P.J. Hanekom

Apologia De Veritate

P.J. Hanekom | 23 February 2021 | 7 min read

The Christian faith cannot be spoken of meaningfully apart from a consideration of truth. This is so in two senses. Firstly, in the general sense that the very stuff of truth undergirds all correspondence.[1] Secondly, in the specific sense that the Gospel of Christ is incomplete if its claims to truth are arbitrarily discarded.[2] Thus, the central object here will be to consider the fundamental nature of truth.

It will serve us well to note, from the outset, that questions about truth are not only contemporary. We are not the first to consider the nature of truth. Truth, you see, does not dance to the modern tune any more than to the tunes of ages past or ages to come. As such, we will proceed with a humble appeal to the thinking of greater minds; not because they are great (truth is after-all not a respecter of persons) but because, by the grace of God, their thinking happens to be – in the case under consideration – true.

Towards a Definition of Truth

What is truth? This very question is posed by one Pontius Pilate to Jesus Christ, the soon to be crucified King of the Jews.[3] Pilate was given no answer. Rather, he was met with the silent, battered countenance of Him in whom truth acquires a face.[4]

Aristotle, the “master of common sense in philosophy”[5] held, with marvelous simplicity, that he who says of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, speaks the truth.[6] This is so, as it shall be made clear in due course, precisely because true claims correspond to reality. Consider then how fitting it is that, in the presence of the great I Am That I Am[7], Himself the very grounding of reality, the question of Pilate is met with nothing else but the poignant gaze of Him in whose presence, “questions die away.”[8] God willing, we too will one day behold that blessed countenance and have our longing for truth ultimately satisfied. Until then, we have a duty to give a reason for our hope.[9] We have a duty to seek truth, for it is found, not created,[10] and to present it before all the world as truth.

The Correspondence Theory of Truth

As alluded to earlier, true propositions correspond to reality.[11] A statement is true when it “describes an actual state of affairs.”[12] By this token, truth is objective – for if some actual state of affairs exist (if the objectively real person, Charles Hooker, is actually hit by an objectively real bus that runs a red-light in downtown London) it does so, independently of our knowing, or acknowledging, or affirming it.[13] To be sure, we probably might not know of,  acknowledge, or affirm what happened to the man – but none of that serves to alter much other than the seating arrangements at poor old Charles’ funeral. Truth is also absolute – that is, it is true for all people, at all times, and in all places.[14]

The alternative claim that truth is relative has risen to an alarming popularity in the cult-ure of post-modernism. It contends that truth is in the eye of the beholder, or, as it appears in the lingo of the day: “What’s true for you is true for you; what’s true for me is true for me.”[15] However, at the heart of relativism lies its inherent inability to live up to its own standards. The relativist claims that relativism is absolute. The claim that all truth is relative can, truly, not be taken seriously precisely because it fails to take itself seriously. As Kreeft and Tacelli rightly state, “It does not rise to the level of deserving our attention or refutation. Its claim is like ‘I itch’ not ‘I know.’”[16]

The rise of relativism is directly tied to the acceptance of a variety of alternative theories of truth. It will serve us well to consider the tenets of this bad philosophy.

The Untenable Alternatives

According to the Pragmatic theory, truth is that which works.[17] Therefore, truth is equated with effectivity. Yet, as Kreeft and Tacelli[18] observe, effectivity is thoroughly subjective and relative. For instance, blaming the Jews for the economic and military defeat of Germany in the Great War (World War I) may have been effective for the purposes of the Nazi Party. At the same time the truth of that statement will be extra-ordinarily ineffective for the Jews, as the historic record grimly attests. Thus, the question arises: whose standard of effectivity is to be the measure? At this point, even the pragmatist cannot claim that all measures are equal and, accordingly, not all that works can be true. G.K. Chesterton, the Prince of Paradox, illustrates this succinctly: “Man’s most pragmatic need is to be something more than a pragmatist.”[19] What works always works towards an end, and that end needs, by definition, to be more than merely pragmatic.[20]

The Coherence theory maintains that truth claims are internally coherent.[21] The effect of such a contention is that truth is a harmonious collection of logically consistent ideas. However, the greatest of the fantastical stories are marked by a significant internal coherency as well as logical consistency. If internal consistency determines truth one would literally be courting the distortion of fact with fiction.

