Truth Articles in JETS 2005 Reviewed

By Michael G. Maness


Truth was the topic for the 2004 annual conference of the Evangelical Theological Society, from which the 2005 Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (JETS) came out with three main articles on Truth by Andreas J. Köstenberger, R. Albert Mohler, and J. P. Moreland. Köstenberger contributed a hefty piece on hermeneutics. Mohler and Moreland gave some Christian philosophy.

Köstenberger. Andreas J. Köstenberger addressed the question “What is Truth?” that Pilate directed to Jesus in the Gospel of John.[1] In a short section to the biblical answer to “What is Truth?,” he included the notion that “truth is inextricably related to God, and to Jesus’ relationship with God” as far more than a mere correspondence with reality or with factual accuracy. So “truth, for John, while also being prepositional, is at the heart a personal, relational concept that has its roots and origin in none other than God himself.” Therefore, since “Jesus … is the truth, because he is sent from God and has come to reveal the Father and to carry out his salvation-historical purposes” then for “this reason the only way for us to know the truth is to know God through Jesus Christ.”[2] With that as the grounding, Köstenberger proceeded to contribute to the theology on Pilate’s meaning and Jesus being the Truth. In the end, Köstenberger mentioned the powerful tenor of former dissent and now Czech Republic President Václav Havel who indicated a “suffering for what a person knows to be true,” and then Köstenberger closed with,

There is no greater power than standing up for the truth, than simply speaking the truth, describing what one has seen, doing only what one believes he should do, living in keeping what one has seen, doing only what one believes he should do, living in keeping with one’s faith, hope, and love. Living in the truth has tremendous personal and political consequences, which, once unleashed, have the potential of causing the collapse of an entire system of lies….

The same power of truth is evident in the lives of Jesus and his followers…. The rule of truth established by Jesus … took root … and the message of the resurrection spread like wildfire….

Truth has a power of its own, a power that in the long run proves stronger than the usurped authority of institutional power.[3]

Jesus is the most true man, the Truth, and the example of perfect Love, whose competence in Love is our criterion.

The other two articles in the 2005 JETS took us on a different journey. In some respects, R. Albert Mohler and J. P. Moreland went against Köstenberger above, though not directly. We are not helped today when folks like them slam all of postmodernism into a big pile of—as Mohler and Moreland say respectively—confusion and cowardice.

Mohler. R. Albert Mohler introduced his article on Truth with a Ronald Regan biography and a Random House advertising technique, and Mohler slices Random House’s use as an example of contemporary confusion about Truth. Mohler proceeds to indicate a great age of confusion on truth, as he says, with vague ideas of postmodernism’s concepts of “social negotiation” and suspicions about “meta-narratives.” Mohler lays out a broad spectrum of theorists and seems to touch everything, as a jack of all trades, but the lumpiness of his finished product does not lead to as clear a connection to his conclusion as he would like: “Truth is revealed in Jesus Christ.” There is a simplicity to the evangelical claim to Jesus being the Truth, even the cornerstone that trips up the wise and secular world as expertly laid out by Köstenberger. But Mohler’s written conclusion and last two paragraphs could have been written by most pastors. Mohler’s broad spectrum of theorists and his complaints about each have relevance but little potency; his complaints indicate he has read several and interacted with none. At the end, the Truth is Jesus, but that is a mere Christian correspondence. The white door is white—simple, mere correspondence, without thought on the absolute meaning of door or white. For Christians and all of the JETS readers, Mohler has said nothing. Mohler does not indicate the fuller meaning Jesus as the Truth-Bearer to the theories or theorists he complains about, much less prove the superiority of Jesus as the Truth-Bearer. In the long run, Mohler misrepresents several theorists on Truth as merely confused—his by line—rather than articulating their confusion vis-à-vis a good clarification. Anyone can say anyone is confused, and saying someone is confused in the JETS without clarifying the confusion is a specific example of confusion. The claim to confusion helps no one when there is not a clarification of the confusion.

