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The Battle for the Truth

“You are a King, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a King. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this reason I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
“What is truth?” Pilate asked.

John 18: 37, 38

In a recent article in the Spectator (31st March) entitled the “Democracy Delusion,” Nic Cheeseman and Brian Klaas, raise many important and disturbing issues. Focussing on the work of Andres Sepulveda one of the world’s most infamous election-rigging specialists, the article demonstrates very clearly the challenge that democracy faces in our contemporary world through manipulation of the digital revolution. Sepulveda states “When I realised that people believe what the internet says more than reality, I discovered that I had the power to make people believe almost anything.” The recent scandal involving Cambridge Analytica and Facebook brings this to light in a vivid way. The article states the problem clearly - “The greatest challenge to 21st-century democracy is that uniformed voters are being replaced by misinformed ones.” The reason is that the former often stay at home whereas the latter turn out because they have been motivated into action by false information.

The internet is a tremendous thing but anyone who is passionate about any subject can come away from surfing that topic online angry, frustrated and depressed by the mass of confused information that is found there, and by the attitude of those who love to post comments! Since the general public seem to love conspiracy theories, anti-establishment rhetoric and anything that seems to be novel and radical (however we define that word), followers of any form of traditional orthodoxy (e.g. Christians) will have an uphill task in having their voice heard. Remember Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code!

So what does this situation mean for us? I think there are two responses we can make.

1 The challenge although daunting also brings opportunity. I remember all too well the feeling of despair I initially felt during the Dan Brown days when the media and the internet were in full flow over the alleged conspiracy by the Christian Church to suppress the Gnostic Gospels then (historically) and cover it up now. Of course at one level it could have been easy to laugh it all away until one encountered people influenced by this nonsense even in the church! On the other hand some of the Christian response to this at the time was robust, vigorous and effective. The same is surely true of our response to the New Atheists. At first it was difficult to deal with the media obsession with the celebrity superstars of Atheism, but slowly over several years the Church’s response was, and still is, quietly effective. The God Question trilogy and the work of Grasping the Nettle testify to that. Therefore, despite the difficulties of getting our voice heard above the “noise” and “chatter” of the internet, we must keep our nerve, and in the words of the great meditation Desiderata, “speak our truth quietly and clearly.” In doing this we must remember that it is the work of the Holy Spirit who convinces and convicts the world of the need of the Gospel; the truth of the Gospel; and the power of the Gospel (John 16:5-16).

2 Interestingly, in the same edition of the Spectator noted above is a book review by Tom Holland on Barth Erhman’s latest work “The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World.” The review also brings in the work of Larry Hurtardo’s “Christianity: Destroyer of Gods.” But what really caught my eye was the sub-title of the review which had the statement “It wasn’t crusading zeal that made Christianity a universal religion but its appeal to the poor and vulnerable.” This is a helpful reminder to us that whilst we need to engage publicly as followers of Jesus there is also the background work of “living out” the Gospel in the footsteps of Jesus and in the spirit of Micah 6:8. Outside of the confusion of the Internet there are real people in real communities who need to be loved.

Of course we need both approaches to have a balanced and nuanced mission to the world. Truth is communicated in both word and deed.

by Rev Dr Russel Moffat
 

5 Responses

  1. /April 30, 2018/ by I Morris /

    Well said Dr Moffat. I am interested in your choice of the word ‘battle ’ in the blog title. Many are squeamish about using the term but I believe it is appropriate because it is accurate.  I would simply add that in ‘battling’ we should . be careful to consider the evidential basis of what we claim.  From politics to religion, there is a great deal of assertion. Say in a loud enough voice what you wish others to believe and you might successfully persuade them.
    You talk of communicating quietly - and there is much to be said for that. ‘Quietly’ does not imply, though, that we have a severely limited audience and expectations.  It may simply mean we speak respectfully but also with conviction based on clear- and well articulated reasoning.  And GTN offers not only the opportunity to do that together but the means through which we can discuss what we mean by ‘truth ’ and the number of tough questions to which it gives rise.

