Truth is not a subjective inclination of an individual’s heart. Truth is that which is real, no matter what our personal preferences may be. In this brief clip, R.C. Sproul interacts with John Locke’s discussion on the nature of truth.
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One of the most important things that John Locke gave to us was a theory of truth. He’s not the only person to hold this theory, but his name is often linked with it, which is called the Correspondence Theory of Truth. And in simple terms, the theory says this: Truth is that which corresponds to reality. It’s a very simply idea. In our day and age, it’s an idea that is under attack every moment, because this concept of truth says truth is that which is real. Truth is therefore objective. What is really out there is not dependent upon how I feel about it or even how I perceive it, because I am not the author of truth; I am not the one who creates reality. I encounter reality. I meet reality, and I have to respond to things that are really out there apart from me. And the pursuit of science and the pursuit of truth is the pursuit of discovering the “real,” rather than the imaginary or the fictional. Today we hear people embracing relativism and subjectivism, saying truth is whatever I think it is or whatever want it to be. Locke would have no time for that kind of thinking. That would make real science impossible because the world would then be “according to Garp.” That is, it would be one thing for you, another thing for you, and a third thing for you—whatever you want it to be. I’ve told the story before about the woman I was discussing the existence of God with, and she said to me, “Do you believe in God?” I said, “Yes.” She said, “Do you find that meaningful?” “Yes.” “Do you pray and sing hymns?” “Yes.” She said, “If you find all that stuff satisfying and meaningful”—she sounds like a modern day Pascal—she says, “then for you, God exists. But for me, I don’t find any meaning in worship, or in singing or in praying. That stuff leaves me cold. I’m not interested in it. I don’t feel any psychological need for it. So, for me, there is no God.” I said, “I’m not talking to you about religion and its emotional impact on me or you. I’m talking about the question of the existence of a Being who exists apart from you and apart from me. If there is no such Being in reality, all of my praying, all of my singing, all of my emotional satisfactions surrounding it does not have the power to create such a Being. And likewise, if you’re indifferent or cold toward that Being and turned off by prayer and music and all the rest, your personal attitude toward this Being does not have the power to destroy Him. We have to, at some point, come to the question: Is there a God out there or not? Is there an objective reality that we call God?” Now see, Locke would understand what I'm saying here. He’s saying truth is not preference. Truth is not a subjective inclination in an individual’s heart, but truth is that which is real—real apart from me.
There is only one way to be saved from the coming judgment and be reconciled forever to God: Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. From one of our Ask Ligonier events, Derek Thomas beckons every listener to come freely to the all-sufficient Savior.
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Today, millions of people around the world are watching the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics. As the world’s greatest athletes compete and contend, Ligonier is taking this opportunity to raise critical questions: What is the most important goal you’re striving for in life? Is it truly worth pursuing?
Dr. R.C. Sproul wrote The Race of Faith to help readers address these questions directly. Download this free ebook today to probe into the most important race of our lives: the race of faith. Dr. Sproul uses the Apostles’ Creed as a framework to present a simple summary of the gospel of Jesus Christ and emphasizes the importance of one goal—focusing on what is true and eternal.
Competition will be on everyone’s mind during the Tokyo Games, and The Race of Faith is available in Japanese for the first time. This ebook is also available in English and nine other languages, including Arabic, Chinese (Simplified and Traditional), Farsi, French, Hindi, Indonesian, Korean, Portuguese, and Spanish. Combined, these languages are spoken by more than 4.8 billion people.
Download this free resource and start reading it today. We also encourage you to share it with friends and family around the world so they may encounter the good news of salvation and be called to focus on the race that matters most. Point them to Ligonier.org/TheRaceOfFaith on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
We live in a world filled with competing truth claims. Every day, we are bombarded with declarations that something is true and that something else is false. We are told what to believe and what not to believe. We are asked to behave one way but not another way. In her monthly column "What I Know for Sure," Oprah Winfrey tells us how to handle our lives and our relationships. The New York Times editorial page regularly tells us what approach we should take to the big moral, legal, or public-policy issues of our day. Richard Dawkins, the British atheist and evolutionist, tells us how to think of our historical origins and our place in this universe.
How do we sift through all these claims? How do people know what to think about relationships, morality, God, the origins of the universe, and many other important questions? To answer such questions, people need some sort of norm, standard, or criteria to which they can appeal. In other words, we need an ultimate authority. Of course, everyone has some sort of ultimate norm to which they appeal, whether or not they are aware of what their norm happens to be. Some people appeal to reason and logic to adjudicate competing truth claims. Others appeal to sense experience. Still others refer to themselves and their own subjective sense of things. Although there is some truth in each of these approaches, Christians have historically rejected all of them as the ultimate standard for knowledge. Instead, God's people have universally affirmed that there is only one thing that can legitimately function as the supreme standard: God's Word. There can be no higher authority than God Himself.
Of course, we are not the first generation of people to face the challenge of competing truth claims. In fact, Adam and Eve faced such a dilemma at the very beginning. God had clearly said to them "You shall surely die" if they were to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17). On the other hand, the Serpent said the opposite to them: "You will not surely die" (3:4). How should Adam and Eve have adjudicated these competing claims? By empiricism? By rationalism? By what seemed right to them? No, there was only one standard to which they should have appealed to make this decision: the word that God had spoken to them. Unfortunately, this is not what happened. Instead of looking to God’s revelation, Eve decided to investigate things further herself: "When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes … she took of its fruit and ate" (3:6). Make no mistake, the fall was not just a matter of Adam and Eve eating the fruit. At its core, the fall was about God’s people rejecting God’s Word as the ultimate standard for all of life.
