Episode 182 - Is Religious Truth Just a Matter of Opinion?

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Do you think Christianity, and let's just say religious truth in general, is a matter of opinion, or is it about objective truth? Is it just a matter of personal opinion, or is it about reality, objective truth? Now, on a podcast like this, that might sound like an odd question, but we've been going through this kind of informal series recently, looking at some of the findings of the Ligonier survey on theology of America and evangelicals in general. And you know what? 62% of people who were surveyed agreed that religious belief is a matter of personal opinion, it's not about objective truth. And in fact, 32% of evangelicals agreed. That's basically a third of the people who were classified as evangelicals, thought that religious belief is a matter of personal opinion.

That honestly just makes me sad. Because a personal opinion about something doesn't change anything. A personal opinion can be wrong or right and doesn't change reality. Why would I risk my life? Why would I devote my life to something that's just simply an opinion? No, the Bible presents a very different picture. Before we get there, I want to talk about what is objective truth, just so we're clear on that term. It may be that the people who were surveyed didn't quite understand the question. I think that may have been the case in some other questions where it's hard to even survey people on theology if they aren't even versed in some of the terms that are theological terms. So let's talk about objective truth. What is an objective truth, and what's the other kind of truth? If we wanna kind of say it that way.

Well an objective truth is a truth that is true whether anyone thinks about it or not. So it's kind of an answer to the question, "If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, did it make a sound?" The answer is yes. The tree falls, and by falling, makes a sound whether anyone hears it or not. You don't have to hear a sound for something to make a sound. So something is true regardless of what I think about it. You see, my opinion, my thoughts, don't actually change what is actually true and false.

The other kind of truth would be a subjective truth, or we can maybe say it as personal opinion. And that really does depend on what I think. Something is subjectively true for me if I think it's true. And if I think it's false, it's false. You can use a baseball analogy to make this clear. There are two different ways that an umpire can describe how he or she is going to look at balls and strikes as they come across the plate. The ump can first say, "They're nothing until I call them. The balls that come across the plate, they're nothing until I call them." In other words, the only way to know if it's a ball or a strike is based on his thoughts, his opinions, his call. Or he could say, "I call them as I see them." In other words, there is this thing that is a ball or a strike. It's out there in the world; everyone can see it. It meets some objective criteria, and I simply reflect reality with my words. And that's an objective truth kind of thing. The view that they're nothing until I call them, that's a subjective view. It really depends on what I believe and what I think in order for something to be true.

And so what people are saying is, at least 32% of evangelicals and about 60% of just people surveyed in general, that religious truth, it really does only depend on what we think. It's only a matter of personal opinion. And so somewhat ironically, we have to ask: is that true? Is religious belief just a matter of personal opinion?

I want to go to 1 Corinthians 15. Go to Scripture as we've answered this question and this sort of challenge and some of the other ones of previous weeks, because it really does matter what the Bible has to say. The Bible does not present opinion; it speaks from God. It is the word of God. So if we are to base our beliefs on something and want them to be true, they need to be based on Scripture. And so in 1 Corinthians 15, starting in verse 3, it says, "For I passed on to you of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures and that he was buried and that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas and then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than 500 of the brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep." So some people are dead, some people are still alive. "Then he appeared to James, then to all of the apostles, and last of all, as though to one born at the wrong time, he appeared to me also."

Does it strike you that the type of circumstance Paul is describing is the type of circumstance where it matters what one's personal opinion is? No. I'm not even saying Paul is right or wrong here. Obviously I think he's right. I'm simply saying he's making a historical claim, an objective claim. He is pointing them to events that happened, that Jesus died. Can you have an opinion that's meaningful about someone dying or not? No. The person's either dead or they're not. It's an objective truth kind of claim. And your opinion doesn't actually change it. So if you have the opinion that someone didn't die and they're actually dead, you're wrong. It's not something where we can have valid disagreement. If someone's dead and you think they're not, you're just wrong. So Paul is making the sorts of claims that are true or false in an objective sense, not in a personal opinion sense. They're historical claims.

And he goes on to say. He's very clear on the fact that these are objective truth claims that have right and wrong answers, because in verse 17 he says, "And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless. You're still in your sins." He doesn't say, "Well, it could be true for you. If it's not true for you that Christ has been raised, well then that's a bad thing. Live your truth. Have your opinion. Just believe harder." He doesn't say any of that. He says, "If the objective fact of Christ, having been raised, did not occur, then your faith is useless. And worse than that, you're still in your sins. Jesus failed." It's not a personal opinion sort of claim. It's objectively true for everyone. Some people cannot say, "Well, it's not true for me that Jesus didn't rise." No, he either bodily rose or he didn't. In the same way that Donald Trump is either president of the United States or he's not.

Now some people have tried to say, "Well, Trump's not my president." But he is. If you live in America, he's your president. You might not want to recognize that, but that doesn't change the fact that objectively, Donald Trump is and has been, for the last two or so years, the president of the United States. Not liking it doesn't make it not true. It doesn't simply relegate it to the realm of personal opinion. It's objectively true. It's the sort of claim, also, that's objectively true, because history is not a matter of personal opinion. And in the Bible in general, and here specifically in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul is making historical claims. History is not something that's about opinion; it's about fact. Now, we may have opinions about it, like, that was bad that so-and-so attacked that other country. But even that isn't so much an opinion, because moral claims aren't opinions. It's either objectively wrong that so-and-so attacked another country or it's not. I can have thoughts on that, but once again, we're talking about objective truth claims. And if they're wrong, the stakes are so high that religion is useless. He doesn't just say "Live your truth." He doesn't say, "Well maybe it gives you some psychological benefit." No. You're a fool and you're wasting your time. But what it cannot be is simply a matter of personal opinion. It's either true or it's false.