  2. /May 2, 2018/ by Russel Moffat /

    Hi Iain
    You don’t have to convince me about “battling”!  I am one of the old-timers who loves “Onward Christian Soldiers” “Stand up, stand up for Jesus”, the Battle Hymn of the Republic and the contemporary song of a few decades ago “The battle belongs to the Lord”.  I also love boxing and like nothing better than either watching or being involved in a vigorous debate. Being “nice” is overrated and more a middle class perception of Christian spirituality than the pugnacious approach of many Biblical characters. I love the concept our Jewish brethren have of Chutzpa. I wish our church leaders had far more of this in public rather than the insipid stuff we constantly hear and read about.  But what do I know!  I’m only a common foot-soldier of the Kingdom.
    That said, there is a time for everything as Ecclesiastes reminds us. There is a time for quiet actions for the Kingdom and for a gentle sharing of our testimony in the Lord.  There is also a time for clear but non-polemical correction and qualification in relation to the criticism we face from opponents to the faith. But there is also a time for a more robust engagement with error and falsehood and for a vigorous defence of our Lord and his Gospel. It is quite astonishing what the church lets pass without comment far less critical counter in our society. It is learning to respond appropriately in any given situation. In this we need wisdom in the same amount as passion and enthusiasm.
    Part of the problem is we feel on the defensive and are very sensitive to the poor or negative image which the church by and large has in our day and generation. Many people seem to be embarrassed by the church and faith and think we should stay away from having a high public profile as a result. I know because I have met this attitude on several occasions. Furthermore there is the problem of the lack of self-confidence in who we are and what we stand for. This can only be rectified by empowering the faithful in wisdom and knowledge. Once again there is definitely a role here for Grasping the Nettle. Boy do we have a lot of work to do!

  3. /May 15, 2018/ by Alan J F Fraser /

    The Battle for the Truth has certainly become more complicated, not only because the enemy puts out lies in a very seductive manner, but also because reason no longer plays such an important part in how people come to form their beliefs. The social media effect is not just about the vast amount of information bombarding us daily, some of it inaccurate, some of it misleading, some of it down right false but is about the feel factor taking over from the reasoned approach. Having been told by the new atheists that faith is anti-reason and having formulated our reasoned reply we no find ourselves outflanked. If it feels good it must be right, especially if it goes viral. In a very real sense secular atheism has become passé but its legacy is very much with us, even when readiness to belief any old superstition is more popular than old fashioned logical positivism.
    On the bright side we know that human beings are made in the image of God, whether they recognise that or not. As such they may be reached with the wisdom that comes down from above which is “open to reason” (James 3:17 ESV) A good argument is never wasted.
    For a fascinating read on how science related to philosophy down through the ages I would recommend Wagner and Briggs “The Penultimate Curiosity”. One author is an artist and the other an Oxford professor of nanomaterials. Starting with ancient cave art and running through ancient Greek philosophy, medieval Christian thinkers, Islamic scholars, ancient Chinese thinking, the friction between Church dogma and scientific discoveries right up to the latest conundrums thrown up by scientific research, it explores the idea of “how science swims in the slipstream of ultimate questions.” It is a tale of wisdom told with the art of expert storytellers. It is profound and well annotated yet good bedtime reading.
    I heard both of them speak at a Christians in Science conference last October. Perhaps possible speakers for a future GTN event.

  4. /May 23, 2018/ by Russel Moffat /

    Hi Alan

    Thanks for your response. What a great meme - “A good argument is never wasted!” That should be the motto of Grasping the Nettle. Thank you for that wee gem which is a great word of wisdom and encouragement to us all. I’m so glad you mentioned “The Penultimate Curiosity” as I’ve had it down on my list of “to buy” for a long time now. Oh there are too many good books and not enough money or time to read them all! Your comments show this should be a worthy addition to our libraries and your recommendation of Wagner and Briggs as future speakers I’m sure will be noted by the powers that be…whoever they are lol!

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