Is There Truth Outside of Christianity?

Jamie Kiley is wrestling with a worthwhile question, namely, “What does Paul mean when he says that ‘everything belongs to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God’?” Her question was prompted by the book Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell (someone who I do not respect at all as an expositor of the Word of God.)

Bell uses this verse as part of his justification for the following statement:

As a Christian, I am free to claim the good, the true, the holy, wherever and whenever I find it. I live with the understanding that truth is bigger than any religion and the world is God’s and everything in it.

This quote is troubling to me, in part because I wonder where Bell is going with it, and in part because I wonder what he uses to determine what is truth. I honestly don’t know the answers to those questions though, as I don’t have the book.

I can tell you what I fear. I fear that because Christianity can be perceived as an incredibly simple thing, because it can be seen as the Bible taught in Sunday school with flannel graph and cookies, or as the Bible taught in the most shallow of churches, or as the “we wear culottes and dresses made of homeliness and our children are taught that 1 + 2 = the Trinity” brand of religion that the world likes to portray and unfortunately does exist; I fear that because it can be perceived this way by the world, Bell is going ahead and taking this as the definition for Christianity and then saying, “There is truth out there outside these walls, there are Buddhists who are wiser than some of these simple Christians. Perhaps we can sit with them, and glean what they know. Perhaps through their perspective we can come to better know our Lord.”

If that is what’s being said, I’d recommend to Jamie that she put the book down and not return to it. It seems to me that regardless of his intentions, and in the end it is his intentions that worry me, Bell is playing games with words.

Christianity is not a man made thing, it is defined by the one whose name it bears, and as a result, there is no truth outside its walls. There are to be sure, people who do not know Jesus Christ, who possess some of his truth, who have come to know some of the Words of God. And if God brings such a one into your life, and if you see some thing you have never seen before and you take it to the revealed Word of God and see that it is true, then thank God humbly for His revelation. But don’t believe that you have traveled outside the walls of Christianity to learn it. Or that you must seek other non-believers to know God better.

We must remember that it is the exception and not the rule for an unbeliever to know the truth of God. Consider what Christ says to them:

I know that ye are Abraham’s seed; but ye seek to kill me, because my word hath no place in you. I speak that which I have seen with my Father: and ye do that which ye have seen with your father. They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham. But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham. Ye do the deeds of your father. Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God. Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me. Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word. Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not.
(John 8:37-45)

It is shocking when those whose father is the devil, speak the truth. We should not be surprised that they are deceived, nor that they seek to deceive us as well, for they know not God.

As I said, I don’t know where Bell is going with his arguments. I’ve certainly run into plenty of authors and speakers who make similar cases for the flexibility of truth. If I’ve judged wrong, maybe someone can set me straight.

8 thoughts on “Is There Truth Outside of Christianity?”

  1. Thanks for the feedback. I like someone who will challenge me—and take me to task, if necessary!

    As I admitted in my original post, I’m a little hesitant about taking Bell’s ideas and running with them. In one sense, I think he’s very right, but it’s important to maintain moderation with his notions, or you can get really carried away. So on one hand, I share your caution.

    On the other hand, I see a couple problematic issues in your criticisms of Bell.

    First, if you reject the proposition that there is truth outside of Christianity, presumably you have to define exactly what “Christianity” is so you know exactly whom you can trust for truth.

    Case in point: Can I expect that people who are Christians but do not belong to my denomination have truth? If so, why? I believe they are wrong on certain fundamentals, so shouldn’t I avoid them as sources of truth? How far do you go in carving out who you are permitted to listen to, and who you aren’t permitted to listen to?

    Secondly, you say: Christianity is not a man made thing, it is defined by the one whose name it bears, and as a result, there is no truth outside its walls.

    I am not sure whether it is accurate to think that Christianity has “walls,” as if part of the world is “within the walls” and part of the world is not. That seems to me to be precisely the point Bell is challenging. The text that immediately comes to my mind is Psalms 24:1: “The earth is the LORD’S, and the fulness thereof.” It’s all God’s. So is it actually appropriate to speak of walls?

    (Incidentally, it is perhaps worth nothing that Paul quotes this verse twice in 1 Cor. 10:26 and 28 in discussing whether or not it’s appropriate to eat food sacrificed to idols. In context, the people to whom he is writing are worried about protecting the legalistic “walls” they have set up, and Paul uses this text to tell them to loosen up.)

    Finally, perhaps I ought to try to clarify Bell’s posture more precisely. He is very open-minded, to be sure, but I wouldn’t judge him to be relativistic, per se. If I read him correctly, his point goes something like this: Stop worrying about prejudging whoever it is you’re talking to. Just listen. Then test them by their fruits. If what they say is true, embrace it—regardless of wherever it comes from. If not, then reject it. But don’t spend your time prejudging people, or you might very well err and reject someone from whom you had something to learn.

    Is Bell not right?