Mohler also subtly misrepresents and bullies several theorists when he alludes that several postmodernist theorists are merely missing the obvious correspondence Truth of Jesus, as though anyone who does not know Jesus can actually know the reality of the correspondence. Mohler gives a cheap shot as several theorists in the appearance of the academic—because Mohler is in JETS and footnoted—but fails to note the complex and even inscrutable side of the full Truth of God in Christ that we only perceive today as through foggy glass this side of heaven and shall only fully know in heaven. As such, Mohler misrepresents the simplicity of the correspondence Truth itself, ignores the fathomless Truth of God, and makes non-Christian theorists pluming some of the inscrutable areas of Truth as all a bunch of “confused” dummies.[4] In that light, Mohler was not very truthful and even becomes slyly malicious about our contemporary culture’s analysis of Truth.

Moreland. J. P. Moreland takes postmodernism over his knee for a spanking only to find straw flying out of the pants of his whipping boy. He is a correspondence advocate and goes no deeper, and against his straw man Moreland measures all postmodernists as though none of them have any inkling of the correspondence theory and as though all of them are against it. Incredible. Unlike Mohler’s breadth, Moreland uses eleven theorists (pro and con) and labels all postmodernists as immoral cowards. What is truly deceptive in his article is that we know that Moreland knows better.[5] One cannot help wondering just who Moreland was writing to, for he gave the appearance of scribbling several hot-headed complaints to a few friends around his own barbeque and not trying to contribute anything truly substantial to a first-class professional journal. For shame. If Moreland had at least read Köstenberger and with Köstenberger’s article leading the way in this particular journal, Moreland might have been able to contribute something of value. But Moreland’s straw man is falling apart before we even get to the end of his whipping. He calls who cowardly? Seems down right cowardly to lambaste as cowardly and immoral a vague system so scrubbily outlined without naming names.

Moreland—like Mohler, only more cheaply—misrepresents postmodernism when he both construes them all as totally against the correspondence view and as all of Christianity as merely correspondence Truth. There is a living Truth too, as Christ is alive, only that would not fit in Moreland’s straw man. There is a Truth that unfolds as we grow into Christ and grow into knowledge. And there are Truths that essentially die when the significance of the Truth dies—that is, unless one just has to value dead old logs on a forest floor long after they have rotted and blown away. As such and in that light, Moreland was not very truthful and even deceptively malicious about our contemporary culture’s analysis of Truth.[6]

What is Truth? Jesus Christ is the Truth and the criterion for Truth, as a historical conveyer of Truth, as a historical correspondence to Truth and to true reality, as well as a living Truth; the Truth of Christ existed before the word Truth, and the Truth of Christ is based upon God’s written word which is also consistent with Christ’s living presence today at the right hand of God and in our lives, some of which can only be apprehended by faith and to some degree experienced in the new birth. Some of the Truth of Christ can only be experienced by the Love of God in our heart, who loved us first, and then as we Love God in Christ. Therein, there is a Truth about Christ that is more than mere correspondence, but awaits a fuller revelation at the end of time.




By Michael G. Maness







[1] Andreas J. Köstenberger, “‘What Is Truth?’ Pilate’s Question in Its Johannine and Larger Biblical Context,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Association 48:1 (March 2005): 33-62.

[2] Andreas J. Köstenberger, “‘What Is Truth?’ Pilate’s Question in Its Johannine and Larger Biblical Context,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Association 48:1 (March 2005): 34-35, referencing George R. Beasley-Murray’s John (Word, 1999), B. F. Westcott’s The Gospel According to John (2nd ed.; Westminster, 1978), and Leon MorrisThe Gospel According to John (Eerdmans, 1995).

[3] Andreas J. Köstenberger, “‘What Is Truth?’ Pilate’s Question in Its Johannine and Larger Biblical Context,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Association 48:1 (March 2005): 61-62.

[4] R. Albert Mohler, “What Is Truth? Truth and Contemporary Culture” “Truth, Contemporary Philosophy, The Postmodern Turn,” JETS 48:1 (March 2005): 63-75.

[5] J. P. Moreland, “Truth, Contemporary Philosophy, The Postmodern Turn,” JETS 48:1 (March 2005): 79, Moreland footnotes a work in which he collaborated with a celebrated and distinguished scholar William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003).

[6] J. P. Moreland, “Truth, Contemporary Philosophy, The Postmodern Turn,” JETS 48:1 (March 2005): 77-88.