The Rationalist theory claims, somewhat seductively (in light of the immediately aforementioned alternatives) that truth is that which can be proven by reason.[22] The attractiveness of this theory lies in the fact that it implies allegiance to reason, yet this allegiance is somewhat nominal. For instance, the law of non-contradiction, one of the cornerstones of logic, cannot be proven by reason. It needs to be reasonably pre-supposed and cannot be proven.[23]

The Empiricist theory[24] posits that the only true claims are those that are perceptible to our senses or self-evidently true.[25] Thus, all things metaphysical are effectively removed from the equation. Apart from the apparent arbitrariness of this approach, there is the problem of the logical contradiction – the central premises of the theory is neither empirically verifiable or self-evidently true.[26] In the words of Kreeft and Tacelli, “Empiricism is not empirical enough.”[27]

All of these alternatives implicitly presuppose the true theory of truth: true claims correspond to reality. The correspondence theory is properly axiomatic, it cannot be denied without being presupposed. Consider that each of the alternative theories before us must claim that it, to the exclusion of others, provides that definition of truth which corresponds to reality. If it doesn’t claim this, then we are not expected to take it seriously (lest we be content with living in fantasy). If it does claim this, then it already presupposes the correspondence theory to be valid and thus dismisses itself.

A Final Word

Upon due and systematic consideration of the facts before us, it is clear that truth exists. It exists objectively and it exists absolutely. The claims that run contrary to this conclusion are ultimately self-defeating. The correspondence theory of truth is inescapable, and doubly so for the Christian. For our faith is inextricably bound to the One who corresponds perfectly to Himself.[28] In Him our faith is securely anchored because belief in His resurrection corresponds to reality. Is this hard and unrelenting fact pragmatic? Ultimately so, one’s eternal fate depends upon it. Is it coherent? Most definitely, in a way that only a true event could be. Is it, or was it, perceptible to the senses? Undoubtedly so. “Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side’” (John 20:27). “Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive…” (1 Corinthians 15:6). Is it reasonable? Eminently so, Christian theological exposition for the last two millennia attests most forcibly to this. Yet, all this notwithstanding, when the Christian claims that the resurrection of Christ, the very lynchpin of his faith, is true, he does not imply that it is merely pragmatic, coherent, reasonable or perceptibly well-attested to, he claims that it corresponds to reality. This is the ancient, cardinal tenet of the Christian contention, as St. Paul states:

“I am not insane, most excellent Festus… What I am saying [regarding the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ] is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner.”[29]

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the employees and members of Ratio Christi South Africa.

[1] The fundamental laws of logic (“the very stuff of truth”) are essential to any meaningful correspondence about reality between rational creatures.

[2] Christianity does not hold forth some self-help scheme for nudging society on towards the realisation of some or another Utopian ideal. Christianity holds forth the Gospel, the truth of which undergirds all of Christian teaching. Without a Gospel which is true, we have naught – as says St. Paul: “if Christ has not been raised then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty” (1 Cor. 15:14).

[3] John 18:38.

[4] John 14:6

[5] Peter Kreeft & Ronald K. Tacelli, Pocket Handbook of Christian Apologetics (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press), 116.

[6] C.D.C. Reeve, Aristotle: Metaphysics, (Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company), 65-66.

[7] According to the doctrine of Divine Simplicity, God is considered to be without parts and by further implication the subsistent act of being itself (Ipsum Esse Subsistens). Given divine simplicity from which classical theism follows, Kreeft attests that “All truth is God’s truth. All goodness is God’s goodness. All beauty is God’s beauty. He must contain in Himself the whole perfection of being” (Peter Kreeft, Practical Theology: Spiritual Direction from St. Thomas Aquinas, [San Francisco: Ignatius Press], 9).