  2. Thanks for the feedback. I like someone who will challenge me—and take me to task, if necessary!

    As I admitted in my original post, I’m a little hesitant about taking Bell’s ideas and running with them. In one sense, I think he’s very right, but it’s important to maintain moderation with his notions, or you can get really carried away. So on one hand, I share your caution.

    On the other hand, I see a couple problematic issues in your criticisms of Bell.

    First, if you reject the proposition that there is truth outside of Christianity, presumably you have to define exactly what “Christianity” is so you know exactly whom you can trust for truth.

    Case in point: Can I expect that people who are Christians but do not belong to my denomination have truth? If so, why? I believe they are wrong on certain fundamentals, so shouldn’t I avoid them as sources of truth? How far do you go in carving out who you are permitted to listen to, and who you aren’t permitted to listen to?

    Secondly, you say: Christianity is not a man made thing, it is defined by the one whose name it bears, and as a result, there is no truth outside its walls.

    I am not sure whether it is accurate to think that Christianity has “walls,” as if part of the world is “within the walls” and part of the world is not. That seems to me to be precisely the point Bell is challenging. The text that immediately comes to my mind is Psalms 24:1: “The earth is the LORD’S, and the fulness thereof.” It’s all God’s. So is it actually appropriate to speak of walls?

    (Incidentally, it is perhaps worth nothing that Paul quotes this verse twice in 1 Cor. 10:26 and 28 in discussing whether or not it’s appropriate to eat food sacrificed to idols. In context, the people to whom he is writing are worried about protecting the legalistic “walls” they have set up, and Paul uses this text to tell them to loosen up.)

    Finally, perhaps I ought to try to clarify Bell’s posture more precisely. He is very open-minded, to be sure, but I wouldn’t judge him to be relativistic, per se. If I read him correctly, his point goes something like this: Stop worrying about prejudging whoever it is you’re talking to. Just listen. Then test them by their fruits. If what they say is true, embrace it—regardless of wherever it comes from. If not, then reject it. But don’t spend your time prejudging people, or you might very well err and reject someone from whom you had something to learn.

    Is Bell not right?

  3. Jamie,
    Thanks much for the thorough response. I think we agree that a lot this argument has to do with the definition of words.

    Starting at the end, regarding your summary of Bell’s position, the only difference I would have with it is this (and you probably mean the same thing by it) is that when we judge things by their fruits, we bring them back to the Word of God.

    Regarding Christianity having walls, I think it would be hard to say that the world can not be divided into that which is Christian and that which is not Christian. Even though Christianity is defined by Christ, it does not mean that it encompasses all things, but rather that which He has chosen (i.e. Christianity is not the same as Christ, but is defined by Him)

    Case in point: Can I expect that people who are Christians but do not belong to my denomination have truth? If so, why? I believe they are wrong on certain fundamentals, so shouldn’t I avoid them as sources of truth? How far do you go in carving out who you are permitted to listen to, and who you aren’t permitted to listen to?

    Again, I think we are dealing with the definitions of words here. If you believe that these people are Christians, then that is why you believe that they have truth. If they don’t have any truth, they can’t be Christians.

    So, back to your last statement, “Is Bell not right?” As I’ve said, I’m fine with your definition of how we deal with people and how we verify truth. I still think Bell is fairly relative in how he goes about finding truth, but that’s ok.

    Again, thanks for the response,
    Charles

  4. Jamie,
    Thanks much for the thorough response. I think we agree that a lot this argument has to do with the definition of words.

    Starting at the end, regarding your summary of Bell’s position, the only difference I would have with it is this (and you probably mean the same thing by it) is that when we judge things by their fruits, we bring them back to the Word of God.

    Regarding Christianity having walls, I think it would be hard to say that the world can not be divided into that which is Christian and that which is not Christian. Even though Christianity is defined by Christ, it does not mean that it encompasses all things, but rather that which He has chosen (i.e. Christianity is not the same as Christ, but is defined by Him)

    Case in point: Can I expect that people who are Christians but do not belong to my denomination have truth? If so, why? I believe they are wrong on certain fundamentals, so shouldn’t I avoid them as sources of truth? How far do you go in carving out who you are permitted to listen to, and who you aren’t permitted to listen to?

    Again, I think we are dealing with the definitions of words here. If you believe that these people are Christians, then that is why you believe that they have truth. If they don’t have any truth, they can’t be Christians.

    So, back to your last statement, “Is Bell not right?” As I’ve said, I’m fine with your definition of how we deal with people and how we verify truth. I still think Bell is fairly relative in how he goes about finding truth, but that’s ok.

    Again, thanks for the response,
    Charles

  5. Good thoughts. You’re right, a lot of this discussion hangs on the definitions of certain words. I wouldn’t want to squabble with you over semantics, so let me just say this: your points are well taken. 🙂

  6. Good thoughts. You’re right, a lot of this discussion hangs on the definitions of certain words. I wouldn’t want to squabble with you over semantics, so let me just say this: your points are well taken. 🙂

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