Love or Truth? A False Choice!
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Thursday, April 29, 2010 at 6:06pm
REQUEST: I am a student at one of our prominent Bible colleges, pursuing a preaching degree. Often when I have a conversation with a student or even some of the professors, it seems that the general mindset is mostly a postmodern way of thinking. It seems as if everyone is very passionate about such things as evangelism, loving others, and reconstructing the church, but has very little concern for doctrine and truth. Do you have any advice for my situation?
REPLY: Thank you, Brother, for your heartfelt concern. It is very disheartening, of course, to hear a report like this about a Bible college that has long had a reputation for being firm and sound in the faith. The sad thing about it is that such trends are everywhere. You are blessed to be able to discern what is going on, and to be able to analyze it and be concerned about it. I encourage you to continue to stand firm on the importance of truth and sound doctrine.
What your friends there need to understand is that engaging in things like evangelism and loving others is like building houses on sand if they lack the firm foundation of Biblical truth to undergird them. I will recommend a couple of books that might help you: “Reclaiming the Center: Confronting Evangelical Accommodation to Postmodern Times,” by Millard Erickson et al. (Crossway 2004); and “Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church: Understanding a Movement and Its Implications,” by D. A. Carson (Zondervan 2005).
For quite some time I have been challenging audiences to answer this question: “Which is more important: LOVE or TRUTH?” Most are surprised when I give my answer (based on Matt. 22:37-40): LOVE is more important than TRUTH! However, I immediately proceed to say that we must always be on guard against the temptation to choose between them, as some attempt to do. Ephesians 4:15 exhorts us to speak the truth in love; these must always be tied together. In fact, my basic thesis is this: you can’t have genuine love without truth. Stated more precisely, YOU CANNOT TRULY LOVE WITHOUT LOVING TRUTH. Here I will summarize the three points that show this is so.
First, you cannot LOVE GOD without loving truth. The greatest commandment, of course, is to love God, including loving him with our minds (Matt. 22:37-38). This is the reason why we must love truth. We cannot separate any person from his words. God has indeed spoken (Heb. 1:1-2). Thus if we truly love God, we must love the words he has spoken; his words are a part of him, and his words are TRUTH (John 17:17). Thus we cannot love God without loving truth. To love truth is to love God himself.
Anyone who thinks the idea of loving truth is strange should read all of Psalm 119. Over and over David speaks in such terms: “Your word is very pure; therefore Your servant loves it” (v. 140). “Your law is truth” (v. 142); “O how I love Your law!” (v. 97). “All Your commandments are truth” (v. 151); “I love Your commandments” (v. 127). “I love Your testimonies” (v. 119); “I love Your precepts” (v. 159). To love truth means to take delight in it (vv. 16, 70, 111, 162, 174). I.e., truth is beautiful; knowing truth is an aesthetic experience! Also, to love truth is to desire it, to seek it, to cling to it (vv. 11, 31, 40, 45, 94, 131). To love truth also means to hate falsehood (vv. 63, 104, 128). When you love the truth of God’s Word, you cannot help but be angry at those who oppose it and ridicule it and work to suppress it! When you love truth, you will get upset when it is not acknowledged and believed. Standing up for truth is standing up for God himself; we love truth because we love God.
Second, you cannot LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR—the second greatest commandment (Matt. 22:39)—without loving truth. I too have heard Christian workers say, “I don’t have time to wrestle with all these doctrinal problems; I just want to concentrate on winning and helping people! Let’s not worry about doctrine; let’s just help people.” This, of course, is a false choice. A parallel would be a would-be doctor who says, “I don’t have time to study my textbooks and journals; I just want to help people!” This is ridiculous, of course; only a doctor who knows about the physical realities of diseases and cures can really help anyone. Likewise, Christian workers cannot really help people unless they know the TRUTH about spiritual realities. Do you really want to set people free from sin and darkness and the devil? Jesus said, “You will know the TRUTH, and the TRUTH will make you free” (John 8:32).
We want to save those who are lost, certainly. But why are they lost? First and foremost, because they have allowed themselves to be deceived by the devil in reference to God, sin, and salvation. They have exchanged the truth of God for a lie (Rom. 1:25). They have listened to false teachers who have come “with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive THE LOVE OF THE TRUTH SO AS TO BE SAVED” (2 Thess. 2:10). How can we expect the lost to love and accept the truth so as to be saved, if we who are trying to win them do not love the truth?
Third, you cannot LOVE THE BROTHERHOOD (1 Peter 2:17) without loving truth. The “brotherhood” is the church in general, the body of Christ universal—not just our own local congregation. To LOVE the brotherhood, “agape” style, means to CARE about what is happening in our churches and in our fellowship in general. That means we must care about our brotherhood’s lack of emphasis on truth and sound doctrine. Why does this matter? Because part of the church’s divinely-given mission is to preserve and proclaim the truth. As Paul says, “the church of the living God” is “the pillar and support of the truth” in the world (1 Tim. 3:15). See 2 John 1-4; Jude 3.
To be sure, we must also and always promote church growth, unity, and evangelism; but without a foundational and parallel emphasis on truth, the results will be counterfeit. We are being deceived by the widespread lie that if a doctrine is not necessary for salvation, it is just a matter of opinion and thus it does not matter what you believe about it. But I say, if that were really true, the Bible might as well be about one hundredth of its actual size, or even smaller. Why has God given us his Word if its true meaning is irrelevant? I believe that many Christian workers are sacrificing the truth—even the truth about salvation—on the altars of idols such as bigger churches and ecumenical respectability.
The bottom line is this: you cannot truly love without loving truth. “Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3).