against Weinstein and others like him is still the center of many cultural conversations about power and consent.


But there’s still a problem with all of this. While Weinstein certainly deserves his cancellation, he didn’t suddenly become a known predator. His reputation as a creep was an open secret in Hollywood long before the reports came out. Some celebrities—Gwyneth Paltrow, Courtney Love, and Seth MacFarlane—alluded to Weinstein’s behavior publicly more than a decade earlier. In December 2017, The New York Times published a piece titled “Weinstein’s Complicity Machine,” which analyzed Weinstein’s “wall of invulnerability” built by powerful Hollywood elites and via his support of Democratic politicians, such as the Clintons and the Obamas.


For probably the first time ever, celebrities were speaking out about sexual ethics. The behaviors they suddenly found the courage to condemn have long been condemned by people outside of Hollywood. Suddenly it became trendy to care about sexual behavior and power dynamics. But those of us with a biblical worldview didn’t need Hollywood to tell us what we’ve always known: actions like those of Harvey Weinstein are wrong.


I think a lot of good has come from the Me Too movement. Women previously too scared to come forward with their stories found the strength to speak up. Predators in Hollywood and in major media corporations have been held to account. But it’s also shown us the volatility of morality based primarily on outrage. Its standards are fickle and unreliable. It’s swayed by “my truths,” which change, rather than the truth, which doesn’t.


In 2018, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford brought a serious allegation of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh—that he had forced himself on her and presumably attempted to rape her at a party when they were seventeen. Ultimately the claims remained unverifiable, and Kavanaugh was confirmed.

The feminist mantra of the Kavanaugh saga was: “believe all women.” Not listen to all women. Not pay attention to their stories. Not take them seriously. But believe them. The standard shifted from hearing women’s accounts to fully accepting them without question, as the outrage toward toxic masculinity, coupled with a fear of a conservative justice, dictated. No matter where you stood on the Kavanaugh debacle, it’s easy to see that that kind of mentality isn’t based on truth, but on cultural trends, political expediency, and emotion. That’s not a just standard for anyone.


Without objective benchmarks for right and wrong, this is about the best a world ruled by subjective truth can do: accept morality defined by the mob. Whoever controls our means of communication and information arbitrates what’s true and what’s false, what’s right and what’s wrong, and who’s canceled and who’s not.


This is not a culture Christians should be a part of. We don’t discern good and evil based on the latest rage trend. We don’t use Twitter as our source of truth; we use God’s Word, which never changes. We don’t have to be tossed by the waves of cultural relevance. We have God’s absolute truth as our anchor.


This doesn’t mean Christians don’t get it wrong. There were Christians who attempted to justify slavery by using the Bible. There are people today who may try to condone the abuse of women via the biblical command for wives to submit to their husbands. But these sinful misinterpretations speak not to God’s infallibility but ours.


No matter what the mainstream once believed, even those who identified as Christians, slavery was always wrong. It was always the objectification and degradation of people made in God’s image. Any kind of abuse, extortion, or injustice is and has always been wrong because God says so, not because celebrities or politicians or courts or influencers say so.


William Wilberforce, who led the way for the abolition of slavery in England, said it best: “What a difference it would be if our system of morality were based on the Bible instead of the standards devised by cultural Christians.” I would add, “or by culture, period.”


There is freedom in realizing that neither we nor anyone else has authority to determine truth and morality. “My truth” and society’s “truth” are ever changing, arbitrary, and exhausting to keep up with. Sometimes outrage is justified, but that justification is not defined by people in power; it is defined by God.


Resisting the world’s fluctuating morality isn’t easy, especially when the “cause” sounds good—even biblical.

SOCIAL JUSTICE

You’ve probably heard the term “social justice.” A concept originally used by the Catholic Church to describe the kind of service and policies that benefited the poor and the marginalized, social justice has evolved to be inclusive of mostly left-leaning policies such as the redistribution of wealth, abortion, socialized health care, and unrestrictive immigration policies.


Social justice has become both a list of causes to care about and a way to view the world. It’s the modern determinant of virtue, and yet its foundation is subjective “truths,” not absolute truth. Because of that, though it sounds compassionate and courageous, it’s not a sphere we need to be in.


“Social justice warrior” has become a pejorative for the perpetually offended, but the social justice worldview is more complex (and more significant) than political correctness and hypersensitivity. It serves as the lens through which today’s mainstream political and social spheres see the world.


