Tod Bolsinger at It Takes a Church writes about “Speaking the Truth in Love” in the context of a relativistic culture. Many value maintaining an open mind over finding truth – the “joy is in the journey, not the arriving” I hear. Evidently these folks either never travel with children (“Are we there yet?”) or don’t care for the child’s point of view. During my first semester of college we read John Ciardi’s praise of confusion over conviction. My take on it then was that he had a mighty strong conviction that one shouldn’t have convictions. For that my professor called me a sophist. Being an ignorant freshman at the time, I didn’t know how to respond – I knew I’d been rebuked, but didn’t have any ready arguments.
“The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.” (Autobiography. Collected Works Vol. 16, p. 212)
which seems reasonable to me. (I think of the motorcyclist cruising down the road with his mouth hanging open. Though in small pieces, he might get more solidity than he bargains for.) Openmindedness is purposive behavior, not merely default behavior. We are openminded because we recognize it as essential for finding truth, not because we think there is no truth.
Paul’s description of the mature Christian’s action, usually translated as “Speaking the truth in love,” is constructed differently in Greek. English lacks a verb form of truth – which Paul uses here, the literal translation might be “Truthing in love.” Surely then speech is a component of this act, but is that all there is to it? Paul is talking about more than simply stating facts; he doing more than telling us to be tactful (what we often take to be the way to be loving). Instead, our whole lifestyle – words, attitudes, desires, actions, character – are to correspond to the Truth (Jesus himself) to an increasing degree, while at the same time this correspondence seeks to produce a similar correspondence in the world around us. Because truth for the Christian is first of all a person – Jesus – this “Truthing in love” is relational rather than merely epistemological. Or can we say it is relational before it is epistemological, and that its epistemological utility is dependent upon its relational reality?
How does this work in a church setting?
First, it is my job as preacher & teacher to introduce people to the true story of God that finds its climax in Jesus so that they can become willing participants in that story as it continues. When we find our place in that Story, i.e., integrate our story into the Story, we are conformed to the image of Jesus (“truthed”) and become increasingly capable of “truthing in love” ourselves.
Second, I spend much time in my preaching and teaching on the reality of loving God with our minds. As I’ve read John Wesley’s sermons over the years I’ve noticed that he regularly sets out both the positive and the negative – what he’s saying and what he’s not saying. Given the multiple contexts in which we live, and the multiple contestants when it comes to truth, achieving understanding is hard work. I try to lead my people through that work. At the same time, I suggest that there are few “knock down” arguments that will absolutely prove a point. Plenty of evidence, but not absolute proof. There is always still room for faith. God seems not to be one to compel us – even for our own good.
Finally, I encourage my people to argue with me. I know (a) I am not always right, and (b) I will not be here forever. Additionally, as I think of people who will be heading off to college, I want them to have the skills and attitude to be able to argue when they get there. If I – or anyone else – am teaching something wrong, they need to be able to discern what is happening and do something about it the right way – to “truth in love.”