Scripture also is not a matter of opinion. Paul here in 1 Corinthians 15 is not only making historical claims. Sometimes it is said that way. But what's he say, starting in verse three? "I've passed on to you as a first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." That’s what happened, these historical events, are fulfillments of what God said would happen objectively, not a matter of personal opinion, in the Old Testament. And so Scripture describes reality. It's not a matter of opinion; it gives us the accurate interpretation of reality. It tells us how God sees the world. It tells us what's true. It confronts our own desires and thoughts and opinions and deceitful hearts and tells us what's actually true, not a matter of opinion, but truth.

There's a really helpful way, I think, to understand this. An example. And Greg Koukl, who's been an apologist for about 25 or 30 years, likes to explain the difference in kind of personal opinion or subjective truth and objective truth like this. One is like ice cream and the other is like insulin. When you ask someone, "What's the best flavor of ice cream?" They might give you an answer and they might say something like, "Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia," or something like that. And someone else might say chocolate and someone might say raspberry, and whatever. But what they're actually telling you is not about the ice cream; they're telling you about them. They're telling you about their preference, their thoughts. It sounds like they're talking about the ice cream, but they're actually talking about themselves. It's a subjective type of truth claim. Because ice creams are not the type of things that have bests and worsts, in spite of the fact that there are some people I would judge for eating certain types of ice cream. But that's a separate topic. So you can have differences of opinion about ice cream. In fact, it's only opinion. There's no true and false best form of ice cream or something like that.

But what about insulin? Insulin is a hormone your body makes to help regulate your blood sugar. And if your body doesn't make enough or respond to it well enough, you actually have a condition called diabetes, and it can be very life-threatening. It can lead to other health complications. It's actually kind of a health crisis right now in the Western world due to how maybe poor our diets are and some other factors. But anyways, this is not a podcast about health. If your doctor tells you you need insulin, you either need insulin or you don't. Your opinion or his opinion does not matter. What matters is objectively, does your body need more insulin than it can produce or respond to? You see, there's a true or a falsity about insulin and your need for it that doesn't exist with ice cream. If there are 100 people in the room and you give them 100 different answers for the best flavor of ice cream, no one's more right than another. It is a personal opinion sort of thing. But if someone tells you you have cancer or you need insulin, they're either right or wrong. It's an objective type of claim. It's a claim about reality. It's not a claim about feelings or preferences or thoughts.

And religion is that insulin sort of claim. It's a claim about reality, our need for a Savior, what Jesus objectively did in history as a fulfillment of objective Scripture to objectively, in reality, reconcile man to God. And if that's not true, it's not simply that we had the wrong opinion. No, it's that Christ has not been raised, our faith is useless, we are fools, and should be pitied. But it cannot simply be true for one person and not for another. It's not about opinion.

And in wrapping this up, let's look at what John says in response to Thomas asking him a question in John 14:5. Thomas says, "Lord, we don't know where you are going. How can we know the way?" And Jesus replies, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you have known me, you will know my Father too." That's not a personal opinion sort of thing. This is the same Jesus that Paul describes as dying and rising objectively in history. And so if you want to come to the Father, which is kind of a shorthand for having salvation, being reconciled to our Creator, if you want that, it is only through Jesus. That's what he says. He is the only way, the truth, and the life. No one comes through someone else, through some other way, through some other religion, through some other sacrificial system. No, the only way to come to the Father is through Jesus. He is what he says here, the truth, not the opinion. Not that it can be different for different people. No, Jesus is giving kind of an absolute sort of statement. He is laying down the law and saying, "This is how it is, and this is how it is for everyone." You can't come another way. It must be through him. On his terms.

And that's important for us today. If a third of people who are classified as evangelicals are not clear on these concepts and they're simply presenting their faith, their religion, as a matter of personal opinion, why would anyone change their mind? Everyone has opinions. Some opinions are better than other opinions. But everyone does not have their own facts. Everyone does not have their own truth. And if we're going to call people to repent and point them to a perfect Savior, it needs to be based on truth. We cannot present it as some sort of flimsy, personal opinion sort of thing. Well, you know, you might change your mind and hold a different opinion. No, it's based in fact. And when we talk in personal opinion language, it doesn't seem like we're convinced. It doesn't seem like we're convictional. It seems like we're apologetic, and not in the kind of theological sense. But the reason this podcast is called Unapologetic is Christians should not apologize. They should not present weak claims or positions for what they believe, because we stand on the infallible Word of God. We stand on the certainty of what happened in history. It is an objective fact that Jesus died and was raised for sinners according to the Scriptures. It's not simply about personal opinion.

We should not present it like such. I think sometimes we fall into this tendency of maybe wanting to not face as much rejection, not wanting to sound as intolerant, so we might say, you know, "I think Jesus is a Savior, but you might not." That type of model is nowhere in the Bible. We present and we speak on behalf of God that sinful man should be reconciled to their Creator. And we do that with conviction. We stand on the truth of God and we care about what he has to say, how he views us, not how others are going to hear that message. Now, we do care in the manner in which we share the message. We should not aim to be offensive. That's not what I'm saying. But the message is all too often offensive because it confronts sinful man in this autonomy and his sense of self and self-direction. And we need to be confident in that. If we're going to try and tell someone that how they're living their life, how they see reality, is wrong, and that's what sharing the gospel is, we must be confident. We must not present it as simply a matter of personal opinion.