Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. Ephesians 4:15 (NIV)
Gossip needn’t be false to be evil – there’s a lot of truth that shouldn’t be passed around. – Attributed to Frank A. Clark
As Christians and as scholars, we value truth, but when we encounter what we believe to be untruth, how should we respond? It is wise to remember that very few positions, whether in our field or in religion, are totally bereft of truth, and points of congruence can often open doors to further conversation. Controversy is inevitable in academia, but we need to approach it graciously, something I have taken care to do in my recent writing on origins, where much of the controversy can be traced to different underlying worldviews.
Much has been written in recent years about worldview, yet it is still hard to see the world as others see it, whether another culture, a new paradigm in our field, or a different group of believers. To do this, I encourage people to “think inside the box.” Everyone’s worldview is a box, which has one opening, through which that person views the world. We cannot understand a worldview by looking into that box from outside; only by stepping into the box with them can we see how the world looks from their perspective. Much dispute could be avoided by making sure we first understand the opposing argument, including the presuppositions it rests on, apart from which it will make no sense.
Often attributed to the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer is the quotation: “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” Although frequently true in the history of science, it is also true that many falsehoods also pass through the first two stages, and perhaps appear self-evident to proponents, even while others ridicule. So how do we respond to other believers who have a high view of scripture but interpret it differently than we do, and therefore come to different conclusions on the question of origins or some social issue? Should we oppose and even ridicule them in order to stand for what we believe to be the truth? I have observed this by Christians on both sides of the origins debate.
It is one thing to know the truth, another to live it. Paul reminds us of an important truth in Galatians 5:14-15, “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” It has been said that others will not care how much we know until they know how much we care. How many of us were initially attracted to Christ by the truth, and how many by seeing love in his followers? There is always someone watching us, listening to how we speak of fellow-believers. Even if we believe we know the truth, it is not always loving to speak it.
When someone ridicules another Christian for his or her position on some issue, how do I respond?
Father, thank you that entry to heaven is not based on our understanding of the truth, for we would surely fail; like incoming freshmen, we do not even know how little we know. Fill us with your Spirit, that we, like you, may sincerely love those who seek the truth, however far they may be from it at present, speaking of them as we would have them speak of us.
Poythress, Vern S. 2006. Redeeming Science: A God-centered Approach. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books. pp. 33-47.
In his freshman year, Gerald Rau cofounded the Intervarsity chapter at Wesleyan University. As a Ph.D. student in plant breeding at Cornell University he helped establish the First Ithaca Chinese Christian Church. After teaching science for many years at the American School in Taichung, he is currently semi-retired, starting an English ministry for international students while teaching scientific writing part-time at National Chung Cheng University in Chiayi, Taiwan. He has written Mapping the Origins Debate (IVP) and is working on publications on an eclectic array of topics including human origin, philosophy of science, scientific writing, and teaching English as a lingua franca.