[8] C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces, A Myth Retold (London: Geoffrey Bles.), 145.

[9] 1 Peter 3:15.

[10] Norman L. Geisler & Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books), 37.

[11] Ibid., 36.

[12] Ibid.

[13]  Kreeft & Tacelli, Pocket Handbook of Christian Apologetics, p. 116.

[14] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic theology, Volume One: Introduction, Bible, (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers), 122.

[15] To which one might rightly reply: “Tell it to Charles.”

[16] Kreeft & Tacelli, Pocket Handbook of Christian Apologetics, (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press), 119.

[17] Geisler, Systematic theology, Volume One, p. 111.

[18] Kreeft & Tacelli, Pocket Handbook of Christian Apologetics, p. 117.

[19] G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, (London: Jane Lane Company), 64.

[20] Kreeft & Tacelli, Pocket Handbook of Christian Apologetics, p. 117.

[21] Geisler, Systematic theology, Volume One, p. 112.

[22] Ibid., 117.

[23] Ibid., 118.

[24] It should be noted, in passing, that what is here addressed is contemporary or modern empiricism from the likes of David Hume (1711-1776). There is a world of difference between contemporary empiricism and classical empiricism. Classical empiricism and its broader framework of realism does not fall prey to the same critiques contemporary empiricism falls prey to. I would submit to you, in the words of Thomas Howe, that realism which is “grounded in the very nature of the reality that the God of the Christian Scriptures has created, and indeed upon the very nature of God Himself, insures the objectivity of truth and meaning” (Thomas A. Howe, Objectivity in Biblical Interpretation, [Altamonte Springs, FL: Advantage Books], 324). Classical empiricism is therefore very relevant and important to the correspondence theory of truth.

[25] Geisler & Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith, p. 60.

[26] Ibid., p. 62.

[27] Kreeft & Tacelli. Pocket Handbook of Christian Apologetics, 117.

[28] “John’s gospel asserts that Christ, and therefore God, is truth (John 14:6, 16:13)… Aquinas holds that ‘God is truth’ is an analogical claim. When unpacked, it asserts, first, that God exemplifies truth to the highest possible degree and, second, that God is the cause of all truth. Aquinas thereby grounds truth in the divine nature as well as in the divine activity.” (Wood, W. 2013. Thomas Aquinas on the Claim that God is Truth. Journal of the History of Philosophy, 51[1]: 21-47).

“When Jesus said ‘I am the truth’ (John 14:6), it is argued that he demonstrated that truth is personal, not propositional. This falsifies the correspondence view of truth, in which truth is a characteristic of propositions (or expressions) which correspond to its referent. But a person, as well as a proposition, can correspond to reality. As the ‘exact image’ of the invisible God (Heb. 1:3), Jesus perfectly corresponds to the Father (John 1:18). He said to Philip, ‘when you have seen me, you have seen the Father’ (John 14:9). So, a person can correspond to another in his character and actions. In this sense, persons can be said to be true, or express the truth. God is truth, yet there is nothing outside of himself to which he corresponds. Yet according to the correspondence view, truth is that which correctly represents reality. Since God lacks correspondence, this argument goes, the correspondence theory denies that God is true, as the Bible says he is (Rom. 3:4). However, truth as correspondence does relate strongly to God. God’s words correspond to his thoughts. So God is true in the sense that his word can be trusted. God’s thoughts are identical to themselves, a kind of perfect ‘correspondence.’ In this sense, God is true to himself. If truth is understood as what corresponds to another, then in this sense God is not ‘true.’ Rather, he is the ultimate reality and so the standard for truth. Other things must correspond to him in a limited way in order to be called true, not he to them.” (Norman L. Geisler, Nature of Truth, In Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic], 742).

[29] Acts 26:25-27.



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