Markos Reviews Truth Changes Everything
Truth Changes Everything: How People of Faith Can Transform the World in Times of Crisis
by Jeff Myers
256 pages, paper, $17.99
We have all heard or read the alarming statistics. Children from Christian homes, it seems, are just as likely as their secular peers to believe that everything is relative. Though the word relativism is most often used philosophically or theologically—your truth is your truth; my truth is mine—it also manifests itself in the realms of ethics (the good) and aesthetics (the beautiful). Indeed, I would argue that, at least among the general public, the relativizing of Plato’s three transcendentals—Truth, Goodness, and Beauty—has crept up on us in reverse order.
Beauty was the first of the three to be abandoned by Americans inside and outside the church. Beauty, we have been taught to believe, exists only in the eye of the beholder. When it comes to art and music, fiction and poetry, fashion and film, not to mention masculinity and femininity, there are no objective standards by which to measure or judge. Our preferences may be personal or ideological, cultural or consumerist, but they are not grounded in a universal harmony written into creation, and our souls, by God. While there is such a thing as individual taste, I have found it disturbing that otherwise conservative Christians who will defend divine standards of truth and goodness will quickly dismiss beauty as nothing more than individual taste.
The next to fall was goodness, a casualty of the sexual revolution, which reached its logically illogical climax in the transgender movement. It is not just that the revolution de-sinned immoral behavior; it so turned the good on its head, that a large portion of our culture has bought into the lie that there are no sins against morality, only sins against equality. Moral discrimination, once the detector of sin, has become the origin of it. Virtue signaling on the part of individuals and institutions has taken the place of virtuous action. As a result, many who identify as Christian argue that traditional morality needs to be re-interpreted and re-imagined through the lens of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
It should come as no surprise that the abandonment of absolute standards for beauty and goodness has led to a loss of faith in absolute truth as something that exists, can be known, and can be communicated. Unfortunately, apart from a fixed measure of truth and falsehood neither the church nor the secular government can take a firm stance on the nature, origin, and function of justice or mercy, life or death, science or politics. In the absence of truth, man loses his moorings and is set adrift in a sea of relativism where he is subject to forces that know nothing of order, reason, law, humanity, or intrinsic worth.
Luckily for Christian parents who are committed to educating their children in a coherent and consistent Christian worldview grounded in truth, goodness, and beauty, there exists a top-notch worldview academy near Colorado Springs called Summit. Luckily as well, the President of Summit Ministries, Jeff Myers, has recently published a book about truth that is as breezy and accessible as it is well-organized and forcefully argued. In Truth Changes Everything: How People of Faith Can Transform the World in Times of Crisis, Myers distinguishes the Christian view of absolute truth from modern relativism and then shows how most of what we hold sacred in our country was initiated by people motivated by their faith in Christ and their commitment to truth.
In our country today, Myers explains, there is a growing divide between what he calls “the Truth viewpoint and the truths viewpoint” (10). “The first view says that Truth exists independently of our ability to perceive it. The second view says that truths are socially constructed” (9). Although the first view has predominated since “at least the time of the ancient Hebrews…the balance has [recently] tipped in the other direction, with more than half of Americans of all ages claiming that truths are up to an individual. This belief holds across all identifiable social and political groups. Even among churchgoing, self-identified Christians, the percentage who believe that Truth can be known has shrunk to around 50 percent” (9-10).
Current debates over LGBTQ+, critical race theory, and identity politics would not, I believe, be tearing apart evangelical churches had we not allowed ourselves to drift from a Truth to a truths approach; for that drift has caused a shift from an external, objective view of Truth to an internalized, subjectivized view of truths. Myers takes up some of these hot button issues in his book and shows how they are fueled by a truths viewpoint. He even sums up the heart of the danger by first quoting a seemingly inspirational statement by Oprah Winfrey—“Speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have”—and then exposing the worldview error that lies at its core: “There is a world of difference between speaking your truths by telling your story and speaking the Truth and illustrating it with your story” (34).
Still, what makes Myers’s book so unique and necessary is the survey it offers of the history-changing contributions made by Christians who embraced a Truth viewpoint. I was glad to see that Myers places most of his focus on the period between the High Middle Ages and the dawn of modernity. This focus allows him to celebrate both Catholic and Protestant movers and shakers and so dispel the myth that the millennium that separates Augustine from Luther was universally dark, ignorant, and backward. Indeed, Myers makes a compelling case that most of the changes that improved the quality of life in Europe, and, through her, the rest of the world, had their roots in the mid-fourteenth century, after the Black Death “gruesomely annihilated a third to half of Europe’s population” (21).
Although a steady rise in quality of life had been taking place for the last two centuries, it was the horrors of the bubonic plague that galvanized Catholic believers to recommit themselves to the central biblical teaching that truth is not an abstract idea but the living Christ who works through his followers to transform the world. This “core belief,” Myers argues, “held by people of the Late Middle Ages, further nurtured a century later by the Reformation, changed how people learned and grew, valued human life, cared for one another, cultivated artistic imagination, advanced scientifically, moved toward a just society, and unleashed freedom and prosperity” (26).