The goal with which social justice is primarily concerned is equality. Where there is disparity—in wealth, in prison sentencing, in graduation rates, in success, in representation, in treatment, and so on—social justice advocates see injustice. Categorizing people as either “oppressed” or “oppressors,” defenders of social justice aim to push down the oppressor and uplift the oppressed, closing the gap between the two groups.


Social justice uses intersectionality to determine who qualifies as the oppressed and who qualifies as the oppressor. Intersectionality takes stock of an individual’s characteristics, such as race, nationality, or sexual orientation, and assigns them oppression “points,” for lack of a better term, based on how many historically marginalized identity groups they belong to. The more points you have, the more likely you are to be considered on the side of the oppressed.


For example, in the world of intersectionality-fueled social justice, a man is viewed as more privileged than a woman, so the man takes on the role of the oppressor, and the woman, the oppressed. To see how this plays out in real life, consider the issue of the “gender wage gap.”


The claim is that women make $0.79 for every $1.00 a man makes, which points to patriarchal oppression of women. The solution proposed is another federal law, in addition to the Equal Pay Act already passed in 1963, that will ensure equal pay between men and women.


The claim is true—in a sense. Women do make $0.79 to every $1.00 a man makes when factors such as hours worked, education earned, or positions held are not considered. This is called the uncontrolled gap. But when all factors are the same, women make more than $0.99 to every $1.00 a man makes— a difference that’s within the margin of error. In other words, the “wage gap” between men and women is virtually nonexistent, and even if a slight gap exists, there is little proof that injustice is to blame.


Sweden, one of the most egalitarian and progressive countries in the world, has taken every legislative effort to shrink the gap between the earnings of men and women, such as guaranteeing equal parental paid leave. And yet women in Sweden still make significantly less than men make.


Why? Because of the choices women make. They still account for the vast majority of parental leave taken in the workforce. They work fewer hours on average than men. They tend to choose career paths that are less lucrative than most men’s. Women and men, even in a society ruled by social justice, are still inherently different and therefore the outcomes of each group will not be the same.


The assumption that differences always imply discrimination is based on feeling rather than fact. In his book The Quest for Cosmic Justice, economist Thomas Sowell exchanges the term “social justice” for “cosmic justice” because of the unreachable, intangible results social justice advocates fight for. Sowell describes cosmic justice this way:

Cosmic justice . . . is about putting particular segments of society in the position that they would have been in but for some undeserved misfortune. This conception of fairness requires that third parties must wield the power to control outcomes, over-riding rules [or] standards.

 Social justice is concerned not with equality of opportunity but equality of outcomes. In order to achieve this, it must hold back those who are ahead and push forward those who are behind. Equality of outcome is never possible without government force.

Examples of social justice are racial reparations, which redistribute the wealth of white people in the United States to black people to compensate for the decades-long effects of slavery; affirmative action, which gives preferential treatment to students of certain races over others; or socialism, which takes money from those at the top and gives it to those at the bottom in an effort to achieve wealth equality. All of these effectively punish the more “privileged” groups in favor of the groups considered less privileged.


Of course some gaps do point to real injustice. Obviously, in the Jim Crow South, the inequality between white and black people was due to horrific discrimination and racism. The Supreme Court’s ruling that “separate but equal” was inherently unequal was a righteous one.


The difference is that, this ruling was based on provable injustice, not on perceived injustice. This is the key difference between social justice and actual justice. The former deals in perception; the latter deals in proof. And this is why Christians should care: we follow God, the transcendent Lawgiver, which means we are indebted to the truth in all things.


If God is our only source of morality and truth, that means he also defines justice. And according to the Bible, God’s justice doesn’t judge people based on their identity groups. Biblical justice is concerned with righteousness, not with an arbitrary calculation of how to hold back one group and lift another to achieve equal outcomes.


Leviticus 19:15 explains God’s idea of righteous justice: “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.”


God opposes partiality either to the weak or to the strong. As James 2:8‒9 says, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”


God is a god of justice. He cares about it—not just in a court of law but in how we treat the truly marginalized: the outcast, the poor, the vulnerable, and the victim. God’s justice means restoration for the downtrodden as much as it means repercussions for the wrongdoer.


That means Christians indeed care about a range of justice-related issues, including racism, misogyny, extorting the poor, abuse, and sex trafficking, to name a few. We work to replace hate with peace and injustice with justice. We believe in holding those who do wrong to account and fighting for the innocent.


