If you had to pick one word to sum up 2016, what would it be? Each year, Oxford Dictionaries chooses a word or expression to “reflect the passing year in language.” For 2015 they made a lighthearted and rather surprising choice: .1 This year the selection was much more serious. For the Word of the Year 2016, they chose post-truth.2
Truth—Meh, It’s Irrelevant
Oxford Dictionaries defines the adjective post-truth as
Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.3
In this case, the prefix post- doesn’t mean after as it does in post-war. Rather, Oxford notes that it “has a meaning more like ‘belonging to a time in which the specified concept has become unimportant or irrelevant’.” So in a post-truth world, truth is irrelevant.
In the past year this word, coined in the 1990’s, saw a 2000 percent increase in usage. Particularly it’s used in the phrase “post-truth politics” in reference to Brexit and the US election. Casper Grathwohl, President of Oxford Dictionaries, says
It’s not surprising that our choice reflects a year dominated by highly-charged political and social discourse. . . . Fuelled by the rise of social media as a news source and a growing distrust of facts offered up by the establishment, post-truth as a concept has been finding its linguistic footing for some time.
He adds, “I wouldn’t be surprised if post-truth becomes one of the defining words of our time.”
My Beliefs, My Opinions, My Truth
What exactly is a post-truth culture? It’s a culture where truth is no longer an objective reality. It has become subjective. It’s what’s true for me—my beliefs, my opinions, determine my truth. Dr. Al Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, sums it up as the mindset that
All truth is relative, all truth claims are relativized, and all statements of what might be called traditional or conservative moral judgment are just very well disguised efforts at oppression.4
He provides an example of how this works. When a Bible-believing Christian says, “Homosexuality is wrong,” our post-truth culture hears, “I don’t like gays.” Since objective truth doesn’t exist in their minds, “Homosexuality is wrong” isn’t an objective truth claim. It’s personal belief, opinion, or truth—and an intolerant, oppressive one in their view—that’s based on emotion. So it translates in their minds to “I hate gays.”
What Happens When Man Determines Truth?
So in our post-truth culture, man determines truth. Man makes himself the ultimate authority. This starting point, which rejects God’s Word and the idea of moral absolutes, makes truth subjective. Does this work?
Let’s think about this. If my truth is different from your truth, then you can’t tell me what to do any more than I can tell you what to do. If I believe homosexuality is wrong, who are you to tell me it isn’t? I have my opinion, and you have yours. For that matter, if stealing your wallet is right for me, you can’t tell me it’s wrong. Because, in this view, it’s not wrong; it’s just not right for you. Such a concept of moral truth simply cannot work in any society. Someone ends up deciding truth, and usually it’s those with the most power or money. As the adage goes in such a situation, “Might makes right.”
Christians and Objective Truth
The Christian’s worldview should be completely opposed to this post-truth mindset. Christianity is grounded in objective truth. “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).
Objective truth exists because we have God’s Word. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Thy word is truth” (John 17:17), and Paul and James describe the Bible as “the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15; James 1:18). The Psalmist says, “The entirety of your word is truth” (Psalm 119:160). Jesus Himself said, “For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice” (John 18:37).
When Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except by me” (John 14:6), He wasn’t expressing His personal belief or opinion. He was speaking the truth, a fundamental reality that doesn’t change from person to person. It doesn’t matter if our culture thinks all roads lead to God. The truth of the matter is “no one comes to the Father but by [Jesus].”
It doesn’t matter if our culture has embraced homosexuality. The truth is that God created marriage to be between a man and a woman (Genesis 2:22, 24) and homosexual behavior is sinful (1 Corinthians 6:9). We don’t believe that homosexuality is wrong because we don’t like people who exhibit homosexual behavior. Homosexuality is wrong whether or not anyone says it is because it’s an objective truth from God’s Word.
As Christians, our starting point is God’s Word, not man’s opinion. We have an unchanging foundation on which to ground our truth claims. We can say things are objectively right and wrong because the Word of the Creator of the universe says so. In this view, man isn’t the authority—God is.
Should Emotions Be Our Guide?
Being guided by our emotions is foolish. The Bible tells us,
The heart is deceitful above all things,
And desperately wicked;
Who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9)
In biblical terminology the heart is the seat of the emotions. We should not trust something that is deceitful and wicked. Instead, we need to be guided by and live in the truth:
Let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:18)
God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. (John 4:24)
For I rejoiced greatly when brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you, just as you walk in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth. (3 John 3–4)
Because of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever. (2 John 2)
The church should be so characterized by truth that we are actually called “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). Rather than letting emotions determine what we believe, we need to embrace and live out the truth.
Renew Your Mind in Truth
As always, a biblical worldview stands in sharp contrast to our culture’s thinking. Don’t get caught in post-truth thinking. Daily renew your mind by immersing yourself in truth through reading, memorizing, and meditating on God’s Word.
Lead me in Your truth and teach me,
For You are the God of my salvation;
On You I wait all the day. (Psalm 25:5)