But if God's Word is the ultimate standard for all of life, the next question is critical: Where do we go to get God’s Word? Where can it be found? This issue, of course, brings us to one of the core debates of the Protestant Reformation. While the Roman Catholic Church authorities agreed that God’s Word was the ultimate standard for all of life and doctrine, they believed this Word could be found in places outside of the Scriptures. Rome claimed a trifold authority structure, which included Scripture, tradition, and the Magisterium. The key component in this trifold authority was the Magisterium itself, which is the authoritative teaching office of the Roman Catholic Church, manifested primarily in the pope. Because the pope was considered the successor of the Apostle Peter, his official pronouncements (ex cathedra) were regarded as the very words of God Himself.
It was at this point that the Reformers stood their ground. While acknowledging that God had delivered His Word to His people in a variety of ways before Christ (Heb. 1:1), they argued that we should no longer expect ongoing revelation now that God has spoken finally in His Son (v. 2). Scripture is clear that the Apostolic office was designed to perform a onetime, redemptive-historical task: to lay the foundation of the church (Eph. 2:20). The foundation-laying activity of the Apostles primarily consisted of giving the church a deposit of authoritative teaching testifying to and applying the great redemptive work of Christ. Thus, the New Testament writings, which are the permanent embodiment of this Apostolic teaching, should be seen as the final installment of God’s revelation to His people. These writings, together with the Old Testament, are the only ones that are rightly considered the Word of God.
This conviction of sola Scriptura— the Scriptures alone are the Word of God and, therefore, the only infallible rule for life and doctrine—provided the fuel needed to ignite the Reformation. Indeed, it was regarded as the "formal cause" of the Reformation (whereas sola fide, or "faith alone," was regarded as the "material cause"). The sentiments of this doctrine are embodied in Martin Luther’s famous speech at the Diet of Worms (1521) after he was asked to recant his teachings:
Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience…. May God help me. Amen. For Luther, the Scriptures, and the Scriptures alone, were the final arbiter of what we should believe.
Of course, like many core Christian convictions, the doctrine of sola Scriptura has often been misunderstood and misapplied. Unfortunately, some have used sola Scriptura as a justification for a "me, God, and the Bible" type of individualism, where the church bears no real authority and the history of the church is not considered when interpreting and applying Scripture. Thus, many churches today are almost ahistorical—cut off entirely from the rich traditions, creeds, and confessions of the church. They misunderstand sola Scriptura to mean that the Bible is the only authority rather than understanding it to mean that the Bible is the only infallible authority. Ironically, such an individualistic approach actually undercuts the very doctrine of sola Scriptura it is intended to protect. By emphasizing the autonomy of the individual believer, one is left with only private, subjective conclusions about what Scripture means. It is not so much the authority of Scripture that is prized as the authority of the individual.
The Reformers would not have recognized such a distortion as their doctrine of sola Scriptura. On the contrary, they were quite keen to rely on the church fathers, church councils, and the creeds and confessions of the church. Such historical rootedness was viewed not only as a means for maintaining orthodoxy but also as a means for maintaining humility. Contrary to popular perceptions, the Reformers did not view themselves as coming up with something new. Rather, they understood themselves to be recovering something very old—something that the church had originally believed but later twisted and distorted. The Reformers were not innovators but were excavators.
There are other extremes against which the doctrine of sola Scriptura protects us. While we certainly want to avoid the individualistic and ahistorical posture of many churches today, sola Scriptura also protects us from overcorrecting and raising creeds and confessions or other human documents (or ideas) to the level of Scripture. We must always be on guard against making the same mistake as Rome and embracing what we might call "traditionalism," which attempts to bind the consciences of Christians in areas that the Bible does not. In this sense, sola Scriptura is a guardian of Christian liberty. But the biggest danger we face when it comes to sola Scriptura is not misunderstanding it. The biggest danger is forgetting it. We are prone to think of this doctrine purely in terms of sixteenth-century debates—just a vestige of the age-old Catholic-Protestant battles and irrelevant for the modern day. But the Protestant church in the modern day needs this doctrine now more than ever. The lessons of the Reformation have been largely forgotten, and the church, once again, has begun to rely on ultimate authorities outside of Scripture.
In order to lead the church back to sola Scriptura, we must realize that we cannot do so only by teaching about the doctrine itself (although we must do this). Instead, the primary way we lead the church back is by actually preaching the Scriptures. Only the Word of God has the power to transform and reform our churches. So, we should not only talk about sola Scriptura, but we should demonstrate it. And when we do, we must preach all of God's Word—not picking and choosing the parts we prefer or think our congregations want to hear. We must preach only the Word (sola Scriptura), and we must preach all the Word (tota Scriptura). The two go hand in hand. When they are joined together in the power of the Holy Spirit, we can have hope for a new reformation.
This post was originally published in Tabletalk magazine.
The winds of culture swirl around us. If we are swept in by current philosophies, we can be sure of two things—we will lack contentment, and the trends will change. There is a better way. Dear sisters, we may be labeled “out of touch,” but our Creator’s original plan is still very good. The more we embrace it, the more blessings we will reap.
Let’s examine the roles of wife and mother. We will glance at the big picture, but we will zero in on our own responsibilities. We won’t ask, “Is my husband doing his part?” but will ask, “How can I enrich our marriage by doing my part?”
The official blog of Ligonier Ministries, founded by theologian Dr. R.C. Sproul in 1971 to help Christians know what they believe, why the believe it, how to live it, and how to share it.