But our fight for the “least of these” needn’t be lumped in with the secular world’s definition of “social justice.” Biblical justice is both truthful and direct; it does not advocate for punishing entire groups based on perceptions of privilege. It does not demand that those whom one group views as more privileged hand over their earnings to the government to be redistributed as the government sees fit. When Jesus calls his followers to care for the “least of these,” that is an individual mandate, not a bureaucratic one (Matthew 25:40).


Christians are not commanded to seek equal outcomes based on perceived group oppression, because, first, we know that such outcomes are impossible. As Thomas Sowell points out, “If two people from the same family, raised in the same home, have different outcomes in their lives, how can we expect people from different backgrounds to have the same outcome?”


Second, Christians don’t view people through the lens of their collective grievances. We view people as individuals, made in the image of God, valuable and equal, all dead in sin apart from Christ and responsible for his or her actions. The Bible doesn’t give us any other option for how to view one another. Our experiences and even ethnicities matter, but they don’t ultimately define us. We are defined by Jesus. There is no place for intersectionality in the body of Christ.


This doesn’t discount the disadvantages people indeed face nor the uneven playing field that inevitably characterizes life on earth, and it certainly doesn’t abdicate our responsibility as Christians to help those in need. The Bible is clear: “to whom much is given, much is required” (Luke 12:48). And “‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me’” (Matthew 25:40).


But Christians need to understand that this isn’t the job of the government, and this isn’t “social justice.” This is the work of the church. This is what Christians have always been called to do. And it is not fueled by resentment for those who have more than we do but by the power of the Gospel, which calls us to love others indiscriminately—literally “as yourself” (Galatians 5:14). This Gospel has been the sufficient driver of true justice as long as it’s existed.


It is this Gospel that compelled William Wilberforce to lead the fight against slavery. It is this Gospel that inspired heroes like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Corrie ten Boom to offer Jews refuge during the Holocaust. It is this Gospel that is today fighting against sex slavery and the slaughtering of unborn children in the womb. These movements are made up of individuals who see real injustice and take responsibility, through the power of God, to stop it. Christians do not need “social justice.” We have the Word of God as our guide to what causes to care about and how to fight for them.


Without the Bible as our basis for justice, we get a system based on the only tool we have without a supreme moral Lawgiver: the self. The best the self can do is a kind of justice based on perception rather than on objective standards of righteousness and truth.


Social justice gives us an overly simplistic worldview of the oppressed versus the oppressor. Applying these categories to all people at all times leads to more unfairness, not less, as adherents aim to reach an impossible outcome of total equality through cosmic calculations that aim to help one group at the expense of another.


Intersectionality-driven social justice reminds us that the world’s standards of righteousness are exhausting and elusive. They are arbitrary, confusing, and ineffective. The great news is that Christians have the unchanging God as our guide. Just as we reject the notion of “our truth” in our personal lives, we can dismiss worldly definitions of justice in the sociopolitical realm.


It can be so easy to fall into the trap of believing we have to align with social justice advocates to be considered compassionate and empathetic. We want to be seen as good people, and we’d rather not cause controversy. So we go with the flow. We allow the Twitterverse to direct our outrage, headlines to shape our worldview, and our favorite Instagram influencers to form our morality.


But guess what? We don’t have to worry at all whether the world thinks we’re compassionate or not. In fact, I can tell you from experience that if you align yourself with the Bible on controversial topics like abortion and marriage, you’re going to be labeled a misogynist bigot. People who don’t even believe in God will tell you you’re going to hell. As hard as that is to take at times, it’s okay. There is relief in realizing we don’t answer to the rage mob. We answer to Christ, steady, faithful, and sure, who calls us to be set apart and obedient.


While most people build their value system based on what feels good and what’s convenient, Christians are called to a higher standard—one that guarantees self-denial and difficulty. That means there will always be tension between us and the world. That’s good. We’re supposed to be uncomfortable here. This isn’t our home; heaven is. And as we work to ensure that God’s will is done “on earth as it is in heaven,” we can expect pushback and persecution.


This is a small price to pay for the freedom and joy of answering to a king higher than earthly authority, whose truth stands firm against the latest cultural dogmas. When we confront confusion, we have clarity in his Word.


The toxic culture of self-love tells us that we are “enough” to determine our own truths. But as we’ve discussed, this just leads to unsustainable confusion. It’s not our or society’s truth that matters, it’s God’s. That’s because he’s perfect, and we’re not.







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