Greg Koukl’s lecture at the 2006 Master’s Series in Christian Thought was on the topic “Truth is a Strange Sort of Fiction: The Challenge from the Emergent Church.” It was a masterful presentation! He argued that truth and knowledge are essential to the enterprise of Biblical faith, and demonstrated this both Biblically and philosophically. What made it so profound was that He provided the philosophic underpinnings for what all of us know intuitively, explaining why it is that we know what we know. I would recommend you buy the 2+ hour lecture from www.str.org, but I would like to summarize some of the lecture for you here.
Koukl began by arguing that knowledge of the truth is fundamental to our daily survival. If we were not able to know the truth about the world with a high degree of accuracy we would not be able to survive more than a few hours.
Truth is a life or death matter, and people die for the truth all the time. People die for the truth of cancer when they don’t take their doctor’s advice seriously. They die for the truth of drunk driving when they underestimate the power of alcohol to impair their driving abilities. They die for the truth of inertia and mass when they cross the street without looking both ways before crossing. In all these instances people actually die, not for the truth, but because they don’t have the truth. They die because they have false beliefs about important things. Not only must we know the truth, but we must act on that truth if we hope to survive.
While knowledge of the truth is necessary for survival, what does it mean to say we know something? At the very least it means you believe it is so; i.e. it accurately describes reality. That’s why it makes no sense to say “I believe X, but I’m not saying it’s true” as do so many postmodern thinkers. To say you believe something is to say you think you are right in your belief. If that is not what is meant the statement becomes entirely vacuous and meaningless.
Could our beliefs be mistaken? Yes. That’s why it takes more than merely believing something for it to be true. But at the very least to say you believe something is to say you think it is true, even if your belief turns out to be false.
Why should we believe anything (to be true)? For good reasons (justification). Justification comes in degrees. When the level of justification rises to the level of “beyond reasonable doubt” we can rightly claim to know something even though our level of justification does not reach certainty.
What is truth? Truth is when your statement corresponds to the way the world really is. It is a relationship between something in the mind of a knowing subject and the objective world. What makes the belief true is the objective world. Reality, then, is the truth maker. Something is not true simply because we believe it to be true.
The Relationship of Knowledge to Faith
Knowledge is critical to the faith project because faith is active trust in what we know to be true. If we do not know what is true (what corresponds to the way the world really is), or cannot know what is true (according to postmodernism), we cannot exercise faith in it. Since knowledge is the basis for our active trust, if we cannot have knowledge we cannot have Biblical faith.
Does knowledge save by itself? No. You can know medicine X will heal you, but if you stop there you will die. An extra step is needed: active trust in that knowledge.
Does faith save by itself? No. Muslims have active trust, but their faith is in the wrong object. Trust can be misplaced. Salvation obtains only when active trust is combined with accurate knowledge. If there is no truth/knowledge (or if we cannot know what the truth is) there can be no saving faith, and if there is no saving faith there can be no Christianity! That is why postmodernism (including the Emergent Church which has adopted postmodern epistemology) and Christianity are philosophically incompatible.