Joel Belz, the publisher of WORLD magazine, wrote in the July 12-19 issue (page 5) that there is “a perverse assumption now…dominant among evangelicals that feelings, attitudes and relationships are all more important than truth. Unity is a higher priority than orthodoxy. Division, even for truth’s sake, becomes the most offensive of heresies.” I believe this is true.
Perhaps the word “perverse” needs qualifying. I don’t take Belz to mean that all who prize unity have perverse motives. Nor do I take him to mean that it is always perverse to have unintentional blind spots that keep you from seeing a truth-issue behind a relationship-issue. What is perverse is intentionally obscuring a truth claim by deflecting attention onto an attitude or style or perceived feeling or motive. This is what seems unusually common today.
For example, you might say, “Nudity as a part of entertainment is contrary to God’s will for modesty because it fails to treat the body as a sacred trust for God’s glory.” That’s a truth claim. It calls for people to reckon with an objective reality called “God’s will.” It asks people to think about this claim and form a judgment about its truth. It also carries implications about what kind of entertainment one will approve and how one will spend one’s time.
On the level of truth one might respond by saying, “I agree.” Or one might say, “I don’t agree because I don’t think there is a God, and so I don’t think you can legitimately talk about his will.” Or one might say, “I think God delights in the body he made and does not disapprove of nudity in entertainment.” All those are responses on the level of the truth-claim being made. Reasons can be given on both sides, and the dialogue can go on. Perhaps some persuasion and change of mind might happen.
But that is not the way it usually goes today. More common is a verbal strategy which deflects attention away from the truth claim onto an attitude which shrewdly nullifies the truth for unthinking listeners. For example, a response may be, “Too bad you can’t handle your own libido, and have to project your hang-ups onto others.” Or: “Long live Victorian prudery!” Or: “With 80,000 refugees unaccounted for in Zaire it is petty to concern ourselves with moral issues on the scale of skirt lengths.” Or: “Bible thumping, proof-texting right-wing moralizers do not understand the nature of art and will never make significant contributions to culture.” Or: “One senses a repressed youth and a puritan mother behind the priggish anxieties over the human body.” Or: "It is the height of arrogance to cloak one’s private mores in the garment of divine absolutes.”
All of these responses ignore the issue of truth. They are evasive. They are the way clever people win by tarring a person with labels. This is what Joel Belz calls “perverse.” I think he is right.
My prayer for our church is that we put truth and love (orthodoxy and unity, facts and feelings, reality and relationships) in biblical order. For example, Paul said in 1 Timothy 1:5, “the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” Notice the order: “instruction” is the foundation and leads to “love” through purity and faith. Or again consider the order in 1 Peter 1:22, “You have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren.” Again, truth precedes and transforms the soul for the sake of love. Even in the spectacular revelation of 1 John 4:8 that “God is love,” “God is” provides the foundation for “God is love.”
For the sake of love, let’s cherish the truth. Then it may be said of us, “The church of the living God [is] the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).