November 7, 2007

"We Have the Truth"

2007 1531 page29 cape have the truth!” It’s one of Adventism’s most popular mottoes. You can overhear it in conversations among members, in some of our literature, and in our classrooms. It is a source of pride for those of us who appreciate Adventism’s distinctive message, and a quick and easy way to affirm our church. It is also, as typically used, distinctly dangerous.
I am currently enduring a three-week intensive about missions to a postmodern society. The reading is copious, and the lectures will rob me of every Friday, Sunday, and Monday for the next three weeks. In reading about issues of relativism and truth this little denominational saying came up.
As I thought about the essence of my faith, I realized that when many of us say we have the truth, we are no better than any other religion. Not because there’s no such thing as absolute truth, but because of what we mean when we say it.
If you were to ask someone to unpack what it means to use this phrase you might hear something about the Sabbath, the heavenly sanctuary, the health message, or the Second Coming—all important doctrines. But knowledge, doctrines, or lifestyle practices are not what it means to have the truth.
2007 1531 page29For example, the ancient (and now in vogue) heresy of Gnosticism believed that a believer needed to have “special knowledge” or a “secret revelation” to be set free from this evil world.1 Have you met Adventists who subconsciously think that because they are blessed with understanding God’s end-time message they are somehow guaranteed a spot in heaven? That the Sabbath or our understanding of the state of the dead is an entry ticket to get into the club? But we are not saved by knowledge, as blessed as we are to have it.
Then there is Buddhism. The fundamental goal of this religion is to eliminate desire—viewed as the source of all evil.2 In order to eliminate the negative trait of desire, one must follow what is called the Eightfold Path, which involves spiritual disciplines such as having “right concentration” and “right effort.” When desire is eliminated one achieves nirvana, or enlightenment. Again, I’ve met some Adventists who think that if they eat right, drink right, think right, and believe right they will achieve their spiritual goals.
And what about Islam? Islam’s path to salvation revolves around a person’s good deeds outweighing the bad ones.3 In Islam Jesus is not the Son of God, but a prophet who is a good example. With our many spiritual insights, a rich heritage, and a goal of Christian perfection, it’s easy to reduce Jesus to merely an example, and minimize Him as our Savior.
Are we no different than anyone else? Can we know what truth is? Yes, of course. But the question is not “What is truth?” but rather “Who is truth?”
In his book Jesus Among Other Gods, Ravi Zacharias makes a profound point while comparing religions: “Jesus did not only teach or expound His message. He was identical with His message.”4 When we say we have the truth, the only biblical definition is the one given by Jesus when He said, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). Everything we believe, including our distinctive doctrines, is all found in Christ. If it isn’t, it should be thrown out.
All the whats in Adventism must flow from the Who our faith is in. And while many say we have the “truth as it is in Jesus,” I daresay that for many, adding “in Jesus” is an afterthought. We need to rethink what having the truth means when we are asked, or we make it as a statement by which to judge others.
Christianity’s truth is Jesus Christ. A full understanding of the life of Christ involves distinctive doctrines. But we have to be careful that we never minimize the Who for the whats of our faith.
1Darrell L. Bock, The Missing Gospels (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006).
2Dean C. Halverson, ed., The Compact Guide to World Religions (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1996).
4Ravi Zacharias, Jesus Among Other Gods (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000).
Seth Pierce studies at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University. His book, What We Believe: Fundamental Beliefs for Teens, is available from Pacific Press.