Myers begins by zeroing in on Catherine of Siena (1347-1380), half of whose twenty-four siblings died before reaching adulthood. Forsaking marriage to become a nun who ministered fearlessly and selflessly to plague victims, Catherine taught that “every human life is valuable. We are souls connecting heaven and earth, not merely bodies occupying space. Our lives have meaning through Christ, and our souls may be purified in him. Christ's perfection—not our performance—gives our lives great significance” (58). The Christians of her century lived out these beliefs in the care they showed for the sick and dying. While many people of the time “passively blamed fate” for the Black Death, “religious organizations began cultivating a more practical response, mainly by forming hospitals to care for the sick. Church leaders developed both the theology and the practice of medical care, while parishioners funded the work” (80).
About two centuries earlier, Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) demonstrated his Truth-centered belief in the value of human life by systematizing a Christian theory of just war that had been begun by Augustine. About two centuries later, William Harvey (1578-1657), influenced by the Bible’s teaching that the life is in the blood (Leviticus 17:11), pioneered a new vision of the workings of the human body that revolutionized medicine. Myers does well to dispel the long-held myth that Popes Alexander III and Bonface VIII “banned the study of human anatomy through dissection of corpses, setting back medical progress by centuries” (83). He also tells a story that should be better known: that in “a 1634 trial of four women accused of witchcraft, Harvey brought scientific evidence to bear to show that the charges of witchcraft were false and secured their release” (84).
As a way to further explode the myth that science and religion were at war with each other before the secular Enlightenment, Myers retells the story of the early scientific revolution, pointing out that nearly all of its architects were committed Christians whose work was driven by their Truth-based belief that nature was “valuable enough to study,” “good, but not god,” “orderly,” and “rationally intelligible” (115-116). He focuses in particular on Robert Boyle (1627-1691), who approached science with a sense of awe and humility, a willingness to work rigorously but be open to criticism, and a desire to benefit his fellow man through his research. Boyle believed firmly that “God designed us to discover” and that he had “furnished us with the means to pursue knowledge.” For Boyle, using our reason was “an act of worship and obedience to God” (118).
Myers peppers his book with wonderful stories that substantiate and illustrate how essential the link was between a Christian faith in Truth and a vigorous commitment to making the world a better place for all. Sometimes he surprises, as he does in his treatment of the famous, or infamous, temperance leader Carrie Nation (1846-1911). While acknowledging that prohibition proved to be a failed experiment, he reminds us that Nation’s radicalism was grounded in a real problem that was killing the soul of America. “In the 1800s,” Myers explains, “the average American drank five gallons of liquor every year, mostly whiskey and rum.... this means the typical man in America was likely drinking enough to be drunk every single day…. Concerned wives and mothers could do very little to address the drunkenness…. Carrie’s extreme actions, as well as the efforts of those who agitated for women's right to vote, must be seen in this light. They believed that their families and ultimately America itself would fail unless at least some of the people at the polls were sober" (76).
Another memorable story involves Vivaldi (1678-1741), the baroque composer of The Four Seasons. Marshalling his priestly office and his musical skills, Vivaldi began a music program for female orphans, many of whom were disfigured in some way. “He wrote music and trained the girls to play and sing it, releasing their potential and in the process shaping a new musical period, now known as Baroque for its extravagant ornamentalism. Baroque music swept across Europe and forever changed the world of the arts" (124). Driven by his faith, Vivaldi altered the face both of charity and music.
Yet another story introduces us to a Dutch statesman, Groen van Prinsterer (1801-1876), who feared for the future of his country. After studying carefully, and through a Christian Truth lens, the revolutionary ideas that had destabilized and devastated France, van Prinsterer “realized that totalitarian states gain power by destroying attachments to family and religion” (154). His ideas influenced his protégé Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920), who, as prime minister, “fleshed out van Printerer’s ideas through what he called ‘sphere sovereignty,’” a worldview that sees “each sphere of society [government, church, family] as united under God but diverse in its service to humans” (154).
Myers tells these stories and many more, not just to revive our historical memory, but to challenge us to put our faith in the incarnate God of Truth into action in our increasingly fragmented society. One of the most effective ways, Myers argues, we can accomplish this goal is to speak the truth boldly but with hope, humanity, and humility. It is up to us to rebuild lost trust, as much between fellow citizens as fellow parishioners. “The good news,” Myers assures us, “is that most people want to get along and build trusting relationships. A recent survey found that 93 percent believe that it is very important or somewhat important to improve the level of confidence we have in one another” (201).
The Christian reformers Myers highlights in his book were grounded in the Truth traditions of the faith, but those traditions transformed them into innovators rather than head-in-the-sand, backward-looking traditionalists. “By committing to an unchangeable Truth in a constantly changing culture,” Myers concludes, “the Jesus followers we've studied gained insight into the future and courage for the troubling now” (213).
Louis Markos, Professor in English and Scholar in Residence at Houston Christian University, holds the Robert H. Ray Chair in Humanities; his 25 books include The Myth Made Fact, From Plato to Christ, Apologetics for the 21st Century, Atheism on Trial, and Restoring Beauty: The Good, the True, and the Beautiful in the Writings of C. S. Lewis.